Category Archives: Christian

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.



On Phil Robertson, Utah Polygamists, and Robert E. Lee | Morgan Trotter

This is a blog post I wrote about 18 months ago.  I feel it speaks surprisingly well to the events of the last couple weeks.  I commend it to you again.  (To read the article, click the link below.)

On Phil Robertson, Utah Polygamists, and Robert E. Lee | Morgan Trotter.

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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“The Naked Gospel” by Andrew Farley – Summary and Response

Farley, Andrew.  The Naked Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Farley, Andrew. The Naked Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m taking a training class for lay counselors through my church. As part of the class we were required to read three books and submit book reports on each one.  (You can read the first book report here.) The second book we read had the intriguing title The Naked Gospel, by a pastor named Andrew Farley.  It’s a present-day explanation of what is often called “The Exchanged Life” view of the Christian life. I had not heard of Farley before, so I was interested to see what he had to say. Here is my summary and response to the book.

Farley begins by telling his own story, saying he started out his Christian life by, one might say, “busting his tail for Jesus.” He says he burned out trying to do this and eventually realized he simply couldn’t live the Christian life by his own strength. He talks about how he had to unlearn a lot of his misconceptions about Christianity in order to learn what the Bible really teaches.

Farley then explains carefully and systematically how Christians are no longer under the Old Testament law or good works as a means to secure God’s favor. He points out what both the apostles Paul and James taught, that if you try to keep the Law, you’re responsible for keeping the whole thing, and if you fail to keep even one part of it, you’ve broken the Law (see Galatians 3:10 and 5:3 and James 2:10). Since no one can keep the Law perfectly then we are incapable of keeping it at all, which is why God provided salvation by a different means—by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Farley says this is also the means by which we are to live the daily Christian life as well – by grace through faith in Christ.

Farley even extends this to the Ten Commandments. He points out that Paul says “the letter kills” (2 Corinthians 3:6, meaning the letter of the law) and calls the law a “ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7). Farley says this is no less true for the Ten Commandments; even trying to live by the Ten Commandments will bring death to us rather than life, because the Law incites sin (see Paul’s discussion of how the Law evokes sin in Romans 7:5-13 and also Romans 3:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:56). Grace is the only means to be free from sin.

Farley goes on to demonstrate in various ways how the New Covenant (Testament) sets us free from the Law. He gives the example discussed in Hebrews 5-7 that the priesthood of Jesus is of the order of Melchizedek, while the Law prescribes a priesthood descended from Levi and Aaron. Moreover, Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, so His priesthood does not conform to the Law.

Farley offers more examples of how the Law has been superseded in the New Testament. He sees both the tithe and the Sabbath as Old Testament concepts no longer in force under the New Covenant. The author shows that the Old Testament Sabbath was a picture or precursor of the true Sabbath rest of God spoken about in Hebrews 3-4, in which we are able to rest from our striving for good works because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

Farley talks about how in the New Covenant, instead of trying to keep the Law, we rely on the Holy Spirit, who produces fruit in us that leads to a way of life that satisfies the requirements of the Old Testament law. He shows that through faith in Christ, believers are made truly and actually righteous before God, not just positionally righteous. He talks about how we were born in Adam, but through salvation we are taken out of Adam and placed in Christ. Farley makes much of our identification with Christ. This is the key by which we actually live the Christian life – by Christ living through us.

Farley spends a good bit of time trying to show that the forgiveness we have through Christ is once-for-all, that when we are saved, all our sins–past, present, and future—are forgiven for all time. Therefore we don’t have to ask for forgiveness every time we sin because we already have forgiveness once and for all. He even goes to pains to show that 1 John 1:9, which says “If we confess our sins God is faithful…to forgive us…” is for unbelievers, not believers.

This was the part of the book I found least convincing. To begin with I question his exegesis of 1 John 1, though he did help me to see certain aspects of it in a different light. But also there are other passages of Scripture which imply that walking in blatant unrepentant sin hinders our relationship with God, or at least our experience of that relationship. (1 Corinthians 5 comes to mind as an example, in which Paul deals with a case of gross sexual immorality in the Corinthian church.) Even for the Christian, ongoing repentance seems vital for walking in an intimate experience of relationship with God.

