APOCALYPSE REDUX: I SEE A BLOOD MOON RISING

(This is a repost of an article first posted in 2011 before Harold Camping’s predictions, reposted in 2012 before the Mayan calendar terminal date. Sadly, I’m already having to repost it again, until I can post something on the latest round of eschatological speculation involving blood moons, the Harbinger, and the Shemitah.)

THE LAST DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN*
Michael D. Sharp, D.Min.

It seems to come around like clockwork in the evangelical world – last days madness.* If the enemy of our souls cannot keep us from embracing a truth, then he appears to delight in pushing us far beyond the truth into extremes of error. This repeatedly happens with Christ’s promise to return someday. Now, here we go again – another preacher has set a date for the Lord’s return.

For two millennia, God’s People have been faithfully awaiting Christ’s return. This glorious event is, of course, nearer now than ever before. Many times through the centuries some well-meaning souls, and some ungodly deceivers, have twisted the scriptures to try and predict Christ’s Second Coming. Many historical figures through the ages have been confidently designated as “the” antichrist. European kings, barbarian leaders, Reformers like Luther, Roman Catholic popes, Napoleon, the Kaiser, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, etc., etc., ad infinitum, have successively been identified – with great passion and absolute certainty – as “the” antichrist.

Earthquakes, comets, wars, droughts, natural disasters, and all manner of plagues have been hailed as the final events definitely preceding the immediate apocalypse. In almost every generation a relatively few well meaning but misinformed Christians have worried themselves and everyone around them to death with end-times speculation. Good, godly leaders have repeatedly told God’s people the truth that all of the “natural” signs spoken of by Christ and his apostles were fulfilled long ago, and need not be repeated.

Good pastors and teachers have repeatedly taught God’s People to live as if Christ or death could come at any moment, but plan and work as if they must hand this Church to another generation someday. That’s good teaching that some excitable souls have always chosen to ignore. Instead, they throw good money after bad at the false teachers and their products. Make no mistake – there’s a lot more money in preaching end-times craziness than there is in teaching holy living or Romans verse-by-verse. Once the date-setters have your money, they never give it back.*

Jesus himself specifically warned his disciples against just this kind of speculative thinking, living, and preaching. All the signs that the prophets, Christ, and the apostles gave us to identify the last days were fulfilled, often repeatedly, long ago. Indeed, Scripture explicitly and repeatedly teaches that the last days began with the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah, and were definitively marked by the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost. We’ve been living in the last days since that time. Christ warned us that there would be no sign to indicate that his immediate appearing was at hand. (Acts 2:14-41, 1 Tim 4:1, 2 Tim 3:1, Heb 1:2, 1 Pet 1:20, 1 Jn 2:18, etc.) He warned us not to become embroiled in speculation and prediction. His coming for us will be sudden and unexpected, with no time to prepare, avoid, or flee.

People who become obsessed with end-times speculation and eventually predict a specific time for Christ’s coming usually have a few things in common. They are usually independent, “lone rangers” in their walk and ministry. They have almost always rejected true submission and accountability to a larger network of ministers or a solid church denomination. They are also almost always very dismissive or condescending toward the greater Church of Jesus Christ, or what we would call orthodox, evangelical, and historic churches.

Such obsessed teachers believe God has revealed special secrets or eschatological signs and calculations to them and their particular sect of believers. They often find exotic “codes” or never before seen new “meanings” in Scripture that every Christian reader, student, and scholar for 2,000 years has been too dense or ungodly to discern. They always believe – whether those in the decade leading up to 1,000 A.D., or those during the Napoleonic Wars, or in our own lifetimes – that “they” are the final true recipients of much of Scripture, that God gave it with their particular “terminal” generation in mind.

In all of this they are usually elitists, thinking they have special super-spiritual insights, visions, or prophetic words from God that no one else has ever received or is now receiving. This is a sign of pride, even arrogance. They are often conspiracy theorists, seeing dark demonic forces and cabals behind every technological advance, economic announcement, and political realignment. For many of them, Beelzebub’s in the bar codes and the devil’s in digitization.

Finally, though some are well educated in fields unrelated to interpreting Scripture – engineering, law, computers – they were often not properly trained by good scholars in correctly handling the Word of Truth. Their hermeneutics – the principles they use to interpret God’s Word – are self-taught, or sectarian innovations, or learned from an unlearned “teacher.” Their doctrine is doomed before it is formulated, because they don’t know how to read and understand the Bible well. In addition, they are unteachable – they reject the wisdom of true teachers of the Church, the wisdom God’s leaders have acquired through the ages. They are “unauthorized” workers, leading God’s people astray, holding the Church and the gospel up for ridicule before an unbelieving world.

A fundamental principle of understanding God’s Word is that the clear must interpret the unclear. A book of the Bible is interpreted on it’s own merit, but also as it fits in the whole of Scripture – the canon. A passage is interpreted in its immediate context – sentence, paragraph, theme – and in the context of the book (such as Colossians). It is interpreted through its historical setting in time and culture. And most importantly, it is understood according to the form of literature it is – narrative, history, law, prophecy, poetry, gospel, apocalyptic, and so forth. You do NOT read all passages or books of Scripture alike, for they are not written alike, and God never intended for us to read them identically. The Spirit inspired some men to write declarative sentences of teaching, some to write poetry, others to write in highly metaphorical or symbolic language.
God expects us to respect his inspiration of that literary form as much as we respect the inspiration of the words in that form.

