Our Wonderful Creator

Creation Pic

Last night I saw an extraordinarily good documentary called Genesis: Paradise Lost that was both informative and rich in proof of the Genesis account. I highly recommend this movie, which may be playing in a theater near you this coming Thursday night, November 16.

Throughout the movie, scientists with PhD’s in their field explained how science confirms the words of Genesis 1-11. For me, this movie bolstered my faith. It was not that I had doubts beforehand, but hearing and seeing all the evidence strengthened my confidence for asserting what I believe. We have a rational faith that correlates well with science for which we can be bold and not back away when others disagree.

I left the theater with a new appreciation for our wonderful Creator and His amazing handiwork displayed everywhere we look.

The computer graphics brought Genesis one to life in a way that made we wish I could have been there to witness God’s creative work. I could sense how the Lord must have greatly enjoyed creating all the animals of the sea, air, and land and then watch as was they swam, flew, and ran.

For believers who have questions about how Genesis and science come together, this is a must see movie.

For believers who have questions about how Genesis and science come together, this is a must see movie. It will help relieve nagging doubts about creation resulting from a public education that emphasizes naturalism, evolution, and our supposed descent from apes.

As the movie emphasized, it all comes down to Jesus and what we believe about Him. Our belief in Jesus and His words tie directly into our view of creation.

Back in July I posted an article titled “Jesus and the Book of Genesis” where I showed how Jesus validated many of the events in Genesis, including creation and the flood, as well as the people in Genesis, including Adam and Eve. The link to that post is: https://jonathanbrentner.com/2017/07/18/jesus-and-the-book-of-genesis/. This movie further demonstrates how one cannot hold on to atheistic naturalism and believe Jesus at the same time. Genesis explains why we need a Savior.

There is so much evidence in nature for creation and the flood that one has to willfully overlook it to maintain an atheistic approach to life. 

In 2 Peter 3:1-6, the apostle Peter predicts that in the later days scoffers would arise who would deny both the return of Jesus and the worldwide flood of Genesis. It’s interesting that the text says they will “deliberately overlook this fact” (v. 5). After last evening, I can see why Peter chose those words. There is so much evidence in nature for creation and the flood that one has to willfully overlook it to maintain an atheistic approach to life.

“How does believing in creation and the flood relate to Jesus’ return? you might ask. They both signify that we are accountable to God.

The bad news is that no one possesses the needed goodness to stand before a holy God. Jesus summed up the demands of God’s law with these words, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). That excludes all of humanity, no exceptions apart from Jesus who lived the perfect life that we could not.

In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus died on cross to take upon Himself our sins. As the apostle Paul later described it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that in Him we might receive the needed holiness to stand before our Father in heaven.

That is the good news. If we put our faith in the work of Christ on our behalf we receive eternal life. Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The book of Genesis presents us with a choice. If one rejects the Genesis account of creation, this leads to the conclusion that one does not need a Savior. Such thinking reflects a tragic and eternally fatal mistake of accepting atheistic naturalism (and the evolution of man) over believing the words of Jesus.

Those who recognize their need of a Savior and turn to Jesus in faith receive His righteousness and inherit eternal life.

The evidence for the Genesis account points to Jesus. Do not delay if you have not yet put your trust in Him.

For additional information:

There is also a documentary on Netflix called Is Genesis History? Together with the movie I saw last night, these two movies display the best in scientific proof for not only creation and the flood, but also of a young age for the earth.

 

 

An Ordinary Life

Pathway to a castle

Thomas Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He became a believer at the age of 27 and a Methodist preacher at the age of 36 despite a lack of formal training for the ministry. Unfortunately, after only a year poor health made it impossible for him to continue as a pastor.

He later opened up an insurance office in New Jersey where continued ill health limited his income for the remainder of his life. He once said this regarding his humble circumstances, “God has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”

As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

Inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23, he wrote the words to the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in 1923. He sent his poem to his friend William Runyan who added music to the words. The hymn became popular in churches throughout America after Billy Graham started using it in his crusades.

Unlike the story behind the song “It Is Well with My Soul,” Thomas Chisholm wrote this song toward the end of what he regarded as an “ordinary” life. As he looked back, he saw God’s faithfulness though all the disappointments and frustrations as well as in His unfailing provision for him.

After receiving direction to do so, I have spent the last few weeks adding more of my story to a book I am writing. This has stirred up many memories of the dark times in my life. I remembered walks late at night crying out to God in the midst of great personal pain. My time of affliction was long and filled with much despair.

I remember reading Lamentations 3:22-39 during this time and wondering if I would ever see the Lord’s compassion again or the end to my grief.

Now, however, as I look back at how the Lord rescued me from my trying circumstances and healed the deep wounds of my heart, I celebrate His faithfulness.

After I finished the task of adding my story to the opening chapters of my book, I listened to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on YouTube. As I reflected on the words, I felt like every phrase of this hymn applied specifically to me. I especially liked the words, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” The Lord gave me strength even at times when I did not even realize it and faithfully renewed my hope of eternity when my outlook for this life seemed so dim.

God has been exceedingly faithful to me in bringing me through all my ups and downs. He has brought me to a place of rest that I could not have imagined twenty years ago. Where would I be without His unfailing goodness to me?

Although Chisholm may have regarded his life as ordinary, God has used the words he wrote to bless millions. His testimony of God’s faithfulness through the everyday messes of life has resounded through the church for many decades.

We never know how the Lord can use our lives. Even through what might seem mundane to us, He can use our experiences and testimony in ways we cannot imagine. When he wrote “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Chisholm may have thought his words would drift into obscurity as have the many other poems he wrote. He likely could never have imagined the lasting impact of what he penned so long ago.

