Dinosaurs: A Question of Faith

Dinosaurs. Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with dinosaurs. What boy hasn’t been at one time or another? However, after watching Jurassic Park and thinking about what a real-life dinosaur experience would be like, I think I’ll pass!

8A couple months ago, I read an interesting article about how recent discoveries of dinosaurs bones (not merely dinosaur fossils, but bones) have been confirming the literal Biblical account in Genesis. No, not the old Day-Age model that theologians, pastors, and believers try to twist and contort to make Genesis fit with evolution and archaeology, but the literal, ~6000 year-old, Six-Day Creation model. According to the article, portions of actual DNA have been discovered in the bone cells of these creatures which in evolutionary science supposedly went extinct roughly 65 million years ago. Given that DNA molecules, red-blood cells, and tissues in general are unstable and quickly break down, there shouldn’t be any dinosaur DNA (or Carbon-14 for that matter) after 60,000 years, much less 65 million. Such discoveries simply should not exist — yet they do… and more are being discovered. Ironically, since Darwin’s theory of evolution was introduced 150 years ago, the harder the evolutionists and paleontologists try to substantiate the theory, the more evidence is discovered which directly contradicts it. How frustrating it must be to try to fit dinosaur DNA, Carbon-14 dates, and other OOPARTs (Out Of Place ARTifacts) into a theory which was fundamentally disproven at least centuries ago, that life cannot arise from non-life (spontaneous generation)!

Along with the hundreds of fulfilled prophetic events described in detail in the Bible and confirmed by history and archaeology, the other significant contributor to my personal walk of faith was studying Creationism and giving their arguments a fair, unbiased chance, many of which I found to be rather indisputable. Many are simply arguments involving physical laws and good old-fashioned common sense. While I’m admittedly no scientist, common sense can go a long way in simply deciding for yourself which theory of origins best fits the evidence. Everyone has their own beliefs and opinions of our origins and even truth, despite the fact that certain things are indeed true and others are not. For myself, I found that when I stepped back and honestly examined the Creation arguments and the Bible, it answered many of the questions I had far better and more completely than those presented by the evolutionary camp (which I had been taught from elementary school through college).

When I first began moving towards the “Young Earth” Creationist camp, the age of the earth issue was a significant stumbling-block for me. How could a young-earth model possibly be reconciled with radiometric dating, carbon dating, and basic principles of geology? What helped me personally answer those questions was the consideration of several dozen age-limiting factors in general earth-science such as the earth’s rotation gradually but steadily slowing, the moon moving further away from earth, the decreasing magnetic field, population growth-rates, the maximum half-life limit of Carbon-14, etc. While there are several dozen age-limiting factors available that can be used to disprove the “billions of years” theories, only one or two solid age-limiting factors should be enough to dispel any notion that the earth is more than 10,000 years old, much less a million or a billion! If one considers basic population growth-rates, the simple question of “Where’s all the bones and evidence?” should make anyone hesitate before postulating that humans — much less all the rest of the vertebrates in the animal kingdom — are more than 6-10,000 years old. Why was there a sudden explosion of cities and civilization in the Middle East (not sub-Saharan Africa) about 5,000 years ago, but before that practically nothing?

sonorasaurus-with-manAnother kicker for me was the subject of dinosaurs, or “dragons” as they were previously known before the modern term (which means “terrible lizards”) was coined two centuries ago. For decades, evolutionists have declared that “No one has ever seen a living dinosaur.” Now according to evolutionary theory, that must certainly be true because the oldest fossils of humans (more or less) have been dated at just under 3 million years old while the dinosaurs are thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago. Therefore, there shouldn’t be a shred of “evidence” of such terrible lizards — no tales, myths, legends, drawings, sketches, nothing — anything to be found in any culture anywhere on earth. Yet many cultures throughout history declare otherwise, from the Sumerians, Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Anglo-Saxons, Romans, Greeks, Native Americans, to an author in the Bible (Job 40-41). It would be understandable if the ancients found the large bones and described huge mammals with fur, but they didn’t — they described huge reptiles. Again, if all terrible lizards went extinct long before mankind arose, there should be absolutely no “memory” of such creatures. Yet there are — from murals on cliffs to pottery to textual descriptions to recipes to legends, traditions, and festivals that are still celebrated today, many of which are surprisingly accurate (even some of the fire-breathing tales!).

One of the few verses in the Bible that mixes both Creationism with prophecy is in 2 Peter 3:3-6 in which Peter (writing of the Day of the Lord) declares:

…knowing this first: that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” For of this they are willfully ignorant: that by the Word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, whereby the world as it then was, being overflowed with water, perished.

hqdefault4-1This passage predicts two of the pillars of evolution: uniformitarianism (“all things continue as they were”) and the blatant denial of the Flood and a literal Creation (being “willfully ignorant”). The debate between creationists and evolutionists isn’t a matter of science or the evidence but the interpretation of both as based upon their personal biases and worldviews. Though the evidence is the same, one looks at the majesty of the Grand Canyon and sees billions of years while the other sees the sudden, pervasive destruction of the Flood. There are over 200 cultural accounts of a massive Flood, yet evolutionists continually deny that any such event ever occurred. They postulate that the dinosaurs gassed themselves to death (dino-farts) or were struck by a huge meteor (which should’ve destroyed ALL life on earth), but never, ever by water (much less a global Flood), which is the only reasonable explanation for creating so many fossils in the first place (rapid burial by mud/sediments). As with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the formation of the Dead Sea in Genesis 19, it doesn’t matter if there were eye-witnesses who described the events as they occurred — according to modern archaeology, it all happened millions of years ago instead of under 6,000.

As a “Young Earther” (though I prefer Bible literalist), I’ve often been amazed at the double-standards between how creationists and evolutionists are treated — particularly in the universities and the scientific community — and even how various ideas and explanations of origins are regarded. Both camps have their own specific “religious” arguments to support their beliefs, and both can easily point to science to support their claims. After all, one group declares “In the Beginning, God created everything in six days” while in the other, “Billions of years ago, Nothing exploded and out of that chaos, time, space, order, and information arose and everything evolved by chance into the incredibly ordered universe we have today.”? At the core of both viewpoints is “faith” — both for the creationist as well as the evolutionist — though one believes in “God” while the other believes in “Nothing” or “Chance.” Where exactly did this Nothing come from in the first place, where did the energy come from, and what would cause Nothing to explode? After all, Time, Space, Matter, and Energy are all intertwined and affect one another — and for Nothing to explode, it would’ve first had to have originate somewhere at sometime, right?