In all of this, a fundamental principle of reading and understanding Scripture is that “the clear always interprets the unclear.” If a passage is symbolic, or uses unusual words, concepts, and grammar that are ambiguous or hard to understand, it may well be “unclear.” We must try to find other passages that address this issue or topic, passages which are much clearer and easier to understand. The clear passages are used to interpret the unclear, never the other way around. Explicit and declarative mean that it is clearly declared, not implied, not inferred. All of the factors above must still be considered, but the meaning is still easier to get at. Most erroneous teaching is a result of violating these principles of interpretation.

Concerning his return to earth someday, Jesus made some explicit, declarative, clear statements. He made them repeatedly. The synoptic gospels, particularly Matthew, record Christ’s repeated warnings against trying to identify either the general or specific time of his return. As Christ and his apostles were leaving the temple in Jerusalem in Matthew 24, his disciples asked him two questions, including “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In verse 36 Jesus begins to answer that second question by saying “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” He then compared his coming with Noah’s flood, saying in verse 39, “ … and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Christ then repeatedly and explicitly declares that there will be no notice, no signal, no sign given that his return is imminent.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (24:42) “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (24:43) In the second coming parables that follow in chapter 25, four of the main emphases are related: there will be a delay between Christ’s departure and his return, his return will be sudden, his return will be unexpected, and we must therefore be ready at all times, for no one will know either the general or specific time of his return. (24:50, 25:5,13,19) These themes are repeated elsewhere in the New Testament.

Every other passage on the return of Christ must be interpreted by these words of Jesus. Whether in the prophets, gospels, epistles, or Revelation, the clear must interpret the unclear. That means there will be no warning before Christ returns. The false teachers who through their wild, obsessive end-times speculations continually manipulate, distract, frighten, and fleece God’s holy People are going to receive a severe judgment when they stand before the Great Shepherd of the sheep.

Every day I look for the Lord’s return. Every day I pray “Maranatha! Even so, come Lord Jesus!” Every day and every night when things look “normal” on this beautiful planet, I think, “This could be it! Nothing unusual is happening! Christ could come today!” News of disasters, wars, earthquakes, plagues and the like, simply mean that we still live in a world that, for all its glory and beauty, is fallen, broken, and frequently devastated by tragedy. All of these things are a part of the present “normal” of planet Earth. We know – know, not speculate – from history and science that all of these things wax and wane in frequency over time for many different reasons, and that our lifetimes have seen none of these things increase far beyond what humanity has experienced proportionately in past ages. And, besides, these natural signs have been fulfilled since apostolic times and need no further fulfillment.

But, to borrow a recent iconic phrase from popular culture, “all of this has happened before, and all of this shall happen again.”* 2012 is just around the corner, and we all know what the Mayans warned us would happen! Never mind that the best archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians all agree that the Mayans merely expected their long-count calendar to run out … and then simply start all over again. Many people will simply say, “We don’t want to hear that. We want apocalypse now!* We want to live on the eve of destruction!”* All the failures of eschatological speculators and schemes, all the rewriting of their books, all the rearranging of their villainous nations and good nations, all of their errors and failures, will be taken in stride and ignored by those distracted saints who love living on the road to Armageddon.* Sad, but true.

To believe and live as Jesus taught, we too must long for the end of the world as we know it, but with a different focus and passion. Our focus is on living for and sharing with others the ever-living and glorious Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We rejoice that we’ve been swept up into God’s great story, his mission to redeem creation and lost people from among every nation. Our focus is on obeying Christ’s great commission in Matthew 28: Making disciples of Jesus – sharing Christ with others, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus taught. Our focus is on bringing the end of the world as they know it in their hearts and homes, to be replaced by the redeeming inbreaking of God’s Kingdom. We are to be living as if Christ could come or call at any moment, but planning and working as if we will hand this Church and its mission over to another generation.

I’m looking for THAT Day, and THAT Christ. As for the antichrist? I’m not looking for him. I’m more concerned that I – Michael – might be polluted and deceived by the “spirit of antichrist” that the apostle John said was already abroad even in his day. That’s the real danger. So, I’m keeping my eyes on Jesus the Christ, walking in the fullness of the Spirit, learning and obeying more of God’s Word, and trying to lead as many others as possible to walk this ancient and future Christian way. I want to build such deep, biblical, spiritual discipleship into my life and the lives of others, that we will all stay true and be ready should Christ come or call tonight or 50 years from now. I want those I help disciple to be better Jesus-followers and better disciple-makers than I ever was. Do I seem to sense in my own heart that his coming is near? Yes, but that could be for any number of reasons. I cannot build my doctrine or my life on that. Only Christ and the Word are sure foundations for life and doctrine.

