My name is Jacob Kier (pronounced just like “ear” with a k on the front) and I’m a Christian, husband, and father. I work as the office manager of a small family clinic and serve as the Assistant Pastor for Calvary Chapel of Kennett, MO.

On the Divine Appointment of the President

trump-bible1I’ve seen an article floating around social media in regard to Christians potentially “missing the boat” when it comes to God’s plan to use Donald Trump as President to save the USA. I appreciate RC Sproul Jr’s analysis of this attitude (emphasis is mine):

But here’s what happens, here’s what I’m hearing from people whose perspective is almost like this: Well because Donald Trump is the best option among viable candidates, this must somehow mean that he is God’s man for the hour. Have you heard this language? It seems to say “Well, he says bad things, we don’t like this or that about him, but maybe this is God bringing us this dark horse who would have been laughed off the stage two years ago, and now look where he is. Surely this is a sign of God’s favor, that God must be at work.” Well yes and no. You know who else God put in office? Barack Obama. You know who else God might put in office? Hillary Rodham Clinton.

While we definitely ought to take seriously our right and responsibility to vote for the individual who holds the highest leadership position in our country, we should also take seriously what Paul wrote in Romans 13:1:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

As Sproul points out, the truth of the matter is that every President who ever held the office was granted it by God. From the past Presidents you loathed or loved to the current candidates whose potential makes you cheer or shudder, every single one of them rose to the position because it was the will of God they be there. So we don’t need to worry that we might “miss the boat” in God’s plan for our government and our nation by casting the wrong ballot.

Depending on your side of the fence, you may look at either Trump or Clinton (or maybe both) and say “How can God put this unqualified/selfish/immoral/evil person in that great position of power?”  Sproul says:

Sometimes [the leader is] chosen by God as judgement. Sometimes it’s mercy. And most of the time it’s both.

Maybe God’s plan is to grant our nation prosperity.  Maybe it’s calamity. As Christians we can rest assured that whoever ultimately ends up with the Presidency is there because God put them there. And God knows what our nation and the whole world needs in the President at this moment, whether it be a savior or a tyrant.

We as Christians can also be assured that, though someone completely unqualified or downright evil may ascend Oval Office, though our economy may collapse, though all the world may turn against our country, and though the USA may crumble, “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) And “all things” includes who holds the Presidency.

Watch This: Why Are You Where You Are in Your End Times Beliefs? by Dr. Michael Heiser

Death

The end times are a hot topic in terms of both its popularity in Christianity and the friction it can cause between believers who hold different viewpoints. If you’re like me and have been around Christianity for long you’ve likely had just the experience Dr. Michael Heiser describes when he says “You can go buy a book [on the end times], someone will present it canned to you. It’ll look beautiful. It’ll answer every question you have. Until you pick up the next one.”

In the series Why Are You Where You Are in Your End Times Beliefs? Dr. Michael Heiser aims to help Christians understand not just what the various end times positions are–pre-tribulation, post-tribulation, pre-millenial, amillennial, etc–but also get underneath those viewpoints to the different Biblical texts, assumptions, presuppositions, and “guesses” that lead to them.  “[People] just think that they flip open their Bibles and–pop–out comes their eschatology.” But, Heiser says, “That is just not the case. You only think that because you’ve read a book or you’ve read a novel. And you just think that it’s that self evident. It’s not, there is a lot you are not being told.”

Heiser’s goal in this series is to pull the curtain back on those bits that are not so self evident and help us understand both our own and others end times views better. “You have to make choices [in Biblical interpretation], and that’s the point of my prophecy sessions. Just showing people, I don’t really care what position you take, but showing you why you take those positions. You know, what goes into them. ”

If you’re interested in a better understanding the roots of your own (and others) views of the end times I recommend you watch this series.

Session 1 – The Kingdom of God

The first session gives a general overview of the various end times position then gets into issues that influence one’s understanding of the Kingdom of God and the Millennium. He looks at many questions including:

  • Is there a present or future Kingdom on Earth?
  • Does the 2nd coming of Christ result in an earthly reign of Jesus for 1000 years?
  • Did Israel ever possess all of the promised land? Is there yet a future promise for the land?
  • Will a literal temple be rebuilt in the future?

Session 2 – Split or Join?

