Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dance Your Shoes Off

Who said Baptists can't dance? More than 2,000 people from Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas, gathered in the heart of Houston to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This event, known as Dance Your Shoes Off! was held to publicly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ in a powerful and celebratory way. The name of the event was chosen because, after the performance, each participant left a new pair of shoes on the field for those in need. These shoes will be given to local mission agencies and to individuals all across the world through their mission partners and mission trips.

This occasion was inspired by a similar event held by believers from Faith Church of Budapest, Hungary.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Study of Bible Prophecy - in Perspective

In our last post, the first of a trilogy on End Times Prophecy, we examined the question, Are we living in the last days? If, as we determined, we can’t know the time or exact circumstances of Jesus’ return, would our study time be better spent on other Biblical doctrines rather than studying prophecy? In this second blog post, we’ll answer this question and discuss the study of prophecy within the context of our overall Bible study practice.

Before we go any further, I’d like to clarify the meaning of "prophecy" as used in this post. The chief Biblical use of the word “prophecy” entails forth telling, that is to accurately proclaim God’s message or Word, with primary application on the present times. Thus, anyone who can properly interpret and elucidate God’s word by the illumination of the Holy Spirit is a prophet. In this article however, we’re referring to the other Biblical meaning of prophecy, that of foretelling or predicting the future.

The Bible tells us that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17). This statement alone confirms the importance of studying Biblical prophecy. Over one-fourth of the Bible was prophetic at the time each book was written. Over half of the roughly two thousand documented prophecies have already been fulfilled without error, so we can be confident that the others will likewise be fulfilled in the future. Therefore, the study of prophecy familiarizes us with God’s plan for the ages, protects us from the deception of false teachings, and gives us confidence for the future. It is also evangelistic and apologetic in that, our studies impart in us the urgency to share our faith in whatever time we have left, and enhances our knowledge of doctrine which further equips us to defend the Faith. In addition, much of the proof of Jesus as the Messiah rests upon fulfilled OT prophecy.

So, we easily see that we should not neglect the study of Biblical prophecy. Nevertheless, we’d like to offer a few comments on balancing the study of prophecy with the study of other Biblical doctrines.

When studying systematically, we generally maintain a pretty good balance between most of the topics such as the Bible, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Man, Sin, and Salvation; although some erroneously minimize the essential study of the Church. With the study of Eschatology (last things) however, many tend to go to one of two extremes, either outright neglect or becoming so preoccupied with prophecy that the other doctrines are practically ignored. We’ve already mentioned several reasons not to overlook the study of prophecy, so we'll make a few remarks on the latter case.

One glance at the number of teachers and internet sites devoted exclusively to prophecy (some Biblical, others not so much) gives us a hint of its popularity. Most people are fascinated by the unknowns of the future, so it’s easy to see how we can easily become engrossed in the study of prophecy while overlooking the other Biblical doctrines, but we must be careful to avoid this trap. For one thing, our understanding of prophecy will be sorely lacking without a good working knowledge of the other essential doctrines.

Some folks might ask, what about those scholars who specialize in the study of prophecy. We are grateful for those who have dedicated a good part of their research time to Bible prophecy, but keep in mind that the more orthodox ones had already developed sound doctrine based upon all Scripture prior to their decision to specialize. For example, well known pastor and author Tim LaHaye, who has written many books on prophecy including the Left Behind series, had already researched and written many other books on a variety of other Biblical topics, and continued to study the entire Scriptures while concentrating on prophetical writings. Therefore, before anyone decides to “specialize”, they should become very familiar with the whole of Scripture.

This last statement also applies to other Biblical and related subjects other than prophecy. Many times, I’ve been in a Christian bookstore and overheard a customer ask for books on a topic such as predestination, non-Christian cults, or some gray area that doesn’t affect any major doctrines. After a minute or two, it often becomes obvious that the customer has little overall Bible knowledge. While a few these areas of study can be somewhat profitable after we obtain a solid Biblical foundation, they will be of little use to anyone with limited understanding of the Scriptures and, in some cases, can be outright dangerous. For example, David Jeremiah, a very respected pastor and author once testified that he was never so relieved to finish a project because, as he researched the occult for an upcoming book, he could feel the dark forces attempting to draw him in. We must be firmly anchored in historically orthodox doctrine prior to venturing into secondary topics.

