Posts tagged ‘Eschatology’

Why ISIS Cannot Win

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Credit: Yann Caradec | Flickr

When I drove into work last week, I noticed our flags flying half-staff. Our red, white, and blue was lowered in honor of France’s blue, white, and red and those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of two Fridays ago.

Of course, it didn’t take long for these attacks to ignite plenty of red-hot political and geopolitical wrangling. As it turns out, one of the ISIS terrorists allegedly masqueraded as a Syrian refugee to gain entry into France. This begs the question: should Western countries – including the United States – continue to grant asylum to these refugees when their ranks could be infiltrated by ISIS operatives? Then there is the question of how to address ISIS as an organization. French President Francois Hollande declared that “France is at war,” explaining, “Terrorism will not destroy France, because France will destroy it.”

All of this has spawned an understandable – and also predictable – reaction from many across this country and across the world: fear. Even children are afraid. The touching video that has gone viral showing a father allaying his son’s fears in the wake of the deadly attacks demonstrate just how pervasive the emotional devastation has become. People are scared. They want to know: are ISIS operatives planning an attack against this country? Just how powerful is ISIS? What can be done to prevent ISIS from attacking again? What will happen next?

I cannot answer what will happen next with ISIS. I wish I could. I wish I could say that all future ISIS attacks will be thwarted. That is certainly my prayer. But I cannot make it my prediction. But even though I cannot predict what is next for ISIS, I can be sure of what is last for ISIS. What’s last for ISIS is defeat. Of this I am confident.

I am confident of this for two reasons.

First, ISIS is a sectarian actor and sectarian actors, historically, tend not to thrive. ISIS doctrine requires that:

All Muslims must associate exclusively with fellow “true” Muslims and dissociate from anyone not fitting this narrow definition; failure to rule in accordance with God’s law constitutes unbelief; fighting the Islamic State is tantamount to apostasy; all Shi‘a Muslims are apostates deserving of death; and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are traitors against Islam because they compromise with the non-caliphate political process (e.g., democracy).[1]

In short, ISIS believes that anyone who is not part of its cloistered caliphate is not only not a real Muslim, but not even worthy of life. This would be tantamount to Presbyterians wanting to destroy Baptists. This is the ultimate case study in sectarian insanity.

Certainly, Christianity has its own share of hate-filled sectarian groups. The Westboro Baptist Church comes to mind. Historically, Christian sects like the Encratites and the Docetists were rejected because of their abysmal doctrine. Considering ISIS endorses and outright enshrines ritual rape while the rest of the Muslim world stands steadfast on sexual purity, it is not difficult to see how ISIS is not only doctrinally aberrant even among Muslims, but humanitarianly repugnant. And doctrinally aberrant sects tend to collapse – or, at the very least, remain severely segregated – under the weight of their own idiosyncrasies and offensiveness. ISIS may be growing – for now – but sectarian doctrine and practice is not a recipe for longevity or continued growth.

Second, I do not think ISIS will last because of what I believe as a Christian. When Joshua is preparing to go to war against the kings of northern Canaan, God gives to him a curious command: “You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots” (Joshua 11:6). Strategically, this does not seem smart. Wouldn’t horses and chariots be helpful for future battles? Aren’t these the kinds of weapons that could benefit Israel’s national security?

God commands Joshua to destroy these tools of war to remind him that it is not he and Israel that will gain victories as they march into the Promised Land, but the Lord. He is the one who is fighting for Israel. No horses or chariots are needed.

ISIS fights with rifles, suicide bombs, and IED’s. But they cannot win, just like the people of Canaan could not win. Why? Because they are fighting the wrong battle using the wrong weapons. They are fighting for a false faith – even by most Muslim standards – with despicably deployed terrorizing weapons of war. As Christians, however, we fight for the true faith using divinely distributed saving weapons of war. ISIS may have a roadside bomb. But we have the sword of the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 6:17). And the sword of the Spirit trumps a terrorist’s bomb every time.

ISIS may manage to pull off some attacks here and there, but they will not last. Because they cannot last. God has promised otherwise.