I’m not distracted by Yom Kippur, 1988, or by May 21, 2011, or by any ridiculous new visions or indecipherable prophetic words being blathered over the Internet or television. Christ’s coming will be judgment for the lost, but ultimate redemption for the children of God and for God’s creation. I do not live in fear, anxiety, or despair. I live in joy, hope, and confidence. God is working his purposes out in his way and in his time to our ultimate victory and to his glory. I never worry about this conspiracy theory or that world leader or the “spiritual” meaning of an oil spill, a tsunami, a comet, or a war. I’m looking for the great redemption Day. It could be May 21, 2011, or September 15, 2150, or any other day before or after. To say otherwise is to flatly contradict the correctly interpreted words of Scripture.

For those who love living on the road to Armageddon*, the last days are here again.* For God, for his Church, and for me, the last days began at Christ’s first coming and will last until he comes again, which could be at any moment. Maranatha! Even so, come Lord Jesus! Amen!

_______________________________________________________________

* Although I use no material from these sources, and though some of these phrases have been around for years, and though I used some of them (including the title of this article) prior to knowing anyone else had ever used them, several phrases in this article are also used in the titles of relevant books and media, as follows …

The Last Days Are Here Again: A History of the End Times. Richard Kyle, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998,

Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church. Gary DeMar, Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999.

“Once you have their money, never give it back.” – The First Principle of The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, Deep Space Nine.

“All of this has happened before, and all of this shall happen again.” – An oracle of Pythia in Battlestar Gallactica. Originally from James M. Barrie, Peter Pan.

“Apocalypse Now.” – Francis Ford Coppola, 1979. A dark, violent Vietnam War epic.

“Eve of Destruction.” – P. F. Sloan, Barry McGuire, 1965. A song protesting war and impending nuclear destruction.

On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend. Timothy P. Weber, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

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Today Is Pentecost Sunday

Today is Pentecost Sunday. In the ancient Church, it followed only Resurrection Sunday as the second most important holy day of the Christian year. It came 50 days after Christ’s Resurrection, and 10 days after His Ascension. On this day, God fulfilled his Promise, and poured the Holy Spirit out upon 120 disciples of Jesus waiting obediently in Jerusalem. He filled this epochal event with so many signs of his faithfulness.  Signs that Jesus was indeed enthroned as Son of David and Son of God.  That the New Covenant was in full and final effect. That his law would now be written upon human hearts by the indwelling Spirit.  That the Church was now the final temple of God, the dwelling place of God’s Special Presence.  That only Jesus’ followers were marked by God’s Special Presence as God’s true people.  That God’s renewed People were recreated in Christ by the creative wind of the Spirit, the life-giving breath of God.  That they were empowered by the Spirit to take the good news of Jesus Christ to all the nations of the world.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. In humility before all other brothers and sisters in Christ’s glorious Church, I must say that I am so thankful to be a Pentecostal believer. But I know this day is not just my day. It is about far more than any one symbol, experience, tradition, or theology can ever express. I pray that, together with all of God’s People, we would celebrate the Spirit’s precious and powerful presence every day.  That he would renew our minds, pour God’s love into our hearts, and transform us continually into humble servants in the image of the Son. That his covenant love and new life, his grace and righteousness, would transform our families and our faith communities.  That, in the way we do family, and the way we do church, we would once again live more like his new creation people, and less like a corrupted culture and a fallen world. That the character of God and values of his kingdom would govern our lives, our priorities, and our decisions. That commitment and faithfulness would replace charisma and feeling as the bond of our fellowship.  That we would be faithful in our covenant relationships in our homes and in our churches, and demonstrate God’s faithfulness in our long walk through life together.  That through the years, to the end of our days, we, our families, and our churches would continue to know the Father, and the Son, in all the fullness of the Holy Spirit.  And now, so that the Son may receive glory, and the Father through the Son, may this Lord, the giver of the Life of the Age to Come, renew his People in the power of the Holy Spirit, this day, and every day, until Christ comes again.

Pentecost Sunday

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The School Bus Driver Who Gave His Life for His Kids

The school bus driver who was killed a few weeks ago in south Alabama attended an Assemblies of God church. Our online AG News Service released this story about the man and what his life and death have meant to that community. We never know what a day holds in store for us, even for those of us who love and follow Jesus Christ. May we all leave a testimony of sacrificial love and faithfulness to God and others.

———————————————————————————–
**ALABAMA TRAGEDY REVEALS HEART OF A HERO

What does a hero look like?

Is a hero one of comic book lore, who flies into danger, cape
whipping in the wind, muscles bulging, as citizens watch in
awe-struck wonder?

Perhaps heroes are more often found singing on a stage, playing in a
stadium or starring in movies as millions of adoring fans faun over
them for their extreme giftedness?

Or perhaps, just perhaps, a true hero doesn’t even know he or she is
a hero?

Maybe true heroes are so selfless and focused on compassionately
loving others, that to even consider themselves heroes would cause
them profound embarrassment?

On Tuesday afternoon, January 29, 66-year-old Charles (“Chuck” to
all his many friends) Poland Jr. was doing what he loved ‹ driving a
busload of “his kids” home from their Midland City, Alabama,
schools. Chuck didn’t know it, but in just a handful of minutes, the
litmus test of hero definition would literally be handed to him.