I can speak from experience about wasting a lot of study time during my younger days. I began seriously researching Biblical doctrine about twenty years ago. Rather than consulting with experienced orthodox pastors and teachers, I set out on my own. I would often gauge a topic based upon interest rather than importance or truth. Unlike many others that fall into this trap, I had read the Bible most of my life, so I was fortunate enough to discern that many things that I was reading were not correct, but because I had yet to spend enough quality time studying the basics, I had no idea how to respond to these errors. Therefore, I decided that I must first become very familiar with orthodox Biblical doctrine before branching out into these side issues. Even today, I study the Bible daily, adding the study of an additional four to six books on rotating days. In an attempt to stay well rounded, I choose books from different categories such as Systematic Theology (includes prophecy), Church History, Apologetics, Prayer, Hebrew Heritage, Christian Philosophy, Evangelism, Christian Living, Spiritual Warfare etc.

In summary, we recommend that everyone first become well grounded in the historical Biblical doctrines of the Faith (which also includes the basic study of prophecy). Then, for those who are called to devote additional study time to Biblical prophecy, go for it. Just remember however, while you are spending time trying to determine who or what the third toe on the right foot of the image in Daniel 2 represents, don’t neglect your other Bible studies.

Speaking of Daniel, his OT book is filled with various prophecies given during the sixth century BC, some that came to pass over the next several centuries (primarily during the Intertestament period) and others that still await their fulfillment during the last days. In the final chapter, Daniel asks the angel for more information concerning the end times prophecies. The angel basically tells Daniel to go his own way (Dan 12:9) and not concern himself with the extra details that are sealed up until the end. This does not mean that we should not have a healthy interest in prophecy, but we should not become so obsessed with the future that we fail to faithfully carry out our faithful duties in the present. This will be the subject of our third and final post in this trilogy.

Update: Part 3, Present Living in Light of Prophecy is loaded.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Are We Living in the last Days?

This is the first of a planned trilogy of posts regarding the “end times” or “last days”.

With so much war, turmoil, disease, natural disasters, and economic uncertainty in the world today, a common question being asked is, “Are we living in the end times?” Theologically speaking, the “end times”, or “last days” began about 2000 years ago with the first advent of the Christ (Heb 1:1-2, 1Jn 2:18). I believe what most people mean by the question however, is “Will Jesus return during our lifetime, or soon thereafter?”

When Jesus’ disciples inquired about the time and circumstances of his return, He replied, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Mt 24:4-8). He then elaborates and illustrates further throughout the chapter, including making references to the OT book of Daniel.

Looking at history, we find many wrong predictions regarding the end of days. In the second century, a Roman priest predicted Jesus would return in 500AD based upon the dimensions of Noah’s ark. Many predicted the end would come at the beginning of 1000AD and 2000AD simply because of the year number. Others predicted 1033AD or 1533AD based on a crucifixion date of 33AD (Christ was crucified either 30AD or 33AD). Archbishop Ussher forecast a particular day in 1644 while others predicted 1666 because of the number of the beast. Jehovah’s Witnesses guessed 1874, 1878, 1881, 1910, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1975, and 1984 before announcing they would make no further predictions. In our modern times, a popular book in the 80s gave 88 reasons why Jesus would return in 1988. When this failed, the same author wote another book offering 89 reasons why the rapture would occur in 1989 (which didn’t sell many copies for some odd reason). Just this year, Harold Camping set his latest date for the rapture when his previous predictions failed to come true. This is just a few of the predictions that have been made throughout history, so maybe we should look instead at what Jesus himself had to say on the subject.

Regarding the time of his return, Jesus says No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 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. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” Mt 24:36-41.

Just before his ascension, they asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Ac 1:6-7).

So, we know that Jesus will definitely return (1Th 4:16-17), but we can only speculate whether the Second Advent will take place in our lifetime, shortly afterward, or at a date in the distant future. The signs are certainly evident, and there are no additional events that have to occur before His return. In addition to those already mentioned, we’ve witnessed a great increase in knowledge (primarily from technology) and the resettling of the Nation of Israel in the Promised Land. We’ve also seen more major wars in the last hundred years than in the past two millennia. Furthermore, just in the last ten years or so, we seen an unprecedented amount of natural disasters and human crisis such as war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, hurricanes (Katrina), tsunamis (Japan), earthquakes (China), AIDS, Swine flu, famines, and economic collapses. We also see the current administration in America virtually abandoning Israel as other countries line up against her. With the current conditions surrounding us, it’s difficult to imagine the world lasting much longer.

On the other hand, many men who were much smarter than me, such as Martin Luther (early 1500s) and Jonathan Edwards (mid 1700s), thought Christ would return in their lifetimes. Therefore, while I believe Jesus’ return is likely to be relatively soon, it could still be hundreds of years away. This uncertainty however, should make us no less diligent in our Christian walk. As I once heard it so well stated, we should prepare for a journey of a thousand years, but be prepared to abandon ship at any moment.

Update: Part 2, The Study of Bible Prophecy - in Perspective is loaded. In this post, we discuss the study of prophecy within the context of our overall Bible study practice.

Update: Part 3, Present Living in Light of Prophecy is loaded.