And so, ISIS needs to be put on notice: there is coming a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears will be forged into pruning hooks (cf. Isaiah 2:4). There is coming a day when your weapons will no longer terrorize nations because your weapons will no longer be around. But the Spirit’s sword will continue to stand.

So, as Christians, let’s stick with that weapon. And let’s find our comfort and confidence in that weapon. After all, it’s a guaranteed winner.

____________________________

[1] Joe Carter, “9 Things You Should Know About Islamic State,” The Gospel Coalition (11.14.2015).

November 23, 2015 at 5:15 am 4 comments

2015: It’s Going To Be A Great Year

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As we begin a new year, it is useful to take a moment to reflect on our lives – where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.  Reflecting is important not only for the realms of finances, family, or fitness, but also for the realm of faith.  For above all, we must realize and recognize who we are in relationship to our Creator.  The British theologian N.T. Wright has written a set of five questions every Christian must answer – or, perhaps more accurately, simply remember the answer already given – in order to appropriately and insightfully take stock of his or her life.  I relay these questions – and their answers – so that you may remember who you are in God’s sight.[1]

Who are we?

We must never forget that, as the apostle Paul writes, we are “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).  This means our identity and purpose must always and only be founded and grounded not in the things, titles, or accolades of this world, but in the cross of our crucified Savior. This is certainly where the apostle’s identity is found: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).   If we find our identities in anyone or anything else other than Christ and His cross, we are called to repent and turn back to Him.

Where are we?

N.T. Wright reminds us that we are “in the good creation of the good God.”  Sometimes we can forget, especially when life becomes dark and difficult, that when God created the world, He created it “good” (Genesis 1:25).  Yes, not all is right with creation.  Yes, there is pain, suffering, and tragedy – none of which were part of God’s dream and design.  But try as it might, evil cannot utterly destroy the goodness of God’s creation.   Indeed, God promises to restore the complete goodness of His creation on the Last Day: “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  For all of its brokenness, we are still in a good place.  Thus, we ought to celebrate and appreciate the home in which God has given us in His creation.

What’s wrong?

In a word, sin is what’s wrong.  Indeed, this is why God’s good world appears so marred and messed up.  Each of us is born into sin generally.  Because of Adam and Eve, the effects of sin plague us all.  This is called “original sin.”  But each of us also commits sins individually and personally.  We transgress God’s laws and do not do what we are commanded to do.  This is called “actual sin.”  Another answer to the question of what is wrong, then, is that we are what’s wrong.  We are the ones who make God’s good world a mess through our injustice and iniquity.

What’s the solution?

In a word, Jesus is the solution.  Jesus is God’s remedy to sin and redemption from sin.  The apostle Peter writes, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  It is important to note that not only is Jesus God’s solution to sin, Jesus is God’s only solution to sin: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  This means that all other attempts to deal with sin – be they moralistic or legalistic or liberalistic or relativistic – will ultimately fail.  If Christ is not your Forgiver and Redeemer, your sin has not been solved.  Period.

What time is it?

In the Scriptural view, time is not marked by the days on a calendar, but by the acts of our God.  In other words, what matters about the new year is not that we have transitioned from 2014 to 2015, but what God has done for us in the past and will continue to do for us into the future.  N.T. Wright explains cogently the time in which we live:  “We live between resurrection and resurrection, that of Jesus and that of ourselves; between the victory over death at Easter and the final victory when Jesus ‘appears’ again.”  What ultimately makes 2015 so special, then, is that we are another year closer to the coming of Christ and the salvation of our souls.  And that sure and certain hope makes this year a year worth celebrating!

_______________________

[1] The questions and quotes in this blog can be found in N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 275.

