24 Feb

Personal Criticism

CJ Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries is writing a very helpful blog series called “The Pastor and Personal Criticism.”  While it’s geared toward pastors, I believe it’s very helpful in dealing with personal criticism for all Christians.  I really encourage you to read these as I am so that we will be better helped to handle personal criticism in a godly way the next time it comes a-knocking.

  1. The Pastor and Personal Criticism
  2. The Pastor’s Temptation when Criticism Arrives
  3. Learning Wisdom by Embracing Criticism
  4. A Kind and Painful Bruising
  5. The Pastor’s Wife and Her Role when Criticism Arrives
  6. Adding a Few Smudges to My Moral Portrait
  7. Deal Gently with Your Critics
  8. Why Faithful Pastors Will Be Criticized
24 Feb

Struggling Not Against Flesh and Blood

One of my favorite songs from the country music group Alabama said, “Oh, I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above.”  The Scripture says that there certainly are angels among us, but they’re not just cute winged babies.  These dudes are warriors locked in an epic, unseen battle between the forces of good and evil.

We’re never told in Scripture exactly how many angels exist.  However, the Bible does communicate to us general numeric terms about them like “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (Rev 5:11).  Some are good, and some are bad, but fortunately, in this unseen angelic struggle the numbers are in favor of the good guys.  Whatever the exact number of angels may be, most agree that we learn from Revelation 12:3-4 the ratio of good to evil angels:

  • Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

So, for every wicked angel fighting for Satan there are two righteous angels fighting for God.  While the demonic might be outnumbered, they nevertheless are working to influence mankind.  They’re gunning for you and me.  Therefore, we must stand strong.  We find out how in Ephesians 6:10-20.

1)  Be strong with God’s strength
Ephesians 6:10 tells us, Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  The human body is able to do some amazing feats of athletic ability and strength. For instance, Blake Griffin jumped over a car in the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest to bring home the trophy.  Absolutely amazing!  And who can forget all of those behemoths who compete in the World’s Strongest Man competitions like Poland’s Mariusz Pudzianowski.  Oh my goodness! 

But as amazing as these athletes are, the strongest, most athletic man is no match for the demonic.  One reason is that we’re already bent toward evil so they really don’t have far to influence us, and two, they’re considerably stronger than even the strongest among us.  Therefore, our strength must be found in God’s strength.  That’s why we’re to put on the full armor as Ephesians 6:11 tells us, Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  You and I will not stand without it.

2)  Realize that our struggle is actually against demonic powers
This truth might be a surprise or seem far-fetched to you, but we are to live by revelation and not observation.  We don’t stand on our five senses.  We stand on the Word of God!  And the Word of God tells us in Ephesians 6:12, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

You see, behind human wickedness is the demonic.  I’m not necessarily talking about demon-possession.  That very well might be the case, but simple demonic influence is more likely.  Demon-possession is probably rare, but demonic influence is unquestionably rampant.

While this reality is true, it in no way removes human responsibility for sin.  James tells us that it’s our own lusts that pull us in to sin (James 1:14).  Remove the demonic, and humanity would still incessantly sin, but I believe the influence of the demonic certainly increases sinfulness.

As God tells us here in Ephesians 6:12, we’re struggling against the demonic.  In fact, we may even have a demonic military hierarchy here.  The rulers are perhaps Satan’s generals, the powers could be Satan’s colonels, the world forces of darkness might be Satan’s sergeants major, and the spiritual forces of wickedness are possibly Satan’s common enlisted privates.

Friend, I’m not trying to convince there’s a demon behind every bush.  I simply want to point out to you the reality of the demonic, and the fact that Scripture says that they are an intensely formidable opponent.  We often lose sight of this truth and focus on the physical opponent with whom we are struggling (our spouse, co-worker, child, classmate), but God tells us that we’re missing the true picture.  Our struggle is not with flesh and blood or the physical challengers.  Rather, we are actually struggling against dark spiritual forces.

3)  Put on the armor of God
Since our struggle is actually against wicked spiritual forces, we must therefore use spiritual weapons.  It’s for this reason that God tells us to put on His armor in Ephesians 6:13-17:

  • Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

It’s important to point out here that God has provided protection for us in all the places we are vulnerable.  These are the places that Satan will go after:

  • He will attack truth, trying to convince you that truth is unknowable or not absolute and unchanging.
  • He’ll come after your holiness by attempting to persuade you to forget that your righteousness is found in Christ.
  • He’ll twist the gospel, putting forth an ineffective counterfeit that saves nobody.
  • He’ll try to shake your faith and destroy it.
  • He’ll work to convince that you’re beyond salvation, that you are saved when you truly are not, or that you are not saved when you truly are.
  • He will do everything he can to damage the authority of the Bible so that you will ignore it.

