Category Archives: Bible

Book Summary – “Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling” by Richard F. Hall

Hall, Richard F. Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling. Englewood, CO: Exchanged Life Ministries, 1998.

Hall, Richard F. Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling. Englewood, CO: Exchanged Life Ministries, 1998.

This is the third of three book summaries I had to write for a class on Discipleship Counseling I’m taking through my church.  The first summary can be found here, the second right here.  The third book we had to read has the captivating title Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling by Richard F. Hall.  It is somewhat of a brief textbook for the type of biblical counseling in which we’re being trained.

Explained briefly, the term “exchanged life” refers to the idea that when we place our trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, he takes our sin, death, and selfishness and in exchange gives us forgiveness, life, and a loving heart.  Hall says the exchanged life involves exchanging our self-centered approach to living for a new approach in which we live for Christ.

Here is my brief summary of the book.  I’ve included a few explanatory comments in [brackets].

  1. Each person is made up of three parts: the spiritual (i.e., spirit), the psychological (i.e., soul) and the physical (i.e., body).  An unsaved person operates out of the psychological part of themselves. For a Christian, the spiritual aspect is the essence of who they are.
  2.  [This “tri-partite” view of the person is based on the following Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ~ “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.   And Hebrews 4:12 ~ “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”]
  3. The primary cause of problems in people’s lives is living life out of their own resources rather than in dependence on God.  [This way of living is known in the Bible as “living by the flesh.”  The apostle Paul uses the term “flesh” in a unique way, not to refer to our physical bodies but rather to speak of that part of us that is drawn to sin and opposes God. Key passages in which Paul uses the term “flesh” this way are Romans 7:14-8:17 and Galatians 5:16-25.]  Sin and the flesh are the source of people’s problems.  Living out of the flesh is a self-centered approach to life and ultimately detrimental.
  4. There are certain qualification a person needs to meet in order to be an exchanged life counselor.  First and foremost, they must have a personal experience of salvation through Jesus Christ.  They also need to be totally surrendered to the Lordship of Christ.  The exchanged life counselor needs a good overall knowledge and understanding of Scripture, as well as training in communication skills.  Finally, he or she should meet the qualifications for Christian leadership outlined in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
  5. As with most counseling methods, exchanged life counseling begins with the client’s presenting problem–their stated reason for seeking counseling. The counselor then takes the client’s personal history.  This helps the counselor get to know the client. It also helps both counselor and client identify unhelpful patterns the client follows to deal with life.
  6. After the client’s problem is presented and a personal history is taken, the first step in the actual counseling process is a presentation of the salvation message if necessary, for this is the foundation of the entire method. The second step is to acquaint the client with their former identity “in Adam”–that is, the way they were as a fallen, sinful, and unredeemed person when they were born into this world. The third step is to help the client understand his or her new identity in Christ.  [The assumption is that we are all born “in Adam” but when we accept Christ we are born again, or “born from above” (see John 1:12-13 and John 3:1-21).  From that moment on we are no longer in Adam, but we are now in Christ.]
  7. The counseling method presented in the book has six steps: A) Assess the problem. B) Learn the client’s social history. C) The connection needs to be drawn between the presenting problem and the client’s past living patterns. D) The client is taught about his/her identification with Christ. E) The client is led to appropriate his or her identity in Christ. F) Further areas need to be dealt with that relate to the issue at hand.
  8. Exchanged life counseling techniques include: A) Preparation – through prayer, reviewing previous counseling sessions, and relaxation. B) Attentive communication skills, listening. C) Observation, concreteness, respect, and empathy. D) Confrontation, self-disclosure, and immediacy. E) Genuineness. F) Use of visual aids such as charts or diagrams which illustrate the truths being taught. G) Appropriate use of Scripture. H) Homework tailored to the client’s needs.
  9. The primary goal of exchanged life counseling is that the client come to understand and experience his or her identity in Christ and apply this understanding to life’s problems. Sub-goals to this primary goal include: A) Helping the client grow in Christ-like-ness. B) Helping the client grow to spiritual maturity. C) Seeing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) start to emerge in the client’s life. D) Helping the client experience freedom in Christ’s life.
  10. Exchanged life counseling is founded on certain theological concepts: A) The Bible as the infallible source of authority. B) The doctrine of man and sin. C) The doctrine of salvation. D) The doctrine of sanctification.

In conclusion, Foundations of Exchanged Life Counseling serves as a good summary and explanation of what exchanged life counseling is all about. As such it serves as a good resource to consult over and over again.  My one criticism of the book is that it’s very conceptual and therefore mostly abstract.  The author doesn’t take time to illustrate the concepts.  It would be very helpful if the author would release a later edition in which illustrative material is added to flesh out the concepts.  However, the book does include a number of drawings which could be used in counseling sessions to help explain concepts to the client.  All in all the book is a good beginning resource for exchanged life counseling.

 

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A Conservative Christian Response to the Supreme Court Rulings on Gay Marriage

This is a post I wrote back in July 2013 when the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. Everything I said back then still applies today, and even more so. My thinking on this topic has not changed even though the SCOTUS has now required all states to recognize marriages between people of the same sex.

Morgan Trotter

Well, the US Supreme Court (a.k.a. the SCOTUS) has ruled on the Defense of Marriage Act and on California Proposition 8, and both rulings went in favor of those who support gay marriage.  Among Christians there is no monolithic response.  Some more liberal-leaning Christians are falling in step with the prevailing view in the culture, saying it’s time we “modernize” and allow gays to marry.  Supporters of this view both inside and outside the church treat it as a civil rights issue, claiming it’s discriminatory to prevent homosexuals from having the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals when it comes to marriage.

We need to recognize, though, that there are real problems with this view, especially for Christians who believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God and have committed themselves to following what the Scriptures teach.  We who are Bible-believing Christians trust that in the Bible God has…

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Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 7

Part 7: More On Why I Believe the Preterist View Is Wrong

This post is a continuation of Part 6 and will not make sense without reading Part 6 first.  To read Part 6, click here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/signs-of-the-times-thoughts-on-the-end-times-part-6/

To read Parts 1-6, click here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/

Jerusalem_Siege_by_Romans_70_AD_1Against the preterist view I would also contend that the events of the first century don’t match the intensity of the events described in Matthew 24: 4-25.  These verses sound like they’re describing world events, not just events in first-century Palestine.  Consider:

6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. – Matthew 24:6-9

There will be wars between various nations and kingdoms. It sounds like widespread warfare, not just something localized in one region. Natural disasters will occur “in various places” not just in one locality. Believers will be “hated by all nations.”  That sounds like something on a global scale, not just in the middle east. Likewise, the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14).

Now, it is true that the Greek word translated “world” there is “oikoumene” which was understood as the known world or the Roman empire.  Yet it could also be translated “globe.”  At any rate, what was in view was the entire known world, which is supported by the fact that this was going to bring a “testimony to all nations” or ethnicities (the Greek word there is actually “ethne” from which we get our English word “ethnic”),  Once again, this was not a local or regional thing, but meant that the gospel was going to be preached throughout the world to every ethnicity.  The fact that they didn’t know as much of the world back then as we do now in no way prevents this prophecy from being applied to the entire world as we know it today, for that seems to be the idea Jesus was conveying.

Now, the references to the temple and to Judea in verses 15-20 do clearly refer to Palestine.  Yet even here we have language that seems bigger than can adequately be explained by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Consider these words:

21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened (Matt 24:21-22).

This puts the events being described on the level of intensity of the most traumatic events the world has ever experienced–a time of “great tribulation” as the older translations express it–so bad that if it isn’t shortened, even God’s own chosen people would be deceived (see verse 24) and would not survive.

Now, I have no doubt the events of 67-70 AD in Palestine were incredibly traumatic. But to say they are the worst the world has ever experienced, as verse 21 seems to imply about the times being described in the passage–well that would be hyperbole.  A brief examination of the world wars of the 20th century alone would show that.  In fact, my preterist friend explained the language in just that way–as hyperbole.  But as with verses 29-31, I think it makes more sense to take them at face value (see Part 6).  And if we do so, then the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem simply aren’t adequate to match the intensity described in verses 21-22.