December 29, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Peace and Justice in the Face of ISIS

Credit: NBC News

Credit: NBC News

First it was James Foley. Days later, it was Steven Sotloff. The beheading of two journalists by ISIS has certainly thrust the travesties of this terrorist organization to the forefront of our minds and our news cycle. But these are just ISIS’s latest crimes. At the beginning of August, some 50,000 Yazidis were forced to flee into the mountains of Iraq or face death at the hands of ISIS militants. ISIS also kidnapped hundreds Yazidi women, selling them as sex slaves for as little as $25. Last week, The New York Times profiled the gut-wrenching story of Iraqi soldier Ali Hussein Kadhim who was captured along with hundreds of other soldiers by ISIS militants.  Christians too have been in ISIS’s crosshairs, being threatened with death if they do not convert to radical Islam or pay a tax.

Back home, President Obama is grappling with how to deal with a terrorist threat and crimes against humanity that are half a world away. And he’s been getting pressure from all sides. On one side, a coalition of religious conservatives has signed a petition calling for decisive military action:

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS … genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities. This goal cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable ISIS … forces.[1]

On the other side, a group of Catholic and Protestant leaders has written a letter to President, urging caution and restraint:

While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.[2]

This is a crisis no president wants to face. This crisis also presents an ethical dilemma no Christian finds easy to confront. On the one hand, my preference and prayer would be that ISIS repent of their crimes and peace be restored to Iraq. On the other hand, I am sober-minded enough to know that ISIS shows no signs of softening. When even the Taliban is concerned about ISIS’s extremism, things are not on the right track.

So how do we understand this problem theologically?

A curious feature of biblical theology is what scholars refer to as “proleptic eschatology.” In short, proleptic eschatology asserts that bits and pieces of what will happen on the Last Day show up in our days. For example, the apostle Paul claims that Christ’s resurrection is only “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). In other words, the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day has shown up in the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Likewise, Jesus describes His return on the Last Day to judge the earth thusly: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). But before a cosmic judgment on the Last Day, Jesus describes a smaller judgment in the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in His day: “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). Jesus’ words come to pass when the Roman general Titus decimates Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The judgment of the Last Day shows up in the destruction of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day.

It is this theology of proleptic eschatology that Paul has in mind when he exhorts his readers: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Paul promises that even if we see miscarriages of justice in our day, God will avenge evil on the Last Day.

But that’s not the only day God will avenge evil.

Paul knows the evil of our day, if left unchecked until the Last Day, would yield unspeakable horrors. This is why Paul continues by explaining that bits and pieces of God’s judgment on the Last Day show up in our day through the actions of world governments: “[The governing authority] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). The judgment of God against sin on the Last Day shows up through world governments in our day.

This, then, brings us to the Christian’s ethical dilemma. Because, on the one hand, we are called to wait patiently until the Last Day for God’s perfect judgment and justice to be revealed. On the other hand, governing authorities – including our own governing authority – can be used by God as His agents to bring temporal justice to the criminal problems of our day. This is why two sets of Christians can write two very different letters to President Obama.

I, for one, am praying that perhaps ISIS will have a Jonah moment – that they, like when Jonah preached to Nineveh, will hear the warning of God’s judgment, repent, and be spared of His wrath. But I am also very aware that after the preaching of Jonah to Nineveh came the preaching of Nahum to Nineveh – and with the preaching of Nahum to Nineveh came God’s wrath against Nineveh.

The clock is ticking on ISIS. I pray for peace and reconciliation. But I also pray that justice against these terrorists will not tarry long. The spilled blood of thousands is crying out.

__________________________

[1]A Plea on Behalf of Victims of ISIS/ISIL Barbarism in Iraq,” iraqrescue.org.

[2]53 national religious groups, academics, ministers urge alternatives to U.S. military action in Iraq,” Mary Knoll Office for Global Concerns (8.27.2014).

September 8, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Reflections For A New Year

As we begin a new year, it is useful to take a moment to reflect on our lives – where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.  Reflecting is important not only for the realms of finances, family, or fitness, but also for the realm of faith.  For above all, we must realize and recognize who we are in relationship to our Creator.  To this end, the British theologian N.T. Wright has written a set of five questions every Christian must answer – or, better yet, simply remember the answer already given – in order to appropriately and insightfully take stock of his or her life.  I relay these questions – and their answers – so that you may remember who you are in God’s sight.[1]

Who are we?

