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Is it time to SLOW DOWN a little?

Slow

Many years ago, not long after moving to Chicago into a new fairly high pressured ministry position, John Ortberg asked his mentor, Dallas Willard, “What do I need to do to stay healthy and alive spiritually?” Long pause. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life”, he said at last. Another long pause. “Okay, I’ve written that down”, John told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” John had many things to do and this was a long distance conversation, so he was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least time possible. Another long pause. “There is nothing else”, Dallas said.

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life. Hurry can destroy our souls and can keep us from living well. As we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it – preventing us from a depth of spirituality. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Today, many of us suffer from what has come to be known as ‘hurry sickness’. We are a generation that is not into ‘good food’ or ‘cheap food’ but ‘fast food’! Even after fast food was introduced, people still had to park their cars, go inside, order, and take their food to a table, all of which took time. So we invented the Drive-Through Lane to enable families to eat in their cars, as nature intended.

Meyer Friedman defines ‘hurry sickness’ as “above all, a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more or participate in more and more vents in less and less time, frequently in the face of opposition, real or imagined, from other persons.”

Ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried.

John Wesley, at the age of 70, said, “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry because I never undertake any more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit.”

Hurry is not a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart. “Busy” is an outward state (many things to do). “Hurry” is an inward state – inaccessible to God, preoccupied, caught up with my own concerns, not fully present. It is an inward state of being ‘hassled or frantic’.

What are the symptoms of ‘hurry sickness’. John Ortberg, in his excellent book The Life You've Always Wanted, lists these for starters:

1. Constantly speeding up daily activities. We read faster, talk faster and even when listening, nod faster to encourage the talker to accelerate. At the stoplight, if there are two lanes and each contains one car, we find ourselves guessing – based on the year, model and driver of each car – which one will pull away the fastest. At the grocery store, we try to discern the quickest line. Then we keep track to see where we would have been.

2. Multi-tasking. We try to do as many things at one time as possible.

3. Clutter – lots of stuff and gadgets.

4. Superficiality – lack of depth.

5. An inability to love. Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time and time is one thing hurried people don’t have.

6. Sunset fatigue – we come home too tired, too drained and too preoccupied to love the people who are most important to us. We rush constantly and we live with an underlying tension.

Jesus never hurried. If we are to follow Jesus, we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives – because, we can’t move faster than the one we are following.

We can become unhurried people. Practice ‘slowing’ – drive in the slow lane, put your horn under a vow of silence, eat your food slowly, take the long check out line or don’t wear a watch for a day. Often hurried people are actually less productive.

The theology behind all of this is that God never requires more of us than we can do.

F.W. Boorham, an Australian writer, once said, “One of the supreme aims of a man’s life is to secure a margin. A good life, like a good book, should have a good margin. The most winsome people in the world are people who make you feel that they are never in a hurry.”

When people are with you do they feel like the most important person in the world?

The kingdom of God is not a hurried kingdom. We cannot do anything of quality when we are in a hurried inner state. Also, when we are tired or exhausted we don’t connect well with God or people.

One of the keys to developing a depth of spirituality is eliminating hurry from your life.

After all, God will not compete for your attention.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 8)

SG

A Few Important Qualifications

Here are a few important truths about ‘spiritual disciplines’ (from John Ortberg):

  • “Spiritual disciplines are not the barometer of spirituality”. The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people (see 2 Thess.1:3). The real issue is what kind of people were becoming NOT the exercises of spiritual disciplines we may be engaging in. We engage in spiritual disciplines not because they prove how spiritual we are but because they can lead us into God’s life.
  • “Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant.” Sometimes, we wrongly think that for an activity to count as a spiritual discipline it must be something we would rather not do. However, if we are training for a life characterised by love, peace and joy then we should assume that some of the practices are going to be enjoyable, especially when we understand their purpose and benefit to our lives. Also, all the disciplines are ‘self-validating’, in that we should see the fruit of their exercise in our lives.
  • “Spiritual disciplines are not a way to earn favour with God.” Salvation is not something we have to work for. It is a free gift of God’s grace. Paul says, “Work out your salvation” not work for”. Spiritual disciplines are not about trying to be good enough to earn God’s favour. They have value only as they help us to change and grow. They are a “means of grace”. They are activities that we engage in to open ourselves up to God’s transforming power. Always, the purpose is freedom and life. This is not a competition with others. Disciplines are not ‘righteousness’; they are ‘wisdom’.

Creating a Spiritual Growth Plan

Life should be viewed as a circle with God at the centre and everything else finding its meaning and perspective from that ‘centre’. God wants to be involved in every area of your life – not just your spiritual life. All of life is to be done with God. He is interested in every aspect of our lives (Col.3:17). Paul is saying that our entire lives – from the moment we wake up until the time we lay down to sleep – be lived out ‘in the name of Jesus’. That is what discipleship is all about. How is this going to happen? Well, one thing we know for sure - we are unlikely to do this if we adopt a casual or haphazard approach to our lives. We need vision, intention and means. ‘Means’ include not only a variety of ‘spiritual disciplines’ but also a ‘plan of action’ for their implementation in our life. Certain things are ‘basic’ and should be done by every Christian. Other exercises can be added in with a specific focus and possible for a specific season of time. Use creativity and be willing to experiment. What disciplines you decide to practise regularly will depend on your own sin tendencies that you are seeking to resist as well as the opportunities for loving service to God and others. Create a plan to strengthen and overcome your weaknesses. Some spiritual disciplines can be done simultaneously. Some of these can be done with other Christians, which makes their practice more enjoyable.

