Conspiracy theories, End Times, Bill Gates, Vaccinations, Covid-19 and Jesus

Conspiracy theory: a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators. -Merriam-Webster

Lately we have been witnessing a vast number of conspiracy theories on social media and on the news. I have not run a formal poll, but it seems like right now there are more conspiracy theories floating around than normal. I have little doubt that this is due to the fact that Covid-19 has changed the way we live everyday life.

Within the time-frame of one week, I received two messages from friends talking about what is going on right now in our world and thinking that it might be leading to the mark of the beast and the end times.

last daysA couple of years ago I preached through the entire book of Revelation. I had people like David Jeremiah calling me and asking me my opinion regarding the end times and biblical prophecy. (Before you share that information with someone you might want to fact check it.) I believe that the book of Revelation does speak of things happening now and that will also take place in the future. So let’s be clear, I believe in the Anti-Christ, a time of Great Tribulation, the mark of the beast and the Second Coming Of Jesus.

I believe in these things with all of my heart, but we must be wise how we interpret the “signs” we see in our world today.

So, here are a few of my thoughts as we seek to live wisely in our day and time…

Research big time before you post it

If you hear about a theory that has to do with Bill Gates, the mark of the beast, or Covid-19, then research it thoroughly before you post it online. I believe that all too often people are doing little to no investigation on their own (“hey everyone, this looks interesting”) before they share something with the general public. Do some research. HERE is a link that gives some guidelines when it comes to being able to know if your source is reliable or not. Yes, it is work, but isn’t that better than passing along false information? If your theory is related to the end times, spend time on your own searching the Scriptures.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. -Acts 17:11

If you have done the hard work/research and have prayed about it, feel free to share it

We live in a country where we cherish our freedom of speech. If you have done the hard work of looking into it, and you have come to the point where you believe it is necessary to share it, then go for it. My point is NOT that we can’t talk about our beliefs regarding the end times and the mark of the beast. My point is that we must be wise regarding how we do it.

Don’t make the tragic mistake of substituting your online post for the Great Commission

This is really my main concern in all of this! I am worried that Christians are posting things online (taking a stand) and then feeling like they have done what God has called them to do. Jesus lived in a time when world leaders were thoroughly evil and working with all their power against the kingdom of God (Matthew 2:16-18).

So in light of this we might wonder, how did Jesus spend his time? What did Jesus focus on? We want to take our cues from Jesus, right? We know the answer. Jesus built relationships and made disciples who made disciples. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 is the main calling of the church and the Christian.

The online post is easy. It’s safe. It’s within our comfort zone. We can do it in our pajamas while sitting on our couch. We don’t have to listen, show empathy, or really engage with people on a deep level. As someone else has said, making disciples is God’s Plan A for changing the world, and there is no Plan B.

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” -Matthew 4:19

Feel free to speak up, but let’s remember that we most closely walk in the ways of Jesus when we commit to making disciples.

5 Ways A Disciple-Making Attitude Changes Everyday Life

At New Life Church we highlight the fact that our main mission as followers of Jesus Christ is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Our mission is to make disciples who make disciples. What would it look like in everyday life if we were seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ? How would it impact the way we live if we took the Great Commission seriously? Here are 5 ways a disciple making attitude changes everyday life. 

  1. When you attend Sunday morning worship (or other church events) you have your spiritual eyes open for how you can connect with other people relationally and help them grow in their faith. For example, as you gather with your church to worship you are not there just for your own spiritual good. You make it a habit to reach out to others and show them the love that Jesus Christ has shown to you. You begin going to retreats, socials, events so that you can be a blessing to others. It is more about others than it is about you. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” -Philippians 2:3
  2. You no longer see the workplace as a secular environment, or something that is outside of your Christian calling. Jesus is Lord over everything and that includes where you work and go to school. It does not mean that you are walking around thumping people on the head with your Bible. Instead it means you are open to the idea that God wants to bring people into your life at work so that you can build a relationship with them and point them to Christ.
  3. You understand that God has called you to your neighborhood to be a disciple maker. The one thing your neighbor needs more than anything else is to know the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Do we think it is a mere coincidence that we live where we live? We are there (our home address) first and foremost as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
  4. You are less bored with everyday life in general because you realize that God is calling you to follow him in the middle of it. When everyday life becomes your mission field you realize that God is always at work and he is calling you to join him in the work that he is doing.
  5. You will have an friends who are not Christians. On another blog post I wrote this line, “I think the greatest weakness in the American church today is that we are not good at being a friend to sinners.” You can find that post HERE. It is so easy for us (I am including myself in this) to become isolated from those who are lost and need to know Christ. One way to measure how much we are motivated by the Great Commission is to think about how many friendships we have we people who do not yet know Christ.

