Days of Noah, Days of Lot

As Christians, we are called to “rightly divide” the Word of truth. This is hard to do if we won’t even rightly read it.

Stravinsky had the Rite of Spring, but American Christians have the Rite Of Fall. Every year, when the Jewish High Holy Days come around, with them comes inevitable end-times speculation. This September’s “sign in the heavens” is getting an awful lot of play, even in secular media. Despite our Lord’s teaching on the matter, Christians just can’t help themselves. Apocalyptic predictions, sometimes complete with actual date-setting, keep popping up with disturbing frequency.

Many of these embarrassing failures, which have been bringing discredit on the Church for decades, could have been avoided if people had simply read the Scripture passage in question in context and with honesty.

Believe me: I, too, am excited for the return of Christ. Who would not want to see Him? Who would not want to experience the fullness of Resurrection life, or see this old world, where we only see righteousness occasionally, become a world in which righteousness dwells? The return of Christ is our blessed hope. But it’s precisely for that reason, precisely because it is a hope to cherish, that we must not falsify it or pervert it by resorting to sensationalism, sloppiness, or scams. We need to have a love for the truth. Sometimes a dash of humility would serve us well, too.

In the midst of the recent natural disasters here in the US and Canada, one well-known preacher (don’t ask me who) noted how Jesus said the End of Days would be like the days of Noah and Lot — and, he added, Noah’s day was a flood of water and Lot’s day was fire… and we’re seeing floods and fires everywhere right now! He was suggesting to his audience that these hurricanes indicate we’re living in the Days of Noah.

Others say these “new days of Noah” means there will be Nephilim giants walking the Earth once again. Well, who knows? There could be. But will Jesus’ words about the days of Noah really support such a teaching?

What does Jesus actually say about the days of Noah and the days of Lot? You may be surprised to find out. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said,

But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:37-39, NKJV, emphasis added.)

And in Luke’s Gospel, the Lord said,

And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30, NKJV, emphasis added.)

(By the way, where are all the other passages in the Bible about the famous “Days of Noah and Days of Lot?” Actually… there aren’t any!)

Here’s why you can’t take the Days of Noah and Lot passages and use them to assert whatever you like. As you can see from Christ’s own words, the point of these passages is not to make a general commentary on how wicked it will be at the end of the age. He didn’t even say that people will be committing the same sins at the end of the age as they were in Noah’s and Lot’s times.

In fact, Jesus explains exactly what He means in Matthew 24 when He uses the word FOR. What follows after the word “for” is His explanation of how the coming of the Son of Man will be similar to the Days of Noah. It is simply this: when the Day of the Lord comes, people will be living just as carelessly as they were when judgment came in Noah’s day.

The reference to Lot has the same purpose. Jesus joins these two references in order to show us God’s pattern of judgment: first, the removal of the righteous; then, God’s wrath outpoured on the same day. Jesus is only telling us what happens when He comes, not what happens before He comes. He was merely saying that people would be worldly and unconcerned when He came.

That being the case, if we are responsible teachers, we will not use the concept of “the Days of Noah and Lot” to create detailed doctrines about the last days, nor use it to paint every current event as some sort of vague fulfillment of prophecy. Such an approach can cause people to see end-times prophecy as something vague instead of something specific, as it is in many cases, and something which is all about how I see it, rather than how He said it.

Like the “Days of Noah and Lot” concept, which people seem to use however they like, the “sign” of September 23rd, supposedly found in Revelation 12, is lifted out of context in a most alarming way. I wonder if the people pushing this teaching even know that Revelation 12 deals with the War in Heaven and the persecution of believers by the Antichrist following the Abomination of Desolation? (In case you’ve been absorbed with politics this year and haven’t been keeping track, we aren’t quite there yet.)

These prophetic train wrecks are an ongoing problem, so how can we talk about prophecy in a way that honors God’s Word and keeps people from stumbling? I can suggest three things:

(1) First, let’s recover a love for the truth. If you insist that a certain heavenly sign has never happened before, but someone else proves that your “sign” actually happens every 12 years, will you yield or will you continue on? It is a sign of a collapsing society (Romans 1:31) as well as a sign of the end times (2 Timothy 3:3) that people would be implacable, i.e., unable to agree or come to peace about something.