The first five disciplines we covered could be referred to as 'disciplines of engagement' as they refer to things we do in an active manner. They are helpful for dealing with sins of omission. The last five disciplines can be referred to as 'disciplines of disengagement' as they involve not doing something. They can be helpful in overcoming sins of commission. We need both types of discipline, kind of like breathing in and breathing out. A good balance is essential.

‘Hurry’ is a great enemy of our spiritual life. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them. Ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried. “Busy” is an outward state (many things to do). “Hurry” is an inward state (inaccessible to God, preoccupied, caught up with my own concerns, not fully present). God will not compete for our attention.

Reflection Questions

  1. Reflect on your experience, if any, with each of the spiritual disciplines. Which ones have been most helpful in your own spiritual growth?
  2. What are the dangers of making the practice of spiritual disciplines THE mark of spirituality?
  3. Think about the difference between being ‘busy’ and being in a ‘hurry’. What things can we do to ‘slow’ down our lives so we can experience a greater quality of life?

Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 7)

SG

Today we will look at three final spiritual disciplines or exercises:

8. Fasting. In fasting we choose to intentionally go without something for a period of time (usually something pleasurable but not necessarily sinful). It could be food (in a variety of forms) or some other activity (TV, music, etc). Jesus assumed that his disciples would fast (Mt.6:16-18) as he himself did (Mt.4). Fasting teaches us a lot about ourselves. It quickly reveals how much we are dependent on the pleasure of eating. It also demonstrates how powerful our body is and especially our appetite! Fasting seeks to confirm our dependence on God by finding strength from him alone. After all, it is not food that gives us true life; it is God’s word to us (Mt.4:4). Life is much more than food (Lk.12:33) and our belly is not our god as it is for others (Phil.3:19. Rom.16:18). Fasting is one of the more important ways of practising the self-denial required of everyone who would follow Christ. Fasting teaches self-control and therefore trains us in restraint with regard to all our fundamental drives. We learn the value of ‘contentment’ (1 Tim.6:6). Fasting is not an easy discipline but its practice yields great benefits in our lives, especially when accompanied by time in prayer and other disciplines.

9. Sacrifice. Sacrifice is giving away something we really value (time or resources) or giving until it costs us quite a bit. It helps to remind us that in God we have all we need and to remember to hold on to things lightly so that they don’t have too strong a hold on us. Jesus calls us to invest our time, talents and finances into the expansion of his kingdom on earth (Lk.18:18-23). We live in a culture that is obsessed with ‘greedy getting’ God calls us into a kingdom where his values are ‘generous giving’. God calls us to a life of ‘giving and receiving’ not one of ‘getting and keeping’. Will we pass this resource test? Again, the amount is not as important as the heart attitude and the motivation (Lk.21:2-4). As a response to his sacrificial love (Jn.3:16), God calls us to a life of sacrifice (Rom.12:1-2). Sacrifice moves the heart of God like nothing else! When we sacrifice we move into a different dimension of faith and often we’re surprised at the results.

10. Secrecy. In secrecy we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. It involves doing a good deed while intentionally remaining anonymous. This is an important spiritual discipline recommended by Jesus himself (Mt.6:1-6). Jesus’ point is that our very nature is to try to impress others. He is teaching us that true spiritual maturity means that we don’t feel the need to congratulate ourselves because we’ve gotten something right. The discipline of secrecy exists to liberate those who are trapped by the desire to ‘be seen’ or to impress others. Many people live in what we could call ‘approval addiction’ – bondage to what others think about them. Their sense of identity, esteem and value is wrapped up in other people’s appraisal of our worth. Some practical ideas: immerse a person in prayer and don’t tell anyone, make a generous donation to a ministry or send a sacrificial gift to someone in need – and keep it anonymous, commit a random act of kindness or intentionally down-play any position, expertise, accomplishments or knowledge you may have.

Part 8.


OMEGA: How Will It All End?

Endtms

'End Times' Fever

One of the last questions Jesus’ disciples asked him was about the end of the world (see Matthew 24:1-3). After the resurrection and at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, he ascended up to heaven. As he did, two angels appeared and boldly proclaimed, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:10-11).” The last recorded words of the ascended Jesus are in the book of Revelation. They were to the church and he said, “Yes, I am coming soon (Rev.22:7, 12, 20)!” Ever since that time people have looked for and anticipated the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world. This began with the New Testament believers and has continued right through history but has intensified in recent years. End times fever is alive and well! That’s why it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the end times so that we are not swayed by various trends or world events.

Observations about the Second Coming of Jesus

1. Jesus will come again. The early church held strongly to the belief that Jesus would come again as he said he would. A common phrase among them was “Maranatha”, which means, “Come, O Lord! (1 Cor.16:22)” The second coming of Jesus Christ is mentioned 318 times in the 216 chapters of the NT. That’s 1 in every 25 verses. Some entire chapters are given to this subject (Mt.24. Mk.13. Lk.21. 1 Cor.15) and three New Testament writers wrote entire books about it (1 and 2 Thessalonians. Jude. Revelation). Jesus said he would come again. Peter, Paul, John, James and Jude all speak of his coming. Not one New Testament writer fails to mention it. There are more references to this subject that any other New Testament teaching. Every time we take communion or the “Lord’s supper” we proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor.11:26). Jesus will return to the earth literally, visibly (“every eye will see him”), physically and personally just like he came. It will be the “same Jesus”, not another. He will come personally to receive us to himself (Jn.14:3). Unlike his first coming, which was in great humility and lowliness, his second coming will be in great glory with his angelic hosts accompanying him (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31).

