Be Careful Studying the Bible, You Could Be Deceived

Ok, ok, I admit I’m about to contradict myself and I say that to head-off the negative comments, the subject elicits enough of its own. In my last post, I argued that the reason end-time prophecy has been made complicated is because almost everyone comes to the biblical text with an end-time view before they have actually read the end-time prophecies themselves. Therefore, rather than our end-time view coming from Scripture, we read a view into Scripture. These ideas we bring to the Sacred Text are called presuppositions. And I spent close to a thousand words (which was way more than you wanted to read) in that post urging you to put yourself in theological neutral when you come to the Bible, throwing off all your preconceived views and read the Bible and let it shape your view.

But now in the first post of my follow-up series, The Endtime Views Series, I’m going to argue that there is a presupposition we all MUST take to the text. I realize the contradiction—throw off presuppositions last week and a presupposition is necessary this week.

But this presupposition that you must have guards against other presuppositions that are dangerous.

And what is this must have presupposition?

The presupposition of deception.

When we come to read, interpret, and understand the Bible we MUST know that the Bible warns that we haven an enemy whose number one tool is deception and that we are susceptive to that deception (1 Peter 5:8, John 10:10, John 8:44, Eph. 6:11-12, 2 Cor. 2:11). Not only are we warned that our enemy deceives, but we are warned that we will gravitate to teachings that allows us to carry out our own evil desires (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We’re also warned that our hearts can be fickle (Jer. 17:9), and that we struggle to give ourselves trustworthy self-assessments (James 1:23). And on top of all that every New Testament book, but Philemon warns of false teachers (1 Tim 4:1-4).

So, let’s think through this.

The last book in the New Testament was finished no more than sixty years after Jesus ascended into Heaven. The majority of the Epistles which tell the recipients that they have already been bewitched or led astray were only thirty years removed from Jesus’ return to the Father. Those first Christians only thirty to forty years away from the start of this Movement were warned they had been and could be deceived, they would gravitate to false teaching, and there would be false teachers.

Therefore, now nearly two-thousand years later, we’re in a mess. Satan and demonic

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vermin have had six-hundred times the amount of time they had to bewitch the believers of Galatia and Thyatira. We’ve had two-thousand years to bend and mold Scripture to fit our own desires. And in two-thousand years the false teaching profession has masterfully grown. We’re drowning in deception and each day new schemes are created. And if I make it sound bleak—it’s because it is. And it’s with the weight of this bleakness in which we should come to the Text. We should know that we’re a boat on the sea that can be easily tossed by the waves and pulled by the undertows. We need to know that EVERY pastor, scholar, teacher, professor, commentary writer, author, and advice-giving friend is also susceptible of being deceived.

When we see our enemy is scheming, doctrinal booby traps have been set, and we need Holy Spirit-provided armor then we are set to more accurately read and interpret the Bible. It is in the sweating that we may understand the Bible wrong that we can begin to accurately divide the Word. It is at this point that we have developed the presupposition of deception and we know to be careful studying the Bible—you could be deceived.

 

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Bonus: Helpful Hints to Utilize the Presupposition of Deception

So…now what? For one, don’t be too afraid to read and study the Bible, but we must respect that we are at war in finding the truth. But we can know the truth. We have been given the Holy Spirit to illuminate and guide us. We’ve also been given solid hermeneutical practices. I want to share a few things that I utilize to try to work through the deception.

 

  1. Read the Bible – Yes, it’s that simple, read what the Bible says. Meditate on what it says. Go beyond just isolated verses and read the context and the whole council. Don’t just take someone’s word for it, read it for yourself and again read in context.

 

  1. Seek God Holistically and Balanced – I know this sounds crazy but believe it or not many try to read and study the Bible without seeking any other spiritual growth or by the same token they do spiritual practices without reading the Word. In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul tells us to fight Satan’s attacks by putting on the full armor of God. He doesn’t just tell us to read the Bible or just share the Gospel. We’re to equally cover our life in all aspects of following Christ.

 

  1. Walk in the Spirit – This goes with the previous point, but make sure you have a regular time with God. A quiet time, devotional, or whatever you wanna call it. Regularly seek Him.

 

  1. Interpret Scripture with Scripture – This is a hermeneutical principle and there are other like principles I could list, but I don’t share this as a principle but as a reminder that you have to not just read the parts of the Bible you want to read. If we’re to interpret Scripture with Scripture then we have to read the whole council of God’s Word. For example, it was not until I immersed myself in the Old Testament that end-time prophecy came alive. And the whole council of Scripture also points us to understanding the reasoning and purpose of certain aspects like Samuel Whitefield has written about in his new book, It Must Be Finished.