We should also consider that Matthew 24 is a response to an initial dialogue between Jesus and the disciples recorded in verses 1-3:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Notice the disciples’ question in verse 3 has several parts:

  1. “When will this happen”…?–referring of course to Jesus’ statement that “not one stone [of the temple] will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (verse 1).
  2. “…and what will be the sign of your coming…”
  3. “…and of the end of the age?” (emphasis added).

Now preterists presume that all three parts of this question necessarily assume the same event–i.e., the destruction of the temple Jesus referred to in verse 1.  They assume that because the question is all in one sentence, the destruction of the temple, Jesus’ “coming,” and the “end of the age” must all occur at the same time.  Indeed, it may be that in the disciples’ mind as they asked the question, they understood them all to refer to the same event.  But even if the disciples assumed it would all be the same event that doesn’t require that Jesus’ answer is based on the same assumptions. Consider a similar question the disciples asked Jesus just prior to his ascension:

6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).

Here’s an example in which the disciples clearly had one thing in mind with their question, but Jesus’ answer went in a different direction.  The disciples were asking about a temporal kingdom.  “Now that you’ve conquered death and proven you are unstoppable, are you now going to expel the Romans, take back the throne of Israel, and restore the Davidic kingdom?”  Jesus’ answer was indirect.  It was a “no” by implication, but he really didn’t answer the question of when.

Even after his ascension Jesus’ disciples expected him to return bodily in their lifetime and set up His earthly kingdom, a kingdom in which Israel would rule over the rest of the world.  Jesus’ answer went beyond their ability to understand based on their mindset at the time.

It was the same with the disciples’ question in Matthew 24.  “Tell us when you’re going to come in power, destroy the current order (including the temple), and set up a new order?”  In the disciples’ mind these events surely signified the “end of the age” (verse 3).  Preterists see this reference to the end of the age as referring to the end of the Old Testament era of law and animal sacrifice.  The temple was the premier symbol and institution of that age, and its destruction represented the final, irrevocable end of that age.

The problem with interpreting the phrase “the end of the age” in this way, however, is that in every other instance in which the phrase is used in the New Testament (all of which are in Matthew), it clearly refers not to the end of the Old Covenant era, but to the end of the world as we know it.  Consider these other Scripture references as examples:

Matt 13:36-43 ~

His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Matt 13:47-50 ~

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matt 28:18-20 ~

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (emphasis added)

So it seems pretty clear that when the phrase “end of the age” appears in Matthew (and the New Testament) it refers to the end of this present world.  And this is surely how the disciples meant the phrase when they asked Jesus about it in Matthew 24:3.  Moreover, the events Jesus describes in verses 29-31 most readily coincide with an understanding of “the end of the age” in eschatological terms; that is, in terms of the end times and the end of the present world.

Now, the obvious problem futurists like myself have to deal with is the verse the preterists see as the lynch pin, quoted above: Matthew 24:34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  If the events of Matthew 24 were not fulfilled in the first century, then how do we explain verse 34?  Was Jesus mistaken, as some liberal scholars suggest?

Futurists have offered various explanations over the years. One such explanation calls attention to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This explanation says ‘well, Jesus himself said he didn’t know when his return would be.’  But that isn’t really a helpful answer because Jesus’ words in verse 34 are very emphatic.  The statement begins with “I tell you the truth, ” which implies that Jesus is saying something he knows/firmly believes to be true.  If Jesus truly is the divine Son of God then he doesn’t get a pass for being “wrong” about one of his prophecies.  If Jesus said he knew something to be true, then for the believer it is as true as any of his other statements.  A better interpretation is that Jesus was saying these events would happen before “this generation” passes away; but then in verse 36 he admits he doesn’t know the exact time it will happen (“the day or the hour”).  So we are still left with our conundrum.

One way scholars have explained this problem is by asking what is meant by “this generation” in verse 34.  The phrase in the Greek is “haute genea.”  Some very reputable scholars interpret this phrase as referring not merely to the generation of people who lived in Jesus’ time, but instead to the Jewish nation–meaning not Israel but “all the generations of Judaism that reject” Jesus (Eduard Schweizer, as quoted by Dr. Leon Morris in The Gospel According to Matthew, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 612).

The Greek word “genea” can also be understood to mean an “age” or period of time.  So Jesus could be referring to an unspecified period of time rather than to a single generation, perhaps similar to the present “age” which his disciples referred to at the beginning of the passage in verse 3.  And indeed, in light of Jesus’ reference to heaven and earth passing away in the very next verse (verse 35), this interpretation would make a lot of sense.

Dr. Leon Morris also points out that in other instances the term “generation” is used more broadly to refer not to a group of people in a certain time frame, but instead to a particular category of people, such as “the generation of the upright” in Psalms 14:5 and 112:2, or “the generation of those who seek” the Lord in Psalm 24:6.  There is also the “generation of his wrath” as in Jeremiah 7:29 and Psalm 12:7.  So Jesus could be saying more generally that “the generation” of people who reject him (i.e., throughout history) will not pass away “until all these things have happened.”

Finally, the word “genea” can also be translated simply “race,” so that Jesus might be saying “this race” (possibly the human race? but more likely the Jewish race, or maybe even the “race” of people who reject him, where “race” is used figuratively) will not pass away till all these things have taken place.

To conclude, the points I’ve made here and in Part 6 are all the reasons why I believe Matthew 24 and Revelation talks about future events, and not events in the first century.

What do you think about the preterist view?  What do you think about the various futurist views of these passages?

If you find this post valuable, please share it with your friends on your social networks using the “Share” buttons below.  And please be sure to check out Parts 1-6 of this series if you haven’t already done so!

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 1

Part 1 – Will the Rapture Come Before the Tribulation?

I’ve never been one to think a lot about the end times.  My grandfather, on the other hand–his thoughts on Christianity all seemed to focus on the last days, or what is often called “Bible prophecy.”  To hear him talk, the Bible only consisted of three books: Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation.  These were just about the only Bible books I ever heard him mention, and he was constantly watching TV shows and reading books to try and decipher the Bible’s apocalyptic passages.

I’ve never been like that.  For most of my life I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about the end times.

However, the way the world has gone the last several years has gotten me to thinking more about it than I used to.  Our times make me think maybe we’re getting closer to the end.  And I’ve been thinking about the different views I hear about the last days.  The study of the end times is sometimes called eschatology, from the Greek words “eschaton,” which means “end,” and “logos” which means “word.”

I grew up in a denomination that didn’t talk much about Jesus coming back.  Honestly, I’m not sure whether they really believed it or not, even though every Sunday we said: “…From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead” when we recited the Apostle’s Creed–yet a lot of people may not even know what that means, since the language is archaic.  In modern speech it would read “…from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”  That’s a reference to the second coming of Christ, talking about how he will come from heaven to judge the living and the dead.

But that’s about all that was ever said about it in the denomination I grew up in.  Outside of church you rarely heard anyone mention a belief in the second coming, much less discuss it.

I heard about it from other places, though–through the contemporary Christian music I listened to as a teenager, as well as from my friends in our Bible Belt city who attended more conservative churches.  And from Granddaddy.  The view of eschatology I almost universally heard from all those sources was a premillennial, pre-tribulation-rapture view popularized in 1970s movies like “Thief In the Night,” books like Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth,” and songs like Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” which included these lyrics:

A man and wife asleep in bed
She hears a noise and turns her head he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready
Two men walking up a hill
One disappears and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready

There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind

This is the view I’ve heard most commonly throughout my life from those who cared about such matters at all.  The premillennial, pre-tribulation rapture view of the end times can be summarized as follows:

In the last days a time of severe Tribulation will come on the earth, as told in Matthew 24:21-22 “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”  However, pre-tribulation rapturists believe Jesus will come back before the Tribulation to take Christians away and spare them the suffering of those days.  They believe the mention of the “elect” in Matthew 24:22 refers to believing Jews who will turn to Christ after they realize that all the Christians have been taken out of the world, proving Jesus is the Messiah after all.  These Jewish believers then become the “tribulation saints” who are martyred for the cause of Christ as described in Revelation chapters 6 and 7.  So according to this view, Jesus returns briefly just before the tribulation to whisk his people out of harm’s way, and then again for good at the end of the tribulation to set up his millennial kingdom, a 1000 year reign of peace.