2. No one knows exactly when. Jesus will return in the Father’s appointed time. No one knows the exact day or hour (Mt.24:36. Mk.13:32. Acts 1:7. 1 Thess.5:2. 2 Pet.3:10. Acts 3:19-21). People who try to set dates or times bring discredit to the Christian faith and cause people to mock (2 Pet.3:4). We can, however, know the “times and seasons”. If we study God’s Word and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we can be aware and ready for his coming. We don’t have to be caught “off guard” like the religious leaders were at Christ’s first coming. Dogmatism and intolerance on exact details is not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. For those who are unprepared, his coming will be like a “thief in the night” – suddenly (Mk.13:36) and unexpectedly (Mt.24:36-51; 25:1-3. Mk.13:32-37. Rev.3:3; 16:15. 2 Pet.3:10. 1 Thess.5:1-11). Therefore, we need to be spiritual awake, watching and ready.

3. The second coming completes what Jesus began at his first coming. At the cross Jesus conquered Satan, sin, sickness and death. He said, “It is finished”! However, we live in the time of the end, which involves a tension between the “now and the not yet”.

  • “Already” Satan is conquered (a defeated foe), but “not yet” has his final judgement taken place. In between, he continues to try to deceive the nations and must be resisted.
  • “Already” sin has been atoned for and forgiveness is freely available, but “not yet” do we see sin totally eradicated.
  • “Already” sickness has been defeated but “not yet” do we see sickness and disease totally removed from the earth.
  • “Already” death is defeated but “not yet” do we see death destroyed. Our bodies are all ageing and unless Jesus returns beforehand, we will all die.

The contract has been signed and paid in full but we are living in this “in between time” before what has been legally accomplished becomes a complete reality.

  • There is coming a day when Satan and his demonic forces will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity.
  • There is coming a day when sin will be cleansed from the earth and from our lives.
  • There is coming a day where sickness and pain will be no more, where suffering ceases.
  • There is coming a day when death, our last enemy, will finally be destroyed.

That “day” is the second coming of Jesus Christ. So the kingdom is both present (“already”) and future (“not yet”). Until then, we stand firm and continue to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” This prayer is a request for God to reign and to manifest his love, justice and mercy in the earth. Our hope is rooted in Christ’s work of redemption that began on the cross and will be completed at his second coming.

The Bible and the End Times

There are a number of books and passages in the Bible that deal specifically with the ‘time of the end’ and the second coming of Jesus. Obviously, the book of Revelation would be the primary source of information concerning the end times. It is a fascinating apocalyptic book with much prophetic symbolism in it that makes it somewhat difficult to interpret. Over the years there have been a variety of approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation (as well as the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24). There are three broad categories of how people have interpreted this book through the centuries:

1. The Preterist (‘past’) View – this view understands the events of Revelation as having been fulfilled in large parts in the first centuries of the Christian era. In effect the book was written to comfort Christians, who suffered persecution from Rome and also from Judaism. Revelation’s fulfilment is all in the past. We don’t need to be looking for anything happening today that corresponds to its prophecies.

This view has a lot of merit. The book of Revelation was written to real people and real churches in the first century and it had specific relevance to what they were going through. It meant something to them and they would have been able to gain understanding about the times they were living in and to draw comfort and hope from it. In fact, the arguments for a direct correlation between some of the prophetic pictures in revelation and to events in the first century are quite convincing. However, in addition to this, like all biblical books, I believe that Revelation also speaks to believers in all generations and times of history. We must not limit its meaning and application to the first century. In fact, like all prophecy, there are often layers of application to people in different times and circumstances without taking away the direct significance to the first hearers. 

2. The Historicist View (‘literal’) – this view sees the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history. Another variation of this view it what is referred to as a ‘Futurist View’, which argues that the events spoken about in Revelation (particularly chapters 4-22) await the end times for their historical fulfilment.

This view has some good things going for it. The first coming of Jesus historically fulfilled a whole variety of prophecies from generations earlier, and with amazing accuracy. It seems sensible to acknowledge that the same thing will happen with his second coming too. Unfortunately, the task of trying to identify contemporary events with prophecies from Revelation is fraught with danger and must be done very carefully. Otherwise, believers can be caught up in a ‘conspiracy theory’ obsession that only leads to fear and speculation and doesn’t really help anyone.

3. The Idealist View (‘figurative’ or ‘spiritual’) – this view is reluctant to pinpoint the symbolism of revelation historically with any specific social or political events. Rather it sees Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil that continues throughout the church age. The challenge is to be faithful to Christ and expectant of a victorious future not to seek any literal or chronological interpretation.

This view also has some real merit. There is a lot of prophetic symbolism in Revelation that paints pictures of spiritual activity in the heavens that can’t be fully understand in human or historical terms. However, to limit the entire book to only spiritual matters without any direct correspondence to events on earth would seem an inadequate approach.

As you can see, each one of these views has strengths and weaknesses. I believe that proper interpretation includes the best aspects of all three views.

An Order of End Time Events

We will now look at a possible order of end time events. It is important to mention that dogmatism and intolerance on exact ‘end time’ details are not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. Every one of us is in danger of doing the same with the second coming. Here at CityLife, we have no official ‘party line’ when it comes to end time teaching. We allow for diversity on the details of these types of matters After all, we’ll probably all be a little right and a little wrong about how it’s all going to happen. I’m sure there will be a few surprises for everyone!

