trying to untangle eschatology

I can get anything tangled. Shoe laces, garden hoses, computer cords, seat belts, …. and theology. Especially eschatology (the doctrine of the end times). A few preachers are consumed with prophecy, making charts, and scaring people into readiness. Many prefer to stay away from the hot-button issues that lay people love to test their pastors about – you know test the pastor’s alignment with a preconceived theological system. This month I waded into these muddy waters for a short 3 part sermon series. This of course is an adventure deserving much more effort and time, and is more worthy of a New Testament scholar or Professor of Christian Theology. I must admit that the study and preparation reminded me of those days 40 years ago when curiosity, passion and adrenaline (and the quest to score at least a passing mark in my courses) drove my academic blood.

Simply, here is what I did:
1. “Watch! No Sleeping On Duty“. Mark 13:24-27, 32-37
2. “Ready Or Not, Here I Come!” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, 23-24
3. “Ask Any Question” An opportunity for people to seek eschatological clarity

Our church website is sadly, badly, out of date. However links to the audio of sermons is current. www.ibc-bielefeld.org/

If anyone wants to look at my modest notes I can certainly email them to you. Just message me on Facebook or email revdjohns@hotmail.com

I depended heavily on some good sources, which I list below. I brought only a small portion of my library to Germany, and you no doubt can locate some good academic resources, but these books served me well. (And yes, my default ‘go to’ publisher of much of my library has always been Inter Varsity Press.)

I believe the best scholarly treatment of Mark 13 is by Robert H. Stein; his book published by Inter Varsity Press Academic in 2014 Jesus, The Temple and the Coming Son of Man. It is concise, readable and persuasive intellectually.

99 Reasons Why No One Knows When Christ Will Return by B.J. Oropeza, Inter Varsity Press 1994

Jesus, Paul and the End of the World: A Comparative Study in New Testament Eschatology, Ben Witherington III, Inter Varsity Press 1992

What the Bible Teaches About The End of the World, Bruce Milne, Tyndale House, 1979

A balanced and easy to understand commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians is by John Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time, Inter Varsity Press, 1991

A very helpful presentation of various theological and Biblical approaches to heaven, hell, resurrection, the return of Jesus and the millennial kingdom is found in The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity by Roger E. Olson, Inter Varsity Press 2002, (note chapters 14 & 15)

I recommend reading the debate writings about hell. Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue, Edward William Fudge, Robert A. Peterson, Inter Varsity Press, 2000

After Life: What the Bible Really Says, Douglas Connelly, Inter Varsity Press, 1995

MARANATHA! – Doug Johns, May 2017

Preaching in an Age of Distraction

distracted-listener

From Doug’s Preaching Mentorship Notes:
Design2Delivery #7 – Wednesday October 26 2016 – Rev. D. Johns

More and more we are preaching to an audience that is ‘disposed to distraction’. I have preached outside and had to compete with animals, wind, rain and beautiful scenery. I have preached in old ‘steeple churches’ and had to do battle with rodents on the floor and bats in the air. I think my ability to raise my voice above babies crying and old men snoring scores high on the concentration scale. I have preached through power outages and natural gas leaks. All that being said, the biggest challenge these days is to somehow communicate with an audience accustomed to fifteen-second sound bites; an audience that lives with continuous visual stimulation much of their day. It’s an audience that doesn’t have much patience for a delayed punch-line.

But I think the built-in attention-avoidance to lecture and preaching so prevalent our culture runs much deeper than a quick fix of video or PowerPoint. Somehow we have to capture their interest at the outset in such a way that the subject we speak or teach about is so compelling, so essential, that minds are jolted into awareness that this moment in time could indeed be a ‘game-changer’. This means, though, that each time I speak, I have to be satisfied with the knowledge that my effectiveness is going to be measured in small numbers. I mean, not every Sunday will be a ‘game-changing’ experience for all who are present. It also means that the introduction might be of more value, and therefore demand more preparation energy and creativity than hitherto invested.

Caution: Don’t let the preacher off the hook too quickly. It is all too easy to label the audience as ‘low concentrators’ while elevating the speaker into the heaven-blessed thoughtful, reflective, meditative zone of super spirituality. The preacher can easily be led into ‘the land of lazy’ just as much as the listener. Attention spans for all of us need some serious re-training.