Therefore, you must put on the armor of God, which will protect you from these demonic assaults.

4)  Pray because it’s essential to standing firm
Paul finishes with this final plea to you and me in Ephesians 6:18-20:

  • With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

Prayer is vitally important to standing firm.  It’s as vital as radio communication is for the military in the midst of a battle.  Therefore, you should pray for yourself, but along with yourself, you should lift up your brothers and sisters in Christ as well.  Pray as Paul instructs you.  Pray for alertness, perseverance, and boldness.  In doing so, you will be divinely helped to stand firm and so will those for whom you pray.

May you stand strong in God’s strength against demonic powers by putting on the full armor of God with much prayer!

16 Feb

What Hinders Your Prayer?

Without a doubt, prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  I mean, can you believe that the God of the universe takes requests from us?  That He invites us into conversation?  That He wants us to express our hearts to Him?  That’s amazing!

Inherent to the act of prayer is the reality that the one praying expects a “yes” to the prayer from God.  I mean, why ask if you know it’s going to be a “no”?  So, when we go to God in prayer, we are seeking a “yes.”  Even if we’re just generally asking for guidance as to which way to go, we at least expect a “Yes, I’ll guide you” from God.

Of course, God doesn’t have to say “yes.”  Sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, in His wisdom He says “no” or “not now.”  So, the main question that is driving me is:  what are we to do when we do not get a “yes” from God?  Are we supposed to just say, “It just isn’t the will of God”?  I think not.

It very well might not be the ultimate will of God to say “yes,” but there is something else that could be at work.  Sometimes God says “no” or “not now” because He desires to get our attention and discipline us toward godliness.  In other words, sometimes God withholds a “yes” to cause us to look at ourselves and see where we need to change.  We need to see if there is anything in our life that would be hindering our prayer.

In this article, I want to point out 7 things that hinder prayer.

1)  Sin hinders our prayer.
Psalm 66:18 is straightforward, If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear. “Wickedness in my heart” must be referring to some sin that I am habituating and hardening my heart in.  It’s sin that I’m continually unrepentant over.  Notice that it says that the Lord will not hear you instead of cannot hear you.  Certainly God can hear you when you are habituating in sin, but He will not say “yes” to you.  Why?  It’s because He’s using your unaffirmed prayer to bring you to repentance.

Proverbs 28:9 goes even farther, He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination. You see, the person who is habitually disobedient and asking God for something in prayer is like a man who slaps his wife in the face and then asks her for a kiss.  It’s making a mockery of the wife and of God.  Therefore, prayer from a wicked, Bible-refusing heart is an abomination.  Your prayer will be hindered until there is true repentance.

2)  An unforgiving spirit hinders our prayer.
God loves to see us show grace and mercy to others as we have been shown grace and mercy.  Just read the parable of the unforgiving slave in Matthew 18:21-35.  It’s for this reason that Jesus tells us in Mark 11:25, Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. A common part of your prayer life ought to be asking the Father to forgive you of your sins against Him, but those prayers of forgiveness are hindered when we are unwilling to forgive those who have sinned against us.  Jesus says that if you want forgiveness, you must forgive also.  Otherwise, your unforgiving spirit will hinder your prayer.

3)  Unfruitfulness hinders our prayer.
Jesus tells us John 15:16, You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. In the context here, the fruit that Jesus is focusing on is the fruit of love, but all the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 is applicable here.  So, abundant spiritual fruit inclines God to say “yes” to your prayers, but if that’s true, then the opposite is true as well, namely lacking in spiritual fruit inclines God to say “no” or “not yet.”  Diminishing fruit hinders your prayer life.

4)  An ungodly relationship with our spouse hinders our prayer.
If there is one relationship on this planet that lays you spiritually bare, it would be your relationship with your spouse.  They know you the best, and given the proximity of living in the same house and sleeping in the same bed, you’d better bet that they are going to test your Christlikeness the most.  It’s for this reason Peter teaches us in 1 Peter 3:7, You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. That’s straightforward, isn’t it?  Your prayers are hindered when your marriage isn’t going as God intends for it to go.  You see, marriage isn’t just about the husband and wife.  It’s also about Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:25-33).  In other words, the marriage relationship is a physical testimony to the spiritual reality that exists between Christ and the church, and when the marriage goes bad, Christ looks bad.  Therefore, God hinders the prayers of spouses in an ungodly relationship to discipline them back to being faithful witnesses for Him.