 

  1. Keep Assessing Yourself – No matter how spiritual we may think we are, we still will always gravitate to teachings that allow us to live out our desires or take the path of least resistance. We must constantly be peering into our own hearts and asking if our interpretation is self-serving or the truth. And self-serving can also extend to preserving our status in our own churches and denominations.

 

  1. Go Back to the Beginning and the Restarts – Yes, we need to read and work through Scripture ourselves, but we will have to turn for help. We must “check” our work with trusted sources. There are tons of sources to turn to—commentaries, books, sermons, and preachers both past and present. I always check my work with the beginning of Christianity by returning to the Church Fathers especially the earliest ones. Does this mean they are right on everything—NO! But I believe they have the greatest opportunity to have a less tarnished interpretation. Next, I go to the various restarts, reforms, and revivals in Christian history to see what was sought to be corrected. Of course, the largest volume of these would be the Reformers. Again, they weren’t right on everything. But not just the reformers, there have been many times throughout history when there has been an attempt to hit reset on a doctrine or practice. A recent example is over the last ten to fifteen years, as Joel Richardson has brought to the forefront the understanding that the final empire of Daniel 2 could be the Islamic Caliphate rather than the Roman Empire. Richardson’s view is new, but it calls us back to reexamine the text. When a practice or doctrine is reviewed by returning us to the Bible that is a restart we should consider.
 
 
Also join our newsletter. Twice a month get a load of tools to help you prepare for challenges now and in the future. Register here

 

 
Jake McCandless is an award-winning author and the executive director for Stand Firm Ministries and Prophecy Simplified . A long-time pastor who is now co-pastor of the innovatve “above-ground underground,” online church, Endtime.Church., Jake has a B.A. in Bible and Pastoral Studies from Central Baptist College, and an Advanced Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book Spiritual Prepper released through WND Books, He also is a regular contributor to WND News with voices such as Joseph Farrah, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Ben Carson, Chuck Norris, Joel Richardson, Carl Gallups. He also writes for the The Baptist Press along with other publications. He is also a regular guest on national radio and streaming web shows, along with hosting his daily radio program Prophecy Simplified Radio and weekly podcast Hold On.  Jake is married to Amanda and they have two daughters Andrea and Addison. You can follow all Jake’s work at www.jakemccandless.com. 
  

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Declaration Series IV: Bible Prophecy Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated, Read It

So, I have this tagline for my Bible prophecy teaching ministry and it’s not very helpful.

I advertise I want to be the boring prophecy guy. I know I need some marketing tips—you know anyone? And I learned really quick, prophecy-intrigued audiences don’t want the boring prophecy guy, they want the great-code-breaker or the wild conspiracist. But I have kept the tagline because there is not an end-time code to break (even if there are thirty books in Amazon’s prophecy Top 100 with that in the title). Now there are some mysteries, but not as many as we make it out to be. I’m convinced Bible prophecy doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it. 

I want to be the boring prophecy guy because the Bible is clear on many aspects of the end-times, and those things are what we should focus on and they’re enough to understand what we need to understand. Bible prophecy is not complicated rather we are the ones who have muddied the prophecy interpretation waters, God’s Word has not failed. Bible scholars before us have created systems or views of prophecy interpretation and we now adopt one of those views before we read. We then read with those presuppositions which often creates great complications. That is why we’re so confused.

It wasn’t until I placed my heart and mind in theological-neutral and actually read the words of the prophets and Revelation that the chaos vanished, and truth rose to the surface. It was a painstaking journey through the Old Testament that brought the end of the age to focus. And this journey was after college and seminary. So, I acknowledge, such study is work, but, frankly, I found I hadn’t read and truly worked through the texts myself. And this arrival at actually just reading the texts and trying to push my presupposition aside was only a few years ago. I want to share my journey of end-time understanding to draw attention to the fact that we are setting our minds on an end-time view before even reading Scripture.

Long before I even read the “main” end-time verses, my mind was set on how they should be interpreted. Long before I read about the end-times, I had read and watched the Left Behind series. I had watched A Thief in the Night. I listened to DC Talk. The only sense of the end-time scenario I had was a pending, quick as lightning, neatly-folded-clothes rapture.

I went into Bible College with this view while the only verse in Revelation I had really read was Revelation 3:15-16 (which again was prompted by DC Talk). In the summer, after my freshman year,  before I had any teaching on the end of the age, I picked up a book on Revelation from my local Christian book store. I actually knew nothing of the author nor his view, but as a passionate youth pastor, I spent the summer teaching through that book. A book , that I now know, only contained proof texts.