The fundamental debate of our origins is NOT about evolution versus creation — it’s about God, the Creator, particularly the God of the Bible who judges everyone for their deeds and beliefs and holds them accountable for them. It’s about “Did God really say?” that there’s a literal judgement, Heaven, and Hell. No one likes having their evil/sin exposed and judged (John 3:19 – that men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil). No one likes to have to choose between two choices they have no control over (Heaven and Hell), so we invent elaborate ways of simply avoiding the choice by declaring that the Creation never occurred in the first place — after all, if there’s no Creation, then there’s no need for a Creator. In interpreting the evidence to conform to evolutionary theory, with most it’s not some grand, elaborate conspiracy or even conscious decision as much as peer pressure — not wanting to go against the grain of the rest of the scientific community, particularly when one’s reputation, popularity, and livelihood are at stake.

garden-of-eden-21359726In the end, all matters of faith — even those of evolutionary science — come down to the very first question asked of man by the serpent (ironically, another “terrible lizard”) in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say?” Everything we encounter in this world and this life relates to that one fundamental question that was asked long ago — or not so long ago, depending on one’s view of origins. And depending on what we really believe deep, deep down in our hearts is how we will personally interpret the world around us and answer that fundamental question.

Whenever bones are dug up or new archaeological discoveries are made, that solitary question lurks quietly in the background waiting to be asked — and answered — by each one of us: “Did God really say?”

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” — Exodus 20:11

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Perspectives, Love, and Liberty

books-1Think of your favorite book for a moment — do you realize that NO ONE will ever read that book the same way as you? Even the incredibly detailed and intricate works like “The Lord of the Rings” are never read quite the same way. The other day while hunting around for a clever quote about perspectives, I stumbled across the following from Edmund Wilson which intrigued me:

“No two persons ever read the same book.”

At first glance, the quote makes very little sense since most books are indeed read by more than one person (save for diaries, journals, or really bad writers!). What Wilson meant is that “No two people interpret or ‘digest’ a book in the same way”… it’s all about one’s perspective. The same can said of music, movies, and other forms of entertainment, but not quite in the same way as with a book because readers have to mentally reconstruct everything they read, such as the characters, their appearances, expressions, feelings, and all the smells, sounds, and mood of the settings, regardless of how much detail is provided by the author.

Every person has their own unique perspective when it comes to interpreting books and works of art simply because every person is unique, has different opinions, and has a different history. There are as many different perspectives as there are people! And to further complicate matters, the same person may have very different perspectives on the same work over the course of their lives as they experience new things (good and bad) and interact with others in ever-changing ways. The same book I read a year or two could have a very different meaning to me if I read it again today. Apart from God, the only real constant in this life — and this universe — is that its constantly changing; something is always growing or dying, starting or stopping, taking its first breath or breathing its last.

Something I’ve been observing over the past year is a steady shifting in my personal perspectives on a variety of topics, ranging from marriage to church to politics to relationships — and then some. Though I expected some changes to occur after going through the divorce, I thought they would be confined mostly to marriage and family, since those were the main things that really changed over the past couple years. Perhaps what’s happening is that some of the ragged edges of my mind and heart are being patched, sanded, and buffed by the ending of the divorce process. No matter how civil a divorce may be, it still involves the tearing apart of two lives that were once joined and intertwined, like two pieces of wood that were glued together and then ripped in two. In every tearing, there are bound to be some jagged edges when the breaking is finally complete. And though I’ve felt quite healthy and stable for the last year and a half, looking at my life from the outside seems anything but stable! And that’s where perspectives come into play.

The second entry of Google’s definition of perspective is: “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” Perspective is an odd thing, particularly when it comes to relationships and especially with marriage. When I was married, I used to feel surrounded by single people all the time. But now that I’m unmarried, I seem to see couples everywhere I go — and sometimes painfully so when I’m feeling lonely or isolated. With this shifting of perspectives in my personal life, I’m much more aware of relationships and such now than I was when I was married and more sensitive to the “little things” than I used to be before. Relationships are precious, and the more intimate they are, the more they need to be protected, cultivated, and nurtured.

imagesThough I have not been divorced very long, I’m starting to finally understand what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 7:25-35, in that from the perspective of the Gospel, it’s better to remain unmarried than be married. I may not necessarily agree with that all the time (or even want to!), but I do understand the passage now at a much deeper level. There is a certain liberty that has been granted to me now that I’m no longer married, not a liberty to do whatever I want, with whoever I want, or whenever I want, but a certain liberty nevertheless. Heck, now I can go to the beach for the weekend on a moment’s notice, even if it means flying halfway across the country!

Much of the energy, emotions, and time I used to direct towards my wife I now direct elsewhere out of necessity, such as on my children, friendships, and other relationships — including my relationship with God. I used to worry about many things when I was married, particularly money and finances and the distant future, such as how I could ever possibly support us after a lifetime of a single-income household. I was frequently anxious about how what the future would look like, our standard of living, and what we would do after the kids left home. But now that I’m divorced, those pressures no longer weigh on me much at all — well, except for financing the kids’ college educations. For the most part, my perspectives on the future are just as they should have been all along: unknowable and quietly trusting in God for His providence. Of course, there are still daily pressures and everything, but given all the upheavals in the past two years, the future just doesn’t seem all that much worth worrying about. Literally anything can happen at any time, so why waste precious time and energy today worrying about tomorrow? If God has proven Himself to be faithful in the past, then why should I worry about Him not being faithful in the future?

The greatest impact on a person’s life and their perspectives is other people, and the more intimate the relationship is, the greater impact they will have. People change people, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. We’re always either growing towards someone or receding from them, but rarely just staying the same spot. One of the reasons why the Gospel and Christianity are on a completely different level from every other belief-system is because it is centered around a Person: Jesus Christ, Who’s committed to conforming us to Himself. And He’s not just “a person”, but “THE PERSON” Who made it all and holds everything together! All other religions focus on capricious, unknowable deities, objects, nature, or even Nothing, and any change that occurs is mostly caused by yourself or those around you. Not so with Jesus — it’s not by our efforts and deeds that really transform us, but His (Galatians). The relationship with whatever we revere changes us and makes us more like them, for good or bad, for better or worse. Consider those you are closest to for a moment and the impact they have on your life — I do rather frequently. Are you becoming a better person (i.e., kinder, more loving, more complete, godlier) with your spouse or significant-other, your friends and family? Are you growing closer towards them or more distant, building more bridges or more walls? Are you becoming more kind, loving, empathetic, compassionate, and godly the closer you get to them?

manaloneAs for my personal walk of faith with regards to perspectives, in many ways, I find myself walking very much the way I did when I was still married, despite all the changes in my personal life. I was sort of surprised about this at first until I realized that my faithfulness is not determined by anyone other than myself. Faithfulness is to be practiced regardless of relationship status, feelings, and personal circumstances. It matters what we set our hearts and desires on, because sooner or later we’ll become like the “gods” we worship. Though single, I still go out of my way to avoid certain women in the office and at the gym. I still guard my eyes and avoid second-looks, and the same holds true with guarding my heart. I still try my best to focus on God and what He would have me do with each day and in the different situations and relationships in my life. In the end, isn’t that all that will really remain anyway?