Chuck and his wife of more than 40 years, Jan, were longtime members
of Grace Assembly of God in nearby Newton, Alabama. And this rural
bus route was not just a job to Chuck, it was a ministry he had
enjoyed for the past 4 years ‹ picking up and delivering kids safely
to and from school each day.

Chuck’s pastor, Ray Layton, says there was no doubt how much he
cared for the kids.

“He really loved those kids on the school bus,” Layton says. “In
fact, a little boy, named Ethan, was really afraid to ride the
school bus, so Chuck always saved the seat right behind him so he
could talk to Ethan and assure him and help ease his fears.
Jan told me recently that Chuck had said he felt his little buddy ‹
what he called Ethan ‹ was finally getting comfortable riding the
bus.”

Layton, says the Polands were also a gift to his small, but friendly
church.

“Chuck and Jan were members of the choir and were usually one of the
first ones to be at church on Sunday morning, Sunday night or any
other time the church doors were open ‹ and one of the last to
leave,” Layton says. “He enjoyed the fellowship. He was warm,
compassionate and anything we needed help with at the church, he was
ready to volunteer.”

Layton explains that no matter what words of praise he bestowed on
Chuck, it really couldn’t be enough.

“He was a humble man, a caring man, who, when he spoke, spoke with
wisdom,” Layton says. “I can’t add to his life. He just really loved
the Lord, that was Brother Chuck, that was just him.”

But Chuck wasn’t just all about the “warm fuzzies” of being
surrounded by a loving church family and being a “surrogate” father
to about two dozen children each day. No, Chuck lived out what he
believed ‹ demonstrating the love and compassion of Christ, even
when the warm and fuzzy was more of a “hard and thorny.”

When Jimmy Lee Dykes moved to the community, it quickly became
obvious to neighbors that he was a hard-nosed loner, who seemed to
have a survivalist mentality. He did nothing to ingratiate himself
to his neighbors ‹ in fact, he frequently threatened them and their
property.

But Chuck didn’t see Dykes as an enemy, but rather a soul to be
pointed towards Christ. He did his best to befriend Dykes, helping
him with yard work and visiting with him. In apparent appreciation,
Dykes created a place on his property for Chuck to be able to turn
the school bus around more easily.

So, when Dykes approached the school bus that Tuesday afternoon,
Chuck was not overly concerned. Why, just that morning he had
brought over some homemade jelly and fresh eggs to his friend, Jimmy
Lee. And when Dykes stepped on to the bus stairs and handed him a
note . . . was it a note of thanks? An invitation?

Few people face that moment when death looks them in the face and
gives them a choice ‹ live or die? Fewer still pass the test
heroically as the instinct to survive is powerful.

Although no one is certain of the words Chuck responded with to
Dykes’ note ‹ now backed by a loaded gun ‹ demanding two children
between the ages of 6 and 8 be given to him, Chuck’s refusal was
clear. No one was going to come on to his bus and take any of the
kids, not his kids!

“Some people have called Chuck a hero, and deservingly so,” Layton
says quietly. “But what Chuck was most of all, was a true Christian.
He understood what love and sacrifice was all about.”

Soon after Dykes stepped onto the bus steps, he fired four shots,
with the first of the four piercing Chuck’s heart. Dykes, apparently
surprised by Chuck’s dogged refusal, then grabbed little Ethan, who
had passed out with the shock of the shooting, and took off. Things
were no longer going according to Dykes’ plan as he left behind 21
shocked and terrified children.

“If Chuck hadn’t given his life to protect those children, there’s
no telling what could have happened,” Layton says.

As Chuck entered eternity, a few miles away, Michael Senn, pastor of
Midway Assembly of God in Midland City, was attending a funeral
service. As he and his wife headed towards the gravesite, they
suddenly got a call from a neighbor ‹ were they okay? There were
swarms of emergency vehicles in the Destiny Church parking lot and
shots had been fired.

“We live on 12 acres,” Senn explains. “We live on one end and on the
other side, Destiny Church (a building Midway Church rents out to
another congregation) is located. Dykes lives right next to Destiny
Church and our 16-year-old son was home alone ‹ and we weren’t sure
what was going on or where the shooter was.”

After making sure their son was okay, Pastor Senn headed to Destiny
Church. His church, Midway, was just down the street with their
activities building/youth center just across the street from Destiny
Chuch and Dykes’ home.

“I was on the scene about 35 minutes after it happened,” Senn says.
“There were still a lot of kids there, and I was able to talk and
pray with some of them.”

Senn recalls one 13-year-old boy being particularly distraught, with
some school officials approaching Senn and asking him to talk with
the boy. Senn soon learned that the boy was a friend of little
Ethan. The boy’s mom would some times watch Ethan at their home.

“We went inside the church and talked,” Senn says. “He explained to
me what happened ‹ he had seen the whole thing and was really upset
about Ethan being taken. I was able to talk with him and then pray
with him, but I could tell, he was really traumatized by what he had
just seen.”

With emergency vehicles, police officers, FBI, snipers and bomb
squad personnel swarming the area, the media was soon present in
full force as well. At first, Senn allowed the media to use the
youth center as its base, but then the FBI requested its use, with
Senn agreeing.