Finally, in my sophomore year I had Eschatology and was taught premillennial dispensationalism was the one and only way in which The Book of Revelation could be interpreted. Therefore, I chose my stance I was a Clarence-Larkin-chart-memorizing Dispensational Premillennialist, hard and firm, that the rapture would be before the tribulation. I read nothing from opposing views, rather swore them off as evil.

Fast forward to seminary, my first semester Systematic Theology class further persuaded me to be a staunch dispensationalist. But as I progressed in my studies and began to take on the air of a scholar—I came to believe that premillies were hoaky  and uneducated, and for one to truly be a scholar than he or she must be an amillennialist. Reluctant, to take the amillennial title, I just quit teaching and talking about end-times stuff—rather I became just focused on the Gospel. I took on a more-worthy cause because (I hope you read this with the sarcastic tone I’m typing in) the end-times is only peripheral to the Gospel, Missions, and Church planting.

Then came fourth-year summer term course on The Book of Revelation. That professor was a real scholar (again that tone), he taught that The Book of Revelation was just a spiritual metaphor to the completion of suffering. I now had my ammo to take on the banner of an amillie. And to sound even cooler, I was an amillennialist who viewed The Book of Revelation through an eclectic interpretation. Some literal. Most spiritual and metaphorical. It depended on which commentator sounded the best.

Let’s fast forward a few more years, I was pastoring and had realized (following my Hebrew grades) I was not a scholar. And my tree-stand readings had been from David Jeremiah, so again I came over to the premill camp, but I wasn’t sure about dispensationalism. As you can see I’ve had quite the end-time view journey, but this latest chapter of the journey has brought me to a point of stability. 

If you agree with Jake that Bible prophecy should lead to action. Then get his latest book, Spiritual Prepper.

Three years ago, I taught an Old Testament Survey course at a lay seminary. And it was through that painstaking study through the Old Testament focused on the covenants, that I finally dug in and read Scripture. Now I had read the Bible cover to cover, but never dug in and really focused on books like the Minor Prophets. That grind through the Bible with presuppositions thrown to the side woke me up. It woke me up to the importance of end-times prophecy and how that it was not as complicated as we make it.

A month ago, I celebrated my twentieth year in ministry. And I now realize I spent the first seventeen years treating end-time views like a pizza buffet. I would look at the options—premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism and then pick the one that sounded best. Pretribulation, mid-tribulation, pre-wrath, or post-tribulation—again which ever looked best. Futurism, preterism, or symbolism—again whatever flavor I felt like picking.

We can’t do this! End-time views or theological views of any kind aren’t slices of pizza on a buffet. Rather, they need to be birthed from the text. Scripture itself is to lend us the view we should take. And a straight forward reading of the Bible makes the selecting of views quite easy.

So, how have you come to your end-time view? Was it selected off a buffet or birthed from the text? Was it concluded from reading the Bible or through recommendation of a friend? Have you put in the hard work and actually read the Bible?

The issue is too important to just pick a view especially if you are teaching and leading others.

So, what are the end-time views I have now become convinced to be true? Well, if I told you that would go against the point of this post. Instead of me telling you that, how about you read the Scriptures because Bible prophecy doesn’t have to be complicated.  
 
Also join our newsletter. Twice a month get a load of tools to help you prepare for challenges now and in the future. Register here

 

 
Jake McCandless is an award-winning author and the executive director for Stand Firm Ministries and Prophecy Simplified . A long-time pastor who is now co-pastor of the innovatve “above-ground underground,” online church, Endtime.Church., Jake has a B.A. in Bible and Pastoral Studies from Central Baptist College, and an Advanced Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book Spiritual Prepper released through WND Books, He also is a regular contributor to WND News with voices such as Joseph Farrah, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Ben Carson, Chuck Norris, Joel Richardson, Carl Gallups. He also writes for the The Baptist Press along with other publications. He is also a regular guest on national radio and streaming web shows, along with hosting his daily radio program Prophecy Simplified Radio and weekly podcast Hold On.  Jake is married to Amanda and they have two daughters Andrea and Addison. You can follow all Jake’s work at www.jakemccandless.com. 
  

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Declaration of War: People are Leaving the Faith, I Want to Help

I’m declaring war against an epidemic in America. No more timidity. No more holding back. There is too much on the line. What is at stake is too important.