In session two Dr. Heiser addresses how those who come to different conclusions about the timing of Christ’s return tend to either join or harmonize all the verses addressing the second coming (resulting in a single return) or split those verses (resulting in a rapture then a later second coming). The final third of the class is discussing three different views of imminence in regard to the return of Christ: Jesus could return any moment, Jesus will return soon, Jesus will return unexpectedly.

Session 3 – The 70 Weeks of Daniel

The third session addresses the 70 weeks of Daniel from Daniel 9. Questions covered include:

  • How should the 70 weeks be interpreted as periods of time?
  • Is Daniel 9:24 about Jesus’ death or the end of the exile?
  • Does the 70th week equal the 7 year tribulation?

Session 4 – Rapture Timing, Q&A

In the fourth class Dr. Heiser brings the material from the previous sessions together and recaps the various major end times positions and their presuppositions. He addresses several questions including:

  • Is the church removed prior to God’s wrath?
  • Is the church absent in Revelation 4-18?
  • Is the book of Revelation linear?

Though he has, for the most part, avoided giving his personal positions, Dr. Heiser closes out the series sharing his list of strong suspicions, points of uncertainty, and “no prayer of being right” about eschatology.

VidAngel Review: Low Cost Filtered Movies

VidAngelI have a confession to make: I love movies. Unfortunately many of the movies I’m interested in seeing have questionable or downright unacceptable content from a Christian perspective. While I probably won’t be accused of being a prude, I have become more conscientious  about what I allow into my (and my kids’) brain. That’s where VidAngel comes in with a handy solution: low cost filtered movies and TV shows. VidAngel‘s cost is so low, in fact, you may want to use their service even if you’re not interested in filtering.

VidAngel allows you to stream movies and TV with custom filters on several different platforms (Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast, Android, Smart TVs, and via the web). The custom filters allow you to remove language (cursing/profanity), sex/nudity/immodesty, violence/blood/gore, alcohol and drug use, and even the remove opening and closing credits.

Filters can be extensive and remove all levels of objectionable content, only remove the most extreme elements, somewhere in between, or apply no filtering at all. What is filtered is up to you.  Here are the filter options for sex/nudity/immodesty, for instance:

VidAngel filter

Each of the lines in the image above is a filter which can be left on or turned off. The lines with a strike through (like “Implied Nudity”) are turned on, so that content will not be seen when the video is streamed. Turning a filter on or off is a simple as a mouse click. Filter settings can be saved as an account default which then filters all the movies you stream, or you can apply filters on a movie-by-movie basis.

Movies and TV episodes are $1.00 for SD or $2.00 for HD if watched within 24 hours. Admittedly VidAngel‘s purchase system felt a little fishy to me initially, but having done it many times now I’m completely comfortable with it.  Apparently it isn’t legal for VidAngel to rent you a filtered movie. But there’s a loophole: once you own a movie you can do whatever you like with it, including having VidAngel stream a filtered version of the movie to you.

The VidAngel purchase page.
A sample VidAngel purchase page.

A “rental” from VidAngel consists of you buying the movie from them for $20.00, streaming your filtered movie within 24 hours, then selling back the movie to VidAngel for $19.00 if you watched the movie in SD or $18.00 if you watched it in HD.  So streaming the filtered movie cost you either $1.00 for SD or $2.00 for HD. VidAngel includes the option to auto-sellback once you’ve finished the video which makes the sellback extremely easy. You can also skip the sellback altogether, keep the movie permanently in your account, and stream the filtered version whenever you like with no further charge (though I’ve never done this myself).

My family has streamed over 20 different movies from VidAngel over several months with virtually no issues. We primarily purchase and stream movies via Roku, though I’ve purchased and streamed them from web browser and beamed them to Chromecast as well. I can’t speak to their customer support as I’ve had no need to contact them about anything so far.  Billing and sellback have always gone off without a hitch.

As for the edits made based on your filter settings, I’d rate them as quite good. They’re easily as good as edited for TV versions of movies, maybe better. When entire scenes are removed (for, say, sexual content)I’m typically not even aware it has happened.  Language edits are not bleeps, but simply cut the sound so there is a moment of silence which is minimally intrusive.