God’s plan for our lives even extends beyond the here and now.  In eternity, we will see the full end of God’s faithfulness as we see His purposes for all we endure on earth. In His hands, each unique (and even ordinary) story will fit perfectly into a beautiful and amazing kaleidoscope that will bring Him glory forever.

There we will continue to celebrate and sing of God’s great faithfulness for thousands of years to come.

We will fully understand just how much the Lord can use ordinary lives. It’s what lies at the end of our paths that matters the most.

 

How Long?

Sutherland texas 2

As I reflect on the Sutherland Springs shooting this past Sunday, the word “brutal” comes to my mind. In 2 Timothy 3:2 the Apostle Paul says that people will become “heartless, unappeasable . . . brutal . . . treacherous, reckless” during the last days. Is this not what we are seeing throughout our world to an ever increasing degree?

Do not all these traits sum up someone who would walk into a church and slaughter 26 innocent people including small children? Does this terrible act of violence not confirm Paul’s words of the “perilous times” we would see before Jesus’ return?

Although we do not understand the shooter’s ultimate motive, we know he had threatened his mother-in-law who attended the church. We also know that he was an atheist who mocked Christians stating that all “people who believed in God were stupid.” Did his antagonistic mindset toward believers contribute to the killing of so many of them? It seems likely to me. Why kill so many innocent people out of anger for just one person?

In his prophecy update on Sunday, Pastor J. D. Farag spoke of how Satan knows that his time is short and is stepping up his evil and murderous activity. I believe the shooter in Sutherland Springs was demon possessed and the killing stemmed from Satan’s rage against God people. The devil used his hatred to inflame not only the rage of this shooter but also to instill in him a total lack of pity for those he killed.

We see these types of attacks on Christians all throughout the world. A couple weeks ago, ISIS viciously attacked and killed 128 Christians in the Syrian town of Qaryatayn as they fled the city. Boko Haram and his men continue to brutally kill Christians by the hundreds in Nigeria. Do you remember the bombs that killed many Coptic Christians in Egypt during their Palm Sunday services earlier this year?

Brutal and Reckless

According to William Barclay, the word Paul used for brutal in 2 Timothy 3 “denotes a savagery which has neither sensitiveness nor sympathy.” It refers to a fierceness of character that displays a lack of human sympathy or feeling in its treatment of others. Does this not describe the shooter in Las Vegas as well? In both cases, these killers acted without the least bit of compassion toward their victims.

The word reckless in this passage describes someone falling headlong into something; it later came to define someone pursuing evil with great passion.  Barclay says this about it, “It describes the man who is swept on by passion and impulse to such an extent that he is totally unable to think sensibly.” This certainly fits with the demonic rage the Sutherland Springs shooter exhibited.

Jesus said that what we are seeing throughout our world today would happen in the last days just before His return.

In describing the end times Jesus said this, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (Matt. 24:9-for 10). Jesus said that what we are seeing throughout our world today would happen in the last days just before His return.

The Lord Sees

Long ago, the prophet Habakkuk complained about the “destruction and violence” he saw in Israel. Like today, he saw that the wicked often triumphed over the righteous so that “justice” was “perverted” (Hab. 1:3-4). The Lord’s response, in summary, was that He saw all the violence and perversion of justice. Because of evil rampant in Judah at the time, he would send the Babylonians to judge His people. They later came and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple taking many of the people captive back to Babylon.

Jesus is near to us in our pain; He never leaves or forsakes those of us who know Him.

The Lord sees the atrocities of our time. He also looks with compassion upon all our suffering; He deeply feels the sorrow of the survivors in Sutherland Springs. In Psalm 34:18 David said this, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Jesus is near to us in our pain; He never leaves or forsakes those of us who know Him.

Just as in the days of Habakkuk, the Lord will someday respond to the violence and great wickedness we see around us in the world. He sees the countless babies murdered in our abortion clinics. He sees the deadly rampages of sick evil men. He sees a culture that has lost its way and fallen into all sorts of deviant behavior. At just the right time, Jesus will totally destroy the kingdom of darkness responsible for all this rebellion against Him.

Is this not why the coming time of tribulation described in Scripture will result in so much devastation? Jesus will have His day. After exacting judgments on sinful humanity and the domain of Satan, He will return with unimaginable power and glory. His kingdom will someday fill the earth with righteousness and justice. He will reign for a thousand years and then forevermore.

We Have Hope of a Better Day

We have hope; this life is not all we have. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul had already suffered greatly when he wrote this. Later, Nero beheaded him. Even so, he regarded all this affliction (and martyrdom) as “not worth comparing with” all the wonders and joys that awaited him in eternity.

A much better day is coming. In eternity, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Jesus sees all our tears and someday will replace them with exceeding joy.

This picture is a far cry from our current experience, from the headlines of our day. Yet, this is our hope because we belong to Christ. The suffering and death of this current world is just a temporal fleeting reality. In God’s eternal day, we will see His purposes behind all that we suffered on earth. Jesus sees all our tears and someday will replace them with exceeding joy.

Yes, the brutality we witnessed in Sutherland Springs was horrific; I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of being in that church when the shooter arrived. Jesus, however, saw all that happened and not only is He comforting the victims in heaven, He will wipe out all such evil in His kingdom and then forevermore.

Revelation 6:10 gives voice to the martyred tribulation saints in heaven, “They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” I wonder if the recently martyred saints in our world are saying something similar before God’s throne in heaven.