Farley claims people are suspicious of grace because they fear an emphasis on grace will give people a license to sin. Therefore Farley emphasizes over and over again that grace does not lead us to sin more, but is actually the only true means to overcome sin. We think the Law will deter us from sinning, but actually Scripture says the Law provokes us to sin (see Romans 7:5-13 as mentioned above). It’s grace then, not law, that helps us master sin. This overcoming of sin is entirely dependent on Christ living in us and through us.

There is much more I could say about The Naked Gospel. While there are some parts of it I question, overall I found it to be a very helpful and very Scriptural explanation of the life that is lived by grace through faith in the indwelling Christ.

Overcoming Fear

These are some thoughts I recently shared with a friend.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:16-18

From the time I was very young I had a fear of death and dying, and genuinely believed (feared) that I was going to die somehow at a young age – before I was 30, or definitely by the time I was 40.  So here I am at 51 and alive and kicking!  I wouldn’t have believed it as a child.  But God is our protector, and He’s been so faithful in watching over me and protecting me, even from myself, since I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.

I’ve been through numerous situations in my life in which I feared I was going to die.  Most of them were irrational, but they seemed real enough at the time, and so they were still very real fears I had to overcome, even if only in my mind and heart.  I think God used each of those situations to bring me to a point of surrender and trust, to the place in which I learn not to love my life in this world so much, but to love God more, and to trust him.  God used those times to bring me closer to the point where I’m able to say with Paul “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21) and with Job “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Psalm 34:4 says

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

I’ve taken that to mean not just that God delivered me from the things I was afraid of, but he even delivered me from the fears themselves.  This is true of my life; over the years God has delivered me from so many fears.  I still have fears that need to be overcome, but I’m confident that God is still at work delivering me from those as well.

A passage I’ve come back to over and over again when dealing with fears in my life is 1 John 4:16-18

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (emphasis added)

I can’t say I’ve fully come to understand or appropriate these verses, but I keep coming back to them when I fear.  John says the root of all our fears is a fear that God is going to punish us.  Deep down we know we deserve to be punished because of our sins.  But elsewhere John reminds us that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [one]. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins….” (1 John 2:1-2).  That word “propitiation” means that Jesus took all the punishment and wrath we deserved for our sins upon Himself.  So the punishment for our wrongdoing has already been completely taken care of.

That means we don’t ever have to be afraid of being punished by God anymore!  “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  So 1 John 4:18 invites us to become more deeply rooted and grounded in the love of God.  He says this is the way we overcome fear.  *:) happy

Psalm 91 is also a good scripture passage to meditate on when dealing with fears of death or harm coming to us.  It’s all about how God invites us to dwell in “the secret place” with him, and that as we do so we enter into a place of protection with Him.  The psalm is filled with all kinds of promises of protection for the believer.

These things are true for anyone who is a follower of Christ.  Have you ever asked Christ into your heart?  If not, you can today, and then you can begin to know and experience these truths for yourself as well. 🙂

Book Summary of “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee

Normal Christian Life

Nee, Watchman. The Normal Christian Life. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1978.

I’m taking a training class for lay counselors through my church, and as part of the class we were required to read The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee and then produce a summary of the book.  Its concepts are very dense so the book bears repeated readings.  This was my second time through it and I got a lot more out of it this go-round.

(For those who don’t know, Watchman Nee was a leader in the Chinese church during the first half of the 20th century.  When the communists took over in China Nee was imprisoned for his faith, where he remained for the next two decades until his death in 1972.)