For the sake of the kids, transitions, and financial concerns, our divorce process from start to finish (the initial decision all the way to completely new lives) took more than a year longer than it probably should have — but it’s finally complete. After nearly twenty years, I’m now fully single again. So now as I’m settling into this new life of working, raising the kids, and living this life I’ve been given, what does God really expect of me?

God expects me to be faithful and live just as if I was still married and devoted to one special person, even though I’m single. Loneliness, regrets, and even depression will come and go in this life, but my relationship with Him will last forever.

God expects me to continue running this race of faith regardless of how I might feel, what my living situation may be like, how big the bills may be, and how frightening or even hopeless the future may seem at times.

God expects me to rely upon Him for carrying me through whatever storms and upheavals may come upon me, such as job-loss, health situations, and teenager issues, and a thousand other of life’s upsets that cannot be predicted or prepared for.

God expects me to keep eternal perspectives at the forefront, to keep my eyes focused on Him and fully, unconditionally love those He has placed into my life, and point them towards Him in whatever I find myself doing.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” — 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

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Decisions, Decisions, 2016

Life is full of tough decisions — and when it comes to politics, sometimes repugnant decisions! Though the 2016 political season has been ongoing for the last year, we only have a couple weeks left until the general election. Then — it’s back to “life” as we know it.

imagesPersonally speaking, I haven’t been paying much attention to much of it this season because frankly, both candidates rather disgust me. It’s not merely a matter of choosing the lesser of two “evils” this time because both have been running neck and neck for most of their careers! One candidate has a long history of corruption and subversion of the law, while the other is, well — Trump, a crass egomaniac with absolutely no political experience (probably not even student council!).

Something that’s rather unique in this election (at least for me) is accepting that there is no “clear” choice between the two candidates and the country will continue to be deeply divided for the next 4-8 years, as it has been for much of the last 25. The only times I remember real unity in America was in the 1990’s with Bush I and briefly after 9-11 with Bush II. Otherwise, the country has been continually and bitterly divided for the better part of the last three decades. In 2016, both candidates are viewed as “evil” by their opposition, regardless of the evidence denying (or confirming!) their opinions. Both candidates have psychopathic tendencies and long lists of accusations and accusers. Sadly, the nation is so polarized now that there will be demands for impeachment for whichever candidate wins before even the last ballot has been counted in November!

As far as I see it, the following choices in “Decision 2016” are:

1) Don’t Vote. Don’t vote, don’t encourage them. I’m not saying completely abstain from the political process, just don’t cast a vote for the president. As a citizen of a constitutional republic, I believe we do have a responsibility to participate in the democratic process. In this republic, the people choose their government at all levels of society. However, there’s no law that says you MUST vote, nor are there any biblical or moral laws that would be broken by abstaining from this cockamamie election. If you have a clearer conscience by NOT voting than having to choose among these two candidates, then simply don’t vote for either one…

2) Third Party (any of them!). In my opinion, third-party votes are simply wasted votes, though it is a valid choice. If anything, voting third-party has the same result as not voting but keeps the facade of “choice” and the “hope of change” going. Third-parties typically split the vote of whatever primary political party they lean towards. The Libertarian Party is a mixed bag of both major parties and is almost a crap-shoot. The only time a third-party (the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party over 100 years ago) was moderately successful was because it split the Republican vote, which handed the election to Democrat candidate Woodrow Wilson, who promptly reintroduced segregation, the Federal Reserve System, and threw us into WWI. America has a two-party system that’s been entrenched since the Thirteen Colonies under Britain (Whigs and Tories) and that’s just the way it is. We don’t have parliamentary system (thank goodness!) and though frustrating, two-party political systems tend to be more stable and predictable than others.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-04-at-10.34.10-AM-1024x7703) Hillary Clinton. Clinton is an expert in power politics and has been mired in controversies and scandals for decades. Her pay-for-play schemes with the Clinton Foundation (particularly over Haiti) are the latest that have come to light. She’s had many of the same mentors, advisers, and community organizers as Obama, and would likely continue the same poor economic policies we’ve had, as well as the destabilizing policies in the Middle East while not addressing terrorism (or at least the source of terrorism). She would continue to pressure Israel to negotiate with terrorist organizations like Hamas, the PA, and push against the only free, stable democracy in the Middle East. Clinton is extremely polarizing and has demonstrated that she cannot be trusted with significant power (though she isn’t a hothead like her opponent). She has been embroiled in investigations for years and her presidency would only produce more of the same: endless investigations, polarization, corruption, and abuse of power.

160229_MarcoRubio_NeverTrumpSticker_grande4) Donald Trump. Trump is an unapologetic egomaniac, womanizer, and narcissist, as well as a shady businessman and tax-cheat. Practically everything he builds or buys is renamed in his honor. Who knows what would be renamed in DC if he were elected president! Trump is extremely divisive, shrewd, polarizing, and rather xenophobic. He’s an irresponsible, reality-TV loudmouth who riles up his crowds and then excuses himself from the ensuing chaos that he created. Though he has a long history as a CEO, the federal government is NOT a corporation and cannot (and should not!) be administered like one. (Thank you, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, and Jefferson!) If elected, it’s quite likely that Trump would make an utter mockery of the presidency and the country with his character, personality, and policies. If he blows his stack at his own hired staff, how will he possibly handle Congress who will oppose him at every turn? Trump comes off as a bloviating hothead who doesn’t understand (or care about?) the consequences of his rash words and decisions, especially in global matters. One cannot shoot from the hip like Bush II without far-reaching consequences and often bloodshed, as we’ve seen with Iraq, Syria, and other unstable nations. If president, Trump would be incredibly ineffective and likely govern like several other 19th Century presidents like James Tyler or Zachary Taylor — he would get elected but govern very poorly.