Those of us still in shock due to the violence we see in places such as Sutherland Springs ask, “How long before you come and take us home, O Lord? How long before you bring your justice to this wicked, violent, and rebellious world? How long before you establish your righteous rule over the nations of the earth?”

Jesus last words to His church were “Surely I am coming soon.” To which John added, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

Is this not our hope? Someday Jesus will correct all the wrongs of our current world; those who know Jesus will rest with Him forever experiencing sweet relief from the suffering and pain of this life.

How long until then?

Maranatha!!

 

Is it Idolatry or Passion?

Bible and hands

A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted what the writer, Michael Gerson, believed was commonplace among Christians, that of bowing to the golden calf of the extreme political right. He made this claim in his article entitled, “The religious right carries its golden calf into Steve Bannon’s battles.’

Because this accusation that Christians worship conservative politicians is common on the left, I have decided to respond to Gerson’s article. I do this both with the purpose of helping you defend your faith against such an allegation as well as a reminder of the importance of keeping your passion centered on Jesus and His Word.

Although I am not saying that Christians are immune to carrying their political support too far, I believe what Gerson regards as idolatry from his vantage point within the confines of Washington, D.C. is nothing more than passion for what we hold dear out here in the heartland. Let me explain.

The Danger of Identifying with a Political Movement

Although I disagree with almost all of what Michael Gerson wrote, he is correct about the dangers of Christians identifying too strongly with any political movement. This can lead to unwelcome results for us and if anything of what Gerson writes is true, he is correct in regard to this warning.

However, the believers I know do not fall into Gerson’s characterization as being “foot soldiers of Bannon;” the majority do not even know anything about him. In fact, many of these so called “foot soldiers” strongly dislike both Bannon and President Trump (although they could never have voted for Hilary Clinton because of her pro-abortion stand). The sharpest criticism I faced for my support of President Trump last year came from fellow believers, not from supporters of Hillary.

I do not see the idolatry that Gerson referenced, although I concede that a tiny minority of what he refers to as the “religious right’ might sadly be in that camp.

The numbers simply do not support Christians blindly adapting “Fox News values” (whatever that means) as Gerson claims. If one assumes that everyone who watches Fox News is a Christian (and such is definitely not the case), this would amount to about 3 percent of everyone who claims to be an evangelical. How can he claim we all receive our values from a source so very few of us even watch?

I do not see the idolatry that Gerson referenced, although I concede that a tiny minority of what he refers to as the “religious right’ might sadly be in that camp.

Instead, I see a passion to core beliefs, to Scripture, rather than any idolatry to a person or political movement.

Core Beliefs

We are not “panting and begging” to be part of someone else’s political movement as the writer asserts. That is patently absurd. For the vast majority us, we do “confidently and persistently” represent a core set of “distinctive beliefs” but not those Gerson describes. It’s Scripture; this is the basis for what we passionately believe and seek to uphold.

First in order of importance, for both those of us believers who like President Trump and for most of those who despise him, is the sanctity of life. Many of us turned against the Republican establishment when they refused to remove funding for Planned Parenthood from the budget after they gained a majority in the Senate. In spite of the proven allegations that Planned Parenthood actively harvested and sold body parts from the precious babies they murdered, the Republican leadership refused to take a stand against this organization and continued to fund them with our money.

If you want to know why so many people applauded when Bannon said “it’s a season for war against a GOP establishment,” that is it. This in no way signifies any blind allegiance to Bannon as the writer suggests, but rather a rejection of an establishment that blatantly betrayed the prolife values of those who voted for them. Because of this, I would have also cheered loudly when he said that.

The truths of God’s word were and are the basis for this overriding passion to protect helpless babies, not any political movement or leader such as Bannon.

Scripture teaches that life begins at conception and biblically based Christians have actively opposed abortion since the inception of the church. Followers of Christ rescued babies that were being aborted in the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the church. The truths of God’s word were and are the basis for this overriding passion to protect helpless babies, not any political movement or leader such as Bannon.

Human Dignity Does Not Equal the New World Order

I am confused by why Gerson believes that “economic nationalism” is contrary to our vision of “human dignity” and “social justice.” We strongly believe in legal immigration and in giving people an equal opportunity to come to America and prosper. Our views on immigration are totally consistent with what President Clinton repeatedly advocated when he was president. It’s the left that has changed their opinion of what “social justice” signifies in regard to immigration, not us. Is it a crime against “human dignity” to want to ensure that those coming to our nation do not drive trucks into large groups of pedestrians and bikers or attack people with a knife in a mall?

Gerson also appears to believe “social justice” can only be accomplished through a New World Order. Why else would he contrast “economic nationalism” with supporting “human dignity?”

Gerson fails to establish why this assertion is true. History has repeatedly shown that Socialism, the darling of the New World Order advocates, inflicts the most damage on “human dignity.” Venezuela provides a prime example of the tremendous suffering that results when Socialism is fully implemented.

Regardless of what any group may claim, as followers of Christ we oppose racism in any form!!

Gerson’s claim that the “religious right” has ties to “alt-right leaders” and flirts “with white identity politics” could not be further from the truth. The pastor of my church, on the Sunday after the violence in Charlottesville, angrily denounced and condemned white supremacy along with all forms of racism. Regardless of what any group may claim, as followers of Christ we oppose racism in any form!!

Gerson’s remarks here constitute a cheap shot at the Christian community and one for which he should be ashamed. His comments represent a blatantly false and worn out claim that no longer has any merit. He should be ashamed of himself for making this claim against us.

The believers I know value human dignity and strongly uphold the Judeo-Christian belief in the “inherent value and dignity of every life.” This is the reason we so passionately oppose abortion, which constitutes nothing less than murder of the innocent.