Senn says that he was originally asked to gather ministers to
counsel with the kids at the schools in Midland City, but as classes
were cancelled for an extended period, professional counselors from
around the country came in to assist when school resumed.

However, as Senn was in constant contact with officials, the media ‹
which included every major national and local network ‹ frequently
came to him for interviews.

“I always had an opportunity during the interviews to encourage
people to come together and pray for Ethan, focusing on Ethan’s
safety and return to his family,” Senn says. “And Sheriff Wally
Olson, every time he went to the media, also asked people to pray.”

The church property also became a key to the rescue of Ethan. Behind
the church’s youth building, authorities built the mock set-up of
Dykes underground shelter to practice their rescue attempt.

While Senn was working with the media and officials, urging people
to pray, Layton was ministering to his congregation and Chuck’s
wife, Jan. Layton says when he and his wife visited Jan in the
hospital ‹ as she was taken there when she learned of Chuck’s
sacrifice ‹ they had the opportunity to comfort another young woman,
as in a small town (2,300), one person can impact a significant
percentage of his or her community.

“When we came in and asked for the Poland family, the young woman at
the counter pointed down the hall and then began to cry,” Layton
recalls. “My wife went to her and the young woman explained that
Chuck used to be her bus driver.”

Senn says that through the experience, the entire community has a
greater realization of the needs that exist in the community and are
more conscious of their relationship with God.

“Evil has no geographical boundaries or age categories,” Senn says.
“Evil is everywhere. I believe the enemy is coming against us by
attacking what is close to us ‹ our children. We need to be
constantly aware of our relationship with God and be praying,
praying God’s protection for our children and our families.”

After being held captive for seven days, Ethan was rescued and Dykes
was killed in a surprise raid by authorities on the bunker. Layton
says that just prior to Ethan’s rescue, he and a pastor friend had
sat together and prayed once more for Ethan’s safe release. Layton
says the news of Ethan’s rescue was like a refreshing to his spirit,
though he felt sorry that Dykes had lost his life.

“But some times you bring things upon yourself,” Layton says of
Dykes, “and I believe he did.”

In reflection, Layton recalls that the Sunday before Chuck’s death,
he had asked him a question.

“I asked Chuck what he would like to see God do in this church and
in this community,” Layton says. “He told me, ‘I’d like to see this
house [the church] filled. I believe that would please the Lord.'”

In one sense, Chuck’s desire was fulfilled to overflowing. Layton
said that they had to hold Chuck’s funeral, not at the church, but
at the Ozark (Alabama) Civic Center, with an estimated 1,000 (or
more) attending.

“We had scores of bus drivers, teachers, principals, officers even
people from Washington, D.C., at the funeral,” says Layton, who
officiated the service. “The family asked me to take the opportunity
to preach God’s Word as they realized not everyone attending would
be Christians or even know who the Lord was ‹ that I should present
Scripture for those people, so that’s what I did.”

. . . some people have questioned why it had to be such a loving
person like Chuck who lost his life in this tragedy. It’s a
difficult question, but the answer may simply be, God knew that on
January 29, 2013, on a school bus in Midland City, Alabama, 22 kids
would need a real hero.

–Dan Van Veen

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A Church Repents

The following article was part of the latest news release from the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center (i.e., headquarters). It’s a beautiful story of how a church repented for three decades of mistreating a succession of pastors by rebellion, gossip, and a controlling spirit. While I personally experienced almost none of this in the wonderful church I pastored, I saw barely enough to enable me to empathize with pastors and their families who live in toxic churches. Having experienced just enough to know what it was like, having served as a Sectional Presbyter for 18 years, and as a friend of many pastors, I know the damage done to pastors, godly parishioners, and the Kingdom by rebellious, divisive, slandering, controlling people in churches. Although some would label such behavior as merely dysfunctional, it is in fact purely sinful and often demonic. This article is a beautiful story of how one courageous pastor and one local church finally did the right thing. May God bless them for it.
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**CHURCH REPENTS FOR ATTITUDES TOWARD FORMER PASTORS

When he applied for the job as lead pastor, Peter A. Joudry knew
Madison (Indiana) Assembly of God (MAG) had a reputation for
mistreating clergy during the past three decades. Nevertheless,
Joudry soldiered on through a seven-month vetting process that
included a dozen interviews before the congregation elected him in
April 2011.

However, by the seventh month of his tenure, old, entrenched
patterns began to resurface. By the ninth month, 40 percent of the
260-member congregation had left.

Soon afterward, Joudry invited the four men who had preceded him as
pastor during the previous 30 years to a reconciliation weekend at
the church.

Even though many of the members who had wounded the pastors no
longer attend MAG, Joudry determined to apologize for the offenses
committed against the leaders. As an act of contrition, Joudry and
his wife, Ruth, washed the feet of pastors and their wives dating
back to 1983: Don and Barb Fisher; Stephen and Patty Perry; Ron and
Dorene Bontrager; and Chuck and Susie Lynch. Members of the
congregation gathered around the guests amid tears and hugs.

Before the foot-washing ceremony, as the four former pastors and
their spouses sat on the platform, Joudry led the congregation in
prayers of confession and repentance.