Since I grew up in a church that never discussed the last days, the pre-tribulation rapture view was totally unfamiliar to me.  When I began hearing about it from my grandfather, the Christian music I listened to, and from my friends who went to more conservative churches, it all sounded very foreign.  I began reading the Bible for myself as a teenager, and I never found anything in it that seemed to support this view.  So I was puzzled about it.

What I did find in the Bible, though, was Matthew chapter 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke.  The events described in these passages are sometimes referred to as Jesus’ “little apocalypse,” or more commonly as his “Mount of Olives discourse.”  At any rate, they are Jesus’ own words about the end times, and to me they seem pretty straightforward:

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.”

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.

9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.

15 “So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; 17 let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; 18 and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. 19 And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 Then if any one says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Lo, I have told you beforehand.26 So, if they say to you, ‘Lo, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; if they say, ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 28 Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; 30 then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; 31 and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, 51 and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 24:1-51).

In these verses Jesus gives a pretty clear description of what the last days will be like.  They consist of a fairly straightforward sequence of events, which can be summarized as follows (with verse references in parentheses):

  1. First, there will be many false teachers who will claim to come in Jesus name or to be Jesus, but they will not really be from him, and will lead many astray (v. 4-5)
  2. Wars, ethnic tensions, and natural disasters will increase; yet this is only the beginning of the end (v. 6-8)
  3. Persecution of Christians will increase (v. 9)
  4. Many who have espoused the Christian faith will fall away (v. 10).
  5. False teachers will continue to increase (v. 11)
  6. Wickedness will be multiplied, causing the love of many to grow cold (v. 12)
  7. Other Christians will remain faithful to Christ and endure to the end, and through them the gospel will be preached throughout the entire world (v. 13-14)
  8. Once the gospel has been preached to all nations, the end will come, which will bring about a time of tribulation worse than the world has ever known (v. 14, 21)
  9. The tribulation will be sparked by a terrible abomination, the nature of which is not entirely explained, rather it seems to be referred to almost in code, the answer to which is contained in the Old Testament book of Daniel.  The time surrounding the abomination will be so severe that it will require people to drop whatever they’re doing and flee to the mountains and presumably to remote places where they will have to hide out wherever they can find (v. 15-22)
  10. Meanwhile the false teachers, false Christs, and false prophets will continue to proliferate, deceiving everyone but the elect, the chosen followers of Christ. The deception will even be bolstered by great signs and wonders performed by these false teachers.  There will be rumors flying that Jesus has returned, but we are warned not to listen to them, because Jesus’ return will be so obvious that rumors won’t be necessary (v. 23-28)
  11. [It’s worth mentioning here that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 warns against a great false prophet who will arise known as “the man of sin” or “man of lawlessness,” traditionally referred to as the Antichrist. More on this in an upcoming post.]
  12. At the end of the tribulation, signs will appear in the heavens as follows: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn….” (v. 29-30)
  13. Then “they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (v. 30-31).  This is the rapture, and as we see, it comes at the very end of the tribulation, not before.

(Note: In the passages from Mark and Luke which parallel this one, the order of some of the events is different, but all the same ingredients are there.)

This is why I don’t subscribe to the pre-tribulation rapture view.  After studying the Bible for years, I’ve concluded that Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke are our template for understanding the end times.  Sound principles of Scriptural interpretation say that scripture interprets scripture, and that we should rely on the clearer passages to help us understand the more difficult ones.  Jesus’ words on the last days are some of the clearest statements we have, along with the teachings of Paul, and so these can serve as our guide.  All the other material in the Bible that pertains to the end times, such as Revelation and the books of Ezekiel and Daniel, should be understood through the lens of Jesus’ words, and not the other way around.  Jesus’ words are the key.

And there is nothing in Jesus’ words, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter, that shows a pre-trib rapture.  The pre-tribulation rapture teaching is an invention of men.  It didn’t come into existence until the 19th century and is a product of a Western mindset that wants to avoid pain and suffering.  The reality is, as a friend of mine once pointed out, there has been more persecution of Christians in the last century than in all of prior church history combined.  It would seem the tribulation has already begun for Christians in some parts of the world.

Those who believe in a pre-trib rapture claim that the word “elect” in Matthew 24:22 refers only to Jews who become Christians after the tribulation begins.  Yet every other use of the word “elect” in the New Testament refers merely to Christians in general.  There is nothing in the context of this verse that implies it should mean anything other than Christians as well.

The view I espouse is called a post-tribulation rapture view, and it seems to be gaining ground.

In my next post I’ll look at some key passages in Paul’s letters that also speak of the end times, to see how they fit in, and what they teach us about the last days.

What’s your view of the rapture and the tribulation?  Do you think we’re in the last days?

A Spiritual Journey, Part 3 – Change Is In The Air

This is a continuation of my previous post, which in itself was a follow-up to a post I had published back in 2008.  Part 1 can be found here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/a-spiritual-journey-1/

Part 2 can be found by going to my last post, or by following this link: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/a-spiritual-journey-part-2/

After the events of the Pastor’s Prayer Summit in March 1998, which are told in Part 1 of this series (follow the first link above to read that story), I stayed at the Presbyterian church I was pastoring two more years.  But as time passed I began to suspect the writing was on the wall.  I was different now, and over time I began to feel like I didn’t really fit there anymore.  I was changing but my congregation wasn’t.

The changes that took place in me over those two years were not anything new or different or strange.  Rather, I was simply finding the courage to be who I was instead of succumbing to the pressure to be what I sensed others wanted me to be.

At that time most pastors in my denomination wore a black robe as they conducted the Sunday service.   Prior to the ’98 pastors prayer summit, I was no different.  I wore a black robe every Sunday as I led the service.

I’m not really a formal person by nature, though–a fact which was always dismaying to my mother, who was pretty formal.  When I first started in ministry I didn’t mind wearing the robe because I felt it offset my youthfulness somewhat (I was only 27 and pretty young-looking). I felt it gave a sense of authority I didn’t have otherwise–which seemed important since most of the people I was working with were older than me.

However, by this point in my ministry, I was ready to shed some of that formality.  So in the weeks after the Prayer Summit I began to experiment with not wearing the robe on Sundays. Instead I wore a suit and tie–still formal, for sure, but a step down from the robe.

When summer came I tried leaving off the coat and tie altogether and just wearing an open collar button-down shirt and dress slacks.  I was able to get away with that as long as it was summertime, but when the fall came, the church organist (who was one of the matriarchs of the church) came to me and said, “It was okay for you to not wear your coat and tie as long as it was summer.  But now that it’s fall, you need to put them on again. You can’t be that informal all the time.”  (She implied, too, that kids want to be informal, but grownups dress up.  Yikes!)

Some people might say I should’ve ignored her and done what I wanted to do, since she really didn’t have any formal authority to tell me that.  But that isn’t my personality, and certainly wasn’t then. I am a people-pleaser by nature and hate any sort of conflict (though in my old age I’m getting better about speaking my mind and standing my ground).  Besides, she was a member of the church and a key player, one of the leaders.  Among other things, she was chair of the worship committee. I knew if I defied the organist there was likely to be trouble. At best she might make an issue of it before the worship committee and the elders, and at worst I might lose my organist over it. Being in such a small town, I wasn’t sure how many other good organists would be around to take her place, and so I was afraid of losing her (she was good at what she did, and a volunteer).  I was not yet at the level of maturity in which I was willing to take a risk of that magnitude. In that time and place, a Presbyterian church without an organist would scarcely have been Presbyterian!