5)  Doubt hinders our prayer.
Do you think that God is able to answer your prayers in the way you are hoping?  It seems that James says that thinking so is a prerequisite to receiving a “yes” from God in prayer.  James 1:5-8 says:

  • But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

When James speaks of doubting, I don’t think he means that we should not be up in the air as whether or not God will say “yes.”  We simply do not know the mind of God in that way.  To come to God saying that you know He will say “yes” is presumptuous.  Therefore, we almost always come to God doubting what the actual outcome will be, but we should never come to God doubting His ability.  I think that’s what James has in mind here.  We should never doubt whether or not God can do what’s being asked of Him if He so chooses.  The question is whether or not God is almighty in your mind.  Those who doubt that He is should expect their prayers to be hindered.

6)  Stinginess hinders our prayer.
God has His eye on your grip.  What I mean by that is that He is looking at how tightly you are holding on to the stuff with which He has blessed you.  A tight grip (aka, stinginess) leads to God’s discipline.  Jesus tells us in Luke 6:38, Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. So, we see a basic Bible principle here:  giving generously leads to receiving generously, and giving stingily leads to receiving stingily.

Now, don’t jump off the deep end here.  I’m not saying the Prosperity Gospel is true.  I’m in no way advocating giving to get.  However, we can’t deny the basic Bible principle here.  Paul lays it out plainly  in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Friend, take God at His Word.  Stinginess will hinder your prayer.

7)  Not asking hinders our prayer.
Before you go and label me “Captain Obvious” with this one, hear me out.  Have you ever heard somebody pray for something but not ask for anything?  Perhaps they were with someone sick in the hospital, and their prayer was basically “Lord, Your will be done.”  This approach comes across as very spiritual and pious, but it has always struck me as a somewhat strange.  I mean, do we really have to pray to God that His will would be done?  No way!  He’s the sovereign God of the universe who always does as He pleases (Psalm 135:6).  There’s one thing we can know with certainty:  God’s will will be done!  And while one purpose of prayer is to prepare our hearts to receive the will of God, to be bent to His will, a parallel and maybe even greater purpose is to make known to God what our heart desires.

You see, James tell us, You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2).  What that means is God might have done differently if you had only asked.  God might have healed that person if you had only asked Him to, might have given you that job if you had only asked Him to, and so on.  As I said earlier, asking does not obligate God and guarantee a “yes,” but not asking certainly prohibits a “yes.”  You won’t get it because you didn’t ask.  So, ask so that you might receive.

Think about it in this way:  Jesus invites us to be as little children in our prayer.  Remember when Jesus said, Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:14).  Man, children are not afraid to ask for anything.  They’re full of requests.  Jesus says to become like children, even in our praying by being undeterred in our asking, and in so doing, your prayers will be unhindered.

May you throw off everything that is entangling and hindering you so that your prayers can get off the ground and reach the very throne of God.  May you hear “yes” to your prayers!

09 Feb

Resources for Growing in Prayer

On my drive up to Lafayette, IN on Sunday, I had the privilege of listening to half the audio from this year’s Desiring God Pastors Conference.  You can access the audio here and John Piper’s biography of Robert Murray McCheyne here.  The theme this year was “The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor.”  Even if you’re not a pastor, it would be a great help to your prayer life.  The sessions and speakers are as follows:

  1. Cultivating Private Prayer as a Pastor (Joel Beeke)
  2. Helping Your People Discover the Praying Life (Paul Miller)
  3. Prayer as a Way of Walking in Love:  A Personal Journey (Francis Chan)
  4. Leading Family Worship (Joel Beeke)
  5. Unreached Peoples and the Power of Prayer (Jerry Rankin)
  6. Q&A with the conference speakers
  7. He Kissed the Rose and Felt the Thorn:  Living and Dying in the Morning of the Life of Robert Murray McCheyne (John Piper)

I hope you check it out.  I look forward to listening to the rest of the conference audio on my way home from Lafayette on Friday.  May we grow in our prayer life together!

01 Feb

The 70 Weeks: Figurative, Future, or Fulfilled?