“We needed this weekend because of the misdeeds and un-Christlike
attitudes that were displayed by our congregation toward these men
of God and their families,” Joudry says. “They suffered greatly
under a yoke of rebellion and control while being here. They left
this body wounded and deeply distressed.”

At the service, the sins the congregation repented of included
gossip, assuming the worst about their pastors, sending the
ministers anonymous letters containing un-Christlike comments,
publicly maligning their pastors, and causing a strain on their
health.

Even though he has been gone since becoming pastor of Lakeview
Church in Indianapolis 18 years ago, Bontrager says he still knows
three-fourths of the attendees at MAG. He said during his time in
Madison he felt like a young, insecure hireling who had to toe the
line.

“But all who remain there want to support the pastor; the spirit of
control has been broken,” Bontrager says. “The service was
authentic, encouraging and extremely meaningful.”

Joudry credits M. Wayne Benson, founder of Paraclete Ministries,
with laying the groundwork for the reconciliation. Benson, who also
took part in the ceremonies, served as MAG interim pastor before
Joudry’s arrival. Benson commended Joudry for his courage and
conviction in organizing the event and urged the congregation to
pledge their loyalty to Joudry.

The ceremony included a responsive reading by the congregation to
resolve future problems in a biblical and Christ-like manner.

“What we do with rumors and accusations will help change the culture
of the church,” Joudry says.

–John W. Kennedy, “Pentecostal Evangel”

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Epiphany

On this Sunday, January 6, Epiphany, we celebrate Jesus Christ as the Light of the world.

Today, Saturday, January 5, is the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Christmas is not one day. It is a season of Twelve Days lasting from the Nativity (Christmas Day) on December 25 through the Twelfth Day on January 5.

Tomorrow, Sunday, January 6, is Epiphany. This word comes from a Greek word, epiphaneia, meaning appearance or appearing. On this day for over 1,500 years, most of the Christian Church has celebrated the coming of the Magi to worship the Christ child. On this day Christians celebrate the fact that Jesus came not only as the redeemer of Israel, but also as the Savior of the World. The revelation of Christ to the Gentile Magi was the first time that the nations saw the Light of Life, who came as the Light of hope and truth for every person ever born.

Even then God’s Spirit was moving among the nations who were not a part of God’s covenant People. In culture, in conscience, and in creation, the Spirit had prepared the Magi to hear the Creator’s call, and seek the Light of the One True God. Having no effective witness from Israel, their searching hearts were answered not with condemnation for being astrologers unfamiliar with the God of Abraham, but with a sign that led them all the way to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. At the adoration of the Magi, Jesus began fulfilling his mission as the Light of the world.

Very early on, the Church also celebrated the wedding of Cana and the baptism of Jesus on this day. Why? Because these were the two great moments at the beginning of Christ’s ministry that began his revelation as Son of God and Savior of the world.

January 6 completes the Cycle of Light that included the Four Sundays of Advent, the twelve day Christmas Season, and Epiphany. During Advent we remembered that both creation and our race needed deliverance from sin, darkness, and death. We prepared our hearts for Christ’s Second Advent, and prepared to properly celebrate his First Advent. During the Christmas Season we celebrated Christ’s birth, focusing on God and his kept promise in Christ, rather than focusing on ourselves.

With Epiphany we are launched into the new year with an emphasis on Christ’s mission to the nations. Every year we recommit ourselves to taking the Light of Life into all the world. We do so knowing, that as Jesus said, the Father is already working in the hearts of individuals and in the cultures of the nations. We too must go there and work.

The waiting of Advent became the worship of Christmas, and now it becomes the witness of Epiphany. On this Sunday, January 6, Epiphany, we celebrate Jesus Christ as the Light of the world.

Adoration of the Magi

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The Eleventh Day of Christmas

January 4 is the Eleventh Day of Christmastide, or the Christmas Season. Today is the Eighth Day from the December 28th Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod. On this Eighth Day, the octave, we look back to what we commemorated, the murder of the children ordered by Herod. On this Eighth Day, we can celebrate that Christ came to suffer with us, and in His victory over death He brings us victory. We celebrate that on that Eternal Day, the Eighth Day, the Day of New Creation, He shall bring final justice and victory to all who have suffered and died in and for him. William Holman Hunt’s “The Triumph of the Innocents” beautifully, proleptically portrays this victory. Think on these things.

William_Holman_Hunt_-_The_Triumph_of_the_Innocents

You can find a detailed explanation of the meaning of Hunt’s painting at the following link. It is quite outstanding, and well worth the read.
http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/whh/replete/triumph.html

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The Last Days Are Here Again

(Originally written in May, 2011, before the last failed apocalypse.  I mentioned the upcoming Mayan apocalypse, but mainly addressed what Jesus said our attitude should be, and took a little look at the mindset of those who love living on the road to Armageddon.)

It seems to come around like clockwork in the evangelical world – last days madness. If the enemy of our souls cannot keep us from embracing a truth, then he appears to delight in pushing us far beyond the truth into extremes of error. This repeatedly happens with Christ’s promise to return someday. Now, here we go again – another preacher has set a date for the Lord’s return.