If you follow Stand Firm Ministries or anything I’ve been up to the past couple of years, then you have heard my story. And I know, it’s yada, yada, but again–here I go. If you’re familiar with the story, you have my permission to skip the next paragraph, but not permission to exit the screen!

I was serving as pastor at a church I loved, with people I love. Life and ministry was great. We’d been there for 11 years. The church and the community were our life, and life was good! Then I began to follow a long-time prompting of the Holy Spirit to write. In doing so, somehow, I began to write about prophecies in the Bible that we often overlook, prophecies that not only tell about the political and doomsday-type stuff at the end of the age, but rather tell how we will be in terms of our faith and morality. The image Scripture gives us is not good. Matthew 24:10 warns, many of us will turn away. That prophecy opened my eyes to the reality all around us—many had already left the faith in America. An astounding forty-two million by 2015. When faced with challenges in life, many professed Christians are splitting from the church and often the faith. This was alarming, especially since other prophecies tell us those challenges will only grow more difficult.

In response to the leading of the Spirit and the findings mentioned above, I left that pastorate and began Stand Firm Ministries and Prophecy Simplified. Stand Firm Ministries was established to encourage believers to hold-on to their faith, and Prophecy Simplified to share Scripturally and simplistically the challenges that will come our way in the future.

My number one hope is to encourage local churches across the nation with the message to hold on to their faith and identify the coming challenges to the faith. Due to the stigmatism that accompanies prophecy, I have carefully guarded what I say, not wanting to hinder future opportunities. Let’s be honest, we tend to think prophecy teachers are tin-foil hat wearing crazies. At least I did. So, I have walked on eggshells constantly laying out the prayer-fleece, so I’d not cross the line into crazy-town. But I can’t walk that tight rope anymore. I can’t suppress the truth. Too much is at stake. 

Millions across the nation are departing the church and faith. Europe already has. This very morning, the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting held a meeting on the possibility that the denomination was dying. Yes, part of all this turning away is just the “wheat and tares harvest”, but the causalities do not have to be so high. Church members need to be encouraged to hold the line now, and we need to begin ministries to welcome back those who have walked away.

We need to know what the Bible is clear about in terms of the end. We need to recognize what has been and is being fulfilled before our very eyes. We need to be prepared to remain faithful now and in the future.

There I’ve said it.

I put my foot in my mouth.

I committed myself.

I exposed a calling, I’ve carried out sheepishly.

I hope you hold me to it. The stakes are high. Therefore, I declare war. My gauntlet is thrown down. On this hill I die. I declare war on silence. I declare war on not shouting down warnings from the wall. I declare war on the challenges that are blindsiding Christians and causing them to abandon their faith. I declare war on not being chicken-little announcing the sky is falling because it is.

Please, consider having me share in your church about this message. More than that, declare war yourself, commit to hold on.

The stakes are high—Stand Firm.

 
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Jake McCandless is an award-winning author and the executive director for Stand Firm Ministries and Prophecy Simplified . A long-time pastor who is now co-pastor of the innovatve “above-ground underground,” online church, Endtime.Church., Jake has a B.A. in Bible and Pastoral Studies from Central Baptist College, and an Advanced Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book Spiritual Prepper released through WND Books, He also is a regular contributor to WND News with voices such as Joseph Farrah, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Ben Carson, Chuck Norris, Joel Richardson, Carl Gallups. He also writes for the The Baptist Press along with other publications. He is also a regular guest on national radio and streaming web shows, along with hosting his daily radio program Prophecy Simplified Radio and weekly podcast Hold On.  Jake is married to Amanda and they have two daughters Andrea and Addison. You can follow all Jake’s work at www.jakemccandless.com. 
  

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Uncertain About What’s Next

The tassels on each end of the golden honor chord, bright against the black collegiate gown, swayed slightly with each step. She paused, took a deep breath, and waited for what came next. As our daughter’s full name was announced, followed by, “Bachelor of Science, Missions, Magna Cum Laude,” Marinna crossed the stage, shook the hand of the college president and received the degree she worked so hard to earn – with honors.

Mixed emotions flooded my soul. Pride, awe, relief, joy, fear, confidence, peace, and uncertainty for what comes next.

Pride, because from the beginning of her college search, she targeted one place for one reason. She chose a specific private Christian college to equip her to serve the Lord in ministry. To be sure of her convictions and her calling, my husband and I offered options. She held firm to her decision and received the necessary scholarships to resolve any financial obstacles. What Christian parent wouldn’t be pleased with that?

Marinna felt God directed her, and she held on believing He would provide.