Let’s look at what will likely happen before, at and after the second coming of Jesus. Of course, I encourage you can do your own reading, study and research on this important topic.

Things to occur before the second coming of Jesus Christ 

Negative things to occur:

1. Increasing spiritual darkness (Is.60:1-3). Jesus told us that the last days just prior to his coming will be similar to the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Lk.17:20-37). He said that there would be great deception (Mt.24. 1 Tim.4:1) with many false prophets and false “Christ’s” appearing (Mt.24:5, 11, 23-26. 2 Thess.2:1-12. Rev.13). We are told of a great “apostasy” or “falling away” of many who are struggling to hold on to their faith in Jesus Christ (2 Thess.2:1-3. Mt.24:12. Heb.6:3-8).

2. Great Tribulation (times of ‘pressure’). There will be a time of great tribulation (Mt.24) and “terrible times” (2 Tim.3:1-7). Wars, diseases and earthquakes will increase (Mt.24:6-7. Rev.6:1-17). There will be times of intense persecution of believers for their faith (Mt.24:9-10, 21).

3. The revelation of the Antichrist. The title ‘antichrist’ refers to someone who is ‘against Christ’ or who sets themselves up ‘instead of’ or in competition with Christ. Jesus himself predicted the appearance of “false Christ’s” (Mt.24:5). There is a ‘spirit of antichrist’ at work in the world (1 Jn.4:3). The apostle John tells that there will be ‘many antichrists’ in the last day (1 Jn.2:18). There also seems to be an indication that there will be one very strong individual Antichrist (‘the’ Antichrist) who will be revealed in the last days before Jesus returns (see 2 Thess.2:1-12). The Antichrist will be revealed and will set up his kingdom for a time (Dan.2, 7, 11. Rev.13; 19:11-21). Satan knows that his time is short and in the last days he will throw everything he can against God and his work on earth.

4. God’s judgements will be revealed (Rev.14:7; 16:7). These judgements are outlined under the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls of anger to be poured out on the earth (Rev.6-16), as people reap the consequences of their decisions and actions.

Positive things to occur:

1. A worldwide outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28-32. Acts 2:17-21. James 5:7-8). This began on the day of Pentecost and will be completed in the “last days”.

2. A great spiritual harvest. Many people will become followers of Jesus and there will be a great harvest of people brought into the kingdom of God. The gospel will be preached to every nation and people saved out of every nation or “people group”, before the end comes (Mt.24:14). Revelation tells us about a multitude of people worship around the throne from ‘every tribe, language, people and nation’ (Rev.5:9). We still have more work to do here.

3. A glorious church. The church of Jesus Christ will be united (Jn.17), glorious (Eph.5:25-27) and victorious (Mt.16). The “last day” church will be greater than the first church (Acts 3:19-21). We are not there yet.

4. The fulfilment of all true prophetic words. All words spoken by the prophets will be fulfilled (Acts 3:19-21). Not one word spoken by God through his prophets will be left undone. Everything will come to pass. In fact, one reason I don’t believe Jesus will come back tonight, is because there are a number of things yet to be accomplished before he returns.

Darkness and light (Prov.4:18-19. Is.60:1-3), the mystery of lawlessness and the mystery of godliness, the weeds (tares) and the wheat are growing together as the coming of Christ draws near. The evidence of many of these “signs” is all around us today and they will increase in intensity as the return of the Lord comes closer. We live in exciting yet challenging times.

Things to occur at the second coming

1. The appearance of Jesus in glory. Jesus’ return will be with “a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess.4:13-18). He will return in great glory, the glory of his Father (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31). The angelic hosts will accompany him. Every eye will see him (Rev.1:7). John gives us a vivid picture of Jesus riding on a white horse – eyes blazing with fire, a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, his robe dipped in blood and the armies of heaven riding with him (Rev.19:11-16).

2. The resurrection of the righteous. All believers who have died “in faith” will have their bodies resurrected and will live forever with a glorified body (1 Thess.4:13-18. 1 Cor.15:51-57. Heb.9:28. Phil.3:20-21). In that sense Jesus is coming ‘with’ his saints. This refers to all of the righteous believers who have died in faith since time began – their spirits are in heaven right now but they are waiting in expectation for the resurrection and glorification of their bodies.

3. The ‘rapture’ of remaining believers. Although the word ‘rapture’ in not mentioned in the Bible, the concept is. Jesus will return for (those who are “alive and remain” and escape death) and with his saints (those who “died in faith”). In this sense, Jesus is coming ‘for’ his saints – those who are alive and remain on the earth when he returns (1 Thess.4:16-17). There is a generation that will never die. Jesus will come in their generation while they are still alive and they will be "caught up" to meet him int he air. Many have hoped to be a part of that company and we do too.

What a day that will be! It will be more dramatic, more explosive and more exciting than any movie you have ever seen. The second coming is a great source of comfort and of hope for us as believers. There is coming a time when pain, crying and suffering will be gone. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died and gone to heaven.

Things to Occur After the Second Coming

1. Judgement and reward for believers. Believers will appear before the judgement seat of Christ, which is not about salvation but about reward for the good works we have done (2 Cor.5:10).

2. Judgement of the devil. The devil will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity (Rev.20:10). This judgment has been a long time coming being prophesied about in Genesis 3:15 and initially enacted by the work of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent resurrection.

