Sunday Is a “Super Blood Wolf Moon” – Ugh!

As a moderately dispensational premillennialist, I groan a little every time there is some kind of celestial wonder such as is supposed to come our way Sunday night – a Super Blood Wolf Moon. Two things happen that irritate me – and as someone who six weeks out from surgery, is not healing well, still has a lot of pain, and feels tired and grumpy all the time, I don’t need this kind of irritation.

  1. Eschatology wingnuts come out of the woodwork telling us about the powerful portent of this sign, and of the next, and of the next, and of the goings on in Israel and in the Middle East and Russia and China and Red Heifers and Harbingers and Shemitahs and all sorts of other things. They sell books and whip up frenzies and then move on to the next “sign of the times” that awaits, filled with awesome omen of the sure and soon coming of Christ.
  2. Those who disdain the position I hold take great pleasure in the rantings of said wingnuts to heap ridicule on the dispensational position. It seems many Christians have no greater pleasure than demeaning the brethren who still hold to the dispensational hermeneutical system.

Now, all of you get off my lawn.

I would like to speak a few words to those few eschatological dinosaurs who still hold to the same position I do, who have not become amillennial or historic premil. I’m told that contrary to all biblical, historical, and logical evidence, there are even some postmillennialists hanging around these days. (See how inconsistent I am – I complain about ridicule and then there’s that postmil zinger!). But I would like to address my tribe today. I am not trying to convince anyone of our position – the Rapture will do that, right? I am just trying to appeal to my pretrib brethren and sistern to exercise a modicum of sanity during the Super Blood Wolf Moon and into the future. I would make the following points.

One appeal to those who hold other positions – there is and has been a more serious and scholarly version of dispensationalism than the populist version you see on TV and in books. It focuses on things like the eternal fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and the distinction of Israel and the Church, on Romans 11, and on other hermeneutical issues, not on Blood Moons and Red Heifers. If all you do is deal with Hagee, Van Impe, and LaHaye, you’ve not really dealt with dispensationalism.

But, to my fellow dispensationalists, whether classical, progressive, or like me, tepid, here are some things to remember.

1. We are not looking for signs, but listening for the Son. 

I have heard that all of my life – nice cliche, huh? One of the fundamental assertions of our view is that the return of Christ for his church (sometimes called the Rapture) is imminent – it could happen at any moment. There are no signs that need to take place before the trumpet sounds. Those signs in the heavens that are spoken of in Matthew and Revelation take place after that, not before. There are no signs that need occur in the sky or on earth before the trumpet sounds.

Anyone who stirs us up with stories of Blood Moons and all that other nonsense is missing the point.

2. We do not know the time. 

Honestly, how much more clear could Christ have been that he would come as a thief in the night and that we would not know the day or the hour. There are not going to be a bunch of signs – thieves don’t leave hints! We are supposed to be ready every day not wait for Super Blood Wolf Moons to warn us.

3. God will restore Israel in the future.

It is true that we believe that God’s promises to physical Israel will be physically fulfilled in the future kingdom. Every passage that speaks of the end times focuses on Israel and Jerusalem – a core part of our doctrine. I would point out that God restores Israel in his time. The Bible never puts the burden of the restoration of the nation of Israel on the church.

4. HOWEVER…Right now we are in the ‘Times of the Gentiles” 

Romans 11 is a core passage for us. The nations have been grafted in for a time until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. What is the point? One day, God will restore Israel to its rightful place but right now our duty is to reach people from EVERY tribe and language. That means that God cares about Muslim nations today EVERY BIT as much as he does Israel. If we “support Israel” in such a way that we act as if the Muslim nations do not matter we are not honoring God, but disobeying him.

5. It is our duty to take the Gospel to the Nations, not primarily to save Israel. 

Please understand, I love Israel. I’ve been there and want to go back – it was an experience I cannot describe. Politically, I think America should support Israel for many reasons. But the church should preach the Gospel everywhere and not make Israel a priority over Muslim nations.

It was shameful when a resolution in support of Palestinian Christians was opposed at the SBC because it might be seen as “Anti-Israel.” We do not get to pick which Christians we treat as brothers and sisters.

I hope the USA will be responsibly supportive of Israel (not blindly so), but I hope that we will never think that being pro-Israel is an excuse to ignore evangelizing Muslim countries. That is anti-Gospel.