(2) Second, let’s resist sensationalism. Our manner of presenting sober truths could really stand to be, well, a little more sober. We need to break away from breathlessly excited prophecy teaching that comes complete with terrifying bumper music. If this seems unfair, then forgive me, but some of us are old enough to remember more prophecy crazes than we care to. I can remember people speculating that Sadat might rise from death after his assassination to become the Antichrist. More than 35 years later, half of you are reading this and saying, “Who was Sadat?” — and that’s precisely my point!

(3) Finally, let’s take to heart again James’s warning that not many should be teachers. (James 3:1) This truth needs to give us pause. There is no ministry, with the possible exception of prophecy, that has more potential for destruction when misused than the ministry of teaching. However, the Internet now insures that anyone who wants a platform can have one. This is a blessing, but it creates incredible spiritual risks for the Body of Christ. Another danger is the sheer amount of Bible teaching material available online. Using modern computer searching and other functionalities, people can find and save colossal amounts of information without getting at the same time a real, holistic knowledge of Scripture, the wisdom to use it, or the skill to convey it to others. I contrast this with the example of the Apostle Paul, who had a clear conscience because over the span of three years, he had declared to the elders of the Church at Ephesus what he called “the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:25-28)

May the Lord help us to be faithful in handling His Word.

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The Eclipse of Wisdom

Solar Eclipse

As far as we can tell, Christians predicting the end of the world have gotten it wrong every time so far, and this trend shows no signs of ending. Wait… signs? Did I say signs? Sorry… what was I thinking!

We could help the cause of the Gospel (which includes our public image) by no longer claiming that everything is a sign of the end. Whether it’s a President we don’t like (I’m looking at both parties here), the return of ugly fashions, or strange patterns on tortillas, we just can’t seem to help ourselves. Everything seems to portend the Antichrist just ahead, waiting at the next truck stop. And a solar eclipse obviously ratchets this sort of thing up to the next level.

One pastor is quoted as saying that today’s “Great American Total Solar Eclipse” could possibly fulfill the prophecy of Joel that the sun will be turned to darkness before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. While I do believe in that prophecy, which I think has already happened once (Acts 2) and will happen again (Matthew 24, Revelation 6), has anyone done a quick Google search to see that there are about two total solar eclipses every three years? Which of these 65 or so eclipses in a century, over 1000 since the time of Christ, is the right one to herald His return?

 

Just wait till next year: 2018 will be a doozy!

Other folks are fired up about a supposed sign in the stars that’s coming next month. And just wait until next year! In 2018, people will be speculating hard again about the End, because 2018 marks 70 years since Israel’s rebirth as a nation-state. (Trust me, I’ve already heard this one, and you’re definitely going to hear it also.) After all, these people say, it’s been 70 years, and that makes one biblical generation. And don’t forget, Jesus said this generation won’t pass away until all these things come to pass.

Two problems with this thinking leap out at me, and they should leap out at you, too:

  • What generation was Jesus talking about? Ask five scholars and you’ll get six answers.
  • And how long is a generation anyway? Why pick a 70-year generation? Why not a 120-year generation like it was with Noah, or maybe the evil generation of 40 years under Moses? Of course, we also read in the Psalms that our days are 70 years – however, our lifespan is apparently 80 years if we’re strong! Confused yet? You will be.

 

Time out! (Please?)

Let’s call “time out” on this kind of speculation. We’ve already had too many of these self-inflicted wounds. You probably remember the Harold Camping debacle of a few years ago. I grant you that date-setting was only one of Mr. Camping’s theological quirks, but modern media and the sheer stubbornness and implacability of today’s Christians guarantee that anything strange we say will be widely disseminated.

It’s worth noting that the eclipse story I quoted above came from the “weird news” section of the newspaper. That’s never where we want to be, if we can help it. Let’s stop terrifying ourselves and stop amusing unbelievers unnecessarily.