We must never forget that, as the apostle Paul writes, we are “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).  This means our identity and purpose must always and only be founded and grounded not in the things, titles, or accolades of this world, but in the cross of our crucified Savior. This is certainly where the apostle’s identity is found: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).   If we find our identities in anyone or anything else other than Christ and His cross, we are called to repent and turn back to Him.

Where are we?

N.T. Wright explains: We are “in the good creation of the good God.”  Sometimes we can forget, especially when life becomes dark and difficult, that when God created the world, He created it “good” (Genesis 1:25).  Yes, not all is right with creation.  Yes, there is pain, suffering, and tragedy – none of which were part of God’s dream and design.  But try as it might, evil cannot utterly destroy the goodness of God’s creation.   Indeed, God promises to restore the complete goodness of His creation on the Last Day: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  For all of its brokenness, we are still in a good place.  Thus, we ought to celebrate and appreciate the creation in which God has given us to live.

What’s wrong?

In a word, “sin.”  Indeed, this is why God’s good world appears so marred and messed up.  And sin is what is wrong not only with our world at large, but with each of us individually and personally.  Each of us is born into sin.  Because of Adam and Eve, the effects of sin plague us all.  This is called “original sin.”  Each of us also commit sin.  We transgress God’s laws and do not do what we are commanded to do.  This is called “actual sin.”  In a sense then, we are the problem.  We are the ones who make God’s good world a mess through our injustice and iniquity.

What’s the solution?

In a word, “Jesus.”  Jesus is God’s remedy to sin and redemption from sin.  The apostle Peter explains: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  It is important to note that not only is Jesus God’s solution to sin, Jesus is God’s only solution to sin: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  This means that all other attempts to deal with sin – be they moralistic or legalistic or liberalistic or relativistic – will ultimately fail.  If Christ is not your Forgiver and Redeemer, your sin has not been solved.  Period.

What time is it?

In the Scriptural view, time is not marked by the days on a calendar, but by the acts of our God.  In other words, what matters about the new year is not that we have transitioned from 2011 to 2012, but what God has done for us in the past and will continue to do for us into the future.  N.T. Wright explains cogently the time in which we live:  “We live between resurrection and resurrection, that of Jesus and that of ourselves; between the victory over death at Easter and the final victory when Jesus ‘appears’ again.”  This is finally what makes 2012 special.  For we are another year closer to the coming of Christ and the salvation of our souls.  And that sure and certain hope makes this year a year worth celebrating!


[1] The questions and quotes in this blog can be found in N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) 275.

January 2, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Christ’s Hidden Presence

It was my first night at college.  I was sitting in my dorm room with my roommate, the only other person on campus who I knew, when I heard a knock at my door.  Outside stood another student, a sophomore, who asked my roommate and I, “Hey, you wanna come outside and play Capture the Flag?”

Capture the Flag.  As best as I can tell, it’s kind of like Hide-n-Go-Seek for grown-ups.  Your team hides a flag while the other team seeks it.  And along the way, the other team not only seeks your flag, they seek you.  And they try to tag you out.  And so, you not only try to hide your flag, you try to hide yourself.

That night, I almost managed to capture the flag.  In fact, I made it all the way to the other team’s flag and was about to snatch it up and win the game for my Capture the Flag comrades when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  “Tag, you’re out,” the voice gleefully exclaimed.  It was the same guy who, just moments earlier, was standing outside my dorm room inviting me to come and join in the fun.  “What?” I asked in exasperation.  “Where did you come from?  I didn’t see anybody anywhere.”  “I was hiding behind that bush the whole time,” he responded.  “And you didn’t even know it.”

“And you didn’t even know it.”  This phrase has often come to my mind as and appropriate way to describe what Jesus’ return will be like.  In our text from this weekend, Paul describes the return of our Lord thusly:

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

Notably, when Paul speaks of “the coming of the Lord” in verse 16, the Greek word for “come” is parousia, meaning, “presence.”  In other words, it’s not just that the Lord will arrive from some distant cloud to the earth on the Last Day, it’s that the Lord will reveal that He’s been present with us the whole time.  And, a lot of times, we didn’t even know it.