6. The sensationalism really needs to stop.

Do I need to defend this statement? The Scripture says “by their fruit you shall know them.” These sensationalistic, conspiratorialist movements have never accomplished great things in the kingdom. They have brought ridicule, shame, and disrepute. They’ve made the perpetrators rich and famous but they’ve not brought glory to Jesus Christ.

7. Every End-Times Scripture gives us an admonition to soldier on, not go nuts.

Look at some passages that we dispys have thought to be key to our doctrine through the years.

1 Thessalonians 4, which speaks of being caught up into the clouds with Christ, does not end with an admonition to speculate about the identity of the antichrist or to watch the skies for blood moons, but to be encouraged to walk in Christ.

Therefore encourage one another with these words.  1 Thessalonians 4:18

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul touches on issues of the resurrection and of that moment when in a “twinkling of an eye” we shall all be changed. What does he tell us to do? Quit our jobs and wait for Red Heifers? Make sure the capital of Israel is in Jerusalem? No, he has a much simpler command.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

We are to just keep serving Christ faithfully as long as Jesus tarries, until that day and hour which no one knows where he comes as a thief in the night. After warning of the fact that deception would arise in the days to come in 2 Thessalonians 2, leading right up to the end, another key passage for our doctrine, he gives another warning.

 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by what we said or what we wrote. 2 Thessalonians 2:15

We ought not to be alarmists but to be faithful.

Conclusion

I am making no effort to convince those who hold to other positions in this post. I do not delve into these matters 0ften for two reasons. While I am a dispensationalist, I believe there is enough mystery in the end-times teachings of the Scripture to give Christians room for respectful disagreement. There is an intriguing simplicity in the Amillennialist position and Historic Premillennialism is not without biblical logic. I can’t see how anyone can biblically argue Postmillennialism, but I can understand why people would want to believe that the church reaches the world in the end – noble, if misguided, optimism. Preterism is troubling. After long hours of study, I hold my position, but it is not a “thus saith the Lord” position but a “this explains the evidence to me better than the other positions.”

I really have no desire to argue eschatology with anyone.

My purpose here today is to speak to my tribe and to beg people to avoid the excesses “our side” has so often been guilty of committing.

  • Let us remember that we are not supposed to be reading tea leaves but listening for the trumpet that will signal the coming of the Son as a “thief in the night.”
  • Let us stop getting caught up in sensationalist commercialism.
  • Let us obey Christ and live faithfully until he comes.
  • Let us carry the gospel to EVERY nation. God loves Muslims EVERY BIT as much as Jews. The mandate of the church is to evangelize Jordan and Syria and Lebanon and Egypt every bit as much as it is to evangelize Israel and Jews.
  • Enjoy the Blood Moon, if the sky is clear, but realize that there is ABSOLUTELY NO eschatological significance to it.

On the other hand, if my friend, the KC Wolf, can somehow turn this into a reason for the Chiefs to beat the NE Communists, I will be much less grumpy. I mean, It’s the Chiefs and the whole Blood Wolf Moon thing has Native American roots. How appropo!

Go KC!

Advice from Old Preachers

An interchange I had with William Thornton a few weeks ago caused me to think about advice given to me by old preachers. I was ordained to the gospel ministry at the FBC of Bentonville, Arkansas, in 1971. Several older pastors gave me advice and counsel, both that day and in the following weeks. I wish I could remember all they told me, but I do remember these gems.

Preach the Word and love your people. Probably, all our Voices readers have heard this one. It’s really common, but it is common for a reason. It is good advice. A pastor should focus on preaching the Bible, and he should love his people. Now, not all members are easy to love, but we should pray for grace to love them all.

The more the people know, the more the people will give. The pastor who told me this tried to help me understand that knowing the need will motivate people to give money or time or whatever. I’ve found this to be true. When I’ve presented a need clearly, God’s people have responded generously.

If you don’t know what to preach, then just brag on Jesus. I grew up in the Ozarks, and this sounds like a mountain preacher. I’ve shared this with my students over the years. A preacher can’t go wrong magnifying the Lord Jesus. Probably, we don’t do it enough. I have preached in many countries around the world, and there is a spiritual magnetism in Jesus Christ that attracts people of all cultures.

If you’re in a building program, show them the bricks. The pastor who shared this emphasized the importance of making a financial appeal practical and concrete. Organizations like Compassion International (which I commend to you) do this by saying “Giving $19 a month will feed this child.” If you are trying to raise money for a building, tell your folks that a gift of $100 will purchase 30 bricks.