What Are They Thinking About?

Clearly churches have their work cut out for them.

This is an eye-opening look at what Google thinks (knows!) people in my locality are asking.

It’s a window into their real worries and fears, not what they claim those fears to be. Both the Church and individual Christians need to be prepared to address their concerns with a Gospel that is still “relevant,”  the Gospel that makes you relevant, the Gospel of a Savior.

The Travail of His Soul

After taking some time yesterday to look at some of the vitriol posted by Christians, at Christians, and about Christians, I am glad we have Christ’s own promise that He will build His Church.

He will cause His people to grow up into Him, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. We will all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.

How He will do this is hard to say. Some of it He will accomplish by using gifts and offices which many of us say no longer exist. Some of it He will do by allowing things to befall us that some say He does not permit. Some of it will happen because His children pray again to have Him guard and warm their hearts, lest they grow cold by seeing the abundance of lawlessness which is being being daily placed before their eyes.

However He may do it, He will do it. He will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. He will satisfied with both the quantity and the quality of His flock. The gates of Hell, its power and its plans, will not be able to defeat the Church, nor withstand its power to untie its captives. So, be encouraged, even when you see discouraging things among God’s people.

Books That Shape Us

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From time to time someone will mention a book to me and I find myself saying, “Oh! That’s in my Top Ten List!” So, I figured I would sit down and see if I really do have a Top Ten List. These are ten books that shaped me as a younger believer, or that shaped my thinking about ministry. None is academic; I think all are accessible. Here they are, in no particular order. There might just as easily have been twenty, I suppose.

1. Spiritual Authority, by Watchman Nee
2. God Meant It For Good, by R. T. Kendall
3. The Making Of A Man Of God, by Alan Redpath
4. The Prophetic Ministry, by Rick Joyner
5. Humility, by Andrew Murray
6. How To Be Born Again, by Billy Graham
7. The Holy Spirit And You, by Dennis & Rita Bennett (so helpful back in the day!)
8. Rees Howells, Intercessor, by Norman Grubb
9. Prayer Series, by E. M. Bounds
10. Power Healing, by John Wimber

What about you? Do you have a Top Five or a Top Ten you’d like to share?

The Facebook Dream

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The other night, I had a strange dream. In this dream, I jumped onto Facebook and to my surprise my feed was full of stories about men who thought they were women, women who thought they were men, and even one guy who had his ears removed and otherwise altered himself so he could live as a dolphin.

What’s worse, there were pictures!

But then I woke up and discovered that it was not a dream at all. It was all true, every bit of it.

Even the dolphin guy.

Then I woke up spiritually and I realized that I was in a different world from the world I had known. In the world I had known, gasoline was 29 cents. In that world, men wore hats, and women wore dresses. There was no designated-hitter rule, and in that world I sang “Silent Night” and “The Dreidel Song” in public school Christmas concerts with my Jewish friends. In that world I had marched on the Fourth of July in my Cub Scout uniform while World War II veterans in their 40’s marched with us in civilian clothes, laughing and having a good time. I realized that the world I had known was really gone.

Suddenly I realized something else, too. I realized that Christians had stepped into an online mousetrap.

I saw that God’s people were discouraging and even defiling themselves by keeping tabs on the disintegration of society. They were studying with great earnestness all the latest shocking evils and sharing stories about these evils with their friends. Without knowing it, they were even causing their children to learn things adults didn’t yet know when I was a boy. They had forgotten the warnings of Scripture: David had said he would set no wicked thing before his eyes; Paul had said it was a shameful thing even to speak about the things that wicked people do in secret. But God’s people had become knowledgeable about many evils.

I remembered how Jesus said that because of iniquity the love of many would grow cold. But looking at iniquity, learning about iniquity, and getting enraged at iniquity was how we Christians were spending our moments of relaxation. The Bible and prayer had become neglected things for many, and instead of moving in the power of the Spirit, we were actually fighting against the Dolphin Guy with weapons that could never un-dolphin him. Much like Lot, sitting in the gates of that other Sodom, we were vexing our souls day and night instead of being refreshed in God’s Presence with Abraham.