Here, then, is my summary:

1. The blood of Christ is God’s remedy for man’s sins – plural. – chapter 1

2. The cross of Christ is God’s remedy for man’s sin – singular. Every person is born “in Adam” and as such has sin working within us as a principle that causes us to sin. We are not sinners merely because we sin, but instead we sin because we are born sinners. But when we are baptized into Christ’s death (born again) we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son. The old man died with Christ and the new man rises to new life in Christ. Therefore now those who are in Christ are no longer “sinners” but “saints.” – chapter 2

3. We can know that we have died with Christ and that the sin principle within us has been overcome and rendered powerless through our identification with Christ’s death – chapter 3

4. Therefore likewise we are to “reckon” ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. It is an accomplished fact, which we appropriate by reckoning–that is, making a conscious choice to consider–ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. – chapter 4

5. We are no longer “in Adam” but we have passed from death to life and are now “in Christ.” These are totally different realities, and never the twain shall meet. Baptism is the clear line of demarcation that we are no longer in Adam but instead in Christ. What was true of us “in Adam” is no longer true of us “in Christ.” We are new creatures in Christ. – chapter 5

6. Now that we know we’ve died and risen with Christ and therefore reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, the proper response is for us to present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness, for His service. Nee refers to presenting ourselves to God in this way as “consecration.” – chapter 6

7. God’s purpose in all this goes beyond mere redemption. Man’s sin and redemption was actually a detour in God’s eternal plan for man and the world. God’s eternal purpose is to have many sons who are conformed to the image of Christ, and to bring these many sons to glory. – chapter 7

8. We fulfill the righteous requirements of the law not by trying to keep the law, but through walking by the Spirit. Acts 2 shows us that the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the people of God as a result of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God. Therefore, just as we can know we have died and risen with Christ, we can also know that if we have trusted in Christ then we have received the gift of His Spirit. It is not a matter of feelings but of trust in the finished work of Christ and belief in the promise and Word of God. – chapter 8

9. Not only have we been delivered from sin through the death of Christ, but we have also been delivered from the Law. We are now dead to the Law and alive to God. – chapter 9

10. The Law is not fulfilled in us by trying to keep the law, but by walking in the Spirit. Not only are we in Christ, but Christ is also in us through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. Walking in the Spirit does not equate to effort on our part, but simply to recognizing that our flesh has been crucified and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in and through us. – chapter 10

11. Another part of Christ’s eternal purpose is that He would have a Body to express his life (p. 210). This purpose of God shows us that redemption was not God’s original intent for man, because sin was not part of God’s original intent for man. Instead, redemption was a restorative measure to bring humanity back in line with God’s original purpose, which was to have a glorious church, a body, through which to express His life. – chapter 11

12. Because Adam chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life, man developed an independent self-life which caused the human soul to become more developed than God ever intended. God never meant for man to live independent of Him. Therefore sinful man has the capacity to live life on his own and to depend on the power of the soul rather than on the power of God. Even a Christian has to guard against relying on the over-developed power of his soul to serve God rather than relying on the power of the Spirit. A Christian’s task is to walk by the Spirit, not live and work in the power of his soul. Therefore the believer has to choose to take up his cross daily, which consists of making a conscious decision in every situation to live and move in the power of the Spirit rather than relying on his soul power. Instead he must allow the soul to be crucified by resisting the temptation to rely on his soul and instead relying on the Spirit. – chapters 12 and 13

13. We may be tempted to think that time and energy spent ministering to God is a “waste.” We may think we should not “waste” precious time and energy in “idle” tasks like prayer, worship, and Bible reading. But ministering to God is more important than ministering to people. It is not a waste for us to pour out ourselves at the feet of God. Martha’s busy service is contrasted with Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet. The author invites us to “waste” ourselves in ministry to God. – chapter 14

The Normal Christian Life is not an easy read, but it’s a very worthwhile one. I recommend you take the time to read and digest this significant work from one of the great saints and church leaders of the 20th century.

Signs of the Times: What the End Times Will Look Like

This post is the conclusion to a series I’ve done on the end times over the previous 7 posts.  To read the entire series, please go to “Home” above and then scroll down to see Parts 1-7.