For two millennia, God’s People have been faithfully awaiting Christ’s return. This glorious event is, of course, nearer now than ever before. Many times through the centuries some well-meaning souls, and some ungodly deceivers, have twisted the scriptures to try and predict Christ’s Second Coming. Many historical figures through the ages have been confidently designated as “the” antichrist. European kings, barbarian leaders, Reformers like Luther, Roman Catholic popes, Napoleon, the Kaiser, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, etc., etc., ad infinitum, have successively been identified – with great passion and absolute certainty – as “the” antichrist.


Earthquakes, comets, wars, droughts, natural disasters, and all manner of plagues have been hailed as the final events definitely preceding the immediate apocalypse. In almost every generation a relatively few well meaning but misinformed Christians have worried themselves and everyone around them to death with end-times speculation. Good, godly leaders have repeatedly told God’s people the truth that all of the “natural” signs spoken of by Christ and his apostles were fulfilled long ago, and need not be repeated. Good pastors and teachers have repeatedly taught God’s People to live as if Christ or death could come at any moment, but plan and work as if they must hand this Church to another generation someday. That’s good teaching that some excitable souls have always chosen to ignore. Instead, they throw good money after bad at the false teachers and their products. Make no mistake – there’s a lot more money in preaching end-times craziness than there is in teaching holy living or Romans verse-by-verse. Once the date-setters have your money, they never give it back.


Jesus himself specifically warned his disciples against just this kind of speculative thinking, living, and preaching. Every sign that the prophets, Christ, and the apostles gave us to identify the last days was fulfilled long ago. Indeed, Scripture explicitly and repeatedly teaches that the last days began with the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah, and were definitively marked by the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost. We’ve been living in the last days since that time. Christ warned us that there would be no sign to indicate that his immediate appearing was at hand. (Acts 2:14-41, 1 Tim 4:1, 2 Tim 3:1, Heb 1:2, 1 Pet 1:20, 1 Jn 2:18, etc.) He warned us not to become embroiled in speculation and prediction. His coming for us will be sudden and unexpected, with no time to prepare, avoid, or flee.


People who become obsessed with end-times speculation and eventually predict a specific time for Christ’s coming usually have a few things in common. They are usually independent, “lone rangers” in their walk and ministry. They have almost always rejected true submission and accountability to a larger network of ministers or a solid church denomination. They are also almost always very dismissive or condescending toward the greater Church of Jesus Christ, or what we would call orthodox, evangelical, and historic churches. Such obsessed teachers believe God has revealed special secrets or eschatological signs and calculations to them and their particular sect of believers. They often find exotic “codes” or never before seen new “meanings” in Scripture that every Christian reader, student, and scholar for 2,000 years has been too dense or ungodly to discern. They always believe – whether those in the decade leading up to 1,000 A.D., or those during the Napoleonic Wars, or in our own lifetimes – that “they” are the final true recipients of much of Scripture, that God gave it with their particular “terminal” generation in mind.


In all of this they are usually elitists, thinking they have special super spiritual insights, visions, or prophetic words from God that no one else has ever received or is now receiving. This is a sign of pride, even arrogance. They are often conspiracy theorists, seeing dark demonic forces and cabals behind every technological advance, economic announcement, and political realignment. For many of them, Beelzebub’s in the bar codes and the Devil’s gone digital.


Finally, though some are well educated in fields unrelated to interpreting Scripture – engineering, law, computers – they were not properly trained by good scholars in correctly handling the Word of Truth. Their hermeneutics – the principles they use to interpret God’s Word – are self-taught, or sectarian innovations, or learned from an unlearned “teacher.” Their doctrine is doomed before it is formulated, because they don’t know how to read and understand the Bible correctly. In addition, they are unteachable – they reject the wisdom of true teachers of the Church, the wisdom God’s leaders have acquired through the ages. They are “unauthorized” workers, leading God’s people astray, holding the Church and the gospel up for ridicule before an unbelieving world.


A fundamental principle of understanding God’s Word is that the clear must interpret the unclear. A book of the Bible is interpreted on it’s own merit, but also as it fits in the whole of Scripture – the canon. A passage is interpreted in its immediate context – sentence, paragraph, line-of-thought, theme – and in the context of the book (such as Colossians). It is interpreted through its historical setting in time and culture. Most importantly, it is understood according to the form of literature it is – narrative, history, law, prophecy, poetry, gospel, apocalyptic, symbolic language, and so forth. You do NOT read all passages or pages of Scripture alike, for they are not written alike, and God never intended for us to read them identically. The Spirit inspired some men to write declarative sentences of teaching, some to write poetry, others to write in symbols. God expects us to respect his inspiration of that literary form as much as we respect the inspiration of the words in that form.


In all of this, a fundamental principle of reading and understanding Scripture is that “the clear always interprets the unclear.” If a passage is symbolic, or uses unusual words, concepts, and grammar that are ambiguous or hard to understand, it is “unclear.” We must try to find other passages that address this issue or topic, passages that are much clearer and easier to understand. The clear passages are used to interpret the unclear, never the reverse. Explicit and declarative mean that it is clearly declared, not implied, not inferred. The factors mentioned above must still be considered, but the meaning will be easier to determine using the clear passages. Most erroneous teaching is a result of violating these principles of interpretation.