Overall I can heartily recommend VidAngel to anyone who is interested in filtering language, sexual content, or other potentially objectionable material. And at $1.00 per movie for 24 hours VidAngel may be the most cost effective way to watch a movie you aren’t able to watch elsewhere (like Netflix) even if you don’t do any filtering at all.

Try out your first movie or TV show on VidAngel here.

VidAngel
VidAngel Price

Is an implanted microchip the mark of the Beast?

Mark-of-the-BeastI’ve been seeing a lot of fear mongering lately on social media in regard to microchip implants as the Biblical mark of the Beast. I agree with Hank Hanegraff that a microchip under your skin is in and of itself nothing to worry about:

Finally, the mark of the Beast is not something that can be taken inadvertently. It is the intentional denial in thought, word, and deed of the lordship of Jesus Christ. Thus, rather than fearfully avoiding microchip technology, we should with fear and trembling resist the temptation to be conformed to the evil systems of this world. Instead, we must boldly accept the mark of the Lamb by offering our bodies as living sacrifices and by being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12).

While I’m sure there are privacy and health implications, just having an implant under your skin has no effect on your status before God. As long as whoever is implanting the chip doesn’t require you to swear allegiance to someone other than Jesus, if the benefits of having an implant seem good to you then I say go for it.

Ministry Link Roundup (May 12, 2016)

Links

Recent articles about ministry, pastoring, and church leadership I found interesting and helpful (in no particular order):


Should You Stay or Go? (Mark Dever)

Sometimes young Christians hear the command to “go” and treat it like the basic command of the Christian life. That’s a fairly short-sighted way to think. Once you go, you have to stay. If you’re always going, nothing will ever get done except the accumulation of more frequent flyer miles. In order for the go to have any meaning, you need to stay for a significant amount of time—a few weeks, a few years, maybe the rest of a life.


Advice for Preaching Funeral Sermons (H.B. Charles, Jr)

I also offered offered several pieces of advice. It was a text-message. Not the way to elaborate. Yet I shared this advice with my friend: Brief. Gospel-centered. Be sensitive to family. There are other important factors to consider when preaching funerals. But these three pieces of advice are a good place to start.


How to Remember Someone’s Name (Scott Slayton)

For followers of Jesus we want to love our neighbors as ourselves, and this begins with learning their name when you meet them. Therefore, we want to give attention to learning the names of people we meet as an extension of our living on Jesus’ mission in this world.


10 questions to ask before you lead a meeting (Steven Kryger)

Steven Kryger shares 10 questions to help you plan and lead better meetings.


Lessons I Learned From My Mistakes in Preaching – Kevin DeYoung

Book Review: “The Treasure Principle” by Randy Alcorn

The Treasure Principle by Randy AlcornRandy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle does not look like a book I would typically read.  It’s a short, small format hardcover (a la The Prayer of Jabez) with a title that conjures prosperity gospel promises of blessings from God in this life. Precisely the sort of book I would usually avoid reading. But I’ve recently had several brushes with Alcorn’s material, appreciated much of what he had to say, and had intended to pick up one of his many books when I had the chance.  It just happened that the first Alcorn book I ran across was The Treasure Principle. And I’m very glad it was.

Despite what the title might lead you to assume, The Treasure Principle is not about gaining treasure in this world. Rather, the book is grounded in Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”–Matthew 6:19-21

Alcorn points out that one of our advantages as Christians is we know, one way or another, the end of this life is coming:

As a Christian, you have inside knowledge of an eventual worldwide upheaval caused by Christ’s return. This is the ultimate insider trading tip: Earth’s currency will become worthless when Christ returns – or when you die, whichever comes first. (And either event could happen at any time.)

Because we know this life will come to an end and everything we have will be left behind, Alcorn wisely encourages us to follow the Treasure Principle: “You can’t take it with you–but you can send it on ahead.”

If you feel uncomfortable with the idea that Christians ought to be motivated by Heavenly reward (and not just the love of God), Alcorn reminds the reader that it is Jesus Himself who told us to store up treasure in Heaven. “If it were wrong,” Alcorn writes, “Christ wouldn’t offer it to us as a motivation. Reward is His idea, not ours.”

Alcorn then expands the Treasure Principle into 6 “Treasure Principle Keys”:

1) God owns everything; I’m His money manager.

We are the managers of the assets God has entrusted–not given–to us.