5) Split the Ticket. Vote for one candidate as president, but then vote for the opposing party in all the other offices. The Founders distrusted everyone with political power — even themselves — and put constitutional structures in place such as “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” to prevent (or at least minimize) power from accumulating. They rightly understood that government always grows in size and scope, and at the expense of individual liberty. The Constitution and the federal government it created was designed not for efficiency, but for gridlock to keep federal power divided and restricted. Historically, political parties are the most dangerous when they control more than one branch of government (ie, both the Presidency and the Congress). Splitting the ticket divides the power and minimizes the impact either party can have. The other good news is that the party that wins the Presidency usually loses Congress two years later…

stock-photo-8203837-man-prayingIn deciding the responsible thing to do as both a Christian and an American citizen in this election, it’s painfully clear that neither of these candidates can really be trusted with power, yet someone will be elected in order to run the federal government. I find myself evaluating their sponsors and supporters more than the actual candidates themselves, because my opinions are much more solid on those people and organizations, and they have a much longer (and better documented) history. Both candidates have deep character flaws, a sordid history of scandals and corruption, and worship the Almighty Dollar regardless of their religious affiliation! In particular, I was quite disgusted with the contortions of several Christian leaders trying to claim that Trump is indeed “saved” so the GOP can rely upon the evangelical vote again. To be candid, we’re voting for an administrator of a secular government, not a minister — and thank God our government IS secular and maintains a strict Separation of Church and State (surprisingly, a Christian principle). However, apology or not, what does it say about Trump’s character to be speaking of any woman in the crude/vile terms he did several years ago, particularly as a father of two grown daughters?

The unfortunate reality of the matter is that one of these two deeply-flawed candidates will win this election and we’ll be stuck with them for the next four to eight years, for better or worse! The Bible instructs us to pray for our leaders regardless of how likable or unlikable, honest or corrupt, good or evil, godly or ungodly they are. Therefore, the following are a few of the questions that should be asked before entering the voting booth this fall:

Which is the more faithful or trustworthy candidate, both personally and professionally? How does their personal life affect their professional life? Is this person capable of doing the job regardless of their personal flaws? Which can be trusted more with the immense power that comes with the highest office in the land?

Could you entrust your children’s lives with them, which you will be if they’re serving in the armed forces? Does the candidate respect and support the military, which protects both our sovereignty and provides some measure of stability throughout the world?

Would the candidate appoint the best, most qualified people to their administration, or simply return political favors to their friends and donors? Would they appoint officers who would be faithful to their oaths and adhere to the Rule of Law? Does the candidate have a history of cronyism and scandal?

Would the candidate further divide the country and worsen the instability, particularly when it comes to race problems, the police/civil authorities, immigration (legal and illegal), and other societal issues?

Would the candidate enforce the laws and uphold the Constitution (as their oaths demand) or actively subvert them? Would the candidate appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would follow the Constitution or bend it to their personal views? Would the candidate subvert justice and the Rule of Law?

Would the candidate seek to undo or uphold the policies (and executive orders) of the previous administrations, especially with regards to Iran, Iraq, Syria, and certainly Israel. The last two presidents have dramatically destabilized the Middle East during their tenures and have demonstrated that the US is very fickle both politically and militarily. Because of the Arab Spring and the mess in Iraq, the already-volatile region has been thrown into chaos, millions of people have become refugees, and Iran, the foremost sponsor of terrorism in the world, has practically been handed the Bomb (and a ton of cash) in exchange for little more than empty promises.

Will Clinton or Trump being elected mean the end of the country? No, not any more than Obama or Bush being elected did. Any change a president makes can be reverted by another, and both the Congress and the Supreme Court can (and have) restricted the power of an unpopular or even renegade president. America is not a dictatorship and is far stronger, smarter, and better than whoever our president happens to be.

Lastly, America’s future is in God’s hands, just as every other nation’s future is. As I see it, America will continue to be blessed as long as we continue to bless and support Israel (Genesis 12:2-3), though we won’t be free of problems nor the consequences of our own decisions. The regathering of Israel as described in Ezekiel 36-37 will continue on His time-table regardless of who resides in the White House. God is completely sovereign and in control, and we can trust Him with our nation’s — and our own — future.

“…He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness,And light dwells with Him.” — Daniel 2:21-22

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A Peculiar Epiphany

Epiphanies. Sometimes they hit you right out of the blue for no apparent reason. I don’t have epiphanies very often, but when I do, they’re usually rather significant. Sometimes they’re a stream of thoughts that rush through my mind, while other times they’re merely very strong emotions that change the way I perceive or interpret something.

lightbulbWhen I consider the word “epiphany”, I tend to imagine a bright light-bulb lighting up right over my head and suddenly, everything becomes clear. However, there’s another kind of epiphany that isn’t nearly as comforting, the kind in which you suddenly see things for the way they actually are, not how you believe or imagine or even wish them to be. It almost feels like that light-bulb overhead is actually turning off, leaving you in darkness. I think I had one of those last weekend, and I didn’t like it very much!

The other day, a close friend of mine had a birthday gathering for her mother. I didn’t really think much about it at the time because I know enough people that my calendar is usually filled with birthdays. I’m not quite sure why, but later on this intense feeling of “reality setting in” came over me, and it made me grieve for the first time in a long while about what I’ve lost in the divorce. It wasn’t over the relationship with my former wife, but the relationships with my former family here. It abruptly hit me that I have absolutely no family of my own anywhere nearby and will probably never go to one of those birthday celebrations again, or at least not without an airline ticket.

In that moment, I suddenly felt very untethered from everyone, almost like being alone in a life-raft in the middle of the Pacific. With that epiphany, the realization of just how far away my family is really struck a nerve. Soon after my first daughter was born in 2000, we decided to leave California so we could buy a house and be closer to family. Since most of mine is scattered across the Midwest and East Coast and her’s was mostly here in Colorado, we decided to move to Denver to put down roots. The funny thing (albeit sad) is that while we did put down many roots over the fifteen years that followed, the divorce completely uprooted all my family connections here. I was planning on moving east earlier this year, but for the sake of my kids and their relationships here, I chose to stay in Denver. Though it was the right decision to make, the consequences of that choice and the reality of continuing to live “untethered” here for the foreseeable future finally sank in.

Looking back over the last fifteen-plus years, we always had tons of birthday parties, Saturday-night gatherings, dinners, holiday celebrations, and impromptu visits with my wife’s side — but then after the divorce, it was immediately switched to nothing, at least for me. All those family gatherings and relationships that were comfortable, often taken for granted, and even a little irritating at times are now completely unavailable to me. It’s not really that I miss the individuals in my former family (though there is that to some extent), it’s that I miss belonging to a real family closeby, a group of people you can usually completely be yourself with, a group of people you can laugh and joke and get on each other’s nerves with. Of course, I can always visit my own family back east, but that’s only around the holidays and there’s simply no such thing as spontaneity when you have to fly across the country to see one another.

imagesTo add to the mix, the holidays are coming soon, which are much different for me now after the divorce too. Holidays are tough enough for singles, but especially divorcees and widows/widowers because they remember all the times-past, what was and can no longer be. Christmas Eve used to always be spent with my in-laws and the grandparents, but last year I ended up in an expensive restaurant downtown. This year? Who knows — I might just have a tall glass of egg-nog and go to bed early! I used to look forward to the holiday season every year, but now it’s mixed with all these other negative emotions, and I find myself almost looking forward to them being over with so I don’t have to deal with those negative feelings. I didn’t just lose a spouse in the divorce, I lost nearly everyone I had built relationships with over the last twenty years, an entire family of parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Especially after divorce, people lose many of their social connections because so many are made with other married couples. Though I’m still living in the same home and have the same routines, I may as well have moved to the other side of the world.