3. Eternity in either heaven or hell (based on our choices in life). There will be a judgment for unbelievers, the great white throne judgement where the book of life will be opened. Those who names are not in the book of life will be cast into a lake of fire (Rev.20:11-15) where the devil and his angels are.

The godly, those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, will live forever in heaven with the Lord (Rev.21:27). Heaven will be a place like nothing we have ever experienced – more wonderful than we could ever think or imagine. God’s heart is that no one perish but that all have an opportunity to receive forgiveness and eternal life (2 Pet.3:9). Hell was made for the devil not for people. God does not wish anyone to end up in hell, that’s why he sent his Son.

Another area of debate amongst end time theologians is when the ‘millennium’ spoken about in Rev.20:1-6 will be. The ‘millennium’ is a 1000-year period where believers will rule and reign with Christ on the earth as a reward for their faithfulness. Some people believe we are in the millennium now and therefore that the second coming occurs after it (post-millennialists). Some people believe that it does not refer to a literal period of time but rather is symbolic of the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ (a-millennialists). Still others believe the second coming will occur before it (pre-millennialists). The challenge for all interpreters is that Revelation 20 is the only explicit reference of the millennium in the Bible and there is no mention of the relation of the second coming to the millennium in the actual text (whether it is before or after). Personally, I don’t think we’re in it now (you call this rest?). I tend to think it will be after the second coming but even that view has some challenges. We should not be dogmatic because there are too many unknowns.

4. The creation of a new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3:1-13. Rev.21). The end of the biblical story (Revelation 21-22) return us to a new world without sin, suffering or death, just like God originally intended (Genesis 1-2).

How should we then live?

We should live ready for Christ to come at any moment (Lk.21:34-36) but working diligently as if he may not come back in our lifetime. We should avoid extremes (over-preoccupation with a sneaky rapture vs. trying to create heaven here on earth). As Tony Campolo once said, “Any theology that does not live with a sense of the immediate return of Christ is a theology that takes the edge off the urgency of faith. But any theology that does not cause us to live as though the world will be here for thousands of years is a theology that leads us into social irresponsibility.”

1. Live with full devotion to the Lord. Be prayerful and watchful. Love him with all your heart and develop a close relationship with him. Many nominal believers will be shocked on that day (Mt.7:21-23). Don’t be caught without “oil” (Mt.25:1-13). Be spiritually awake, refusing to allow lethargy or apathy into your heart (Mk.13:32-37. Rom.13:11-12. 1 Thess.5:1-10).

2. Live your life in light of eternity. What we do in time echoes through eternity. We have only one life to life. This is not a dress rehearsal or a practice run. This is the real thing so give it all you’ve got. Use your gifts, talents and abilities for the benefit of others (Mt.25:14-30. 2 Cor.5:10-11. 1 Cor.3:1-15). We will be rewarded for faithfulness with what we have been given, not because of the gifts we received or the positions we held.

3. Live with an evangelistic edge. Make heaven’s priority yours. Be stirred to a spirit of evangelism. Build relationships, take risks, look for opportunities, share your faith and invite people to church and to Christ. Join God in his mission in the world.

Life is short, live wisely! Know God’s will, seize every opportunity and invest your time in things that count for eternity (Eph.5:15-17).

Extra Reading

There are a variety of views within the Christian church about all of these ‘end times’ matters. With so many unknowns, it is wise to hold our own views about the future cautiously and with an open mind. Here is some recommended reading for those who’d like to dig a little deeper.

  • Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).
  • Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Wrath, or Post-Tribulation, edited by Craig A. Blaising (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2010).
  • Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, edited by Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999).
  • Four Views on Hell (Second Edition), edited by Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2016).
  • Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996).
  • Four Views on Eternal Security, edited by J. Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002).
  • Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, edited by Robert N. Wilkin (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2013).

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. What evidences do you see of ‘end times fever’ today?
  2. Have your ever read the book of Revelation? How did you find it? Did you understand it? Discuss the various ways people interpret this book. What do you think about them?
  3. When do you think that Jesus will return? Soon? In our life time? In another generation?
  4. What are some things happening today that may indicate that Jesus is coming soon?
  5. Do you ever think about the second coming of Jesus? What do you think that day will be like?
  6. Do you think the church, in general, focuses too much on ‘end times’ or not enough?
  7. Consider the things to occur before the second coming. Do you believe Jesus may come back tonight? If so, why? If not, why?
  8. Reflect on eternity – heaven and hell. What do you think they will be like?
  9. How does your belief in the second coming affect your daily life?

End Times Fever

End

The topic of the ‘end of the world’ has been one of interest to humans since time began but it has intensified in recent years.

Church History

Here is a quick overview of what has taken place from the end of New Testament times up until today:

1. Many people have speculated about the time of the second coming and the end of the world as we know it.

  • Even in 100 AD there were believers who thought it was immanent.
  • In the early 200s, Hippolytus of Rome predicted that Christ would come in 496 AD, working out this date from studying the book of Daniel.
  • Another Syrian church leader led his people out into the desert to await the second coming – only to be disappointed when it didn’t happen.
  • Another leader from northern Asian Minor predicted that Christ would come in a year’s time. His people trusted him and when the year went by they were devastated.