He did.

I stand in awe of her spiritual growth, focus, and her Christian convictions. While far from perfect, as a deacon’s kid and a pastor’s kid all her life, Marinna’s consistent exposure to the Word of God set a firm foundation for her. However, a strong-willed, openly opinionated child combined with our parenting faults and failings, created a real opportunity for quite the opposite. More so, I stand in awe of all God placed before her despite our parenting mistakes. I praise Him for giving her the wisdom to make good choices. As her parents, we hold on trusting God to finish the good works He started in her. (Phil 1:6)

As our graduate paused next to the college president, turned, and smiled at the camera, I released a long, slow sigh of relief as if letting go of the spiritual breath I held since her adolescence. The challenging seasons of preteen, teen, and college passed without irrational decisions, irresponsible behavior, or irreparable damage. The chick in the nest remained safe and ready to fly.

With college finished, for now at least, joy fills us for many reasons: her ministry focus; academic accomplishments; finishing college without debt. But what fills me most with joy is witnessing her growth in the Lord – both scholastic and spiritual.

Is she still strong willed, opinionated and stubborn? Yes! Imagine those traits, coupled with quick wit and a fearless nature all focused on the Lord and not the desires of this world. I fear for the opposition she will face, for her sake and theirs. Strong-willed individuals are famous for their relentlessness – a doubled edge sword for sure. Oh, the stories I could tell, but I won’t – not yet, anyway.

Marinna exudes confidence and self-assurance. However, my confidence in her arises not from her own, but from God. I hold on knowing God clasps my daughter in the palm of His hand. Wherever He takes her, whatever He calls her to do, whomever He calls her to be, He will equip her, supply her needs, and finish His great work in her. As long as she remains in the center of His will, peace settles in my heart.

Then, uncertainty disrupts the peace when my mind speaks louder than my heart. The mental conversation seems more like a ping pong match between the two. So many unsettled questions served up in one part of my mind end up answered by another. “What’s next? Will she be close, or far away? Will she immediately find vocational ministry, or remain in a secular job?” Then, “God knows. God’s got this. God’s got her.”  Letting go proves difficult, especially for the parents of an only child.

            Maybe you feel the same. Whether your child is graduating kindergarten, high school, or college, maybe you also wrestle with the uncertainty of the future even as you know, “God’s got this.” Or maybe a heavy heart weighs on you as our cunning enemy lures your child away from God. Are you burdened with guilt, questioning every parenting decision you ever made, wishing things for your child would turn out differently? Maybe even as a model parent, your child chose a path contrary to the Will of God leaving you standing by, stunned, and unsure of anything.

            Maybe you are the graduate and you are fighting the fear of an uncertain future.

            Read these words.

            Hold on.

            Do. Not. Give. Up.

Trust God no matter what. Hang on in faith and pray.

Please understand, I know those words are easier said than lived. God never promised our walk with Him would be easy. Our strength for the required endurance comes from Him.

While we are proud of our daughter, God is the hero of this story – not Marinna, and certainly not our parenting skills. [If only you knew!] Even just one wrong choice opens the door for a very different outcome. Sometimes someone else’s wrong choice impacts us and changes everything.

As parents, we desire the best for our children. We want to protect them.

We know the dangers of this world, potential pitfalls, and the active work of an enemy who wishes to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). We see evidence of his destruction and evil every day. We pray – and we should, without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

God holds the answers to all things, is everywhere, and can protect my daughter no matter what. Knowing this gives me peace and provides comfort when I am uncertain about what comes next.

I pray you find peace and comfort in that as well.

           “For I know the plans I have for you – this is the Lord’s declaration – plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 HCSB)

 

(Editor’s Note: Thank you, President Terry Kimbrow, and the faculty and staff of Central Baptist College of Conway, AR, for our daughter’s quality Bible education.)

Rita Halter Thomas is a staff writer for Prophecy Simplified, providing HOLD ON Stories to encourage you to hold on to your faith. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of a college missions major.  She is also an award-winning writer, the founder of The Write Editor, http://thewriteeditor.com, and a former newspaper and magazine publisher with 23 years’ experience in print and digital media. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
 
  

 


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Roots to Stand Upon

                “Oh, yay! I will finally have roots,” our eight-year-old daughter squealed.

            I remember well that day in 2004. My husband and I felt God calling us back to Arkansas from the Midwest, so once our direction became clear, we shared our plans. Marinna’s response to our announcement struck a chord in my heart.

            Roots. That word settled deep in my soul.