The last time I went to Israel, I stayed in a Lone Soldiers’ Home on one of my weekends off-base, which is a mix between a dormitory and a hotel. In the IDF, they have thousands of young men and women who enlist from all over the world known as “Lone Soldiers” because they’re completely alone outside the army. They usually have no family, friends, contacts in the land except a calling/feeling of obligation to serve their homeland. They have no support system except for what the army provides, which is extra money and housing assistance on the weekends and holidays. But while their physical needs are met, their social needs are far less tangible and much more complicated. Every lone-soldiers’ situation is unique, and often what ends up happening is that they connect with other lone-soldiers and/or fellow soldiers with families in Israel and are practically adopted into them while serving in Israel. Holidays and weekends are no longer spent alone, and they have the different social roles and relationships they can connect with and look forward to. It’s nice having all the different facets of a family around, like a mother, father, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles — even if they’re not really your own.

showimageIn some ways — perhaps many, MANY ways — being a single-parent with no immediate family around after divorce feels like being a lone-soldier, especially when the kids are at their other parent’s place for the weekends or the holidays. I find life going from being very hectic when they’re around to very quiet (or even very boring) when they’re not. When an emergency occurs (which can be frequently with kids!), what’s a single parent with no real family available or support system supposed to do? Who can you trust to pick them up from school if you have to work late if there’s no one around? And what about birthdays and holidays, especially if their friends aren’t available?

Until I divorced, I never realized how often family is taken for granted and how isolated we can be even in a room full of people. How absurd is it that in this highly-connected world that so many single-parents (or just singles in general) feel very alone and disconnected, yet be in such close proximity to so many others in the exact same situation. The same with retirees and empty-nesters whose kids have grown up and moved away. We’re mere feet away from one another, yet so many of us have the same basic social needs that are going unmet! It’s not merely ironic, but pathetic if we’re honest!

Maybe we need some “Lone Parent” programs here in America similar to the Lone Soldier programs in Israel. Such programs could involve basic single-parent assistance like pickups from school, babysitting, after-school safe-places, birthday parties, pizza-gifts, cards, holidays, “just because” stuff, etc. As a single-parent, wouldn’t it be great to know that someone is just thinking about you and your kids sometimes? Maybe such programs could be paired with retirees or empty-nesters who now aren’t busy enough or no longer feeling needed after working for 30-40 years. People need people, and one of the effects of the Industrial Revolution is that it has divided people into those that are productive/necessary to society and those which are not.

It just strikes me as rather silly (if not pathetic) to have so many people with so many basic social needs that are so closeby, and all it would take is a little incentive and organization to solve part of the problem. But alas, many of us are just too busy, and often mollify our own loneliness by simply adding more activities and busyness. It’s often easier to ignore or minimize one problem by focusing or even creating others. I know what the Bible says about God placing the lonely in families and caring for the helpless and overwhelmed, and I do have a lot of optimism for the future… it’s just that the immediate days ahead seem to have more than their share of dread at times.

live_photo16806617The funny thing about such a “Lone Parent” or “Lone Person” program is that this seems to be one of the basic responsibilities of the Church (caring for mothers, widows, the lonely, etc.), but we seem to be doing a lousy job of it. In the early days of the Pilgrims and Puritans, they actively placed singles, widows, and orphans into families — they rightly understood the importance and necessity of everyone belonging to a family. While the Bible and it’s teachings are very relationship-centric, we in modern America tend to favor independence and self-sufficiency more than is healthy, which leads to being too busy and overwhelmed. Admitting to others that we need help or need others feels like weakness or insufficiency on our part. We’d rather shout “Me do it!” and burn ourselves out than accept help from those who offer it. So many single-parents feel like failures because we can’t keep those twenty plates spinning in the air all at the same time 24/7. We were made to need others and not to try to do it all ourselves, yet we keep trying nevertheless.

The church I attend (Crossroads) has several good programs to help our local community, particularly single-mothers and those who are struggling, such as the “Car Care Clinic” and “Cold Weather Care”, both of which are helping many people and growing quickly. My next questions are, “Why doesn’t every church have such programs?” and “What more can I do to reach out and/or create similar programs to help others?” We need more of those — many more.

If we don’t take the initiative to help those who are lonely and overwhelmed, who will?

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:2

Posted in Character, Christian-life, Family, God, Israel, New Beginnings, Personal, transitions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Failing Fast, Failing Often

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Fail fast, fail often. In the new development world at my office (now two years old), this mantra has been repeated countless times. While at first it seemed like it was another one of those Silicon Valley fads that come and go after a couple years, this one seems to have legs, mostly because it’s common-sense — and it works.

One of the books we were recommended on how to improve our Agile development processes was “Fail Fast, Fail Often — How Losing Can Help You Win” (synopsis/highlights). The basic synopsis of the book is “When you have an idea, just do something with it as fast as you can, learn from your mistakes, make adjustments, and try again. Lather, rinse, repeat — over and over and over again as quickly as possible. There is no real finish-line in the process, just a thousand (or usually more!) adjustments all along the way.

The real problem that “Fail fast, fail often” attempts to address is inaction/inefficiency because of indecision. Fear, specifically being afraid to fail, makes many of us freeze and get stuck in the “idea” or “design” phase for too long, and sometimes great ideas die before they ever see the light of day. The fear of failure or second-guessing something can be utterly paralyzing and can bring everything to a screeching halt. In the software world, we call this “analysis-paralysis,” in which progress moves very slowly because of over-designing, indecision, and fear. In essence,  poor leadership and weak decision-making because of the fear of failure.

On my development team, we used to have these days-long design sessions to hammer out every minute detail of a new feature from the user experience, classes, services, database tables, and everything in between. Literally everything was planned out before a single line of code was written. It was mind-numbingly boring, then we would rush out and develop the thing as fast as we could with the time we have left. We never really failed until the last possible minute, and then it was usually ugly at best or disastrous at worst. The solution to this problem of “failing last” was “failing fast” and it’s been literally hammered into us.

Now, two years later, we are adept at failing fast — we can fail fast like nobody’s business!  And failing often? Why, we’ve got that one down too! We can do both so well that now we have the opposite problem of building complex features not being adequately designed before we start cranking out the code. We rush in and write code until we hit a roadblock, then we back off and design a little bit, then jump back in and repeat until the next roadblock. In short, we’ve swung from one extreme of over-thinking with too little action to the other extreme of over-acting with too little fore-thought.