2. Many people speculated about the great tribulation.

  • In 303 AD great persecution broke out against the church and there was speculation that the dreaded tribulation may have arrived, with the Roman Emperor Diocletian as the first beast in Revelation 13 and his Caesar Galerius as the second beast.
  • When persecution ceased under Emperor Constantine in 312 AD and the church entered into a period of favourable treatment, many thought that the Millennium (1,000 years reign with Christ spoken about in Revelation 20:1-6) had arrived and that Christ’s coming was near.

3. Then just before the year 1000 AD there is evidence of more millennium and end of the world fever.

4. When the bubonic plague swept across Europe in the 1300s killing 40% of the population many people thought the end of the world was near.

5. There were many radically apocalyptic movements in the Middle Ages.

6. Many people have speculated about the Antichrist.

  • Frederick the Roman Emperor who died in 1250 AD.
  • Luther believed that the Catholic Pope at that time was the Antichrist. Of course the Pope at that time, Hadrian VI, thought that Luther was the Antichrist because of his attacks on the Catholic Church at that time.
  • Many other individuals in history have been given this label too – from Nero to Napoleon to Hitler, from Ronald Wilson Reagan to Henry Kissinger.

7. In the 1800s …

  • Many American Protestants believed that they were living in special times and that current events were hastening the coming of God’s kingdom to earth. Through people such as Jonathan Edwards and a number of great religious awakenings there was a belief that the church would rule supreme throughout the world and all evil would be suppressed ... then Jesus would come.
  • Great evangelistic preacher Charles Finney said that “if the church will do her duty, the Millennium may come in this country in three years.”
  • The American Civil War was the first event to burst this balloon of optimism. Factors such as immigration, urbanisation and industrialisation created numerous problems for the nation and people began to realise that the world was simply not getting better.
  • A church going farmer named William Miller was convinced upon studying the Scriptures (particularly the prophecies of Daniel) that that the world would end in 1844 (25 years from when he made this prediction). Optimism filled the air as did millennial dreams. Miller and his associates began travelling everywhere preaching at camp meetings and distributing all kinds of literature. Crowds of people gather in city after city to hear sermons such as, “Are you ready to meet the Saviour?” It is estimated that more than 50,000 people believed Miller with as many as a million others who were curious and expectant. When March 21, 1994 passed and nothing happened, Miller had to confess his error and acknowledge his disappointment. But one of his followers found a verse in the OT about a tarrying time of 7 months and 10 days (Hab.2:3. Lev.25:9) so a new date was set – Oct.22, 1844. When the second date came and went, just as the first one, most of Miller’s followers were completely disillusioned, Many became bitter and Miller died in 1849 a discredited and forgotten man.
  • By the end of the 1800s, events such as political corruption, international conflicts such as World War I, earthquakes, changing weather patterns, polio and flu epidemics, the rise of cults, and the sinking of the Titanic signalled worse times – not better. These events seemed to be proof to many that the end of the age was rapidly approaching.

8. After World War II (the 1900s), there was further eschatological frenzy. The world definitely wasn’t becoming a better place – two world wars, a depression, Hitler, Mussolini, holocausts and environmental crises proved that. Atomic weapons with incredible destructive power now left no safe place on earth. The USA and the Soviet Union entered the Cold War. A host of prophetic and apocalyptic literature rolled off the evangelical presses in the 1960s through to the 1980s.

  • One example is Hal Lindsay whose book, The Late Great Planet Earth, became one of the best selling non-fiction books of the 1970s, selling more than 35 million copies and was translated into 50 languages. The book focused on outlining all of the signs of the times – everything from the Antichrist to the battle of Armageddon. He predicted the return of Christ in 1988 and the rapture of the church 7 years earlier. Obviously, as that date came and went, Lindsay made some changes to his predictions.
  • Christian rock singer, Larry Norman, wrote a song entitled, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. This song is played several times in the movie The Thief in the Night (1972), the first in a four-part film series. It focused on all the sings of the end – a one world government, a bar code ‘mark of the beast’ and an appeal to become a Christian now.
  • In America, one minister released a book in the early 1980s entitled, “88 reasons why Jesus will come back in 1988”, selling many 1000s of copies to gullible Christians. Interestingly enough, he issued a sequel the following year, “89 reasons why Jesus will come back in 1989.” I assume the extra reason was because he didn’t come back in 1988! Anyway, we haven’t heard much from him since.
  • Other people have predicted dates such as 1994 and 2000 as the end of the world. Anyone remember Y2K? Well, as you can see, we’re still here!

Contemporary Culture …

Many movies made in the last few decades today make us aware of an end times –movies such as Mad Max, The Terminator, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Matrix and The Day After Tomorrow all have some sort of apocalyptic or ‘end of the world’ theme.

One of most popular set of Christian novels is the Left Behind series created by Tim LaHaye. TIME magazine named this as one of the best selling fiction books of our times (over 65 million copies have been sold) and acknowledged its contribution to the frequent conversations emerging about the end of the world. The twelfth book in the series, The Glorious Appearing, focuses on what happens with those who are left behind after the Rapture. Tim LaHaye passed away in July of the year and the area of 90 ... leaving us all behind.

Just this week, there was an news article saying that Nostradamus (the French seer from the 1500s who wrote down many prophetic sayings) predicted that Donald Trump would win the American Presidency and the end would come soon after. Others are saying that the occurrence of three super moons this year is a sign of the end. 

Yes, end time fever is alive and well!

Well, how will it all end?

See my next BLOG post "Omega: How Will It All End?"

[Much of this information has been gleaned from the Christian History magazine (Issue 61), The End – A History of the Second Coming]


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 6)

SG

Here are some more spiritual disciplines ...