            Why I never thought about her absence of roots, or her need for it, I really don’t know. Preoccupied? Oblivious? Who knows? But in her excitement I realized she spent more time without extended family surrounding her than with them. When we left our home state five and a half years prior, Marinna was only two years old. Her young mind remembered very little of the years we lived near family.

            Living 750 miles away, trips home were limited to once or twice per year.

            She wanted roots.

            Without family in the area when we moved to Nebraska, we depended upon new relationships to fill the void. (God intervened, and that’s great story for another day.)  With a fourteen-hour drive one way, weekend visits were not an option. We also moved four times in five and a half years for my job.

            No family ties. No roots.

            Not in Nebraska.

            Not in South Dakota.

            Marinna attended schools with children whose families lived in the same area for generations. The towns were small so many of her friends’ classmates attended school with their cousins. She desired that familial connection. She wanted that link to her history and her heritage.

            She needed roots.

            No wonder the news of our return to Arkansas resulted in her spontaneous squeal of excitement.

            But not just anywhere in Arkansas.

            Central Arkansas.

            Home.

            Finally, Marinna connected with her roots. Family – not friends who became family – a blood link.

            My friends, as Christians, we have a blood link through Jesus Christ. We are family, adopted heirs of the throne through our faith in Jesus, by the blood He shed for us as an atonement for our sins. When we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we are rooted in the family of God.

            When we accept Him, we have roots like no other roots.

            When we accept Him, we have a home like no other home.

            When we accept Him, we have family like no other family.

            There is no distance too great for Him to cross every single moment of every single day.

            There is no place beyond His reach; no hurt He cannot heal; no family He cannot repair; no home He cannot rebuild; no promise He will ever break.

            Are we dysfunctional at times? Without a doubt. But while we are flawed human beings, we are His children. He is our Father.

            Christian, trust Him with everything.

            Stand firm on your Heavenly roots.

            Hold tight to your Holy family tree.

            Fourteen years ago, our young daughter erupted with excitement about finally being home with family, firmly planted in her roots.

            God rooted deep within us a desire in our hearts for Him; the want to be near Him; to need Him.

            As Christians, when we make our heavenly move home, we will no longer feel unsettled, restless, or sometimes distant from the one and only God who loves us so much, He gave us the life of His son, Jesus.

            That’s some kind of deep root.

            That’s some kind of blood link.

            That’s some kind of love.
 
 
 
 
Rita Halter Thomas is a staff writer for Prophecy Simplified, providing HOLD ON Stories to encourage you to hold on to your faith. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of a college missions major.  She is also an award-winning writer, the founder of The Write Editor, http://thewriteeditor.com, and a former newspaper and magazine publisher with 23 years’ experience in print and digital media. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
 
  
 

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A Forgotten Responsibility of the Pastor

Since high school I’ve been working in churches, and the past ten years as a senior pastor. And I believe pastoring is one of the most difficult jobs in the country. For me it was the wearing of the thirty million different hats that made it so difficult. You know how it is—as a pastor, we must be administrators, counselors, wedding planners, funeral directors, chaplains, architects, janitors, teachers, preachers, and the list can go on and on, right? So, the last thing I want to do is add something to your already overwhelming list.

But I want to tell you of a forgotten aspect of pastoring that is absolutely necessary for this time in history we now live. It’s a responsibility that pastors of the past and in other parts of the world today carry-out, but not so much here in America.

In the midst, of all the different hats we wear and activities we do, we’re driven by God-given spiritual tasks that we as pastors seek to accomplish within our congregations. As a pastor, we know we are called to evangelize. In each activity within our ministries, we try to share the Gospel with our flock. We also know we are called to disciple and again in each thing we do, we work to foster spiritual growth within our congregation. We also have been given the spiritual task of equipping our congregation for missions and ministry. These three spiritual tasks are why we plan the events that we plan. These tasks are why we establish the programs in our churches. They permeate every different proverbial hat we wear out within the pastorate.

But one other task needs to be weaved in the mix. Pastors, we have a responsibility to prepare our congregation.

Maybe you know this, but I didn’t. I never looked at one of my pastoral responsibilities being to prepare my congregation to stand firm and hold on to their faith in difficulties now and in the future. The books I read and conferences I attended, encouraged me and helped me assimilate new members, share the Gospel more effectively, train leaders, take members deeper in the Word, and how to structure our church; but, never once did I hear anything about preparing my people.