The fact that we pursue a different approach to protecting the “dignity of every life” does not mean this goal is any less important to us. Gerson condemns us without understanding our point of view.

The Common Good

Gerson upholds the “common good” as the ultimate standard. What does his use of this phrase signify? Is it not another way of saying that right and wrong are determined by the needs of the moment or by common consensus? But who determines the “common good?”

The Nazis convinced millions of Germans in the last century that the “common good” signified the elimination of all Jews. Can we trust any system of ethics that relies on the “common good?” The determination of what is “good” changes with every culture and society and even with every decade for that matter. Should others condemn Christians because we rely on the changeless Judeo-Christian values of Scripture rather than ever-changing standards put forward as the “common good?”

The determination of what is “good” changes with every culture and society and even with every decade for that matter.

Gerson claimed that the Republican efforts to overturn Obamacare failed because the party could not show why it was in the interest of the “common good” to do so. Really? Is it in the public interest to impose penalties on people who cannot afford to pay ridiculously high premiums for their health insurance, which in some cases have doubled in spite of sky high deductibles?

I also question Gerson’s reference to Jesus as a “globalist.” Why did he say that? Is he suggesting that Jesus would somehow support the New World Order he seems to advocate?

Yes, Jesus commanded His followers to take the Gospel to all nations. He did this on the basis of His authority as God so that all people would hear the good news of salvation. He sent out His disciples to proclaim the Gospel to a world perishing in its sins and subject to God’s wrath unless they repent. I believe it is a huge leap to go from that to claiming that Jesus is a globalist in the modern usage of this term.

Gerson’s identification of Christians as the foot soldiers of Steve Bannon could not be further from the truth. It’s a faulty attempt to identify all followers of Jesus based on the actions and beliefs of a tiny group at a conference who may or may not even represent true believers of Jesus. And, who says that applauding for a speaker equals idolatry to him?

Yes, there is a danger in believers identifying themselves closely with any political movement and we must be wary of this. Loving and serving Jesus while upholding the truths of Scripture is our first priority as we take the Gospel to a perishing world.

As followers of Christ, we seek to provide relief to the suffering and persecuted throughout the world through such organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse that spends $800 million each year in this regard. The believers I know also contribute much personally to help those around them as well as to organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse. We care very much about the hurting in this world and seek to uphold human dignity whenever we can.

We will not escape criticism for our beliefs; this is a given. All we can do is uphold the timeless truths of Scripture, express our enduring beliefs in the most loving way possible, and reach out to those in need around us with the good news that a far better day that is coming in which justice and righteousness will reign supreme as Jesus rules over the nations of the world.

Jesus and His words must always be the basis for our passion. If this is mistaken for idolatry then so be it. We will follow Jesus.

 

Prison to Paradise

oct-2013-074

During our visit to Savannah, Georgia last year, my wife and I came across a painting, La Parabola, at the Telfair Academy for art. The painting, shown above, depicts the entire life of a woman in two separate panels. I felt a sense of sadness as I initially studied the painting.

Cesare Laurenti (1854-1936), who painted La Parabola in about 1895, intended his work to depict the progression of “human life . . . The race toward pleasure, until clouds of weighty thoughts and sorrow come to disturb the serenity of the young soul.” On the left panel, we see a young girl racing toward adulthood and the joys of romance. On the right, we see images of the same woman ever advancing in age toward death.

Is this not why our hope matters so much? If this painting represents the totality of our existence, we have no hope.

But because of Jesus, such is not the case. He is alive and we will be with Him, perhaps soon. This is the resurrection hope of 1 Corinthians 15; all believers will someday have an immortal body just like His.

So, you might ask. What is the big deal? Don’t all believers see this? Yes . . . and No.

So many believers today live as though this world is all they have. They live their lives inside the one-world perspective of Laurenti’s painting seeing only their slow and painful progress through this life. They voice a belief about heaven, but it fails to impact their lives. Without a focus on Jesus’ return and life with Him in eternity, the hopes of so many believers becomes earthbound, wrapped up solely in worldly outcomes that often lead to despair.

A One-World Outlook

The problem with living with such a one-world outlook is that it offers no vision of the joys of eternity. It’s like a prison from which one cannot escape. Sure there are many good experiences along with the bad as we progress through life, but without a heartfelt anticipation of the excitement of eternity, we remain trapped in life’s slow progression not unlike what is depicted in the painting by Cesare Laurenti.

It’s when we lose sight of the non-ending joy ahead for us that our losses become unbearable, our fears overwhelming, and our frustrations with life greater than we think we can bear.

Years ago, experienced the futility of living life in just such a way. As a young pastor, I welted under the weight of tragic circumstances that entered my life. Even though I loved to teach about future things, I still lived with a one-world perspective. When my life turned upside down, to put it mildly, I lost sight of forever. I lived as though only this life mattered.

I longed for earthly success at the expense walking faithfully with the Lord with a focus upon what He had for me both here and forever.

My response to the turmoil in my life demonstrated that my hope had not reached my heart. I was not yet living with a two-world outlook on life. I longed for earthly success at the expense walking faithfully with the Lord with a focus upon what He had for me both here and forever.

A Two-World Perspective

It was when I took the two-world perspective of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 to heart that the Lord began His work of healing in my heart. I finally understood the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8:18 that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”

As I grasped the importance of the unseen eternal realities versus my temporal pursuits, my fears became far less daunting and my frustrations with life eventually faded away. My losses were very significant, but when I weighted them against the glory of eternity and God’s eternal purposes they diminished both in scope and importance.

Beginning with Jesus’ return for us, we have a hope more wondrous than we can imagine.