6. Solitude. Solitude is intentionally spending time alone with God away from people and from busyness or distractions. We choose to be alone. It is one of the most important and fundamental of the spiritual disciplines, especially if we are to do some of the other disciplines well. Jesus spent a lot of time in solitude throughout his life (Mt.4:1-2; 14:23. Lk.4:42; 5:15-16; 6:12). Jesus taught his followers to do the same (Mk.6:30-32). Take some regular time for solitude, preferably each day. Begin the day with some time alone with God. Take breaks during the day and end the day reviewing the day with God. It is also good to have occasional extended periods of solitude (half a day, a day or a few days throughout the year). Solitude is about withdrawing from conversation, from the presence of others, from noise and from the constant barrage of stimulation (phones, TV, friends, music, books, newspapers, etc). If we never pull aside into solitude we can tend to hide beneath the busyness of our life and never really find ourselves or God. As a result, our spiritual growth and development can be stunted. In contrast, when we choose to make time to be alone, solitude provides an environment for us to find ourselves and to find God in the deep places of our heart. We also gain clarity and perspective on our lives, our ability to plan is enhanced. Much growth and change can emerge from these times.

7. Silence. In silence, we close off ourselves from ‘sounds’, whether those sounds be noise, music or words. Silence can be frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It leaves us with just ourselves … and God (Is.30:15. Ecc.3:7. Ex.14:14. Ps.4:4; 37:7; 46:10. Hab.2:20). Silence creates a break from the world that is bombarding us. Silence positions us to listen to God. There is also the silence of ‘not speaking’. Talking often gets us into trouble. In the practice of silence we learn the value of words. James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (Jas.1:19).” Practice in ‘not speaking’ can help us gain better control of our tongues so that they don’t go off ‘automatically’ as much. It helps to create a ‘gap’ where we have more time to consider more fully what we’re about to say and the impact of those words (see Mk.14:61). It also allows us to stop managing the world and especially our appearance in the world. We stop trying to impress people with what we know and what we can say. Become conscious of conveying grace from your speaking. This comes from an inward quietness where you take time to receive from God things that will benefit those who are listening to you (Eph.4:29).

Part 7.


Update on Mark and Nicole Conner

Change
 
At a Special General Meeting on 6th October, the CityLife members confirmed by an overwhelming majority the unanimous nomination by the Board of Elders of Andrew Hill as the next Senior Minister of CityLife Church (read my initial announcement about leadership transition back in February 2016, in case you missed that).
 
I congratulate Andrew on this appointment and look forward to working with him over the next few months to ensure a smooth transition for him and the church. Good days are ahead. 

February 2017 will be a big month for our church as we celebrate our 50th anniversary (11-12th Feb), have my farewell (18-19th Feb), and have Andrew's official induction as the new Senior Minister (25-26th Feb).

What's next for me? Once I finish in my current role at the end of February 2017, I will take 6 months off then most likely move into a montage of contributions, including some more writing, mentoring/coaching of leaders, and speaking/travel. Of course, Nicole and I are open to anything God may bring our way in terms of a new assignment. We have decided to relocate to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland as our base for this next season of life and ministry.

Thanks so much for your prayers and support during this significant period of change for us and CityLife Church.
 

Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 5)

SG

Another spiritual discipline ...

5. Serving. A very important discipline is the discipline of ‘serving’. It helps us to work hard against our ingrained bent towards self-centredness. Naturally, we’d all prefer to ‘be served’ than to ‘serve’. However, in the kingdom of God, God calls us all to be servants – to take on the nature of Christ and to choose to serve others, willingly and joyfully (Mt.20:25-28. 1 Cor.12:7. 1 Pet.4:10). We are called to serve - at home, at work or school, in our neighbourhood and in our church family.

When we don’t adopt the posture of a servant we continue to live life centred on ourselves and as a result we can tend to become self-absorbed, proud and unattractive people. When we choose to serve, we please God by imitating him, we make a difference in the lives of others and we position ourselves for growth in humility, character and genuine love.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the difference between the concepts of ‘trying’ and ‘training’.
  2. What do you think of when you hear the term ‘spiritual disciplines’?
  3. Jesus intended for his disciples to know the fullness of his joy. Is being a Christian seen as a joyful experience by the world today? If not, why not and what can be done about it?
  4. Think about the most impacting prayer time you’ve ever had. What happened?
  5. How does fellowship and relationship with other people help us grow spiritually?
  6. What are the spiritual growth benefits of serving?
  7. Out of the five disciplines discussed so far, which one spoke the most to you? What could make the biggest different in your spiritual growth? Is it … celebration, prayer, the Bible, fellowship or serving?

So far we have looked at five common spiritual disciplines that can help us grow spiritually - celebration, prayer, the Bible, fellowship and serving. These are all disciplines of ‘engagement’ - things we ‘do’ to help us grow spiritually. They are all ‘action orientated’. Next, we will look at another five spiritual disciplines that will also be a help to us.

Part 6.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 4)

SG

Some more spiritual disciplines ...

3. The Bible. The Bible is the Word of God. It contains his thoughts about life. It is our guidebook for life – how we are meant to live in the kingdom of God here and now (2 Tim.3:16-17). God’s Word is given to us not just to give us ‘information’ but to help bring about a ‘transformation’ in our life. Paul speaks about us being cleansed by ‘the washing of water by the word” (Eph.5:26).