In the process of preaching through the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, I was captivated by Matthew 24:10 in which Jesus warns that “many will turn away.” Each time after this moment, when I stood in the pulpit and looked out at my congregation, my heart was haunted with the question—have I prepared them enough to not turn away? This verse warns that a majority of those who profess to be Christians will turn away; therefore, if my congregation faces that prophesized time many of them will turn away.

As I was asking myself this question, I realized if you took our “membership roll” you would see that many had already turned away. And for many of those on that list, they had shared with me their story. When I would follow-up on members who were no longer attending our church, the conversion typically went, “Pastor, I used to attend church and was involved in this and that, and then this or that event happened in my life and I just left.” In other words, when faced with difficulty, they turned away. I began to realize that I had these conversations all the time. Usually, the event that caused the turning away was the loss of a family member, a divorce, or hurt feelings within the church.

Not only did I realize this was happening in my neck-of-the-woods, but as I began to write my book, Spiritual Prepper, on the issue, I saw that the statistics pointed to this happening all over the nation. In fact, 42 million professed Christians who once attended church were no longer attending. So, chances are you are hearing the same conversations I was hearing. Like me, I’m sure, you’re frustrated with the lack of commitment and participation you see from your congregation.

Now I don’t know if we are at the prophetic fulfillment of Matthew 24:10 because Jesus was talking about a specific time—the birth pains. But regardless, we are seeing people under our pastoral care leave the church.

Are we preparing our congregations to remain faithful?

Now, there is no doubt that we have taught the truth enough that our congregations should have the ammunition to remain faithful. But have we intentionally prepared them to remain faithful?

Pastor, I believe we need to start.

Of course, since I’m so passionate about this subject I have some suggestions. But more than sharing those thoughts, I hope you become captivated by the need to prepare your congregation as I became captivated.


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8 Realities American Churches Must Be Prepared to Face

If you have read any of my posts or books, or if you have heard me speak, then you have heard me say that as individuals and churches we need to be prepared. And you have heard me say that pastors need to prepare their congregations. So, the question then becomes—in what areas do we prepare?

Good question! So, here are eight realities in which we need to be prepared to face.

 

  1. The personal trials and tribulations we face are a normal part of following Christ.

Depending on your interest level of end-time prophecy this first reality is either disarming or a let-down. I feel strongly that we need to preach, teach, and hear more about the end-times. The Bible supplies so much that we can know. But I don’t know how we can even talk about the perils of the end-time events when we can’t even survive difficult trials today. A prolific biblical point is that followers of Christ will face trails and tribulations on a regular basis. The fact of the Christian facing trials is not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when”. We see this over and over again in passages like 1 Peter 4:12: 

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.1 Peter 4:12 (NIV84)

Unfortunately, therapeutic and prosperity brands of Christianity has deceived most American Christians into thinking following Christ is just a bed of roses. There will be challenges to the faith, and as American Christians, we don’t know this; and, American pastors aren’t telling us anything different. Therefore, we are sheep headed to the slaughter. Right now, 42 million professed Christians in America have given up on their faith, and most of which did so when faced with a difficult trial. American Christians have to be prepared to face difficulties.

 

 

  1. The Christian persecution seen on the news is a normal part of following Christ.

Along the same lines as the previous point, Christians should expect difficulty. Scripture even goes as far as to teach that we should expect persecution. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 10:22-23:

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted… – Matthew 10:22–23 (NIV84)

Did you catch it said “when” you are persecuted? America, has been an anomaly compared to Christian history and most of the world today. Persecution is the default response from the world to Christians. So, as stories of Christian persecution in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and North Korea shock us in America, we must realize that is the norm. We also need to know that we are called to remain faithful when faced with persecution. American Christians need to know that God has called us to be martyrs and not to deny our faith. And unfortunately, we must know this because at some point towards the end-times there will be universal persecution. If America is around at that point, then one can guarantee Christians in America will be persecuted.

 

  1. The United States will not exist as a world super power forever.

You were probably tracking with me until I put on my tin-foil hat and wrote this, but it is absolutely true. Contrary to what is often said, we are given many clear details of the end-of-this-age. In those details, we can know the nations involved in the empire of the Antichrist and the Battle of Armageddon. Even within the aspects that are debated, it’s clear that America is at best diminished in power before the Antichrist rises to power, which is before the seven-year tribulation. And for America to at the minimum diminish in power, there has to be difficulty in the nation. At the minimum, this would be economic hardship, but could easily range to far more difficult tribulation. And if we’re struggling to remain faithful now in America, we’ll fare even worse in the face of national calamity. We need to prepare to remain faithful when life is difficult.