A problem with mantras like “Fail fast!” is that we tend to forget the original problem we we were trying to solve. We solve one problem with another, then another, then another (and adding processes and safeguards along the way) until we forget what the core problem originally was, in this case, over-thinking and over-design — analysis-paralysis. The real point of “Fail fast, Fail often” isn’t being good at failing, it’s “learning from your mistakes” and adjusting your processes (or products) to be successful. And part of that is learning to have moderation when it comes to new ideas and new processes. “Eat the meat, spit out the bones” is probably a better mantra than “Fail fast, fail often” but isn’t nearly as catchy, particularly since we’re all familiar with failure.

How often is the same true in our everyday lives, where we fall prey to analysis-paralysis? How often do we wait to put off making those big decisions and worry ourselves sick with indecision until we end up worrying more about our indecision than the actual problem? Of course, it’s usually foolish to dive into a pond without looking first, but how many times do we stare at that same water and wonder how deep or cold it really is, when we should really just try it out first? The flipside is jumping into something without thinking about it first — leaping without really looking. How about using experience, common sense, and a little of that wisdom that we’ve been blessed with?

Along with “failing fast”, another major adjustment we’ve had to make at the office is learning to be comfortable with being decidedly uncomfortable and continually learning new languages and methodologies. It’s one thing to be challenged by the immediate problem to solve with software, but quite another to be challenged with syntax, architecture, and other fundamental considerations. Imagine going to work everyday and feeling like you know very little, as if you’ve just started the job a week ago and know next to nothing about the system. It’s not a pleasant feeling, particularly when it drags on for awhile. But it’s only a feeling, and the more you get used to it, the easier it gets (well, at least in theory!).

dem2Imagine having to write a term-paper about a subject you’re not completely familiar with. As if that isn’t enough of a challenge, throw in the fact that this paper needs to be written in a different language, must be peer-reviewed, and written as a team effort with several different people who are just as bewildered and bumbling as you are! Not only that, but imagine that your grade (if not your entire academic future) hinges on getting an “A” on that paper!

That’s what life in the office has been like for most of the last two years, and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon. Though we’ve been quite productive, it hasn’t felt that way because we never really have time to settle in and fall into a cadence/rhythm with anything. I suppose there’s another life-lesson in there somewhere, in that you really are making progress even though you may never feel like it — until one day you finally stop and look back and see the huge distance you’ve actually covered.

In writing books, it’s not the meticulous planning and scene/character details that will turn a book into reality, it’s the writing. It’s plopping down clumsy words and disjointed ideas on paper as quickly as possible and often having no clue how they’re all going to fit together, but writing them nevertheless, all the while accepting that a large percentage of those words will be thrown away before it’s all over. The most prolific writers preach over and over that what matters most is that you’re actually writing something tangible every day and moving the plot along, regardless of how good it is or whether it’ll be thrown out tomorrow. Writers write, builders build, teachers teach, and doers do!

To stitch it all together, failing frequently is a part of just about everything we do, whether we like it or not (which we usually don’t!). What we do with those failures, whether we let them define us or not, and whether we stop trying because of them are just decisions to be made. Most of the greatest inventors, artists, and writers failed hundreds if not thousands of times before they “got it right”, but they’re seldom remembered for those failures — only their success. They stumbled, fell, got back up, and tried again and again. They didn’t necessarily embrace failure as much as accepted it, learned from it, and kept going. Perseverance is not only a principle, but a practice to be cultivated and continually developed.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” — Galatians 6:9

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Compassion? For Her?!?!

Compassion. Sometimes it pops up in the most surprising of times, places — and people. A couple weeks ago when glancing over the political headlines, Donald Trump struck a low-blow against Hillary Clinton over her brain “short-circuiting” and I suddenly felt two very strong emotions: disgust towards him and compassion towards her. That’s right — compassion.

New-Hillary-Clinton-Photos-Reveal-She-Needs-Help-Climbing-StairsIn political news over the last couple weeks, Clinton’s health has become a topic of “concern”, particularly on the Right. The rumors over her health range from lingering issues from her 2012 concussion to Parkinson’s to dementia to hypothyroid issues. This year, though she was the prospective Democrat candidate, she didn’t have a single public press conference in 2016 until August — almost as if she were in “hiding” of some sorts. Candidates usually have numerous press conferences because they’re practically free publicity, especially during the primary season. In contrast, Trump has held over a dozen. And of course, the following headlines (compliments of Drudge) and picture above don’t help dispel the Hillary health-concerns any either:

2016: HILLARY CONQUERS THE STAIRS… 
2012: FALLS AT HOME, BLOOD CLOT…
2011: FALLS BOARDING PLANE…
2009: FALLS GOING TO WHITE HOUSE, BROKEN ELBOW…

As a former Republican (RIP 2014), the compassion I’ve been feeling towards Hillary recently has caught me by surprise. Of course, it’s mixed with other feelings, but the phrase that keeps popping up in my head is “How the mighty have fallen.” Before Obama took the DNC by storm, the Clintons were the de-facto face of the Democratic Party. On the Religious Right, they were quietly referred to the American Ahab and Jezebel. When Bill Clinton was president, they were a fitting caricature of the two infamous Biblical villains: a weak, charismatic “king” and a domineering, ever-scheming “queen”.

From the unrelenting investigations, scandals, and impeachment, the Clintons have continually been in the news for the last twenty-five years. So much press has been generated over them it’s challenging to separate fact from fiction most of the time. Even after leaving office, Hillary was the most polarizing Democratic political figure, possibly even more than Obama. Whenever the GOP would need to raise cash, they would just start mentioning Hillary in their ads and talkshows and the cash would pour in. In politics, we are taught to despise, to vilify — to hate. And this isn’t confined to American politics, of course; it’s just amplified because the media has such a widespread influence here.

But instead of this diabolical villain as her political/personal enemies would paint her, how would God have us approach Hillary and the rest of the candidates in this turbulent election season? What does God see when He looks at Hillary? Does He see her as she is now or does He see the entire span of her life? God saw her when she was conceived, born, and the joy and hope she brought to her parents while she was growing. He watched her crawl and then take her first steps to her parents’ delight. He watched her giggle and twirl and hug the family-dog and play dress-up. He watched over her at night while she was snuggling with a favorite stuffed animal and when she woke up. He watched her dream of what she might grow up to be. She is someone’s daughter, friend, grandmother, mother, and wife (for better or worse). She’s allowed herself to be humiliated numerous times by her husband’s incredibly-public infidelity. The depth and breath of personal humiliation and embarrassment she’s endured over the years must be utterly staggering!

stock-photo-8203837-man-prayingAs we read the political news, we tend to think that the sole focus is on the various personalities involved, about what God is doing with them and how they’ll influence the country if elected. But how often do we consider what God is doing inside US when it comes to politics and those who we’re for and against? I think that God is much more concerned about OUR individual attitudes and responses towards others — even our political adversaries — than about the actual political outcomes and ramifications themselves. I think that God would have our attitudes be much more like one of the examples He has written in the Bible about 3,000 years ago: “David vs Saul 1010 BC”.

