Saturday, May 21, 2011

Not all of us believe in the "Rapture"

Well, I almost made it past rapture-pa-looza without commenting. I am going to be short and sweet here. I have no desire to be controversial on this topic. Many of my Christian and Non-Christian friends have asked me about the prediction that the "rapture" was coming today.

My opinion was that it would not happen today primarily because I believe it will never happen. I don't believe in the rapture. It is ok if you do. I can see how some Christians interpret a few Biblical passages in a such a way to get there. I'm just saying that I am not one of them.

I do believe in some down-right unbelievable things: physical resurrection after death, a second physical returning of Jesus to earth, a future "New Heaven and New Earth," etc. I am not denying the rapture because it appears on the surface to be unrealistic and a little wacky. I am denying it because I don't believe it is mentioned the Bible as a futuristic prophecy.

Instead of writing why I believe this, I will include a few links below to some New Testament scholars who have influenced my thinking on how to interpret the disputed passages, particularly I Thessalonians 4:13-18.

We need not dread the end of the world. Our faith teaches that the world will be redeemed and beautiful someday through the reign of God in Jesus. That's our future. That is the truth that spurs us to endure the current "tribulations" that some of us are currently suffering. The world isn't going to end so much as it is waiting to begin. That's the point, IMHO (as the kids say).

So, read these links if you want to know more. (I have some fear of the comments to follow this post. I hope no uncivilized arguments ensue. I won't be commenting. If you know me personally we can talk about it next time you see me...) *

*I am hoping listing Jim Zartman with Greg Boyd and N.T. Wright will not go to his head.

**If I am wrong about this I will issue an apology to those of you who believe mid-flight. I promise.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Christian Response to Recent Events

The geo-political/pop-cultural events of the past few days are a mirror into the human story. 2.4 billion people recently watched a Royal Wedding. I looked at the pictures. It seemed super fancy. Someone asked me why I thought Americans were so captivated by a prince and princess living in another Kingdom. Especially since it is a relatively neutered monarchy with no real power. My answer was that we all want a King. William and Kate are only still "royal" because we desperately seek a world where royalty exists.

Deep in the communal center of a group of people is a desire for royalty. I do not mean by this that we all want to be the King or Prince or Princess of our world. (At some level, we all do. But that is not my point.) And I am not speaking so much of our individual desires, but the combined desire of the communal "us." We want a King. We want someone with authority, power and majesty to lead us. We have always wanted a King. That's the whole deal with the human race - especially as we divide ourselves into geo-political groups.

Those of us who wrestle with the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures see this theme throughout our entire story. For the Jews, the theme comes to an apex in the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 8. Here we get a clear view of what our Scriptures teach us. That we desperately want a King, but that YHWH himself desires and deserves that position. Yet we choose idols in the form of human kings. We label these replacement "gods" our kings (or more modernly we call them governments, presidents, prime ministers, etc.) Compared to YHWH any king or political leader who has ever lived is just like our current U.K. royal family - all presentation and circumstance with very little affective power.

This is a long text, but work through it to see where it all leads:

I Samuel 8:4-21

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

See what YHWH says? You don't want the kind of king you think you want. You want me, but you don't realize it. And the irony is that when you get a king, he will become your god. So do you want a man to be god...or God to be King?

We always choose a man to be god and reject the true King (who is God). So, that is why the Scriptures teach us that after centuries of failed kings and kingdoms, a new man came claiming to be the long-awaited great King. This is how far God went for us. He became a man to become our King (Messiah/Christ). We wouldn't accept him for who he was, so he lowered himself to who we are. And he came with one gospel message as recorded in Matthew 4:17:

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Here is our King. And he brings his rule - the Kingdom.

This brings us to the second event of recent days. After ten years, the nation of America has defeated an enemy who caused terrible destruction and death on her people. An evildoer was killed for his sins. I was immediately asked what the "Christian response" should be to Osama Bin Laden's demise. That is a complicated question with a complicated answer. I don't know if I am fully qualified to answer it with conviction. I can only say that my personal reaction was a sober one. I was not sad for Bin Laden, but I was not happy for America. It reminded me how the Kingdoms of this world operate, regardless of how just they genuinely try to be. This world is ruled through the weapon of death. Death is how all "kingdoms" reign.

Death is the most powerful weapon at our disposal. It was Bin Laden's greatest power - death and the fear of the death. Today we see that it is America's great power. His reign was ended with his own weapon. It has always been this way. The kings of the earth kill one another. Some will argue that there are times when killing is justified. I am torn on that matter. What I do know is that the world runs on the fear of death.

Our King understood this. So, he attacked the biggest enemy itself. Our King died to beat death. While every other King who has ever lived used death to gain power, Jesus the Christ died to gain power. And our King is the only King to ever beat death. In Revelation, chapter 1, John has a vision of the resurrected King Jesus:

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

And then at the end of his vision, we see the new Kingdom Jesus is leading us toward. We see a metaphorical glimpse of the tangible reality that awaits:

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

And so it will end. The God who wants to be King and rule a Kingdom will create a new heaven and new earth. Since he holds the key to defeating death, the new heaven and new earth will not be ruled by the threat of death, but by the real presence of God. In essence, God will get what he has always wanted. He will be the God who is King. And, we will get what we have always wanted, a King worth following. And, by the way, it all begins with a royal wedding:

9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

What do you know? Turns out we are the princess after all. Not me. Not you. Us. The city itself...the people who long for royalty are made royal. The people who long for justice are made right. The people tormented by tyrants, terrorists and madmen live peacefully in the city of God.

So, to put it simply. The "Christian response" to any event that may come upon us is to be Christian. Christian first. Not British, American or Pakastani. Simply Christians.

Love America. But submit to your King.