So I did what she said. I was 33 or 34 and she was well into her 50s.  Besides, I knew she probably spoke for many in the church, maybe the majority.  So I resumed preaching in my coat and tie.  But I never went back to wearing the black robe, except for weddings and maybe funerals.

Preaching in a suit, though, instead of the robe left me open to the charge of being “too Baptist”–a cardinal sin in a southern liberal church.  Baptists are the most populous church in the south, so some southerners intentionally choose a “mainline” or more liberal church in order to avoid joining a Baptist one.  So being “too Baptist” was not viewed as a good thing. Nevertheless I stuck to my guns and wore a suit rather than a robe each Sunday.  (As I write this I am shaking my head over what people can get riled up over.)

At any rate, though, the organist’s displeasure over my open-collared shirt was my first sign that the church might not be as open as I hoped to the ways I was changing.

After the prayer summit my preaching began to change, too. Prior to my born again experience I tended to focus on morality and, honestly, I often preached on the ways I felt people weren’t living up to the Bible. I guess you could say my pre-prayer-summit preaching was probably negative, moralistic, and somewhat legalistic.

Post-prayer-summit I began to preach more on salvation and also on the love of God.  There was still some moralism–I didn’t change totally–but the focus came to be more on Jesus and who He is, His love, and what He’s done for us.

Also my method of preaching changed. In seminary I had been trained to preach from a written manuscript, and often (though not always) this is what I did in the years prior to my born again experience.  After that, though, I began trying to preach more extemporaneously. Instead of writing a manuscript, I would just jot down a few notes and pray that God would give me the words to say.

Looking back I’m not sure my preaching really improved that much. I imagine it seemed more personal and conversational, but I also think the content and organization suffered a bit.  (Actually, in the years since then when I’ve preached I’ve gone back to the method I used before seminary, which is to make detailed notes but still speak off the cuff as much as I can, using the notes to jog my memory when necessary. I find this approach works best for me, since I’m not a talker by nature; but it still allows me to be more conversational.)

Meanwhile, I remained active with the interdenominational pastors prayer group I’d gotten to know at the Prayer Summit. I was going to two different prayer meetings a week, as well as occasional retreats of a day or more in duration.  I also attended conferences with them on occasion.

All these meetings were very expressive in their feel, and quite different from the more staid service I presided over every Sunday.  I had a growing desire for our church to experience the joy, freedom, spontaneity, and openness I saw at the interdenominational prayer meetings.

Whenever I had a Sunday off (which was only a few times a year) I began to make a point of visiting some of the churches pastored by my friends in the interdenominational prayer groups.  I wanted to see what their churches were like.  Of course, a lot of them were doing contemporary worship, and I got to experience some of this firsthand.  This was nothing new to me, as I’d attended Sunday night church at Calvary Assembly of God in Decatur, Alabama for several years, as well as special services at other churches. Not only that, but I had led the singing for youth groups and events for many years. So I was pretty familiar with contemporary worship.

Within the next year I decided to try some contemporary worship at my church.  This was completely new for most of them.  Normally on Sunday mornings we did what is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “hymn sandwich”–a hymn at the beginning of the service, a hymn in the middle, and one at the end.  The hymns and all the music were accompanied on a very nice console organ.  Only rarely was the piano ever used, mainly to accompany the choir.

On the other hand, as you probably already know, in contemporary worship it’s not uncommon for worship teams to play 4 or 5 songs straight through before anything else happens in the service. The worship bands play rock instruments (bass, electric guitars, drums) and usually dress informally.  To say the least, all that was going to be a stretch for that little Presbyterian church!

Not being one to stir up conflict, I decided to start small.  As I began to talk about my ideas with the worship committee, what we finally agreed on was that we would not change the worship service itself, but  instead just for the summer months we would add the contemporary worship on as an optional time 15 minutes before the regular service began.  The idea was that those who wanted contemporary worship could come early, and those who didn’t want it wouldn’t have to deal with it during the actual service.

I was satisfied with this as a beginning. My expectation was that those who arrived for church early (which was a sizable portion of the congregation) would be exposed to the contemporary music anyway and might gain a favorable impression of it.

Once this was approved I went to work recruiting the few musicians in the congregation who might be interested in something like this. It wound up just being me on acoustic guitar and a fellow on the piano (I can’t remember now if there was anyone else).

So this is what we did for the summer months that year (I think it was in 1999 but can’t say now for sure).  For each service I would choose about 4 songs and have the words printed on an insert for the bulletin. I chose songs that were popular at the time: “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,” “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” and the like.

Attendance was decent – maybe a fourth of the congregation came at 10:45 for the contemporary worship. We had a core of people who preferred that style of music, so they were very happy with it. Quite a few others arrived 5 or 10 minutes early for the main service and were able to hear the new music as well.

There were no complaints about the contemporary portion, but it was just to be a summer thing, so when August ended, the contemporary music ended as well.  Overall it was deemed a “success,” and so I began to think about how we might incorporate contemporary worship into the regular schedule of our congregation.

The worship committee considered a couple of options: an earlier service on Sunday morning and a Sunday evening service.  For reasons I can’t remember now we eventually began to make plans for an evening service.  I think the leaders weren’t crazy about the idea of starting a new early service; our church wasn’t very big to begin with, and I think they were fearful of splitting our already small congregation into two even smaller services.  I guess the thinking was that a Sunday evening service wouldn’t detract from the morning service, and those who wanted to attend both could if they so desired.

By the time we’d begun talking seriously about starting a contemporary service it was late in the fall of 1999.  In spite of the seeming success, for some reason I was uneasy about moving forward with the new service.  I dragged my feet.

Looking back now I think the reason was that it seemed artificial to me.  No one in the church had any thought of doing a contemporary service until I mentioned it.  And even now, I was the only one in the church really pushing for it.  The family of the one man in the church who really loved contemporary worship had, ironically, begun attending another church. In fact, by this time (again ironically) several people in the church who would’ve been the most likely supporters of a contemporary service had begun visiting other churches (more on this below). So I felt like I was trying to force something that really no one else in the church cared about besides me, and my most likely allies in doing it appeared to be leaving.

When I first came there as pastor there were basically two groups in the church: An old core of charter members, mostly elderly, and a group of younger couples brought in by the previous pastor. As you can imagine, generally I felt like I had a lot more in common with the younger group than the older one. The younger folks seemed more vibrant spiritually, more biblically focused, and more open to new ways of doing things.

During my years in Lenoir City I always felt the church’s promise lay with these younger families. Yet now, just as I was beginning to catch a vision for a new direction, some of those very families were beginning to leave. I never found out why. It was always a mystery because these were the people I considered my greatest supporters.  It began to seem like the vision I’d had for the church was not necessarily God’s vision.

During this time (in the late fall of 1999) there was also some contention with the church organist over the new, slightly more casual and contemporary direction I was leading the congregation. I can’t remember all the specifics now, but one Sunday morning after church she basically told me that if I continued in the direction I was going she might leave the church.

By this time I really wasn’t ready to take her on and risk losing her. She had lots of close friends in the church, most of whom were in leadership. Moreover, those who might have supported me against her had begun leaving the church.  My fear was that if she got angry and left, not only would we be without an organist, but her friends, even if they agreed with what I was doing, would not support me if I went against her.

So I feared that a major conflict with the organist would rupture the very core of the church membership, as well as leaving us without an organist.  I figured if that happened a lot of people would leave, or else they would try to get rid of me.  At best we’d be left with me having to lead the music on my guitar, as well as preach, with only a handful of people in attendance. In short, I felt there might not be much church left to pastor if all that happened. I didn’t feel that insisting on doing things my way was worth that level of disruption.

This left me, though, at loose ends. I began to wonder about my future at the church.