Matt Woodley recently wrote an article in Preaching Today, titled Deep Preaching in a Distracted Age: Will anything capture people’s attention and keep it long enough for God to do his work? You can see the full article here

http://www.preachingtoday.com/skills/themes/state-of-preaching/deep-preaching-in-distracted-age.html?tCode=88A38AAF62&dCode=2B6C58F00B&utm_source=preachingtoday&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=8373036&utm_content=473159901&utm_campaign=email

He says,
Recent articles and books highlight what Microsoft researcher Linda Stone calls our “continuous partial attention.” Consider this trio of recent articles from The New York Times—”Addicted to Distraction,” “The End of Reflection,” and “Don’t Distract Me.” The stats don’t lie about our heightened distractibility. The average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8.25 seconds in 2015. Little wonder, since an American on social media receives 54,000 words and 443 minutes of video every day.

I love what he calls a ‘counter-intuitive strategy’ to take face this challenge head – on.

In a distracted, outraged, shallow culture, people begin to hunger for something rare: the focused, balanced, deep. Because we chronically distract ourselves, we crave depth. Deep preaching is our best chance to change lives.

Matt’s plan is to foster four disciplines which impact the development of deep sermons. But be warned, there is no quick and easy solution to reverse the fall into distraction and diversion which has debilitated our society by depriving us of the power of vocal persuasion. Surprisingly though, a slow, deep, and thoughtful preparation on our part can lead to a deep, vibrant and substantial life-change – which in turn becomes noticeable in a loud world that is searching for reality beyond the superficial and transient, above the brevity and shallowness this world has to offer.

preaching: why & how I do it every week

Preaching is something I have been doing since I was sixteen years old. After forty-four years I’m still studying the art and science of this sacred craft. I hope to be inspired so as to inspire. I continually strive to shake off the crushing weight of criticism that serves no purpose but to vent the resistant spirit of those unable to look beyond my style and hear from the Lord. Yet I press on, week after week, because the challenge and responsibility also brings the reward, the contentment that doing what I am called and gifted to do is of the highest kind of satisfaction.

So in the attempt to do it better, I am now reading a new book by Simon Vibert, Excellence In Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers, Inter Varsity Press 2011. Here are the first lessons learned:

  1. The best preachers make you strive for Christ – likeness and value the great things that God is doing in His church.
  2. The great preachers connect hearers with God, inspiring, encouraging and motivating them to authentic Christian living, and enabling them to live with a sense that through the preaching they have indeed met with the living Lord.
  3. Excellent preaching must be Biblical, Christ-centred and Gospel in content.
  4. Five key ingredients to excellent preaching:
  • Powerful (God at work)
  • Relational (between preacher and people)
  • It is a summons (an urgent call to repentance and faith)
  • It is truth (propositional and persuasive)
  • It is contemporary (alive and applied)

I depend on the Holy Spirit to guide people into truth, to convict and to inspire through the preaching. My responsibility is to be studious, faithful, careful, confident and creative. I read in the New Testament that excellent preaching will stir some to reject and some to embrace, some to run to Christ and some to run away. It is anything but ordinary work – never boring. And I have so much more to learn!

Bible Superheroes: who is on your list?

I need your suggestions. I am looking for the top 8 Bible characters who should be on this list. Leave a comment or email me at revdjohns@hotmail.com

Is it possible to locate, learn, & live the kind of faith that will lead to an unbelievable life everyday? That place where dreams are realized and lives are changed. Is it true that “all things are possible with God”? I’m curious to know what you think about ‘living by faith’. I am open to your suggestions of who to include in this ‘elite eight’ survey. And while we are thinking about this subject, why do you think Hebrews chapter 11 is even in the Bible? 

faithfully yours,

Doug

all night church service – long winded preacher sends man to his death; then revives him

The passage in Acts 20:7-12 amused me in a peculiar sort of way, before I was a preacher. Not so much after. Many years ago, as a child and then into my earlier teen years, I would use this passage to support my weekly complaint that preachers were blind when it came to reading the clock or their audience. How tragic that Paul’s boring and long sermons would cause a young man to snooze and tumble out an open window to his death. I thought it was even more tragic that the Apostle would bring him back to life to endure more teaching until midnight! (check the story out here)

But now as a preacher myself, I understand the principle: of course one maximizes a teaching opportunity to expand so as to take up all that the space/time continuum makes available! It is simply good stewardship!
Seriously, here is what impresses me even more than the long sermon or the amazing miracle:

1.) The Christians did not need a magnificent, ornate cathedral for worship. A crowded, warm upstairs room would suffice. Many lamps made for a hot, oily oxygen depleted atmosphere and hypnotic flickering of burning lamps could easily put people to sleep. I have seen great church buildings in North America and Europe, with steeples and windows and organs and carvings that take your breath away. But I have also seen first hand open air, rough hewn, shanty town style worship centres that fill to overflowing with faithful, joyful and eager worshipers, attentive to the preaching of the word, receptive to the Holy Spirit breath of God. Any physical space can become holy. Any place can become church.