If we took the Great Commission seriously it would have a powerful impact on the way we live everyday life. If you can think of other ways a disciple-making attitude would change a person’s life I would love to hear from you.

Are you changing the world or fanning the flames?

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ you have a desire to make a difference in this world. The thing that is causing me great concern lately is that it would seem that far too many Christians are actually doing more harm than good when it comes to making the world a better place.

The best place to look when it comes to an example to follow is, of course, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to this earth out of a desire to bring abundant life to a world that desperately needed it (John 10:10). So what we need to do is examine the way that Jesus spent his time. We need to carefully contemplate his methods for ushering in his kingdom and bringing lasting change.

So, how did Jesus do it? Yes, of course he lived a perfect life, died on a cross, and three days later he rose from the grave victoriously. Praise God, this is the heart of the gospel story! But Jesus has given you and I a specific mission, something that he personally modeled during his three years with his disciples.

Here it is, Jesus discipled 12 men. Yep, that was his grand plan. Jesus was super relational. He got to know people who were far from the Father and built deep, meaningful relationships with them. He prayed with them. He ate with them. He taught them the Scriptures. He loved them. He partnered with them in ministry. He taught them to go and do likewise.

Some where along the way the Great Commission has been hijacked by a culture war. Dictionary.com defines a culture war like this, “a conflict between groups with different ideals, beliefs, philosophies, etc.” Issues that we Americans are willing to fight about include abortion, climate change, claims about absolute truth, conservative vs. progressive,  LGBT rights, immigration, racism, global warming, standing or kneeling, the right to die, etc. Wikipedia points out that the phrase “culture wars” became a part of our everyday vocabulary when James Davison Hunter wrote his book in 1991 called, “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America.”

Is it possible that you are caught up in the culture war and are not even aware of it? Maybe you are not sure. What does it look like to be fighting a culture war?

  • You focus too much on winning arguments.
  • You have an unhealthy anger towards people on the other side of the political aisle and it is eating you alive.
  • You are known more for what you are against than what you are for.
  • You emphasize the passing of laws over the need for salvation.
  • You believe a post on social media is more effective than having a neighbor over for a meal.
  • You don’t pray as much as you use to.
  • You are anxious and worried instead of hopeful and optimistic.
  • You have never discipled anyone and have no plans to do so.
  • You have forgotten Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Maybe you are thinking that just a little cultural warfare can’t really be all that bad. 

So this begs a question. How in the world have we taken the command to make disciples and twisted it into fighting an angry culture war? I believe there are three primary reasons why so many Christians have gotten involved in a culture war.

hypnotized by TVFirst of all, let me say that I do not believe Christians have consciously decided that they want to minimize the Great Commission and engage in a culture war. I think it happens because it is the air that we breathe. The culture war is raging all the time on social media and in the news. Before we know it, we Christians are fighting the same way that the world fights. We are using their weapons and we are only fanning the flames of anger and outrage all around us. Tragically, we are making things worse, not better.

Second, we have lost sight of what the true solution is to our cultural problem(s). Jesus said “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (John 15:19) All of the bad behavior that we see in society today comes from the sin nature that is a part of each and everyone of us. The only thing powerful enough to change the human heart is the good news of Jesus Christ. So, when we are consumed with the culture war we are often times failing to address the main problem, the sinful heart of men and women.

Third, fighting a culture war is easy and our sin nature loves it. It is much easier to fire off an angry post on Facebook or Twitter than it is to get involved in a meaningful, personal relationship. Let’s be honest, you simply can’t follow Jesus and refuse to invest in the lives of other people. Jesus told us many times that to follow him would be costly and, quite honestly, many of us don’t want to pay the price (Luke 14:25-34).

I am not advocating for the unbiblical idea that Christians should retreat from the world and live in a holy huddle. It’s great for Christians to be involved in politics and to speak up about the issues of our day and time. Personally, I would love to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But we need to always remember that our hope is in God alone, not in the POTUS or the Supreme Court. 

Let me wrap this up by asking you what are some practical steps you can begin taking to build relationships with people in your neighborhood, workplace, school and city? It is in the context of relationships that the gospel is able to work it’s way into the deepest parts of our lives. Jesus’ plan for changing the world has not changed, disciples making disciples.

Let’s recommit to actually living the way that Jesus lived so that we can make this world a better place (instead of fanning the flames). Let’s be known for being the most relational, loving people in the world.