Now fully awake, I had learned that what we needed was not to study the darkness and keep announcing its triumphs, but rather to shine the Light. That Light would help other people wake up, too.

More About “Private Tongues”

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I recently had opportunity to teach again on different aspects of speaking in tongues, and in the course of teaching, I referred people to my post entitled “The Private, Devotional Use of Tongues.” This was a piece I wrote in the middle of the “Strange Fire” controversy several years ago.

Things had quieted down on that front but, to my surprise, a flurry of comments has just come in from someone who disagrees with me strongly about speaking or praying in tongues privately. I wanted to give this brother, Mr. Ron Cash, the courtesy of addressing his objections in the form of a actual post, rather than a comment thread, which can become hard to follow. I also want to reassert my position and see if working through his objections could be helpful. When talking about spiritual gifts (and certainly tongues) I think it’s a good thing to deal with people’s real questions, concerns, and objections, rather than being too theoretical.

Here are Mr. Cash’s objections and, as always, I invite his (and your) further thoughts.

Objection 1: …you have not taken the entire context into account. The epistle to the Corinthians was addressed to the most carnal church in the entire NT. You cannot just take a few verses out of context and make a doctrine out of it. What you are actually doing is appealing to the way the Corinthians were using the gift and somehow using that as an example to emulate. Again, Paul considered them carnal, as in “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal”. So what you are doing is using the practice of carnal christian’s as your example.

Response 1: On the contrary, I think I have taken the whole context into account. There’s nothing in what I’ve said that seeks to use the practice of carnal people as an example. Thoughtful Pentecostals and Charismatics have always taught that Paul was correcting the misuse of a valid gift. Especially do we see this in Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, where Paul takes great pains to emphasize that the rule of love (specifically the rule of seeking to edify the church) must govern whether one speaks in a tongue or in the vernacular at any particular moment. What was making the Corinthians carnal was not speaking in tongues per se, but their unloving (or otherwise inappropriate, unedifying use of tongues). I agree with Mr. Cash’s statements to the effect that 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12-14, are corrective in nature. No one is debating this. But this does not mean that there is no valid personal use of tongues — it only means that the personal use of tongues is inappropriate in certain settings, and Paul gives examples to show us what he is getting at.

Objection 2: So his whole train of thought is very consistent in Chap. 12 to Chap 14. It is all about using the gifts for the common good to edify the body, anything else is abuse, self centered abuse, remember Chap. 3 he called them “babes in Christ”.

Response 2: Yes, I think anything else is definitely abusive of the gift, but I’m afraid it’s Mr. Cash who has gone beyond Paul’s argument, which is to address the corporate setting.

Objection 3: Notice he mentions what tongues are here, he clearly calls them “languages”, which is why he concludes that thought with “13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” He never said, sometimes interpret. Who is to pray to interpret? The “one who speaks in a tongue”, which means always. If you speak in a tongue, then pray to interpret. How many who practice this as a “private prayer” language are doing that? If not you are disobeying the word of God, plain and simple, every time you ignore this verse. This verse has never been rescinded!

Response 3: The context here, again, is a church gathering, as Paul says in v. 6, “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?” (1 Cor. 14:6, NKJV) In such settings, an uninterpreted tongue is unloving, inappropriate, unedifying, and therefore forbidden by apostolic command. See also verse 12, the immediately preceding verse: “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” Of course, the verse which follow on from v. 13 show very clearly that there is an appropriate giving of thanks, etc., in tongues, and that Paul would regulate himself in the matter depending on his situation. You cannot deny that this is the context of v. 19, in which he says that in the church he will speak in the vernacular.

I woudl also point out the word language in 1 Cor. 14:10 is questionable in this context. The KJV is actually better when it renders it as voice, because it is the Greek word phone. It means a voice or sound. The languages in Acts 2:6 are the word dialektos, something more like an actual language. Your argument assumes that all tongues speaking at Corinth was xenolalia, which I don’t think was your intention.