Tell the truth and trust the people. This means that openness and transparency are the best policy. If you try to cover up something, the problem will be compounded. Of course, sometimes there are legalities involved, but usually we can be open with our members.

Study and pray in the morning and visit in the afternoon. This is advice Dr. W. A. Criswell gave to his “preacher boys.” It is good advice. A pastor does need to spend time in prayer and sermon preparation, but he also needs to get out among the flock. There is a trend now for pastors to spend all their time in the office. If you do that, you won’t understand your people. Beyond that, you need to visit members in the hospital and evangelize the lost. This advice leads to a healthy balance.

God won’t put baby Christians in a refrigerator. This means that God won’t bless a spiritually cold church with new converts.

Announce your Bible text twice. Then, when the pages stop rustling, begin reading your text. Of course, when I was a young preacher, no one imagined electronic devices with the Bible on them. Still, lots of folks (like me) bring a Bible with paper pages to church. So, you can listen for those pages. Also, it is always good to announce your Bible text twice.

Don’t mess with the cemetery and don’t mess with the WMU. You can’t win if you get involved with a fuss about the church cemetery, and you can’t win by interjecting yourself into a WMU spat. One pastor told me emphatically, “I will never ever accept another church that owns a cemetery.”

The success of your pastorate will be measured by how the church does after you leave. The pastor of our church during my high school years, Rhine McMurray, taught me this. He meant that a good pastor trains lay leaders who will lead the church well after he leaves. If the church falls apart after the pastor leaves, then he did not develop strong church leaders.

I’ve benefited a lot from the advice of older pastors. Now, that I’m an old preacher, I need to advise and mentor young preachers, who are just beginning. I’m thinking that I need to be more proactive in that regard. If you are just beginning in ministry, seek a wise, older pastor who can advise you and warn you. We’re all in this together!

Some duds of 2018

I’m owning up to some of my articles that didn’t quite capture the interest of folks around here. Duds.

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In the dead of mid-winter last year I wrote on things admirable, deplorable, or forgettable, a compilation of well-used and ill-used vocabulary. Seems that post was altogether forgettable. Nary a comment, not even a snarky one.

Want to hear crickets? Write a piece on leadership changes in state conventions. In spite of the fact that about 90% of Cooperative Program revenue flows through sixteen legacy state conventions in the south, there seems to be little interest here in the leadership that controls the spending of such. Thank you, Tony Jones, for the one comment on that.

When the Executive Committee released their annual statistical report in early June of last year, I called it the “Annual SBC Statistical Release Weepfest” because it’s mostly bad news. Not a single comment on that. Perhaps we’ve made ourselves comfortable that this is going to be the case. I hope not.

The Cooperative Program, our main cooperative giving channel, has been declining for over three decades. When I wrote of how denominational leaders and others employ magical thinking on CP percentages, a few people responded and several in agreement, an underwhelming response to our most important stat. Dud.

How could I put (1) a snake swallowing a woman, (2) a cheap shot against iced coffee, and (3) fakeJDgreear in the same article and get only two comments? Complete dud, evidently. Forgive me. I’ll try and come up with more scintillating subjects next time. Maybe I’m out of tune with most SBCers on iced coffee.

So I wrote that the CP will almost certainly be up for the latest reporting year which ought to stir the blood of any true SBCers…and I got a single comment, from the estimable Tarheel. The CP being up is news and ought to mean that somewhere, some Southern Baptists break out the party stuff. Guess not.

Lottie was up by almost $6 million but my report of the same was met with general disinterest. Dud. I’m hoping for a record year this year anyway.

Annie had a record year but when I reported that, pffft, one comment. Thanks again, Tarheel.

I worked hard to come up with ten good news SBC items (including the gem that Bert and Ernie made BP)…and got six comments. Dud. We are a convention of Joe Btfsplks evidently.

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There are more. I’ll try and do better next year.

And, why am I smiling in the pic? The sun is shining, bluebirds are flitting around my yard, my gutters are clean, and in less than a month some flowers will be blooming here.

I might have to yield to the reality of Twitter where hot topics are things like whether you should cut your toenails straight across or with a curve, or, whether candy corn is better than Reeses Pieces. Heady stuff.

See you next year with hopes that Dave Miller will have a healthy 2019, Alan Cross will cross the 2000 word barrier going south, Adam Blosser will display some bearded acumen here, Dave Cline will end his self-imposed hiatus, and that you all have a year that shows fruitful service for our common Lord.