The Americanized Version of the Great Commission

“When the church becomes an end in itself, it ends. When Sunday school, as great as it is, becomes an end in itself, it ends. When small groups ministry becomes an end in itself, it ends. When the worship service becomes an end in itself, it ends. What we need is for discipleship to become the goal, and then the process never ends. The process is fluid. It is moving. It is active. It is a living thing. It must continue to go on. Every disciple must make disciples.”― Robby Gallaty

There is the Great Commission that we see clearly in Matthew 28:16-20 and demonstrated in the life of Jesus and his followers. Unfortunately, the American church has tried to modify the Great Commission so that it fits more comfortably into our every day life. Here are a few of the differences I see in the Great Commission in Jesus’s day and the way we try to live out the Great Commission today.

The Great Commission in Jesus’ Day

  • You know that the Great Commission is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
  • You know that deep relationships are critical to fulfilling the Great Commission.
  • You know that you must re-prioritize your life.
  • You are experiencing a sense of adventure because you are living on God’s mission.
  • You become deeply known and loved by others.
  • You are primarily thinking about meeting the needs of others.
  • You know that a disciple is someone who is making disciples.

“We reduce discipleship to a canned program, and so many in the church end up sidelined in a spectator mentality that delegates disciple making to pastors and professionals, ministers and missionaries.”― Francis Chan

The Great Commission Today

  • You believe that the Great Commission is to attend worship services.
  • You tend to limit spiritual growth to something that happens to you personally. You fail to realize that genuine spiritual growth will be demonstrated by getting out of your comfort zone and investing in the life of others.
  • You tend to have to have too much dependence on programs (over personal relationships).
  • You don’t experience deep relationships, which means you are not deeply known by others.
  • You do not know the joy that comes from living on God’s mission because other priorities have become too important.
  • You are primarily thinking about getting your needs met.

Simply feeling bad or guilty about not making disciples is not very helpful! HERE is an excellent article that will give you some ideas about how you can begin making disciples. HERE you will find some books that talk about the Great Commission. Another way to move into a life of meaningful discipleship is to talk with someone you know personally who is living it out. Maybe it is your pastor, maybe it is a friend in the church. Ask them if they will come alongside you to help you grow as a disciple who makes disciples.

What Christians Need To Know

One of the most destructive things to both Christians, and to churches, is the belief that the church exists to help Christians grow spiritually. I imagine that you are going to want to go back and read that first sentence a couple more times to make sure you got it right. Then, you are going to want to respond with a strong rebuttal to what seems like really poor logic. Or maybe you simply respond with a question like, “Isn’t it obviously a good thing to expect a church to help us grow in our faith?”

Let me explain. Yes, it is good for Christians to come to church and hope that their church helps them grow spiritually. Here is the problem. Far too often that is where things stop for many people. Too many Christians fail to understand that to be a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we are actively helping others to grow in their faith too.

DISCIPLES OF JESUS MAKE DISCIPLES OF JESUS

Jesus said this in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus, in very plain language, is telling his disciples (which includes you and me) that it has always been his design that his disciples are not only thinking about their own spiritual growth. Jesus was helping his disciples to grow spiritually with THE EXPRESS PURPOSE that they would help others to grow spiritually. One of the primary objectives of a disciple of Jesus Christ is to make other disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20).

So here is a really critical question that we all need to ask and answer, “What are some ways that we can actively work to help others inside the church, and outside the church, grow in their faith?” HERE is a link that does a great job helping us answer that question. I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and questions!

Stop Making Disciples!

“We have generated a body of people who consume Christian services and think that that is Christian faith. Consumption of Christian services replaces obedience to Christ. And spirituality is one more thing to consume.” -Dallas Willard

My Youth Pastor and I were at an EFCA Discipleship Cohort last year when I had my ‘aha moment.’ The realization began to sink in that many churches do a decent job when it comes to helping people to grow as disciples. Preaching, programs, Life Groups, are all geared to help people to become more like Jesus Christ. But how much time and energy do we spend as leaders in the church helping people to become disciple makers?

Jesus’ master plan was not to merely help people become more spiritually mature, his plan also included mentoring them so that they could go out and make disciples once he was gone.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:16-20

The point I am trying to make is that we must go beyond making disciples and make disciple makers. Jesus showed us the way by spending large amounts of time with his disciples. Jesus invested his life into a small number of men so that they would go out and do likewise. We as leaders in the church today are fooling ourselves if we think we can devise a better strategy than Jesus for changing the world.