I finally saw the futility of living as though everything depended on what happened to me in this life or on what I could accomplish. So what if I got all that I wanted? Did it really make a difference from the standpoint of eternity or two thousand years from now? How could that compare to living a life of trust dependent on Jesus? What will matter the most in eternity when I stand before the Lord?

Beginning with Jesus’ return for us, we have a hope more wondrous than we can imagine. This is why New Testament believers looked forward to Jesus’ appearing to take them home with such great anticipation. This lifted their gaze upward in the midst of great persecution found comfort and encouragement to continue taking courageous stands for the Lord.

We find this eager anticipation all through the New Testament.  In Philippians 3:20 Jesus said, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The sense here is of eagerly anticipating Jesus’ return as in 1 Corinthians 1:7 as well.

In Titus 2:13 Paul describes believers as “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ return is our blessed hope. We will someday share in His resurrection life. Jesus is our blessed hope; He is coming to take us to be Him (John 14:1-3).

Our hope matters. This is why Satan does everything he can to take our eyes off of it. First, he introduces false teachings into the church that focus believers solely on earthly dreams. If Jesus has already returned, as some false teachers proclaim, then what do we have to look forward to? Are we not back to living bound to the ups and downs of whatever comes our way locked into a one-world perspective?

Second, if the devil cannot dissuade us through such false ideas, he does all he can to take our eyes off the great joy ahead for us. He will keep our focus on the prison of this life rather than the joyous paradise that awaits us.

The Path to Paradise

Years ago, John J. Davis wrote a commentary on Genesis called Paradise to Prison. The title, of course, depicts the effect of sin on the human race. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in paradise, the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the world and along with it death. Adam and Eve did not die right away, but became trapped in the path toward death with no escape. They found themselves imprisoned by their rebellion against God.

It’s Jesus, however, who turns our prison into a sure hope of dwelling in paradise forever.

We are not any better off for knowing Christ if an eternal and resurrected life is not in our future.

Paul said this, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Why? If we have no hope beyond our current lives, we remain trapped in the prison of sin and death that entered the world with Adam and Eve. We are not any better off for knowing Christ if an eternal and resurrected life is not in our future.

But such is not the case; in Jesus this is precisely the sure outcome of His salvation.

Jesus is the only way to this eternal life, to the paradise that awaits us beyond the here and now. He is the reason we can endure all our afflictions and setbacks. We know a better day is coming. We will spend eternity with Him experiences joy beyond what we can imagine.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you looking forward to paradise after death? Jesus died a cruel death on the cross so we could receive eternal life. He rose again confirming the validity of all His promises.

If you have not yet done so, please turn to Him before it is too late. He is waiting for you!

 

 

It’s All About Me

Pawn and king

The apostle Paul begins his list describing the characteristics of people who make up the “perilous times” of 2 Timothy 3 with the phrase “lovers of self.” Does this not sum up the Facebook generation? For many, posting is all about drawing attention to themselves, their lives, and their opinions. It’s all about making them look good. I have not been immune to this temptation myself.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a response to a Facebook post and later regretted it. I discovered too late that my reply was a mistake and misunderstood. I soon realized that any attempt to explain my words would only make matters worse and increase the anger of the responses I had already received.

While such self-promotion as I exhibited has been around ever since the time of Paul, it describes our current day more than ever before. Part of the current day problem is that everyone now has many more opportunities to express their feelings and ideas in an anonymous way without having to answer for anything they say.

What also makes matters far worse today is that so many have replaced a love of God with love for themselves.

A multitude of books and psychoanalysts today encourage people to love themselves and express everything that come to their minds. This, they claim, is the essence of a healthy emotional state. The disastrous results of such encouragement manifest themselves in broken relationships, quarrels, a lack of trust in people as well as in what we read, and a total lack of respect for the opinions of others.

Let’s begin by looking a little closer at why Paul chose this trait first in describing “perilous times.”

Lovers of Self

“Lovers of self” is the first characteristic that Paul lists in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 and as such it sums up well all the qualities that follow. In his commentary on 2 Timothy, William Barclay states that this “self-loving” is “the basic sin, from which all others flow.” He went on to say that once a person makes self the center of everything, “human relationships are destroyed, obedience to God and charity to men both become impossible.”

People today place everything in their lives ahead of their devotion to the Lord and make themselves the center of their universe.

This becomes evident through the other items on Paul’s list such as pride, a lack of “self-control,” “conceit,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Such an inward focus of life is the capstone of many of the ills that beset people today. People today place everything in their lives ahead of their devotion to the Lord and make themselves the center of their universe.

When such self-love defines a person, many other problems ensue including his or her inability to effectively relate to other people or to worship God in any meaningful way. It also leads to depression and increased anxieties when people do not respond to us in the way we would like.

The Antidote Begins with a Renewed Mind

How do we counter this tendency of focusing our dependency inward rather than upward?

The Holy Spirit changes our thinking; He is the one who makes our thoughts God-centered rather self-centered.

I believe it starts with remembering that as believers we have the powerful Holy Spirit living inside us. When we walk with the Spirit, we experience victory over the lure to see ourselves as the center of our universe (Rom. 8:1-11). Later in Romans, Paul describes the transformation that takes place in us as the renewing of our minds (12:2). The Holy Spirit changes our thinking; He is the one who makes our thoughts God-centered rather self-centered.

I love the verses that follow in Romans 12:3-8. Self-loathing is not the antidote to self-centeredness. Rather, as the Spirit renews our thinking we increasingly see our gifts, and talents as something bestowed upon us for the purpose of serving others, particularly those in the body of Christ. These special abilities come from the Lord, not us, and as such they are not a cause for boasting in ourselves.