2) My heart always goes where I put God’s money.

Watch what happens when you reallocate your money from temporal things to eternal things.

3) Heaven–the New Earth, not the present one–is my home.

We are citizens of “a better country–a heavenly one”. (Hebrews 11:16)

4) I should live today not for the dot, but for the line.

From the dot–our present life on earth–extends a line that goes on forever, which is eternity in Heaven.

5) Giving is the only antidote to Materialism.

Giving is a joyful surrender to a greater person and a greater agenda. It dethrones me and exalts Him.

6) God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.

God gives us more money than we need so we can give–generously.

The Treasure Principle is overflowing with great illustrations and anecdotes supporting Alcorn’s keys. One of the most powerful anecdotes comes from Alcorn’s own life: he has been forced by a multi-million dollar court judgment to live on minimum wage since the early ’90s.  Yet Alcorn views this turn of events as “one of the best things that ever happened” because “God used it to help [him] understand what He means by ‘Everything under Heaven belongs to me’ (Job 41:11).”

The book concludes with “31 Radical, Liberating Questions to Ask God About Your Giving” which give a practical way to move forward with shifting your finances toward storing up treasure in the next life.

If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time I suspect none of the ideas Alcorn presents will be new or surprising to you. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read this book.  If you’re like me you often go about your day storing up treasures in this world while paying lip service to the next life, and I found The Treasure Principle to be the “shot in the arm” I needed to push me to the next step of faith in giving.

In The Treasure Principle  Randy Alcorn excels at encouraging the reader to shift their focus off the treasure of this world and on to the next.  I agree with Alcorn when he says in the book:

The fact that you’re reading these words is likely part of God’s plan to change your life–and in turn to change history and eternity.

Never condemning but often convicting, The Treasure Principle is a book every Christian ought to read while conducting a self-evaluation of where their treasure is being stored up. If you take the teachings of this book seriously you won’t be able to walk away unchanged.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click here to view the book on Amazon.

Link Roundup (May 9, 2016)

Links

 

Here are some recent articles and links I found helpful and/or interesting (in no particular order). Emphasis in quotes is typically mine.


A Basic Income Should Be the Next Big Thing (Paula Dwyer, Bloomberg View)

This may be happening with the concept of a universal basic income. The notion that government should guarantee every citizen an annual stipend of, say, $10,000 — no strings attached, no questions asked — is being studied by politicians, economists and policy experts worldwide.


Is This For Real? (Stacey Hare)

Our lives here in Cameroon are becoming our “new normal” but every once and a while we look at one another and say, “Is this for real?” Here are some funny examples…

Our church is pretty much made of leaves. We have palm branches for the walls and woven leaves for the roof. Often, in the middle of our services, our dog comes running full speed through one of the walls in the church to find us. It is so embarrassing.

One day a lady sitting behind me laid her head down on my back and fell asleep.

Today in church there was some sort of large (winged?) creature right over my head eating through the roof trying to get in. Would it be rude to look up to see what kind creature is about to fall on my head? Or should I just ignore it?  Luckily the service ended before the creature could get in.

There are tiny biting ants that fall from the ceiling in church and bite all of us during the services.


American Christians, You Might Need to Start Living Like Missionaries (Amy Medina)

Before you get offended, let me assure you that I am in no way belittling the millions of American Christians who are already living out gospel-centered lives in their communities.  As you learned in Sunday School when you were five, we all are missionaries.

But I’m not talking about living as a proclaimer of the gospel, I’m talking about living as if America is not your country.  As outsiders.  Exiles.  As if you are living in a country that is not your own.  


The Projected Improvement in Life Expectancy (Bill McBride)

[For those born in] 1900, 25,2% died before age 20.  And another 26.8% died before 55.

In 1950, 5.3% died before age 20.  And another 18.7% died before 55.  A dramatic decline in early deaths.

In 2010, 1.5% are projected to die before age 20.  And only 9.7% before 55.  A dramatic decline in prime working age deaths.


Science Turned Me Away from Atheism | Alister McGrath, PhD (Theology, Philosophy and Science)

Book Review: “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely ConvertThe Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert recounts the unlikely story of Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion to Christianity. In the late ’90s, Butterfield was living a contented life as a lesbian professor of English at Syracuse University specializing in “Queer Theory.” Butterfield describes herself at the time as not just a lesbian, but a lesbian activist, who viewed Christians as “bad thinkers” and “bad readers” who “bring the Bible into a conversation to stop the conversation, not deepen it.”