Add to this the fact that as long as I had been a pastor, I had struggled with being a pastor. There were lots of reasons. Often I felt ill-equipped for the job. I felt my introverted personality did not fit with the very extroverted nature of being a pastor. Besides all that, pastoring was very lonely for a single person. I’m not saying it would be less lonely if you were married–obviously I wouldn’t know. But it felt odd being single and being a pastor, and the older I got, the more I wondered if being a pastor wasn’t actually keeping me from being able to marry, due to the time commitments and the fact that few women today are eager to marry the pastor of an old-fashioned, traditional church.

Or so was my thinking at the time. Add to that the fact that I had a lot of issues with my denomination, and it’s not hard to see there were many reasons I was struggling with being a pastor.

On top of everything else, I had become increasingly involved in the interdenominational prayer movement that was exploding at that time in Knoxville. My regular involvement with the larger church was exposing me to many practices and experiences I felt went far beyond what my congregation was used to. It was changing me and my perspective.  I was learning and growing.

I tried to share this growth with my church through sermons and one-on-one conversations. But I found it hard to convey it all by myself. I felt I was fighting an uphill battle. I was ready to move forward with what seemed like bigger and better things in God, but my congregation wasn’t going with me. They were content where they were.

If I was a more outgoing person I might have invited some of them to come with me to the prayer meetings. Looking back now I wish I had done that. I guess I feared they’d have no interest in it, or might think it was strange.

At any rate, I felt increasingly out of sync with my church, and didn’t really know what to do about it. Very soon everything would come to a head, though.

I’ll leave that story for the next installment of A Spiritual Journey.  Stay tuned.

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A Spiritual Journey, Part 2 – A New World Opens Up

This post has been a long time coming. It is the follow-up to a post I wrote in June 2008 called “A Spiritual Journey, Part 1.”  In order to understand this post, you really ought to read that one first, which can be found here:

https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/a-spiritual-journey-1/

From 1991 to 2000 I served as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Seven years into my ministry I had a significant encounter with God which revolutionized the way I understood the Christian life.

I told that story and the events leading up to it in the post listed above.  If you haven’t read that first part, I recommend you do it so this post will make sense.

Here I’m going to pick up where the previous post left off.  (Some of the names in this post have been changed because I haven’t been able to ask permission from the parties involved to share their part in the story.)

After asking Christ into my heart at the first annual Knoxville area Pastors Prayer Summit on Wednesday, March 11, 1998, the retreat was over on Thursday, and I went back home to the church I was pastoring in Lenoir City, Tennessee.  I had decided to share the testimony of what had happened with my congregation.  I was nervous because my denomination was staid and traditional, and not that keen on conversion stories. Even though my church was pretty friendly and open, they were still fairly traditional, so I wasn’t sure how my experience would be received.

Sunday finally came, and I shared my testimony.  It seemed to be well-received.

Altar calls, or invitations to receive salvation, are not a common practice in the Presbyterian Church. In fact, they are so uncommon that Presbyterian sanctuaries generally don’t even have a place at the front for people to kneel if they were to come forward.  This is partly because Presbyterian churches don’t have altars, but instead communion tables. But that’s a topic for another post.

At any rate, that Sunday at the end of my message I gave an altar call, inviting people to come forward and ask Jesus into their hearts, or rededicate their lives.  To my delight, six people came to the front, including several longtime members of the church.  Since there was no altar rail, I just invited them to stand where they were or kneel there on the floor.  As I recall they all knelt, including one dear matriarch of the church who was in her 70s.

I hadn’t given many altar calls before (only one other one in the entire course of my ministry), so I really didn’t know what to do when the people came forward.  To be honest, since invitations weren’t a common occurrence, I hadn’t really expected a response.  That’s what I get for underestimating God.

So I had the organist play a hymn (it may even have been “Just As I Am,” I can’t remember now. 🙂  ) Then I led everyone in a prayer in which I invited them to ask Jesus into their hearts.

At the end I dismissed the service, and talked with those who had come forward.  I wish I could say I was good about following up with them in the days to come, but honestly, I wasn’t.  I hadn’t been trained in anything like evangelistic follow-up, so I didn’t feel like I really knew what to do or say.  This is one of a number of regrets I have looking back on my years of ministry.

That night I had been invited by one of the pastors at the prayer summit, a man named Doug, to share my testimony at his church, a large evangelical church in Knoxville.  I’m not sure Doug knew exactly what he was getting himself into.  But it wound up being a good and memorable experience.

At that time, Doug’s Church had four identical services every Sunday, two in the morning, and two in the evening.  Doug had invited me to share at the two evening services.

At the first service Doug had me speak at the beginning, right after the singing.  He had prepared a message but after I shared, he said he sensed the Holy Spirit moving and decided to stop the service and issue an invitation.  Doug asked the people to come forward if they needed a touch from God similar to what I had experienced.

There wasn’t a huge rush to the front of the church, but I would say somewhere between one and two dozen people came forward.  One of them caught my eye, though–she happened to be a woman I recognized from my home town!  I didn’t know Terri well, and wasn’t even sure she would know who I was. She was known around my home town as a strong Christian, someone who had been very active in Young Life, a para-church ministry to youth.

Because of what I knew about Terri’s Christian background, I was surprised to see her standing at the front of the church weeping.  And yet because of what had just happened to me that week it made perfect sense.  After the service I went up to her and introduced myself, telling her I remembered her from our home town.  She shared that in recent years she had come to a place in which her faith felt dry and empty, and so when she heard my testimony she could really relate, and so she came forward.  When she did, God really touched her.

I later learned that Terri was the wife of one of the elders in the church. I made plans with Terri to get together with her and her husband soon, which we did not long after that, and shared a wonderful evening comparing notes of what God had done in our lives.

The second service that evening went very much like the first.  I shared, and then Doug led an altar call, in which a dozen or so more people came forward.  I later learned that the lives of several people in the church had been touched by my testimony and the Spirit’s working during the altar calls.  I was surprised, delighted, humbled, and thankful.

Apparently some of the things I shared in my testimony that night were a bit controversial, though, and I understand there was a lot of discussion and some debate about it the following week.  We tend to expect salvation to be a very cut-and-dried event. Most often we hear testimonies in which someone who was deeply involved in sin found God, and their life totally changed. My testimony wasn’t like that.  I had been a good churchgoer all my life, and was even involved in church leadership.  The things of God were my bread and butter.  Meeting God in a new way out of that experience is not as cut-and-dried as the blatant-sinner-finds-Jesus testimony.

Back at the Pastor’s Prayer Summit earlier that week, on the night after I had asked Jesus into my heart, I lay in bed unable to sleep, so excited by what I was experiencing, and also wondering what on earth had happened to me!  As I lay there asking questions, I felt God begin to speak to me.

Two analogies came to me, and I believed they were from God.  The first one was that my experience of God had been like that of a couple who are engaged but have never married.  They’ve come to know each other well but their relationship hasn’t been consummated.  They’ve shared their hearts but they haven’t yet been united in marriage and become one flesh.  They may have spent many hours together, but they haven’t become one.

I felt God was showing me that this is what my relationship with him had been like prior to that night.  I read the Bible and prayed a lot, but God had still seemed distant and remote.  The Bible says a Christian is someone who has been united with Christ through faith.  A Christian is “in Christ,” and Christ is in him.  This union with Christ is similar to a married couple becoming one flesh through the consummation of their marriage.  Ephesians 5 even compares the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Christ and his church.

That night I felt like God was showing me that prior to asking Jesus into my heart I had been acquainted with Christ, but I had not been united with Him.  I even talked to Jesus but was not in Him or He in me until I invited Him in, which I had never really consciously and intentionally done before.

The second analogy that came to me as I lay awake that night was of a business deal that had been negotiated but never closed.  In that scenario, both parties have worked out the deal in every detail, but the contract has never been signed on the dotted line, sealing the arrangement.

In a similar way, in the years prior to asking Jesus into my heart, I had a lot of interactions with God but had never really “closed the deal” with him.  When I asked Christ into my heart, that’s when I finally closed it.