The Scripture is full of prophecy, but probably the most intriguing is the prophecy of 70 weeks given to Daniel in Daniel 9:24-27.  Along with intriguing, it’s also rather contested as to what it all actually means.  Three basic noteworthy interpretations have been put forth in church history:  the Figurative View, the Futurist View, and the Fulfilled View.  In this article, I aim to describe the 3 major views and briefly defend my viewpoint.

What I’m about to share with you is really just a supplement to my two sermons on the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel.  If you want to fully understand my position, you must listen to my first message here and my second message here.  Those messages will contain my actual argument for my viewpoint.

The Figurative View
The Figurative View timeline would look something like this:

The primary characteristic of the Figurative View is that it doesn’t take the 70 weeks of years literally.

Therefore, the 7 weeks becomes a long period of time, the 62 weeks becomes a way longer period of time, and the 1 week becomes a short period of time.  Here’s how proponents would basically explain this chart:

  1. The 70 weeks is symbolic of redemptive history forward from Daniel 9, stretching from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the Jesus’ second coming.
  2. Phase 1, represented 7 weeks in the prophecy, stretches from Cyrus’ decree in 537 BC to AD 33, which is the year that Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
  3. Phase 2, represented 62 weeks in the prophecy, stretches from AD 33 forward into the future when the Antichrist comes on the scene, now spanning 1,978 years at this point.  Those who put forth this view believe that the rebuilding of Jerusalem is talking about “spiritual” Jerusalem, who is the New Testament church.
  4. Phase 3, represented by the 1 week in the prophecy, begins with the arrival of the Antichrist who begins to cause great tribulation for the saints of God, both Jew and Gentile alike, cutting off Christian worship.
  5. The prophecy culminates with Jesus’ 2nd coming at the end of the age.

This view just doesn’t do justice to the text.  By making the 70 weeks into symbolic periods, it misses the fact the context of Daniel is literal years.  It is the reading of Jeremiah’s prophecy that Israel would have a literal 70-year exile that served as Daniel’s catalyst to prayer.  Therefore, we should expect the 70 weeks of years to be a literal 490 years.  Furthermore, it puts the coming of the Messiah at the conclusion of the 70th week, while the text says that the coming of the Messiah will be recognized in the 69th week.

There is an alternate Figurative View out there that takes the 69 weeks more literally but symbolizes the 70th week to cover the period from Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection to His 2nd coming.  It would be represented by this timeline:

While this viewpoint does a better job with the text, it still does not take the 70 weeks of years to be literal, which I believe the context of Daniel 9 requires.

The Futurist View
The Futurist View is by far the most popular of the three views nowadays.  It has as its doctrinal back drop Dispensationalism, which teaches that God has two distinct peoples (namely, Israel and the Church) and two distinct plans for these peoples (an earthly plan for Israel and a heavenly plan for the church).  The Futurist View would be represented by the following chart:

The first characteristic of this view is that the 70 weeks prophecy has only to do with the nation of Israel and nothing to do with the Church.  The second characteristic of this view is that “the prince who is to come” in Daniel 9:26 is understood to be the Antichrist.  The third characteristic is that this view does not take the years to be years as we understand them.  Instead, this view utilizes what proponents call “prophetic years.”  Are you ready to get out your calculators?!

A prophetic year is 360 days based upon Revelation 11:2-3 equating 42 months to 1260 days and then is, in this case, applied to every other prophecy in the Bible.  So:

  • 42 months = 3.5 years
  • 1260 days ÷ 3.5 years = 360 day/year

Here’s how they apply it to Daniel 9:

  • 70 weeks are believed to be 490 prophetic years that must be converted to actual years
  • Here’s the equation:  (490 prophetic years x 360 actual days) ÷ 365.25 days in an actual year = 483 actual years
  • Therefore, 70 weeks is 490 prophetic years but only 483 actual years, and 69 weeks is 483 prophetic years but only 476 actual years.  It’s basically a difference of 7 years.