Despite being entrenched in a worldview and lifestyle almost as far as one could be on the opposite end of the spectrum from classical Christianity, Butterfield’s intention to write a a book about the rise of the religious right set her down a path which ultimately led to her conversion to Christianity.  Along with that conversion she ultimately abandoned her lesbianism, feminism, and even her job to become, in her words, just as much of an “out Christian” as she had previously been an “out lesbian.”

But The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert ends up being about much more than just Butterfield’s conversion. I estimate that close to 50% of the book is about her post-conversion life as a member of the Reformed Presbyterian church, her marriage to pastor Kent Butterfield, adoption and foster care, and homeschooling. Most of this is simply Butterfield sharing the facts and events of her life with a light explanation of the Biblical ideals which have driven her in these directions after her conversion.

While I doubt someone in a similar position to Butterfield prior to her conversion would find the book to be a convincing case for converting to Christianity, I would guess that was not Butterfield’s intention in writing it.  Viewed as simply a autobiographical account of how God can work transforming miracles in even the most hardened sinner, I feel The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is a success. While I disagree with some of her theological positions–the view that church gatherings should only sing Psalms, for example–there are no issues serious enough to deter me from recommending this book to Christians or non-Christians.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click here to view the book on Amazon.

Link Roundup (May 2, 2016)

Links

 

Here are some recent articles and links I found helpful and/or interesting (in no particular order). Emphasis in quotes is typically mine.


Parchments (Mike Wittmer, Don’t Stop Believing)

Each copy of Romans would have taken 2-3 days to write out, and scholars estimate this epistle would have cost Paul at least US$2,275 in today’s dollars. Books such as Luke and Acts are twice as long, and would have cost at least US$7,000 each, not counting Luke’s research expenses. Perhaps Luke dedicated his books to Theophilus because he was the patron who covered his costs (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3).


How Do You Explain the Trinity to Children? (Russell Moore)

Sometimes we seek a quick analogy [for the Trinity] for children because we want to put our kids out of their mystery. If the Trinity is an easy explanation (it’s like a shamrock; it’s like water, ice, and steam), we can “move on.” We’re afraid if we say that the Trinity is in some ways beyond comprehension that our kids won’t trust us to tell them with confidence about the truth of the gospel.


Is it Biblical for Churches to Require a Tithe? (Jonathan Leeman, For the Church)

We should instruct the congregation as a whole to give (see 2 Cor. 8-9; 1 Cor. 9:14), but we cannot require it of any individual, say, by threatening them with excommunication. After all, people should give “not reluctantly or under compulsion,” but cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7). We cannot compel them.


The Biggest Issue Evangelicals Will Face For the Next 50 Years (Josh Daffern, New Wineskins)

As important is issues of religious liberty, sanctity of life and biblical standards of personhood and sexuality are, they are all symptoms of a much bigger narrative. The biggest issue American Evangelicals will face for the next 50 years is how we handle our transition from a moral majority to a prophetic minority. We are living in a post-Christian nation. The golden years of Christian influence on government and culture are behind us.


Bill Mounce: Can We Trust Bible Translations? (Seedbed)

 

Number of Christians in China to surpass USA by 2025

China

While some see the decline of Christianity in the United States as a clear indication that we’re fast approaching the end times, the fact remains that Christianity is on the rise in other parts of the world.  Take China, for instance, where a recent article from The Telegraph cites research which projects that the number of Protestant Christians in China will surpass the number in the USA by 2025:

In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

Unfortunately, this growth is divided between “illegal underground ‘house churches’, which hold unsupervised services – often in people’s homes – in an attempt to evade the prying eyes of the Communist Party” and those who are willing to fall in line with Communist ideology:

“They want the pastor to preach in a Communist way. They want to train people to practice in a Communist way,” said the house-church preacher, who said state churches often shunned potentially subversive sections of the Bible. The Old Testament book in which the exiled Daniel refuses to obey orders to worship the king rather than his own god is seen as “very dangerous”, the preacher added.

Read the full story here.