Concerning his return to earth someday, Jesus made some explicit, declarative, clear statements. He made them repeatedly. The synoptic gospels, particularly Matthew, record Christ’s repeated warnings against trying to identify either the general or specific time of his return. As Christ and his apostles were leaving the temple in Jerusalem in Matthew 24, his disciples asked him two questions, including “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In verse 36 Jesus begins to answer that second question by saying “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” He then compared his coming with Noah’s flood, saying in verse 39, “ … and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Christ then repeatedly and explicitly declares that there will be no notice, no signal, no sign given that his return is imminent.


“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (24:42) “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (24:43) In the second coming parables that follow in chapter 25, four of the main emphases are related: there will be a delay between Christ’s departure and his return, his return will be sudden, his return will be unexpected, and we must therefore be ready at all times, for no one will know either the general or specific time of his return. (24:50, 25:5,13,19) These themes are repeated elsewhere in the New Testament.

Every other passage on the return of Christ must be interpreted by these explicit declarations and parabolic sayings of Jesus. Whether in the prophets, gospels, epistles, or Revelation, the clear must interpret the unclear. That means there will be no warning before Christ returns. The false teachers who through their wild, obsessive end-times speculations continually manipulate, distract, frighten, and fleece God’s holy People are going to receive a severe judgment when they stand before the Great Shepherd of the sheep.


Every day I look for the Lord’s return. Every day I pray “Maranatha! Even so, come Lord Jesus!” Every day and every night when things look “normal” on this beautiful planet, I think, “This could be it! Nothing unusual is happening! Christ could come today!” News of disasters, wars, earthquakes, plagues and the like, simply mean that we still live in a world that, for all its glory and beauty, is fallen, broken, and frequently devastated by tragedy. All of these things are a part of the present “normal” of planet Earth. We know – know, not speculate – from history and science that all of these things wax and wane in frequency over time for many different reasons, and that our lifetimes have seen none of these things increase far beyond what humanity has experienced proportionately in past ages. And, besides, these natural signs have been fulfilled since apostolic times and need no further fulfillment.


But, to borrow a recent iconic phrase from popular culture, “this has all happened before, and this shall all happen again.” 2012 is just around the corner, and we all know what the Mayans warned us would happen! Never mind that the best archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians all agree that the Mayans merely expected their long-count calendar to run out … and then simply start all over again. Many people will simply say, “We don’t want to hear that. We want apocalypse now! We want to live on the eve of destruction!” All the failures of eschatological speculators and schemes, all the rewriting of their books, all the rearranging of their villainous nations and good nations, will be taken in stride by those distracted saints who love living on the road to Armageddon.  Sad, but true.


To believe and live as Jesus taught, we too must long for the end of the world as we know it, but with a different focus and passion. Our focus is on living for and sharing with others the ever-living and glorious Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We rejoice that we’ve been swept up into God’s great story, his mission to redeem creation and lost people from among every nation. Our focus is on obeying Christ’s great commission in Matthew 28: Making disciples of Jesus – sharing Christ with others, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus taught. Our focus is on bringing the end of the world as they know it in their hearts and homes, to be replaced by the redeeming inbreaking of God’s Kingdom. We are to be living as if Christ could come or call at any moment, but planning and working as if we will hand this Church and its mission over to another generation.


I’m looking for THAT Day, and THAT Christ.  What about the antichrist? I’m not looking for him. I’m more concerned that I – Michael – might be polluted and deceived by the “spirit of antichrist” that the apostle John said was already abroad even in his day. That’s the real danger. So, I’m keeping my eyes on Jesus the Christ, walking in the fullness of the Spirit, learning and obeying more of God’s Word, and trying to lead as many others as possible to walk this ancient and future Christian way. I want to build such deep, biblical, spiritual discipleship into my life and the lives of others, that we will all stay true and be ready should Christ come or call tonight or 50 years from now. I want those I help disciple to be better Jesus-followers and better disciple-makers than I ever was. Do I seem to sense in my own heart that his coming is near? Yes, but that could be for any number of reasons. I cannot build my doctrine or my life on that. Only Christ and the Word are sure foundations for life and doctrine.


I’m not distracted by Yom Kippur 1988, by May 21, 2011, or by any ridiculous new visions or indecipherable prophetic words being blathered over the Internet or television. Christ’s coming will be judgment for the lost, but ultimate redemption for the children of God and for God’s creation. I do not live in fear, anxiety, or despair.  I live in joy, hope, and confidence.  God is working his purposes out in his way and in his time to our ultimate victory and to his glory. I never worry about this conspiracy theory or that world leader or the “spiritual” meaning of an oil spill, a tsunami, a comet, or a war.  I’m looking for the great redemption Day. It could be May 21, 2011, or September 15, 2150, or any other day before or after. To say otherwise is to flatly contradict the correctly interpreted Word of God.


For those who love living on the road to Armageddon, the last days are here again. For God, for his Church, and for me, the last days began at Christ’s first coming and will last until he comes again, which could be at any moment.   Maranatha!  Even so, come Lord Jesus!  Amen!

 

 

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