We have had Life Groups here at New Life Church for a long time, and we will continue to do them. What we have begun to do that is new is what we are calling Life Transformation Groups. The primary goal for putting together these Life Transformation Groups is to see men and women go beyond thinking about their own spiritual growth and to begin investing their lives into others so that they too will become more like Christ. This mission of making disciple makers is not just something for pastors, missionaries or paid staff. This Great Commission is something that every single person can do. I will take it a step further. I believe it is what every single Christian is called to do.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and questions!

The Mission of God (Jonah 1:1-7)

We do terrible damage to Scripture when we take it out of context. Let me explain what I mean.

Many of you know that there are four words used to describe the story of Scripture:

CREATION-FALL-REDEMPTION-RESTORATION

  • Creation: One Hebrew word sums up the picture of Genesis 1 and 2: shalom. Peace. Earth was full of God’s shalom, the kind of peace in which everything works according to God’s intention. The world was made for human flourishing, there we could live in joy in the presence of our Maker, worshiping God by loving Him and one another forever.
    Fall: Adam and Eve rejected God’s rule over them. We refer to their rebellious choice as “the fall,” and because the represented all of humanity, their action affects us too. We have–through our attitudes and actions– declared ourselves to be God’s enemies. This rebellion results in physical and spiritual death.
    Redemption: Thankfully the loving Creator who rightly shows Himself to be wrathful toward our sin is determined to turn evil and suffering we have caused into good that will be to His ultimate glory. So the next movement shows God implementing a master plan for redeeming His world and rescuing fallen sinners. In the Person of Jesus Christ, God Himself comes to renew the world and restore His people. The grand narrative of Scripture climaxes with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
    Restoration: The story doesn’t end with redemption. God has promised to renew the whole world, and the Bible gives us a peak into this glorious future. The restoration of all things will take place in two ways. Christ will return to judge sin and evil, and He will usher in righteousness and peace. God will purge this world of evil once and for all. -Taken from “Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope”

So Jonah, like you and I, are living in a story of redemption. Jonah is called by God to preach the Word of the Lord to the Ninevites. Jonah refuses to do so. His hard heart can not deal with the idea that the Ninevites might repent and therefore escape the judgment of God.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”  But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

One mistake we might be tempted to make is that we scoff at just how calloused Jonah was to the people of Nineveh. I say ‘mistake’ because the point is for us to realize that we are quite a bit more like Jonah than we would like to admit.

In Matthew 28 we find that Jesus gives all Christians their marching orders. We are to go into all the world and make disciples. Making disciples is part of God’s mission of bringing redemption to this fallen world. The shocking part of all of this is that we, like Jonah, can live our lives yet avoid the mission of God in a million different ways. We get busy. We are tired. We fail to love our next-door neighbor as ourselves. We think that this great mission is the church’s job and we fail to embrace the theological truth that we are the church.

We need to come clean and admit that we are a lot like Jonah. I know I am. The next step is to get out of our comfort zone and join God in what he is doing all around us in everyday life. Let’s be less like Jonah and more like Christ who saw the crowds and instead of retreating he felt compassion.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore spray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

 

Do you REALLY know the story of Jonah?

This Sunday I am going to begin preaching through the book of Jonah. If you have been in the church for very long you know the basic story. The prophet Jonah runs from God and gets swallowed by a large fish. Eventually, reluctantly, Jonah preaches (the shortest sermon in world history) to the wicked city of Nineveh and they repent. You already knew that, right? I want to suggest to you that there is much more to this prophetic book then first meets the eye. If you will read Jonah with an open heart and mind I believe it both challenge and inspire you on a deep level. Here are just a few of the themes we will discuss in this book:

  • The sovereignty of God. Even the sea, and the creatures of the sea, are under the control of God.
  • The grace and mercy of God. The ironic part is that these characteristics of God are what infuriates Jonah!
  • The mission of God in the world. Israel has been commanded to be a light to the nations but they were more concerned about their prosperity than they were the world around them.
  • You will have to deal with some tough questions. For example, are we more like Jonah or Jesus?
  • How an attitude of nationalism can keep us from caring about others. Just for kicks look up the word “jingoistic” and then ask yourself if you see this as a problem when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission.
  • There are tremendous similarities between Jonah and the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.
  • We must deal with the fact that we all have the tendency to love our comfortable lives more than we love other people.
  • The gospel is clearly being pointed to throughout the book of Jonah.
  • The book is, start to finish, a love story. The love of God for his lost sons and daughters.
  • A wonderfully inspiring theme is REVIVAL. The entire city of Nineveh repents and turns to the Lord. Will you join me in praying for revival here in Watertown, South Dakota? In your hometown?

My plan is to blog through each chapter, but today I just wanted to share this EXCELLENT video that details the overall story-line of the book of Jonah. The video was produced by the creative people at The Bible Project.