Read, study, memorise and meditate on the Word of God (Ps.1:1-3). Get his thoughts into your heart and mind. Ask God to speak to you as you read. Your goal is to encounter God through his Word. Have an open heart. Desire change and transformation. Determine to be responsive and obedient. Remember it’s not always ‘how much’ you read but ‘how’ you read that makes the biggest difference.

God’s Word is powerful! It can literally change your life! When I choose to ignore God’s Word I remain stuck in my natural habit patterns, deceived by the subtle lies of the enemy and I never enter the fullness of the life God has for me. When I choose to saturate my heart and mind with the Word of God, I am filling my inner world with God’s heart and God’s wisdom for life. As I embrace and then apply God’s Word, it can literally transform me from the inside out.

4. Fellowship. Spend time with other believers. Christianity is not a ‘solo sport’ or ‘do it yourself religion’. It is a community or family of believers following Jesus together. Sometimes it can be easier to be alone but God wants us to enter into the discipline of fellowship. It’s in interacting and relating with other people that we have the potential to grow and change. We can learn a lot just through being with other people – observing and listening to what God is doing in their life (Acts 2:42-47).

We must focus on doing things that build loving and healthy relationships. We must also avoid things that destroy relationships. Jesus’ number one command or instruction to his disciples was that they love each other as he had loved them (Jn.13:34-35). THE measure of our spiritual growth is the indication that we are becoming a more loving person which shows itself in our increasing ability to get along well with other people – even difficult people (1 Cor.13). Our ability to get along with a wide variety of people is not only God’s will for our lives but it is essential for success in life.

Part 5.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 3)

SG

Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines are like ‘habits of effectiveness’ for the spiritual life, much like exercises, are used to develop habits of effectiveness for other areas of life (sport, music or language). Richard Foster says, “The disciplines place us before God so that God can transform us.” They get us in God’s presence so he can grow us. A ‘discipline’ is an activity within our power that enables us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort. The effect of the discipline is to enable us to do what needs to be done when and as it needs to be done (see Mt.26:41. Josh.1:8. Ps. 119:9, 11). Today we want to talk about a number of spiritual ‘disciplines’ or ‘exercises’ that can help us change and grow.

1. Celebration. Choose to celebrate. Choose to enjoy God and the life he has given you. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for human beings because joy is at the heart of God himself. The trouble is that most of us seriously under-estimate God’s capacity for joy. The truth is God is the happiest being in the universe. Yes, he also knows sorrow, but like his anger that is only a temporary response to a fallen world. Joy is God’s basic character and as people created in his image, he wants us to know joy in life (Ex.23:14. Dt.26:11; 28:47-48. Ps.16:11. Jn.15:11-12). Jesus lived a life of joy and celebration – despite the fact that he was acquainted with grief and sorrow. He calls us to do the same.

We can make a choice to rejoice – to embrace an attitude of gratitude that focuses on the good things in life rather than the bad (Phil.4:4. 1 Thess.5:16. Ps.9:2). You can be a joyful person. The biblical writers would not command it if it were not possible. But joyfulness is a learned discipline. We have to take responsibility for our joyfulness and for some of us this may not come easily. Too many Christians never engage in the discipline of celebration. They’re grumpy, sombre and negative. They don’t laugh enough. Let’s face it, most of us worry too much, complain too much and get angry too often. We lose our joy over the silliest things!

The psalmist says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” He doesn’t say, “Yesterday was God’s day – how happy was I then.” Nor does he say, “Tomorrow will be the great day – I’ll just endure things until then.” He says, “This is the great day to rejoice!”  True joy, it turns out, is often ‘in spite of’ something. If we don’t rejoice today, we may not rejoice at all. If we wait until conditions are perfect, we will still be waiting when we die. If we are going to rejoice, it must be in this day.

Celebration can literally change the climate of your inner and outer world! Things such as praise, worship and thanksgiving are all ways we can celebrate God. When we don’t celebrate, we get caught up in the negativity and temptations of this world and we greatly hinder our own personal growth. We become ‘victims’ to our circumstances. When we choose to celebrate, we embrace the very heart of God and his joy can transform our inner world. We become ‘victors’ over our circumstances.

2. Prayer. Talk to God. Obviously, prayer is an important part of developing our relationship with God but it is also a spiritual discipline to help us grow and change. Talk to God – praise and thank him, tell him how you feel, ask for his help, talk to him about others and pray for them (intercession), use your spiritual language and listen for his voice (listening prayer). Some people find the use of a journal or diary helpful so they can write out their prayers (Ps.82:8).

Jesus was a man of prayer and he calls us to be people of prayer (Mt.14:22-23. Lk.6:12). God responds to heartfelt honest prayer. He is not looking for empty tradition or religiosity. Just consider Jesus’ many teachings on prayer (Mt.6:5-15. Lk.18:9-14). Other people can pray for you but no one can do your praying for you! There’s no single ‘right way’ to pray - just do it! Find a quiet place OR talk to him in your car on the way to work or pray silently in the midst of a crowd. Learn to ‘practise the presence of God’ (Brother Lawrence) by being aware of him all throughout the day. This is a discipline that you can learn.

When we don’t pray, we’re basically saying, “God I don’t need you right now, I’m coping quite fine by myself.” When we choose to pray, we’re saying, “God, I love you and I need you in my life.” The difference between those two approaches makes all the difference in the world when it comes to who you are becoming and the amount of change taking place in your heart and life.

Part 4.