The night I gave my testimony at Doug’s church in Knoxville, I shared these two analogies.  Apparently some people were bothered by the subtleties of it.  Folks were asking “He was ‘engaged to Christ’??–What does that mean??”

The intercessors who had prayed with me to received Christ (who also went to that church) didn’t have a problem with what I was trying to say.  Their take was that anything is possible with God. But my analogies didn’t sit well with others because I guess they weren’t cut-and-dried enough.

So Doug, the pastor of the church, wound up feeling a need to address the issue.  The next Sunday his sermon was entitled “What Happened to Morgan?”  I’ve listened to that message after it was given and it was very well done, though I can’t remember the exact content of it now, since many years have passed.

Well, everything I’ve written about in this post so far covers the events of just four days after the pastors prayer summit–Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening.  Some time during those days I had also called my parents to tell them the news. My mother said this explained something that had happened to her: the same night I’d asked Jesus into my heart, she was awakened in the night and thought she heard God say the words “to the heart” but she had no idea what that was about. After she heard my story she concluded her experience pertained to what had happened to me.

This was typical of my relationship with my mother. She had that sixth sense that moms seem to have about their children, and she was also very sensitive to the things of God, especially anything having to do with me. Rarely did anything important ever happen in my life without my mother having some sort of knowledge or awareness of it even before she was told about it.

After the prayer summit I had wondered how my congregation would receive my story. In the days and weeks that followed I sensed they seemed to approve of what I had shared. As one person commented, “We liked you before, so now if you’ve really met God” (or some words to that effect) “then we like you all the better!” They seemed glad I’d had an experience that legitimized my relationship with God and my ministry.  No one ever questioned my testimony or spoke against it in any way.

The week after the prayer summit I began to wonder how my experience fit with the Bible.  I wanted to know: was it scriptural? I began to think about the Bible passages I knew, and also to search for others.  Over the next week or two, several verses came to my attention that seemed to speak to the experience I’d had.  I’ve already shared some of these in the earlier post, but I think they’re worth repeating in more detail.

My mother pointed this passage out to me: Ephesians 3:14-21

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (emphasis added).

This is the main passage in the Bible that speaks of Christ living in our hearts.  It also makes the connection that the heart is a person’s inner being.  My prayer summit experience was profound for me in terms of teaching me about my own heart and the human heart in general.

Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, which is a very intellectual town (with more Ph.D.s per capita than any other city in the nation, I understand), I tended to look at everything very rationally (maybe this was somehow related to my upbringing, too).  I was quite a literalist in that metaphor and figures of speech didn’t make much of an impression on me.

As a result, sentimental talk about the human heart always left me cold. As far as I was concerned, the heart was a muscle that pumped blood through your bloodstream and that was it. I was cynical about thinking of the heart in symbolic terms.

My prayer summit experienced made me aware of the emotional aspect my heart for the first time in my life. Once I asked Jesus in and had the experienced of him entering my heart, everything changed. I realized all that talk about the emotional side of the human heart wasn’t pure bunk after all.

Often the heart is equated with our emotions, but from a biblical standpoint this isn’t completely accurate. Ephesians 3:16-17 imply that when the Bible talks about the human heart it is referring to our inner being, the innermost part of us that makes us “us.” So the heart isn’t just a sentimental thing, it’s really the central aspect of who we are.

In the years after my prayer summit experience, as I was discipled by a pastor named David Moore, I came to understand that God relates to us mainly through our hearts, more than our minds.  Therefore, what’s most important in terms of our relationship with God is not what we believe about Jesus in our minds, but what we know and believe about him in our hearts.  The mind reflects what’s in the heart, and whatever we don’t truly believe in our hearts our minds will struggle to grasp as well.

But I digress.  My point was: Ephesians 3:17 does speak of Christ living in the hearts of Christians.

I also found a couple of verses which speak of asking Jesus in.  One of these, probably the most famous, is Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Months later when I studied this verse in order to preach on it, I learned that the door Jesus is actually talking about there is the door of the Laodicean church to which he is speaking in Revelation 3:14-22. Jesus is standing outside the church, as it were, asking to be readmitted. But the promise he gives in verse 20 is still to individuals in that church, for he says “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”  Jesus is speaking in individual terms there.  So the verse still applies to the idea of individual persons answering Jesus’ summons and letting him into their own lives.

In my studies I also found a verse in the gospel of John which speaks of receiving Christ: John 1:11-13

11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (emphasis added).

This verse tells what must happen in order for someone to become a child of God (that is, to be saved): they must receive Christ, believe in his name, and be “born of God.”

I think we are all familiar with the idea of believing in God or believing in Jesus.  For many people, being a Christian is equated with this simple kind of belief, or with believing certain ideas about Jesus: that he died for our sins and rose again from the dead. We may see it as believing in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Too often the idea of belief is thought of as mere intellectual assent – if someone believes God exists, believes Jesus lived 2000 years ago, believes he died on the cross and rose again, then that makes them a Christian. These beliefs are good as far as they go.  But the Greek word for “believe” throughout the Gospel of John (such as here and in the famous verse John 3:16) is pisteuo, which is better translated “have faith in” or “trust.”

So the kind of belief John 1:12 and John 3:16 are talking about is more than just intellectual assent.  It’s really faith or trust, which is a more relational idea than mere belief. In order to have faith in someone, you have to know them. You have to know what sort of person they are to know if they’re worthy of your trust. So these verses really imply not just believing in Jesus, but knowing Him, and trusting Him.

John 1:12 also speaks of those who “received” Jesus. Prior to my prayer summit experience I’d never noticed this verse, and had never given much thought to the idea of “receiving” Christ. I’d heard people talk about it (“Have you received Christ?”) but not really considered it.

The context of this verse is the incarnation, God coming to earth in Jesus Christ.  Verse 11 says “He came to his own home” (literally, “his own things”) “and his own people received him not.”  “Receiving” here calls to mind hospitality.  Jesus came to the world he’d made, to his own people, the Jews, and the religious leaders rejected him.  They did not receive him.  Some people did accept Jesus, though–many of them social outcasts such as tax collectors and prostitutes. These folks received him.  They showed him hospitality, inviting him into their homes and lives, spending time with him, accepting him, listening to his message, and obeying his word.

John 1:11-13 implies that those who received Jesus in this way did more than just show him hospitality–they believed in him, not just in his teachings but, it says, in his very name.  In Bible times the name represented the person.  These people trusted Jesus.  They opened their hearts to him.  In doing so they were born of God and so became children of God.  As we would say it today, they were saved.

This gives us a picture of what it means for us to receive Jesus.  It is to open our hearts and lives to him.  To get to know him. To trust him like a trustworthy friend.

John 1:13 says those who received Jesus in this way were “born of God.”  This is reminiscent of a more familiar passage in John 3 that talks about being “born again” (see John 3:1-15).  We’ve all heard the phrase “born again.”  “Born of God” is what it means.  (For more on what it means to be born again, see my post here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2008/06/03/62/).

In the days after my prayer summit experience I remembered that a couple of years earlier, in 1996 or so, a lady in my church had given me a sermon on tape by John Wood, the pastor of Cedar Springs Presbyterian, a large church in Knoxville.  The sermon was on John 3 where Jesus talked about being born again.  Pastor Wood gave an excellent explanation of the passage.

As I listened, it dawned on me that whatever the Bible meant by being born again, I didn’t think it had ever happened to me.  So right there I said to God “I don’t know what it means to be born again, but I want it.

Now, two years later, as I thought back on my recent prayer summit experience, it occurred to me that what had happened to me there was God’s answer to my prayer about being born again back in 1996.

In John 3:5 Jesus said “You must be born again.” It’s not an option.  John 1:11-13 also shows that being born again, or born of God, is required in order to become a child of God (i.e., be saved).

This isn’t often discussed.  Many times there’s talk about someone becoming a “born again Christian.”  But according to the Gospel of John, there is no other kind of Christian.  To be born again is to be saved, and vice versa.  Jesus said, “You must be born again.”