Washington in Great TribulationAs I said previously in this series, I believe Jesus’ words on the end times, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 17 & 21, are the key to understanding what the Bible teaches about the last days.  I believe the Old Testament prophecies on the end times, such as those found in Ezekiel and Daniel, as well as the New Testament book of Revelation and the apostle Paul’s teaching on the last days, should all be interpreted in light of Jesus’ own words in the Gospel passages mentioned above.

As I explained in Part 1, I do not hold to the Pre-Tribulation Rapture view, which has been the most popular view among evangelical Christians in modern times.  Instead, I take a Post-Tribulation view of the end times, for reasons explained in Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.  (A more complete summary and explanation of the Post-Tribulationist viewpoint, as well as a list of known pastors and scholars who hold this view, can be found here.)  What I want to do in this post is bring everything together and make some very general predictions about what I think the last days will entail

As I said in Part 1, taken at face value, Matthew 24 gives a pretty clear description of events prior to the rapture and the return of Christ.  Those events can be summarized as follows (the following list is taken directly from Part 1 of this series; verse references are to Matthew 24):

  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 (verses 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).  (Many believe the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt and that the abomination will take place there; however, I’m not sure a literal temple is necessary for this to take place.)
  10. Meanwhile the false teachers, false Christs, and false prophets will continue to proliferate, deceiving everyone but the elect–that is, 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 below.]
  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, at the time of Christ’s return, and not before.

Now, to the idea that we can use this passage to discern end times events, the objection is often raised that wars, ethnic tensions, and natural disasters have always been a part of human experience, so how is this description unique to the end times?  Likewise, they say, false teachers, persecutions, and Christians leaving the faith have always been a part of the church’s experience as well.

However, what we need to understand here is the magnitude of what is being described.  This passage describes wars, ethnic clashes, natural disasters, the arising of false teachers, persecutions, and falling away from the faith on an unprecedented scale the world has never seen before.  The thing that will be different about the end times is that all these tragedies will be “on steroids,” so to speak, at a level of intensity and frequency the world has never known.

To get an idea of what this might be like, consider recent events.  In the last few years we’ve seen unrest in the Arab world as never seen before, with the so-called “Arab Spring.”  This has resulted in great instability in Egypt, and in the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has now spread to northern Iraq as ISIS militants are trying to take over large swaths of land in both countries.  ISIS is persecuting Christians and other minorities in truly gruesome and hideous ways.  Their desire is to set up an “Islamic State” in the region which would be run based on an extremely strict interpretation of the Quran and which would seek to exterminate all non-Muslims.  At the time of this writing, large sections of Iraq have fallen to these extremists, so that now they are on the very outskirts of Baghdad.

Likewise Nigeria has seen the proliferation of Muslim extremism in the growth of a militant group called Boko Haram (which means “Western education is forbidden”).  This group has been carrying out terrorist attacks in the northern and central areas of country.  They are purported to have killed more than 5000 civilians since 2009–2000 of those in 2014 alone.  In April they kidnapped over 200 students from a state run girls school.  The girls were forced to convert to Islam and to marry members of Boko Haram.  The whereabouts of many of the girls is still not known.  This is but one in a long string of incidents perpetrated by this extremist group. (1) (2) (3)

In the Congo region of Africa, a warlord by the name of Joseph Kony leads a militant group that works under the chilling and terribly ironic name of “The Lord’s Resistance Army.” Kony and his followers travel the countryside conscripting children into their army by capturing families and then forcing the children to kill their parents.  Women in these families are routinely gang-raped by Kony’s forces.

Meanwhile, conflict continues to escalate in Israel between Palestinians in Gaza and the nation of Israel.  Russia invaded Crimea earlier this year, and has now moved into parts of Ukraine and is eyeing the rest of Ukraine as well as other areas which were once part of the Soviet empire.  It is said that Vladimir Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet Union again.

In western Africa there has been another outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which kills well over half its victims. This strain of the virus appears to be more virulent than any before.  Previous outbreaks affected a few hundred people and then were contained, and were usually confined to a single locale or region.  The 2014 outbreak, though, has infected thousands (current estimates are over 8000 so far, with over 4000 deaths), and has spread to four African countries. There is no sign of the outbreak subsiding yet.  Just recently the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in the United States.  This patient has since died, and now one of his caregivers has been diagnosed with the virus, becoming the first recorded case of Ebola transmission in the U.S.