We are to have the mindset of verse 3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The gifts and ministries the Lord gives to us vary greatly, but they all come from Him and the same Spirit for the purpose of building up others in the body of Christ or reaching the lost.

The Lord never intended for us view ourselves as superior to fellow believers because of our gifts or based on the degree to which the Holy Spirit manifests Himself through us. Instead, He intended our focus is to be God-ward with our thinking constrained by how we can serve and bless others.

We do not need someone to teach us how to love ourselves; that comes naturally. We do need, however, the power of the Holy Spirit to look for ways we can benefit others with the gifts and abilities He has given to us.

This is not a “poor me” or false humility. It’s certainly not self-hatred.

This is not egotism or self-centeredness. It’s giving all the credit to the Lord for all He gives to us and does through us.

Instead, it’s looking at our lives as God does. It’s putting Him first rather than ourselves and serving others with gifts the Spirit entrusts to us. It’s being confident, not proud, recognizing that our competence in ministering to others comes solely from the Lord (2 Cor. 3:4-6).

We can be confident because of the gifts God gives to us and the working of the Holy Spirit through us to bless others. This is not egotism or self-centeredness. It’s giving all the credit to the Lord for all He gives to us and does through us.

 

Available for Speaking

I am writing for anyone who might be interested to let you know of my availability for speaking at your church beginning in December 2017.

I have a degree from Talbot Theological Seminary and six years’ experience as a senior pastor. More recently, I retired early from a career as a financial analyst to write fulltime. The “Who and Why” page of this blog describes my passion for writing and speaking as well as my qualifications.

I have a book set for publication next year entitled Shipwrecked Lives. This book examines the poor decisions of many minor biblical characters and what we can learn from their failures. My talks on King Saul have been popular in the past; I could speak on one of the characters from this book.

Additionally, I have written a book on future things called The Thrill of Hope. This book shows why our hope of eternity matters so much for our daily lives, particularly in the areas of relieving anxieties and healing wounds of the past.

Apart from looking to their future hope, believers often become attached to the things of this world where disappointments add to their fears of what might be ahead. I am passionate about the specifics of our eternal hope and present a two-world perspective that helps Jesus’ followers endure the many frustrations of this life.

I live in Eastern Iowa and am looking for opportunities in Iowa, Northern Illinois, southern Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

If you are interested, please contact me at my e-mail address: Jonathanbrentner@yahoo.com or through this blog. I will let you know my open dates and work to schedule a date that will work for you.

Premillennialism and the Reformation

1529MartinLuther

This coming October 31st marks the five hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. These 95 Theses became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which for many restored the biblical ideal of justification by faith and thereby the purity of the Gospel message.

As Luther studied Scripture, he saw that God justifies sinners solely by faith apart from any good works on their part. This challenged centuries of tradition within the church that added human merit to God’s grace as a requirement for salvation.

Both Luther and Calvin rejected the allegorical or symbolical method of interpreting Scripture that, along with human tradition, had introduced error into the churches’ teaching on justification by faith, a doctrine critical to our faith.

Luther replaced the allegorical way of looking at God’s Word with two principles of biblical interpretation, which made Scripture the final authority of all matters of faith and practice and made the Bible a commentary on itself. The later became known as “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

These two principles became the basis for a literal approach to Scripture through which Luther as well as Calvin corrected the errors of the church that had added works to the obtaining of salvation.

They did not, however, apply this literal method of interpretation to the passages dealing with future things.  When biblical scholars did so after them, they overturned the long-held Amillennialism of the church; a belief based on an allegorical approach to prophecy. Let me explain what happened after the Reformation.

The Reformers and Amillennialism

Amillennialism is the belief that God has rejected Israel as His people and as such, the church now fulfills “spiritually” the kingdom promises made by the prophets in the Old Testament. As the term suggests, Jesus does not return to restore the kingdom to Israel or reign over the nations for a thousand years. Instead, he comes back at the end of the age to judge humanity and bring in the eternal state.

Although both Luther and Calvin condemned the allegorical method with Calvin going so far as to call it “satanic,” neither challenged the allegorical interpretations that supported the Amillennialism of their day.

Why did this disconnect exist between how the reformers interpreted passages of Scripture relating to salvation versus prophetic passages? Why did they continue to follow an allegorical interpretation when it came to prophecy despite their clear denunciation of such a method?

Their defense of justification by faith alone was enough of a battle and one that desperately needed to happen first.

I believe God intended for the reformers to bring the church back to a true scriptural understanding of the Gospel without the added burden of also reforming errant beliefs regarding the end times. Their defense of justification by faith alone was enough of a battle and one that desperately needed to happen first. God knew He had enough time to correct other beliefs also based on an allegorical method of interpretation.

Did the Reformers fail in regard to eschatology? No, I believe that their two key methods of interpretation became the foundation for Premillennialism as biblical scholars after them applied their literal approach to prophecy.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton, born a century after Luther died, undertook an extensive study of the books of Daniel and Revelation during the later years of his life. Newton’s commentary on these books, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, was published six years after his death. In his book, Newton expressed his belief that Israel would someday be a nation again predicting it would happen before the tribulation and the return of Jesus to establish His kingdom on earth after this great time of suffering upon the earth.

Isaac Newton further stated that the study of prophecy would intensify during the latter days of human history as the time of Jesus’ return drew closer. He believed the Lord would reign for a thousand years in Jerusalem thus literally fulfilling kingdom prophecies found in Daniel and Revelation.