Objection 4: You said, “As for the devotional practices of Paul himself, we have his own record in 1 Cor. 14: 18-19a: “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church…” Where did Paul’s frequent tongues-speaking take place? By his own words, it was done mostly outside of the church – in other words, privately.” I certainly accept the verses as quoted as being true, but you have made numerous assumptions about these verses that are just no supported by Paul and the NT. First and foremost, you said, ” in other words, privately.” Where does it say that anywhere in Scripture? I would be interested in seeing where it says Paul used it “privately”. I myself do not know anywhere that is stated. So this would seem like a big assumption on your part and that this slight twist you put on his quote is what you are using to try to shift the meaning of what tongues is. Paul made it clear that as a basic tenet not to be violated, “13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”

Response 4: The word privately is not used, but it is certainly descriptive of what Paul is conveying to us. You and I agree that Paul commands interpretation in the church, but you are not grappling with verse 19 in which Paul says he spoke with tongues more than them all, yet in the church he would rather speak five words in the vernacular. You have gutted completely the force of your own argument. He did it more than the Corinthians, who did it a lot, and he contrasts that frequent use of tongues with what he did in church.

Objection 5: You said, “Where did Paul’s frequent tongues-speaking take place? By his own words, it was done mostly outside of the church” Of course, Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles and he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, so he needed the gift of languages to communicate the gospel to them, nowhere does it say “privately”, that is jumping completely out of context. And that is exactly what he had in mind when he said, “”If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian,”. He even goes on to say, “In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers;” So he also has the idea of his talking to “unbelievers” in mind in this passage from chap 12 to chap 14.

Response 5: Again, you’re confounding the context here. The verse about the barbarian, verse 11, is followed immediately by verse 12 which says to excel in edifying the church. He’s clearly talking about the need to interpret tongues in a public meeting, as you yourself wished to emphasize from v. 13. Even the passage about being a sign to unbelievers has to do with avoiding the problem of unbelievers coming into a gathering were everyone is speaking in tongues and thinking the saints are mad. Perhaps we should notice again that verse 23-28, which give more insight into public meetings, follow verse 22.

You’re also attempting to make a strong conclusion from a very weak argument from silence. We have no record whatsoever in Scripture that the Gospel was preached through a gift of tongues. Even in Acts 2 the Gospel was not preached in tongues; rather, the wonderful works of God were extolled. It was left to Peter to preach Christ in the vernacular. No one, no one at all, preached the Gospel in the Book of Acts by speaking to them using the gift of tongues. Such a thing (which I admit is possible) would undercut your cessationism, since if tongues were given for that purpose, it would seem it should still be needed.

I would also point you to 1 Corinthians 14:2 where Paul specifically says that he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. This forces honest readers to confess that tongues are for prayer and/or worship only, as they are directed God-wards.

I will close with this:

Three Things Cessationists Ignore, Demonstrated from a SIngle Verse, 1 Corinthians 14:28: “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (NKJV)

  1. Private tongues: notice that the man is told to speak to himself if there is no interpreter or, we may surmise, if he himself does not have the faith to interpret. Notice that he is in a church service.
  2. Praying in tongues: notice that the man is speaking to God. I think most Christians would agree this limits his speech to prayer or expressions of praise. Of course, some Cessationists have denied that there is even such a thing as praying in tongues at all, even though Paul specifically alludes to the practice in 1 Cor. 14:14 and says that when a person prays in a tongue his spirit (not his mind) is praying.
  3. Edifying of the self is a good thing, not a bad thing. It can certainly be wrong to edify yourself when you’re in church to edify others; our use of the spiritual gifts is always to be governed by love. However, there is nothing wrong with edifying ourselves per se. And Paul allows people here to speak in a tongue to themselves and to God, even in church. This is clearly a private activity, which will result in spiritual edification to the one speaking, however unquantifiable or inexplicable to us. We know this is so because Paul has said that he “who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” (1 Cor. 14:4)

These one verse shows these three concepts dovetailing together: there is a private use of tongues, in praying and worshiping God, which has the secondary (but unselfish and beneficial) effect of edifying oneself.