Also on American soil is the ongoing turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri after a white police officer shot and killed a black man on August 9.  This sparked outrage on the part of blacks not only in Ferguson, but throughout the nation. Initially there were riots in Ferguson, but unrest between protesters and police continues to this day, almost 2 months later. (The collection of events mentioned in the above section on current events was suggested by this blog post.)

I’m sure I’m forgetting some crises as well.  There is a lot of stuff going on in the world right now.

Now, (if you can) imagine the above sorts of events multiplied 10 times or 50 times or 100 times in the same span of time. Imagine more wars, more terrorism, more racism, more riots, more crime, more moral decay, more deadly diseases, more persecution and hostility toward Christianity and Judaism.  Imagine one natural disaster after another. And imagine all these things happening all at the same time.  Then you might begin to have an idea of how dire the events will be when the end times are finally here, when the birth pangs give way to the great tribulation.  It will be on a scale the world has never seen.

Second Thessalonians 2 describes a “man of sin” who will arise during that time, too.  Traditionally the man of sin has been equated with the Antichrist, and with the beast(s) mentioned in Revelation 12 & 13.  The Antichrist is believed to be a political leader who will become a world ruler that will bring great evil during the tribulation.

2 Thessalonians 2:4, 9-12 has this to say about the man of sin:

4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God….

9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

So we see that the Antichrist will be a leader who opposes all true worship of God, and instead insists on being worshiped himself, much like the Roman emperors of old.  The Antichrist will even be spiritually empowered by Satan to do all kinds of miracles, signs, and wonders, but these will be counterfeit miracles in that they won’t come from the true source of power and life, God himself.  Instead, they will be rooted in evil and their goal will be to deceive the lost.  Many people will follow this man because of the deceptive miracles he will perform, or claim to perform.

How might such a world ruler come to power?  Imagine the world plunged into chaos as described above.  In such a dire situation, the world would be very hungry for a leader strong enough to manage the situation.  Imagine that all of a sudden in the midst of the chaos a ruler appears promising to restore order–in exchange for your total, unquestioning allegiance.  In a time of great trial and terror, many people will be only too willing to do anything to have the world return to “normal” again.  The above is what we should be on the lookout for with regards to the rise of the Antichrist.

Revelation 13:5-18 says this about the Antichrist:

5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. 6 He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.

9 He who has an ear, let him hear.
10 If anyone is to go into captivity,
into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed.

This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

11 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.

18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.

This passage talks about two beasts.  There are a lot of theories about that.  The challenging thing in interpreting Revelation is knowing what is meant to be taken literally, and what is meant to be taken figuratively.

Verses 5-8 sound similar to what we just read from 2 Thessalonians 4.  The beast is very proud, and he blasphemes and slanders God and all that is holy, and demands to be worshiped.  He persecutes Christians and the whole earth worships him–everyone except the elect (Christians).  The implication is that believers will have the insight to see through this man and recognize who he really is and avoid worshiping him, but unbelievers will be captured under his spell and will be completely deceived into worshiping him instead of God.

The thing we want to watch out for is this: If (when) the world plunges into utter chaos, be on the lookout for a political leader who promises to restore a sense of normalcy, performing mighty–even seemingly miraculous–works, and demanding total allegiance. He will force Christians, and perhaps people of all religions, to choose between their faith and following him.  Those who refuse to worship him, those who disobey him, those who question him, those who refuse to renounce their faith for him, will be killed.  It will be a choice between life and death.

Revelation 13 also talks about the mark of the beast.  There has been a lot of speculation about what form the mark will take. Many believe it will be literal, such as a tattoo of some sort on the forehead or hand signifying total allegiance to the beast and allowing for commerce.  Some have speculated that it will be a microchip implanted in the hand or elsewhere in a person’s body that will take the place of money and will allow the government of the Antichrist to track people at all times.