Though there were no elections in ancient Israel, there was a great deal of political strife and people were sharply divided between the two camps of Saul and David, which could have easily led to a civil war. As king, one held enormous power while the other had been anointed the next in line for the throne, and the king was actively trying extinguish that threat. Saul was relentless in his pursuit of David, hounding him at every turn and forcing him to abandon everything and everyone he held dear to flee for his life. Yet consider how David mourned over Saul when he heard of his death — he tore his clothes, fasted, and wept bitterly for his king. He composed at least one song for him and nearly led the nation in mourning for him. And this wasn’t just for another political enemy, this was towards the tyrant who had tried to skewer him at least twice, hunted him like a dog for years, gave his first wife to another, and driven him (and his family) into hiding for years.

So with that in mind, how would Christ respond during this heated election season? What lessons does Jesus have for us concerning our adversaries, both personal and political? What attitudes would He have us cultivate and develop even in politics? I believe that He would have us learn to forgive, to bless, to respect, to have compassion. When our enemy is thirsty, give him/her a drink. When our enemy is sick, care for them. Don’t kick them when they’re down. Love them regardless of who they are and what they’ve done and let God deal with the details. This election is just as much about us and our attitudes as it is who’s elected to office. Our behavior towards our adversaries is not about us being “the bigger/better person” or even doing it because we’re Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, or any other religion. It’s about treating the other person for who they are: a unique, beloved creation of God.

Dietrich_BonhoefferGoing a couple steps further away from mere politics, what should our response be to the various “enemies of the faith”? What if a Hitler was elected to office again? Note that Hitler was elected by a democratic process and then began his reign of terror with willing accomplices and a compliant electorate. By himself, Hitler was nothing — but with the support of much of his nation, he became a tyrant. As for one of the foremost German Christians who resisted Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biggest black-mark on his witness was his participation in the attempted assassination of Hitler, for which he was later hung only three weeks before the Nazi regime collapsed. Yes, the German dictator was a monster and was responsible for the millions upon millions of deaths, including triggering the Second World War which cost over 80 million lives (estimated). Yet God allowed him to take and hold power, and assassinations are rarely His means of removing people from office.

How should we as Christians respond if a truly wicked person takes office in America? What about a Nero who would use Christians for garden-lanterns for his personal entertainment? What about a Mao Tse-tung or a Josef Stalin? From what I’ve gleaned from the Scriptures (Matt 10:23), we are to “Flee, but not fight.” Though Christ did admonish His disciples to take a sword once, nowhere in the New Testament do believers ever take up arms to defend themselves. However, they do flee persecution and when apprehended, they submit to the authorities regardless of the charges against them. Peace and civility and submission to the authorities trumps individual rights in Paul’s numerous adventures. The mindset of Americans running out and buying guns and ammo whenever a Democrat is elected to high-office is the exact opposite way that we Christians should be behaving. After all, what’s the worst they could do, even the real tyrants like Hitler and Nero? Kill us? Paul said it perfectly: “To live is Christ, to die is gain!” (Phil 1:21)

And while this post been mostly directed towards Hillary, the same holds true for Donald Trump, though he has other significant character issues — namely his huge ego and pride. While Hillary has a history of corruption and straddling the line between legal and illegal, Trump’s enormous pride and arrogance is an even bigger issue. Sooner or later, everyone is humbled — including Donald Trump. To watch him mock and demean his political opponent with comments such as having “a short-circuiting brain” is disgusting. Did Trump win the primaries by having better policies than the others or just by being able to grab more headlines with his careless words? A big part of being humbled is being humiliated, and if he loses this election — particularly to Hillary (who also happens to be a woman) — in his own mind and ego, Trump will be humiliated. Unfortunately, his pride will probably keep him blinded to the lessons he’s supposed to be learning. Trump may be many things, but he has never been a servant to anyone, much less a public servant to a rather demanding and divided electorate.

America-by-loveallpeopledotorgAs this election approaches, let us keep in mind COMPASSION for those around us, regardless of our passing political opinions. Let us frequently recall and appreciate the reality of our circumstances and be wary of how the media or parties might portray them. In this great land of ours, we Americans are incredibly, undeservedly blessed — BLESSED!

We are BLESSED to live in a country that is politically stable, where our leaders don’t seize office by violence, where ballots not bullets decide our elections.

We are BLESSED to not have roving bands of militants pillaging, kidnapping, enslaving, raping, and murdering innocent civilians.

We are BLESSED that there hasn’t been a significant political assassination in nearly 50 years, that though we might often disagree with those in office, we hold to the Rule of Law and let due-process take its course.

We are BLESSED for all the freedoms and opportunities we have that we so often take for granted, that we have an abundance of food, shelter, and resources.

“…If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” — Romans 12:20-21

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Rethinking the Rapture

clothesinparkThe Rapture. The Vanishing. Millions of sets of empty clothes lying in the streets, in cars, in airports. The subject of one of the greatest best-selling Christian fiction works of all time (“The Left Behind Series”).

To briefly introduce the subject, the Rapture is typically viewed as the event in which Jesus returns in the sky and all living believers in Christ will instantly be caught up with Him in the clouds (“raptured”), removed from the earth and be transformed into their heavenly forms without experiencing death. Then, before Jesus’s return to earth to reign from Jerusalem, the world will go through the Tribulation, seven years of literal hell on earth in which nearly all restraints on evil will be removed. At the end of those seven years, the battle of Armageddon (northwest of Jerusalem) occurs and the Messiah destroys all His enemies.

According to Jesus Himself, “no one knows the day or the hour” in which He will return, so this event is always imminent. Yet if you study the various prophecies of Daniel and others, there is a definite timeline for the Messiah’s coming, even though Jesus appears to say the opposite. From Daniel and Revelation, His Appearing will occur exactly 1260 days after the not-yet-rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem is desecrated. Therefore the  simplest reconciliation between this disparity is that there are actually two Second Coming events just as with His First Coming and His Second Coming. Though most Christians believe in His imminent return and earthly reign, the views on the Rapture vary mostly in its timing, from before the Tribulation (Pretrib), during the Tribulation (Midtrib), to after the Tribulation (Posttrib).