Based on my experiences and my reflections on them, I concluded that being saved (i.e., becoming a Christian) is more than just accepting certain beliefs in our minds.  It’s more than just praying a sinners prayer. Being born again involves a personal encounter with God which causes us to be born anew and have our spirits brought to life. (For more on this go here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2008/06/03/62/)

Colossians 1:13-14 says “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Did you catch that?  This verse says that when we’re born into this world, we’re born into the domain of darkness and that we have to be transferred by God out of it.  This is why we must be born again.  The first time we were born we were born into the wrong domain.  In order to be transferred to the kingdom of Christ we have to come under His dominion and submit to him.  We have to be born into his kingdom, born of God.

I will end this post by asking: Have you ever been born of God?  John 1:11-13 tells us how we can be born of God.  🙂

If you feel this post has been a worthwhile read, or if you know someone who might benefit from reading it, please share it with your friends!  You can use the “Share” buttons below, or copy and paste the URL in your address bar onto your friend’s Facebook page or into an email and send it out!

Up next: A Spiritual Journey, Part 3, in which I talk about the conclusion of my ministry as a pastor, as well as events in my life since that time.  Stay tuned.

Dividing Between Soul and Spirit

Book Review: “The Latent Power of the Soul” by Watchman Nee

The Latent Power of the SoulNee, Watchman. The Latent Power of the Soul. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1972. (According to Nee’s preface, the book was originally written in 1933.)

Watchman Nee (Chinese “Ni To-sheng”) was a leader in the Chinese church during the first half of the 20th century.  After the Communists came to power in China, Nee was imprisoned and spent the last 20 years of his life incarcerated for his faith.  (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchman_nee)

Nee only wrote a few books himself, The Latent Power of the Soul being one of them.  However, notes from many of his lectures were also compiled and translated into English to comprise quite a few more books that have been published in his name.

I’ve read several books by Watchman Nee that were really good.  In particular, The Normal Christian Life, an explication of Romans 5-8, and Sit, Walk, Stand, based on Ephesians, are outstanding.

However, The Latent Power of the Soul is not on par with Nee’s best work.  The reasons are as follows: 1) Nee’s exegesis (that is, his reading and explanation of Scripture) is very weak. 2) His explanation of his argument is unclear. 3) Much of Nee’s case is based on his own subjective experiences rather than on hard biblical evidence, and these experiences aren’t described clearly enough in many cases for the reader to even be sure Nee’s meaning is understood.

Nevertheless, I do see some good in the book, which I will share toward the end of this review.

Spirit, Soul, and Body

The central concept in The Latent Power of the Soul is built on Nee’s earlier book The Spiritual Man, in which he explores the tripartite nature of humanity (i.e., man as spirit, soul, and body). 1 Thessalonians 5:23 reads, “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Likewise, in Hebrews 4:12 we read “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (emphasis added).

Based on these verses, in The Spiritual Man Nee argues that the terms “spirit” and “soul” are not interchangeable but instead in the Bible each is used distinctly to refer to a different part of the human make-up.  As Nee explains in The Latent Power of the Soul, “the soul is our personality” (p. 11), while the spirit is “that which makes us conscious of God and relates us to God (p. 13).”  I haven’t read all of The Spiritual Man, but what I have read of it seems accurate from both a biblical and experiential point of view.

Superhuman Power Before the Fall?

However, Nee’s main argument in The Latent Power of the Soul seems less well-founded biblically.  His premise is that human beings as originally created prior to the fall were endued with incredible, even supernatural, power, and this power resided in our souls.

Nee bases this claim on the fact that in Genesis God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth. Nee takes God’s command to Adam to subdue the earth quite literally and assumes it was incumbent on Adam and Eve all by themselves to fulfill it. Nee’s assumption is that our first parents, as the only two humans on earth at the time, must have had incredible powers in order to be able to fulfill this command, in light of the sheer size of the earth and the scope of plant and animal life that covered the planet at that time.

In my opinion, however, it’s better to interpret God’s command to Adam and Eve as intended not only for them but also their descendants–i.e., that the command is given to the entire human race.  It’s unnecessary to assume God expected Adam and Eve to take dominion over the earth all by themselves.  (The question of whether Adam and Eve were the only humans on earth arises later in the story when their sons Cain and Seth marry, for one must ask, where did their wives come from?? But that is a topic for another blog post.)

To back up his argument, Nee makes this claim: The fact that sweat and toil in labor were effects of the fall and not of the original creation (see Genesis 3:17-19) means that prior to the fall Adam must have had limitless physical strength to labor and not grow tired.  However, this is also a misinterpretation, because a careful reading of these verses shows that the increased difficulty in manual labor after the fall is not due to a decrease in Adam’s strength, but to an increase in the difficulty associated with work. In the fall the ground is cursed and produces thorns and thistles (weeds) and so plants which can be eaten now have to be cultivated and the ground worked in order for it to produce food. Man’s labor is likewise cursed with an increase in the obstacles he must overcome in order to achieve his goals.

Because of the fall, humanity has to work a lot harder to produce the same results.  So Nee’s claim that prior to the fall Adam must have had superhuman stamina is unfounded.

Nee also claims that in order to name all the animals (see Genesis 2:19-20), Adam must have had an incredible power of memory and thought in order to accomplish this task.  Here as elsewhere, Nee’s argument is based on conjecture that cannot be supported by the text itself.

Likewise, Nee argues that the Garden of Eden must have been very large because it was bounded by four rivers (based on Genesis 2:10-14), and therefore Adam must have had superhuman powers in order to be able to manage the garden.  However, once again we have a faulty interpretation, for the text actually says that “A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters,” (emphasis added).  So the four rivers were not part of Eden but flowed from the river that came out of Eden.  Even if Nee’s interpretation were accurate, his argument about the size of the garden is based solely on conjecture, and such arguments are not a good basis on which to found an entire teaching.

Finally, Nee claims that the fact that Adam and Eve were created in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26-27) also means they had powers that would seem supernatural to us today.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the idea that prior to the fall, Adam and Eve had greater abilities than we currently know.  Science has shown that we only use about 10 percent of our brain power.  I believe it was C.S. Lewis who proposed that prior to the fall we used 100% of our brain capacity and pondered what wonders we’d be capable of if this power were restored.  But the biblical basis on which Nee makes his assertions about Adam’s prowess before the fall seems flawed to me.

Latent Power in the Soul

Nee goes on to say that when Adam and Eve sinned against God their spirits died, causing these incredible powers that resided in their souls to be “frozen” and immobilized due to sin. Nee tries to explain this biblically but in my opinion his argument here is not just bad, it’s unintelligible.

The major premise of Nee’s book, then, which is referenced in the title, is that this vast soul power which was frozen in the human soul lies latent and unused.  The central biblical passage on which he bases this idea is Revelation 18:11-13:

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.” (emphasis added)

From this passage Nee surmises that in the last days Satan’s goal is tap into this latent power in human souls in order to accomplish his diabolical deceptions again humanity and the church.  How he comes to this conclusion from these verses is, quite honestly, beyond me.  It seems like a complete stretch in terms of interpreting the passage, especially in light of its context, which speaks of judgment against Babylon in the last days.

Satan Wants Your Soul Power!

Nee’s main point, then, is that in our souls we humans have enough hidden power to perform supernatural wonders. However, he says, as Christians we are not to make use of this power because it is forbidden, due to the fall.  Instead, Christians are to rely solely on the power of the Holy Spirit, working through our spirit (as opposed to the soul) to do God’s work.

Moreover, Satan is trying to tap into the latent power in the human soul in order to deceive the world in the last days through false signs and wonders he would perform using humanity’s soul power.  For millennia Satan’s attempts to harness this power failed, but in recent centuries he has found success and has been building up steam toward the climax of the last days when the antichrist will unleash the full power hidden in man’s soul and take over the world.

Now, the idea that we should rely on the Holy Spirit’s power instead of the power of our own souls in order to live the Christian life is exactly right.  It’s Nee’s claim that we have supernatural powers bound up in our souls which Satan is trying to release that I see as unfounded from a scriptural standpoint.