Newton applied the Reformers’ literal method of biblical interpretation to the books of Daniel rather than the allegorical approach that had been in place for over a thousand years. Did he consciously follow their biblical interpretative methods? We do not know that for sure.

We do know Newton let Scripture speak for itself and as a result his beliefs closely mirror those held by Premillennialists of the past 150 years. While Newton receives much attention for his predictions of when things would occur, once you look past that you see someone who rejected the time honored way of allegorically interpreting the books of Daniel and Revelation.

Later Church History

This pattern of applying the literal method of biblical interpretation to prophetic passages became more widespread in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As conservative scholars used Scripture as their sole source of beliefs and allowed Scripture to interpret Scripture, the church returned in large measure to the Premillennial viewpoint that dominated the first three centuries of the church.

Although Luther and Calvin did not apply their literal interpretative methods to prophetic portions of the Bible, when others did it resulted in the beliefs that God would once again restore Israel as a nation, the temple would be rebuilt, there would be a terrible time of tribulation upon the earth, and Jesus would return after that time to set up His kingdom.

These same principles also helped establish the belief that Jesus will come for His church before this time of tribulation upon the earth. Contrary to popular belief, John Darby came up with his pretribulation rapture idea from his study of the nature of the church; he saw that it did not fit for Jesus to allow His church to endure the wrath of the tribulation.

The view that Jesus would return for His church before the tribulation exploded in popularity as many Bible teachers took a literal approach to the words of Scripture. This view dominated evangelical churches from the late 1800’s until the past couple decades. Sadly, this view had faded lately as pastors in large numbers have abandoned teaching on this subject.

While perhaps many would disagree with me, I see a link between the biblical interpretation methods of Luther and the rise of premillennialism. Isaac Newton rejected the same allegorical approach as did the Reformers and came to the same conclusions as the premillennialists who followed him a couple centuries later.

Luther’s rejection of the allegorical method restored the biblical doctrine of justification by faith of Paul and the early apostles.

Newton’s rejected of the allegorical method resulted in the restoration of premillennialism, which was dominant in the first three centuries of the church.

 

 

The Reformation and the Gospel

Luther 95 Theses

This coming October 31st marks the five hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. These 95 Theses became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which for many restored the biblical ideal of justification by faith and thereby the purity of the Gospel message.

Earlier in 1517, a friar by the name of Johann Tetzel began selling indulgences in Germany as a mean to raise funds for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. By purchasing an indulgence, one could gain the release of a sinner from purgatory or help ensure one’s own salvation. For example, if someone suspected that Uncle Joe was not quite ready for heaven when he died, dropping several coins into the box carried around by Tetzel would remedy that situation by instantly delivering Uncle Joe from purgatory into heaven.

Luther condemned this practice of indulgences, the subject of several of his 95 Theses. It’s easy to see why he objected to such manipulation of the people.

Justification by Grace Along with Works

In the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day, justification had become a lifelong process through which one received grace through the church and its sacraments that enabled him or her to do the good works necessary for salvation.

Can you see how such teaching would create much uncertainty regarding one’s final status before God? How could anyone know if they had been faithful enough in avoiding sins so that God would pronounce them righteous or justified at the end of their life?

The priests of Luther’s day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

This is why young Luther spent hours at a time confessing his sins to a priest. He believed that getting into heaven that he confess all his sins and live as good a life as possible. As a result, he meticulously and fervently confessed everything he thought might even possibly be a sin. The priests of Luther’s day must have dreaded seeing him walk into their confessional booths.

Justification by Faith Alone

As Luther studied Scripture, he realized that God did not base our salvation on a combination of grace and personal merit. He saw that our justification, or our righteous standing before God, did not result from a lifelong process of resisting sin and doing good works, but rather took place the moment we place our faith in Jesus.

The word the Apostle Paul used for justification denoted a judge in his day pronouncing a not guilty verdict upon the accused person standing before him. Sinners, like the person standing trial, are declared righteous once and for all time. It’s not something that happens over time.

Justification takes place the instant we call out to the Lord in saving faith, not at the end of our lives. In Romans 5:1, Paul says “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Our right relationship with God comes instantly; He declares us righteous the moment we believe.

The Apostle Paul often emphasized that God saves us totally by grace through faith apart from any merit of our own (see Titus 3:4-7 and Eph. 2:8-9). Good works come after our adoption into God’s family, not before.

Luther based his revolutionary teaching at the time solely on Scripture. An allegorical interpretation of God’s Word had begun centuries earlier as a way for some to view Old Testament prophecy symbolically. As a result, those who interpreted the Bible in such a way viewed the Old Testament promises of a kingdom for Israel as something the church fulfilled spiritually.

Unfortunately, this allegorical way of understanding Scripture later eroded the purity of the Gospel as it opened the door for church tradition to contaminate biblical beliefs, especially those pertaining to salvation.

A Literal Interpretation of Scripture

Both Luther and John Calvin condemned such allegorical interpretations and the adding of human tradition to the teaching of Scripture. They brought their followers back to a literal way of interpreting God’s Word through two key principles.

The elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

The first such principle was that of “sola Scriptura.” This signifies that Scripture alone is our sole source and supreme authority when it comes to all matters pertaining to faith and practice. For the reformers, this meant that the Bible was sufficient for all spiritual matters and thus took precedence over all the traditions of the church and the teachings of all previous popes.

This elevation of the Bible as supreme in all matters of faith became a key factor in restoring the sound scriptural teaching of justification by faith apart from good works.

Secondly, Luther emphasized “Scripture interprets Scripture” as essential for interpreting the Bible. This precept stresses that all of Scripture is God’s Word and as such does not and cannot contradict itself. Scripture thus acts as its own commentary.