Others think the mark of the beast may symbolize a cultural mindset that will be utterly opposed to the worship of Christ, such that Christians will be forced to choose between their faith and their physical life.  Whatever it is, though, it’s clear that the mark of the beast will require Christians to choose between total devotion to Christ or total devotion to the Antichrist.  There will be no neutral ground, and no escape.

So the question is: How will we know when these events have come to pass?  Well, I believe we won’t have to wonder, we will know.  The events described in Matthew 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke will be of such magnitude and severity that it will be plain to everyone that the times described there have come.  So if you look around at world events and you have to wonder whether it’s the end times yet or not, then probably the answer is no, not yet.  For the times foretold in Matthew 24 will be so severe and of such intensity that everyone will wonder what hit them.

People sometimes say “If things keep getting worse in America then God is going to have to apologize to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.”  And I just laugh when they say that.  Go read Genesis 19 again and then tell me things in our day are worse than they were back then.  Not even close.  When the day comes that mobs are going door to door throughout our cities gang-raping everyone in sight, then maybe we can talk about it, but until then, we have a very long way to go before our situation will come anywhere close to the days of Sodom.  Things can and will get much worse before the end comes.

Now Jesus was clear that no one knows the day or the hour of his return.  But he did instruct us to watch for his return (Matt. 24:42), and to observe the signs of the times (Matt. 24:33).  He said we’ll know it’s coming because the signs he described will be taking place.  Remember, again, the key is the horrific scale on which everything will be happening.

One thing that’s noteworthy about the times we live in is that for the first time in history the technology is available to make possible a totalitarian one-world government.  Imagine, for example, what horrors would be possible if GPS technology was employed by a totalitarian power on its citizens.  Imagine if all the capabilities of the US military were at the disposal of an evil power.  This is all you have to think about to envision how bad things could get, and how possible it would be for an Antichrist figure to rule the world with an iron fist, and to strike terror in the world’s population, and to command total allegiance.

What will life be like for God’s people in these times?  I think on the one hand we will experience uncommon power and grace. God will empower us to do the things we need to do, to fight the spiritual battles we need to fight.  God will protect his children from many things.  But also we’ve already seen that there will come a time when Christians will have to run for their lives, when–if we remain true to God and refuse to take the mark–we will no longer be able to buy the things we need like our basic necessities–food, gasoline, utilities, paying the rent, etc.  Times when we will be hunted and murdered for our faith, unless the grace of God intervenes.  This is why Revelation says this of believers in the end times:

11 They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.  (Revelation 12:11)

This will require supernatural courage, but saints throughout history have been given that courage when their lives were in danger, and history is filled with the stories of courageous martyrs who found God’s presence and peace in the face of death.

Let me conclude by saying, I wouldn’t mind being wrong. I wouldn’t mind at all if the pre-tribulationists turn out to be right, and we are all raptured out before things get really bad.  But I don’t believe that will happen.  I don’t believe God wants His children to have an escapist mentality in the world’s darkest hour.  The Bible says we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Don’t you think God would want us to be those things even in the end of days, as He has throughout history?  Isaiah 60:1-3 says

60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

I believe these verses apply to the end times more than any other.  It will get dark, but as the dark gets darker, the light of God’s people will shine brighter.

I also wouldn’t mind if I’m wrong and things don’t get as bad as I think they’re going to.  I wouldn’t mind if the preterists turn out to be right in their claim that the worst time the world has ever seen already happened back in the first century.  Although they are rather vague about what the future does hold in store.  But I won’t mind if things don’t get as bad before the end as I think they’re going to.  I won’t mind being wrong.

But I think it’s going to get bad, and I feel compelled to warn people of what’s coming.

So what do you think about the scenario I’ve described?  Do you agree or disagree?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

I believe this is an important and timely message, because I believe the times I described here may be upon us soon.  So I want to get the word out.  If you agree, will you share this message using the social media sharing buttons below?  Thank you!