2.) Does this passage not tell us something about the hunger of these Christians? Their eagerness to learn is amazing! My cultural background betrays my desire for quick religious services. Do westerners have short attention spans? Is our hunger for physical food and Sunday recreation greater than our hunger for spiritual food? This is not an attempt to make all who live by their hero Eutychus feel guilty. I am just curious. I read in Acts 20 of people who gave up a whole night to hear a preacher/evangelist talk on and on – and they chose this! Perhaps that is the real miracle here.

the sermon Must Go On – No Distractions

We all know the unofficial motto/reputation of the Post Office: we deliver your mail through rain, sleet, snow and ice; we deliver through hurricanes, earthquakes, and vicious dogs growling 

Similarly, for Ministers, we deliver our sermons through all kinds of distractions. We will not be slowed down by bats, cats, heat, cold, crying, coughing, snoring, eating. We will not be distracted by knitting, fighting, sneezing, laughing, and yes, even gas leaks! 

I have seen it all through 30+ years of preaching, survived it all, and conquered it all! But never have I had an Acts 20:7-12 incident! (You can read about the Apostle Paul & Eutychus here).

Yes I have preached late at night. Yes I have preached by lamp light and candle light. Yes I have preached in a crowded room. And, yes, I have preached very long sermons. I have had people escape out windows but never fall out windows to their death! And I have not hugged someone and brought them back to life, not physically anyway. But I have seen the spiritually dead breathe new life! Ephesians 5:14 “Wake up from your sleep. Climb out of your coffins, Christ will show you the light. The Message)

Some sermons may put you to sleep & some sermons may wake you up! Sermons, by divine design, are to wake people not kill people!

I know the tragic fall and the amazing resurrection miracle ‘steal the show’ in this story, but here is another not so obvious lesson I learn from the story: Paul is not distracted from his purpose. He is there to make the most of a short 7 day stay in Troas. He has so much to teach & tell. He rushes downstairs, does the miracle CPR, then has a snack, and gets back to work. A preacher who notices the need, addresses it quickly, and then returns to task.

Paul would write to Timothy: “Devote yourself to preaching and to teaching. do not neglect your gift … be diligent in these matters … persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers“. (1 Timothy 4:11-16) Paul knew these things to be true.

Some will argue, and rightfully so, that I take a preacher’s point of view on this passage. What about the poor unfortunate audience, enduring such a lengthy presentation? And without the high-tech of video and power point! But here is my point: these people knew that God’s word spoken through Paul’s words brought hope and life. It was spiritual food they sought, and spiritual life they got. We are told in verse 12 that the people left “greatly comforted”.

Wherever you attend church, whoever is your preacher/teacher, watch not the watch but rather watch for God’s encouragement.  

why a sermon? – 3 reasons

I have often wondered why, generally speaking, mainline churches seem to be satisfied with briefer sermons while newer unaffiliated churches thrive on messages that can easily hit the 45 minute mark without an audience yawn or impatient watch glance. Perhaps it is due to audience profile? Or is it the inclusion of a video element? But the contrast is obvious to me: one seems to be a culture of endurance and the other a culture of expectation. And the irony is this: the mainline Protestant church has a rich history of emphasis on education and the primacy of Biblical preaching; the newer congregation has likely never even heard of the Reformation or any great preachers.

Enough of the self-serving lamentations! Here are three reasons why we need a sermon:

1.  It accompanies a relationship with Jesus. Matthew 11:29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  YOKED SO AS TO LEARN! Jesus will pull most of the load while we apprentice under him. Everyone chooses someone from whom they will learn life (parents, college professors, work colleagues, drug addicts, TV characters, Oprah, Dr. Phil …). The question is: who will be your lab partner in life? The sermon is one of the vehicles where instruction by Jesus becomes possible.

2.  It comforts the soul. The same verse tells us that the yoke with Jesus provides rest for our souls. The yoke of the Pharisees was heavy and burdensome. It condemned but did not comfort. And it was highly unlikely that a Pharisee was going to put any effort into helping you stay holy! I have said before that the church is like a ‘boot camp’ for training and a ‘launching pad’ for mission. But there are times when church needs to be ‘a spa for the soul’. The sermon plays an important role in all of these functions.

3.  It brings us to maturity. Colossians 1:28We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching with all wisdom, so that all may be presented mature in Him.” The image is one of being escorted into the presence of God, complete and whole. The Greek concept of perfect was virtually unattainable – without flaw or blemish, ideal. The Hebrew concept of perfect was one of fulfilled purpose, our intended destiny. Hence the use of the English word, “mature”. Now the role of the sermon – because this maturity comes through admonishing and teaching – is elevated. IT IS NOT SOMETHING TO BE ENDURED, BUT SOMETHING TO BE ANTICIPATED!