In Matthew 25, Jesus explains the hidden nature of His presence to His followers thusly:

“I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?  When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)

Jesus was there the whole time as we were feeding the hungry, carrying water for the thirsty, extending hospitality to the lonely, clothing the naked, and visiting the infirmed…and we didn’t even know it.  But the promise is, on the Last Day, we will know it.  Because we will see Jesus.  As Paul explains it: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  With the Last Day, Jesus’ hidden presence will be hidden no longer.

Often, this world looks anything but sacred, holy, and blessed.  It looks sinful, depraved, and broken.  And indeed it is.  But that’s not all it is.  Because Jesus is here with us the whole time – even if we see Him only dimly.  Jesus is here with us the whole time – even if we don’t know it.  And so, as we wait for our Lord’s final revelation, may His presence give us comfort and hope.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

August 23, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Sermon Extra – “Long Time In Coming”

I am not a person who likes to wait.  I can remember standing in the HEB automatic checkout line a  few years back behind a person who was painfully slow as he scanned and bagged his groceries.  He would search intently for each item’s barcode and then carefully slide it across the scanner only to find that it did not register.  So he would inspect the barcode and try it again.  And again.  And again.  It took him a full ten minutes to check out his “20 items or fewer.”  I was furious.  “If these people can’t figure out how to use this machine, they should go to a checker,” I fumed to Melody.  My wife, of course, was embarrassed by my bad attitude and she reminded me that I was a pastor who needed to act charitably.  My anger, however, was not dissuaded.  “This is ridiculous,” I protested, “I don’t have all day!”  My turn finally did come to check out my items.  And so I, employing my best breakneck speed, frantically slide my first item over the scanner just to prove how competent I was in using this machine and how inept the person before me was.  I had to scan the item again.  And again.  And again.  Maybe the machine wasn’t as user friendly as I thought it was.  It took me ten minutes to check out.

In our text for this weekend from Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about ten bridesmaids who are waiting on the arrival of the groom so that they can escort both the bride and groom to the wedding reception.  Jesus makes this simple note about the groom’s anxiously anticipated arrival:  “The bridegroom was a long time in coming” (verse 5).  The Greek word for “long time” is chronizo, from which we get our English word “chronology.”  Apparently, this groom took so long to arrive to meet his bride, it felt to the bridesmaids as if they were waiting through decades long chronological epic.

Jesus’ parable, of course, is meant to give us insight into His Second Coming.  He too will be “a long time in coming.”  And indeed He has been.  2,000 years after His first advent, we are still awaiting His second.  But already in the first century, people were becoming impatient as they waited for their Lord.  They were not people who liked to wait.  Thus, the apostle Peter must remind them that Jesus has already promised to be “a long time in coming.”  Peter writes:  “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  The Lord’s slowness in returning is not really slowness at all, Peter argues.  Rather, it’s an opportunity for repentance and faith.

In 1910, a German theologian and physician named Albert Schweitzer published a book titled The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In it, he portrayed Jesus as a failed eschatological prophet who believed that the advent of God would come sooner and quicker than it did.  Thus, Schweitzer estimates Jesus’ ministry to be a failure and the belief that Christ will come again to be delusional.  Schweitzer cynically states:

The whole history of “Christianity” down to the present day, that is to say, the real inner history of it, is based on the delay of the Parousia, the non-occurrence of the Parousia, the abandonment of eschatology, the progress of the “de-eschatologis-ing of religion which has been connected therewith. (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 358)

The Church, Schweitzer contends, has deliberately downplayed and dismissed the urgent eschatological expectations of Jesus and His first century followers.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  For we remember Jesus’ words:  “The bridegroom was a long time in coming.”  Our Lord is a long time in coming.  But make no mistake about it, He will come.  And so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20), no matter how long that coming may take.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Zach’s
message or Pastor Josh’s ABC!

July 26, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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