So, here’s how those who hold this position would explain the chart:

  1. The beginning of the 70 weeks is the commission to Nehemiah in 444 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-8).
  2. Phase 1 & 2, represented by 7 weeks and 62 weeks in the prophecy, last 476 years, bringing our prophetic timetable to the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus in AD 33  (-444 + 476 + 1 = 33; you have to add 1 because there is no year zero).  So, in Daniel 9:26 when it says after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off, that means that Jesus dies at the end of the 69th week
  3. God then puts this prophetic timetable on pause.  It’s been on pause now for 1,978 years.  Why in the world would God do that?  The basic answer given is that these last almost 2,000 years is the Church Age or the Age of the Gentiles.  Proponents would say God hit the pause button because this prophecy only concerns the people of the nation of Israel, and since God is not dealing with the Jewish people at this time, the timetable has been paused.  Again, the doctrine behind this understanding is that God has two different peoples—one called Israel and the other called the Church—, and after Israel rejected and crucified the Messiah, God turned from Israel to His other people, the Church (ie, God turned from the Jews to the Gentiles).  So, from a futurist view, we now are in what is called by some “The Great Pause.”
  4. The 70th week will begin sometime in the future when the Antichrist is revealed, and Jesus partially returns to the earth to rapture the church.  At this point, God hits the play button and unpauses the prophetic timetable revealed here in Daniel 9.
  5. These events are the beginning of the 70th week, which is the 7-year tribulation that only the Jews and nonChristians will have to endure.
  6. At the end of those 7 years, Christ will fully return to earth and bring an end to the present age.

So, what’s wrong with this viewpoint?  While many God-loving, Bible-believing Christians understand the Scripture in this way, I do not believe this interpretation is the best way to understand Scripture.  Here’s why?

  • It ignores the Sabbatical/Jubilee framework intended to help us interpret the prophecy.
  • It does stuff with the numbers that it really has no textual warrant for doing.  I believe it’s doing things with the numbers that God never intended for us to do and presses the numbers too far.  If the 70-years-of-exile prophecy from Jeremiah that’s mentioned here in Daniel 9:2 is taken to be 70 literal, actual years, which it is, we should expect the 70 weeks to be 490 literal, actual years.
  • It understands “the prince who is to come” in Daniel 9:26 to be the Antichrist when the text proves that “the prince who is to come” is the Messiah.
  • It utilizes a Dispensational approach to Scripture that the Bible simply does not teach.  God does not have two different peoples and two different plans for these two peoples.  Instead, the Bible teaches that God has one people (all believers from the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ 2nd coming who put their hope in the Messiah) and one plan (grace by faith in Jesus Christ).  For further insight into this one-people/one-plan teaching, I would point you to this previous article of mine.

The Fulfilled View
We are now brought to our final viewpoint:  the Fulfilled View.  This view is the one I espouse because I believe it makes the best sense of the entirety of the scriptural data.  The chart looks like this:

The first characteristic of this view is that it utilizes the Sabbatical/Jubilee framework for interpretation that I believe was intended by God.  Second, it takes the years to be literal years, the way we understand years.  Third, it understands “the prince who is to come” in Daniel 9:26 to be the Messiah and not the Antichrist, meaning that the 70th week covenant mentioned in Daniel 9:27 is the New Covenant brought in by Jesus.  Finally, this view discards the Dispensational belief that God has two distinct peoples and is instead built around a one-people, one-plan theology.

The chart is explained in this way:

  1. 70 Sabbaticals were prophesied.
  2. The commission to Ezra in 457 BC begins the 1st Sabbatical.
  3. 69 Sabbaticals, which is 483 years, brings us to AD 27, which begins the 70th Sabbatical.
  4. During this 70th Sabbatical, Jesus performs his Messianic ministry on earth and subsequently dies and is resurrected in AD 33.
  5. AD 34, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, ushers in the Ultimate Jubilee for all who believe on the Messiah Jesus.
  6. The temple was destroyed in AD 70, completely fulfilling Daniel 9:24-27.

Therefore, the prophecy of 70 weeks given to Daniel has been completely fulfilled.  I will not take the time to argue for my position here.  Again, I want to direct you to my two sermons on the 70 weeks prophecy found here and here if you’re interested in really understanding why I believe this view to be the best understanding of Scripture.

A Call to Charity
Let me leave you with a call for charity.  The timing of these events is at least a tertiary or 3rd-order doctrine.  In other words, Christians even in the same church can agree to disagree on this topic and still consider one another an orthodox brother or sister.  This specific topic should divide no one.  Therefore, while I can be dogmatic about my stance, I must be dogmatic with grace because people who equally love God and love the Bible and are thorough-going Christians disagree.  I’m not saying it’s not important.  I’m just saying it shouldn’t be divisive.  However, if you agree to disagree, you’re disagreement had better be founded on the rock solid teaching of God’s Word and not on notions and teachings picked up from the popular Christianity.  Know what you believe and why you believe it!

May we enjoy the Word of God and all its wonders as we strive to better understand it to the best of our ability!  Above all, may we rejoice in the amazing provision God has given us in Jesus Christ!