About fifteen years ago, I got onto this in-depth Bible-prophecy kick, especially concerning the Rapture and the various End Times scenarios related to Israel. Part of that was due to the popular Left Behind books, but also as a result of finally studying the Bible for myself and taking the Word seriously and literally instead of generalizing and spiritualizing it. Eventually, those studies became the basis for my first book called “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble” which portrayed an Israeli family going through the End Times and then into the Millennium (the 1000-year reign of Christ). Of all my books, it’s still my favorite because I poured my heart and soul into it, and even rewrote it into a trilogy after visiting Israel in 2010.

Somewhere along the line (probably in the midst of writing that first book), my passion for the Rapture and End Times became skewed and turned into something almost on the order of apologetics, in that if teachers or churches didn’t hold to certain End Times notions, then in my mind they weren’t as “Christian” as they should be, or even on the order of being false-teachers. After all, wrong eschatology leads to Amillennialism and Replacement Theology (in which the Church has replaced Israel), and suddenly the Bible can say whatever you want it to, which has happened in numerous denominations over the years. Though now I recognize that as being rather foolish and hard-headed (and hard-hearted), at the time that reasoning made perfect sense because once someone starts spiritualizing Bible prophecy, they can spiritualize literally anything in the rest of it!

Tribulation_viewsIn the grand scheme of things, one’s stance on Bible prophecy is of some importance, but is not critical to one’s theology as it is with repentance and salvation, the essential doctrines. John Piper and DesiringGod.org have been a tremendous encouragement to me over the last several years, but I missed out on those precious resources for most of my Christian life because I strongly disagreed with their stance on Israel and the Rapture. To quote a good friend from church, I was “majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors.”

A big change in my thinking of the Rapture and its real importance occurred earlier this year as I was finishing the book “66 Love Letters: A Conversation with God That Invites You Into His Story“. In the End when it’s all said and done, what will the Rapture and all the various views on the End Times really matter? Before we know it, those events will be in the distant past and they won’t matter a bit in Eternity! Getting more personal for a moment, when things blew apart in my life awhile back, none of the prophetic stuff mattered or helped at all — it was completely meaningless. All that knowledge, time, energy, and passion I had poured into it didn’t matter. I had spent so much time learning about God and His prophetic plans that I didn’t get to know God Himself as closely as I should have. I almost wanted to go into the local Christian bookstores shouting, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!”

Something that has always stuck with me since reading C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” (in addition to ‘My Dear Wormwood’) is the vice of distractions and how easy it is for the Enemy to bump us off-track. When he can’t do it with sin, he uses religion, eschatology, or anything else. Satan loves us to get distracted from furthering God’s Kingdom and helping others, especially if it’s done under guise of Christianity. Whatever distracts us and keeps us from reaching out to others is what the Enemy revels in. And if those distractions cause splits and disunity among believers, all the better! He loves dividing us and pitting us against one another, especially when it involves God’s Word. It’s so easy to differ over the Scriptures on even the most insignificant things; there are so many reasons to fall into disunity. It’s always so much easier to split over the Minors instead of uniting on the Majors. Division comes naturally, but real unity takes hard work!

Along with pointless divisions, consider the simple dollars and cents of the End Times squabbles and how it affects living, breathing people. So much time, effort, and money is spent on rather insignificant things instead of helping others who genuinely need it. Millions upon millions of dollars (if not billions) have been spent on the “Left Behind” books, movies, and merchandise. Aside from the authors and those employed in publishing the books, did they meet anyone’s tangible physical needs? We American believers apparently have oodles of cash to spend on expensive Christian books, paraphernalia, and even glossy new Bibles but not on countless hurting people who struggle to live on less than $1 a day! We should be ashamed that the world often seems to have more compassion on real people and their physical needs than the Church as the Body of Christ. Instead of buying more Christian books and movies for ourselves, we could be financing micro-loans and donating to help others that will make a huge difference in their lives.

Stepping back and examining how my priorities and view of Bible prophecy became so skewed, I think there were two primary elements that were involved: Pride and Fear. Pride in that I wanted to know more than everyone else when it came to the Bible and the End Times. How foolish of me! Imagine being prideful about the one Book in the world that disparages pride more than anything other character disease! And then there’s Fear – that very personal fear that I might have to go through the horrors of the Tribulation if the Rapture were somehow not true.

But what does the Tribulation and the Rapture really even matter to me as a disciple of Jesus? My destination is assured — it’s been guaranteed by Christ Himself and God’s Holy Word! He knows exactly how and when I’ll take my last breath, and if my head happens to roll off my shoulders, so what? He’s going to give me an entirely new body anyway, regardless of how well (or how poorly!) I preserve this one! If the Rapture happens, great – by God’s grace I get to avoid death and the Tribulation. However, if we as believers happen to go through the Tribulation and are martyred, that’s great too because we’ll be given a “better” resurrection (Hebrews 11:35). To sum it up, either way we Christians can’t lose because Christ has already won!

Another reason I believe I got off-track was because of where I live (North America) and the peculiar brand of materialistic, individual-centered Christianity that has flourished here in this Land of Liberty. In the United States, there seems to be this palpable fear of persecution and suffering in American Christendom, though as Christians that’s what we’re appointed to! As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.” We can try to sugar-coat it all we want, but Christ calls us to literally sacrifice our lives for others — believers and unbelievers alike.

And what makes us modern American Christians think we’re somehow special compared to all the other Christians across the world? We have no say whatsoever in where we’re born! What makes us think that we should be exempt from what most Christians for the last two thousand years have had to endure, often gladly and boldly suffering for their faith? Is our present life here in America even remotely comparable to that in Eternity? Haven’t we been born into this Land of Blessings in order to be a blessing onto others? Jesus doesn’t call us to cling to our guns, religion, and antipathy towards others who are different from us – He calls us to follow Him wherever He may lead in order to reach the lost and to cling to Him and Him alone! Christ calls us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices much the way He did Himself.

heavenNow, with all that said (whew!), I still personally believe that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture will occur for many Scripturally-sound reasons, but it doesn’t really matter in either the long or short term. Christ wants me to keep my eyes focused on Him and nothing else, not even interesting Scriptural trivia, nuances, and theories. Regardless of our eschatology, the fact remains that Jesus Christ is coming soon, and when He does, every eye shall see Him! Every. Single. Person. Today, I am almost ashamed of my various accomplishments because so many will be burned away when that wonderful Day comes, that I lost so many Major opportunities because I was so distracted by the Minors.

Anything that distracts and hinders us from Christ should be considered rubbish (rotten, dung-filled garbage!) – it’s merely wood, hay, and stubble when compared to our works before Christ. But following Him, loving others, and ministering to their needs? Those acts of love and service are pure gold in God’s eyes and are ALL that will survive when our lives are examined by Him one day!

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. — 1 Corinthians 13:1-3”

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