A section of the Bible where the meaning is clear can and must be used to interpret a related section of Scripture where the interpretation is less evident or open to several differences of opinion.

These principles of interpretation advocated by Martin Luther and the other Reformers forever changed the course of church history and remain the standard for biblical interpretation for most Protestant churches today.

These two principles of interpreting Scripture in a literal way had another significant long-term impact on the teaching of the church, one that did not appear until well after the time of the Reformers. This later result of interpreting Scripture literally will be the topic of my next article celebrating the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.

Can anyone guess what this future impact might be?

 

What Difference Does It Make?

IMG_3515

“What difference does it make?” Hillary Clinton made this question famous during her Senate questioning of what happened during the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi. Although she did not regard the questions she faced as important, I am sure the answers mattered to those who had lost loved ones in the attack.

Many ask similar questions in regard to future things. What difference does it make what I believe about the Lord’s return? Does it really matter if I am watching for it or not? People have been waiting centuries for Him to come again. Should I look for it to happen anytime soon or in my lifetime?

What difference does it make what I believe about the Lord’s return? Does it really matter if I am watching for it or not?

These issues have led to much indifference even among believers regarding the Lord’s return. Many are not watching for it while some do not believe it will happen any time soon if at all.

Does living with an expectancy of Jesus imminent appearing really matter? Absolutely!

Let me explain.

The Importance to the Lord of Such Anticipation

Even though Jesus knew there would be a lengthy delay, He instructed His followers to both watch and be ready for His return (Matt. 24:42, 43: 25:13). Throughout the New Testament, we see this same posture of waiting and expecting that He could appear at any moment (Rom. 8:23; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 1:13; James 5:8-9). The early believers followed Jesus’ command to watch for His return.

Would Jesus have commanded us to do something if it was not important to Him? Why would Jesus ask His followers to look for His return as something that could happen at any time if it was a useless exercise in futility? I do not think so.

Readiness for His Jesus’ appearing is something important to Him and beneficial to us as well.

The Benefits for Us of Such an Outlook

I see several benefits for us in the New Testament of living with perspective that Jesus could return at any time. Such anticipation:

Kindles purity in our lives – After writing about Jesus’ appearing the apostle John added these words in 1 John 1:3, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The prospect that Jesus could return at any moment kindles purity in us; it causes us to be much more mindful of walking in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we have victory over sin.

If you truly thought it was possible that Jesus could return tomorrow, would it make a difference in how you live? Of course it would. You might change your mind regarding what movie or TV show you watch tonight. Your thoughts as you go to bed would be different. You would be eager to resolve any conflict with your spouse or deal with unforgiveness toward someone in our life. You would be more conscious of using your gifts and abilities to serve the Lord.

You would want to be ready to meet Jesus!

Keeps a two-world perspective alive in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:16-18) The apostle Paul endured much suffering as he preached the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, yet he never lost heart. As he compared eternal realities with the temporal things of this life he said this, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul’s two world outlook focused his attention on the joys and glory ahead for him in eternity as he endured his beatings, scourging, imprisonments, and shipwrecks.

Without the hope of Jesus’ soon return, we would soon lose our anticipation of heaven. The things of this world would take on much greater importance compared with the wonders of forever.

Encourages us in the midst of suffering (1 Pet. 1:3-6) In writing to believers suffering under the weight of persecution, the apostle Peter immediately reminded them of their “living hope” and of their inheritance that was “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” them (1 Pet. 1:3-4). He reminded them of the substance of their hope. Regardless of what they experienced on earth, they had a glorious reward waiting for them in heaven at the end of their suffering.

Motivates us to use our spiritual gifts in making disciples (Phil. 3:14-21) – I believe Paul’s determination to press forward in His service to the Lord came from his anticipation of Jesus’ soon return. I believe this was the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14) that he further described in verses 20-21.

CS Lewis said this about such an outlook: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since because Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Keeps the hope of a better day before us Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” The focusing of our thoughts on Jesus’ soon return constantly reminds us that a better day is coming, one in which all sorrow, death, and mourning will be things of the past.

The focusing of our thoughts on Jesus’ soon return constantly reminds us that a better day is coming, one in which all sorrow, death, and mourning will be things of the past.

While most all believers hope for this glorious future day, the sense of imminency in Jesus’ return keeps these things in sharper focus. This also works to minimize the frustrations and disappointments of this life as we realize that a much better day is coming. Setbacks in this life are just temporary; an eternal day is just around the corner. A time of unending joy awaits us with Jesus’ appearing!

Results in a special reward – 2 Timothy 4:8 refers to “the crown of righteousness” that the apostle Paul says is for “all who have loved his appearing.” Our longing for Jesus to return will be rewarded even if we do not see it in our lifetime.

Yes, there are days when I start to wonder, “What’s the point of watching for Jesus to come? I have been waiting for such a very long time!”

It’s then the signs of the approaching tribulation remind me that the time is indeed short. The fires, famines, rumors of war, earthquakes, and increasing talk of the coming new world order all tell us that Jesus is coming soon. The signs around us are increasing exponentially with each pass week.

“How can it be much longer until Jesus whisks us away to heaven and the tribulation begins?”

We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

If you are experiencing sorrow, feeling hopelessness, or facing opposition or heartache because of your faith, do not give up hope. Keep your focus on the better day that is coming for all of us who are in Christ. When Jesus comes for His church, He will give us imperishable resurrected bodies and we will be with Him forever with bodies that will never age and never again experience pain or sickness. We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

Keep looking up; a much, much, much, better day is just ahead. Such anticipation makes a significant difference in how we view our lives.