Nee makes much of Anton Mesmer’s discovery of hypnotism in 1778, and claims this was the turning point at which Satan began to have more success in releasing humanity’s latent soul power.  Since that time, claims Nee, man has been learning more and more about parapsychology, through which Satan has been gaining ever greater control over human soul power.  Nee believes that parapsychology and all paranormal activity is a product of man’s latent soul power, and says that this is going to increase in the last days until the antichrist finally emerges and gains control of the world.  It seems to me that Nee’s thesis betrays a 20th century Western preoccupation with paranormal activity.

A More Biblical Approach

Now what strikes me as odd about this is, I think there’s a way in which Nee could’ve easily made a similar argument from a much more biblically sound perspective.

Nee’s position is that Satan needs man’s soul power in order to be able to do anything of a supernatural nature or perform the false miracles with which he will bring the antichrist to power in the last days. Strangely, Nee completely overlooks what the Bible has to say about the occult.  Several passages in the Bible (notably Deuteronomy 18:9-14) make it clear that occult practices like witchcraft, spiritism, necromancy, and the like were forbidden by God, and the implication is that these are activities which convey genuine supernatural power and originate with Satan.  (Paranormal activity like Nee describes would fall under the category of occult power as well, by the way.)

So the Bible would seem to indicate that Satan is capable of supernatural activity without having to use man’s soul power.  Therefore Nee’s claim that Satan needs human soul power to do his dirty work simply doesn’t seem necessary (or biblical).  I’m sure it’s true that when the human soul is separated from God and HIs Spirit, this can become a means through which Satan can work; but it doesn’t follow that this is the only means by which Satan can work.  At any rate, it seems strange to me that Nee ignores such a clear scriptural connection to his topic, and instead comes at it in such a roundabout way.

Soulish or Spiritual?

In the last of the three chapters in the book, Nee focuses on the difference between living the Christian life, or conducting ministry, out of one’s soul power versus doing so by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is a helpful distinction.  However, I found the practical examples Nee gives to be singularly unhelpful.  They are very subjective, often based on Nee’s own personal intuitions and perceptions, so that his reasons for believing a certain experience or manifestation was soulish rather than Holy-Spirit-led are hard to see or understand.  And in fact some of his claims seem pretty strange to a modern reader.

For example, Nee says that too much singing in worship services is soulish rather than led by the Holy Spirit; too much reflection on a Bible text will lead to a soulish interpretation rather than a spiritual one; all holy laughter (yes, they knew of it in his day) is soulish; if you desire for God to speak to you through dreams or visions, and especially if you have a lot of dreams or visions, then these are likely from the soul rather than the Holy Spirit; if you experience strong feelings, especially good feelings, in worship or prayer then these are likely from the soul rather than from the Holy Spirit; too much praying in tongues, or an inordinate desire to speak or pray in tongues, is soulish; and that many supernatural healings are wrought through soul power rather than Holy Spirit power.

Fear of Spiritual Deception

After reading Nee’s final chapter I felt like the ultimate effect of it, and indeed of the entire book, might be to instill in the reader a fear of being deceived.  Nee comes across as though he believes most spiritual phenomena and manifestations in church or Christian meetings are soulish and demonic rather than from the Holy Spirit, especially if they are accompanied by very nice feelings.  Nee seems to believe that the Holy Spirit’s work is accompanied by very little feeling at all, almost as if the Holy Spirit works impassively in human beings.  Therefore, a lack of strong feelings is a sign of a work that is authentically of the Holy Spirit, while the presence of strong feelings renders an experience suspect as being possibly soulish and demonic rather of God.

If what Nee says is true, then a lot of what goes on in today’s charismatic church (not to mention the rest of the church) originates in the soul and is of demonic origin, rather than from God!

Throughout The Latent Power of the Soul Nee refers to a book called Soul and Spirit by Jessie Penn-Lewis, an evangelist famous for her role in the Welsh revival in the first decade of the 20th century.  Penn-Lewis is also known for her controversial book War on the Saints in which she concluded that some of the spiritual manifestations which occurred in the Welsh revival were from Satan rather than God.

Though I haven’t read War on the Saints in its entirety, nor have I read Soul and Spirit, I have studied Penn-Lewis and can sense her influence on Nee in The Latent Power of the Soul.  Penn-Lewis became very suspicious of spiritual manifestations and is accused by some of being too quick to label certain manifestations as being demonic in origin rather than divine.  The Latent Power of the Soul strikes me as having this same tendency.  And since Penn-Lewis’ book is about the only source Nee consistently references in this book besides the Bible, I think it’s pretty safe to assume Soul and Spirit had a lot of influence on The Latent Power of the Soul.

I will be the first to admit that discernment is needed with regard to spiritual experiences and manifestations.  The apostle John warned us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  However, in my opinion Nee’s approach in this book is erroneous in itself.  It seems based more on Penn-Lewis’ book and on certain assumptions of Western society (which is ironic from a Chinese author) than on the Bible.

Reading this book helped me understand something about my own life and background.  My mother was always very afraid of being deceived in the way Nee describes in this book.  In fact, the copy of the book I read belonged to my mom, and contained all her underlining and notes.  From these I could tell that she really agreed with or was greatly influenced by the teachings in this book.  I also know that my mother was highly influenced by Jessie Penn-Lewis’ book War On the Saints which also goes into great detail in describing what the author believed were demonically inspired manifestations in the Welsh revival and warning her readers to be on guard against them.

It seems my mother was highly influenced by these two books, and that her deep fears of being spiritually deceived may have been founded on them.  My mother’s fears in this regard had a very profound (and I would say negative) effect on our relationship and also on my perception of God and His trustworthiness with regard to spiritual phenomena.

The Value of This Book

Having described all the problems I see with The Latent Power of the Soul I will go on to say, however, that it’s not all bad. I did benefit from reading it.  Nee’s clear and careful distinction between the human soul and spirit is helpful, as is his delineation between the ways they operate.  Nee also makes a valid point that there is an important difference between what we conjure up by our own power and what is the true work of the Holy Spirit.  He rightly points out that some of what goes on in Christian church services and meetings is more the use of psychological means and human effort rather than relying on the Spirit.

Nee’s words made me ask myself: when I lead worship or speak, how much of what I do is my own efforts, and how much is reliance on the Spirit?  How often to I employ persuasion or manipulation, rather than simply looking to the Spirit to do his work?  It is a sobering question, worth considering.

Nee’s book also made me take a fresh look at some of the ways we do things in church today.  For example, if church leaders work very hard to sport the latest hip fashion, and if our desire in worship is to have the latest cool music in order to attract new people (or retain the ones we have), are we using psychological manipulation?  Is our very approach, and our motive, soulish in origin?

Reading this book also spurred me to begin a study of how the Greek word for soul, psuche, is used in the Bible. Psuche is the word from which we get the English term “psyche,” another word for soul.  In fact, “psyche” is really just a transliteration of psuche.  “Psychology” is the study of the soul.

In my word study I learned something new about the following verse (or was reminded of it, because I think I had heard it before): 1 Cor 2:14 says “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  In the Greek (the language in which the New Testament was originally written) the word translated “natural” is psuchikos–literally “soulish” (or, as the English translation of Nee’s book quaintly says, “soulical”).  So a paraphrase of the verse using this idea would be “The person operating only in the realm of the soul does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  Here is another place in Scripture where we see the distinction Nee has rightly pointed out between operating from the soul, and operating from the spirit.  It shows the importance of the distinction.

I hope no one reading this will leave with a bad impression of Watchman Nee.  He was a great man, a truly courageous Christian.  No doubt he received a great reward when he met his heavenly Father after leaving this life.  Some of his books are classics.  The Latent Power of the Soul is just not one of his better works.  This reminds us that even the greatest of Christian leaders is still a human being and fallible like the rest of us.  But I’m grateful I took the time to read this book.  It gave me greater insight into one of my spiritual heroes and helped me to see his more human side.