Now, I don’t pretend to know a time-frame for this. It may not be for another 100 years, but there are some clear signs that point to us being near the end-of-the-age. I write more about that here. But one sign that brings near certainty is the fact that Jews are back home in Israel.

 

  1. The American Church as we know it will change.

This reality that we need to prepare to face, goes hand-in-hand with the previous reality. If America faces tribulation and change so will churches in America. But I believe church as we know it can change far before that point. Under the eight years of Obama, it appeared the freedoms of our churches were headed for fundamental changes. One possibility I have heard mentioned is the possibility of church giving losing its “tax-deductible” status which  threatens to change church as we know it. What happens to Christians in America when there aren’t elaborate children’s ministries? What happens when the cutting-edge music has the plug pulled? What happens when there are not full-time pastors? What happens when big buildings can’t be afforded? Again, if we are struggling to remain faithful in such times of blessings how will we then? Whether that is a way in which things for the church will change who knows? And at that, the loss of giving is probably the least of what could happen to the the American church. 

 

  1. The Rapture may not be pretribulation.

Don’t “x” out yet! Please hear me out! For most American Christians who do have an inkling of care about the end-times, they predominantly believe there will be a rapture before the seven years of tribulation. For one, in the previous points I have argued that tribulation may come to our lives long before the actual seven years. But we need to consider that the rapture might not happen before the tribulation. I have been a long-time pretrib guy, but when I finally studied the passages used to defend that view I realized they are very shaky. And when I approached the Bible with an open-mind about the rapture it actually seems to say the opposite of a pretribulation rapture. Take 2 Thessalonians 2 for an example, the passage clearly says that the Antichrist will come first. But regardless of what view is right, we need to understand that we may have to face the tribulation. We need to realize that the pretribulation rapture view is not solid. Because if we go into the tribulation without being raptured that alone will cause some of us to give up on God because we have taught that to be the truth.

 

  1. The Restoration of Israel is central to the story.

The doctrine of God restoring the nation of Israel at His return is hotly debated, but it shouldn’t be at all. Many teach that the Jews and the promises made to them about their coming kingdom, no longer applies to them, but now apply to Christians. To believe that Gentile Christians have replaced Israel is absolutely erroneous. Believing this is true is to basically discard the entire Old Testament. It is important that we are prepared to see that the whole story of the Bible and salvation history will center back on Jerusalem at the end-of-the-age and the age to come. This is made very clear in Romans 11:25:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.Romans 11:25 (NIV84)

 

  1. The Empire of the Antichrist may be rising.

As I have spent the past five years of my life diving into the study of the end-times, I have been shocked out how little critical study has been given to the end-times. Many of the prevailing views have extremely shaky biblical support—one of which is the restoration of Israel. The predominant view of replacement theology flies in the face of the bulk of biblical support. This phenomenon is also true when it comes to the location of the empire of the Antichrist. Nearly uncontested since the first century, Christianity has held to the idea that the empire of the Antichrist would be a revised Roman Empire in Rome. But the biblical support for this is very weak, while all the while there is clear evidence in Scripture for a Middle Eastern location of the Antichrist’s empire. It is also clear that empire of the Antichrist will be a revised Ottoman Empire or in other words, an Islamic Caliphate. With this being the case, the present rise of Islam and especially Turkey means that the empire of the Antichrist could be rising.

 

  1. The Millennial Kingdom will be awesome.

The previous seven realities dealt with negative tribulations that we need to be prepared to face. Seven challenges that could cause us to turn away from God. But this final area is a positive that we are not prepared to enjoy. Listen, we do not make Heaven as awesome as it will be. And when we study about Heaven, we see that first there will be a 1,000-year time period in which Jesus will rule on earth from Jerusalem. He will sit on the throne of David and rule His Eternal Kingdom. This is real and tangible. And we will be able to enjoy it. We need to be prepared for the awesomeness of the Millennial Kingdom.

 


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Does the WHOLE Bible Story Guide Your Church Leadership?

What part or books of the Bible do you believe most sermons today are derived from? What about your own sermons? I wish I had a scientific survey, but I don’t. But I do have the fact that I have heard a lot of preaching! And I believe it’s a safe bet to say that most present-day preaching is derived from the Gospels, the Epistles, and occasional blockbuster Old Testament stories. Would you agree? My sermons were. The Gospel of Matthew probably leads the way in my sermon history.

I’m not here to debate what our sermon passage quota should be, but I’m hoping you can visualize how that if most sermons are from the teachings of Jesus and teachings in the Epistles then therefore our churches and Christian practices reflect those sources. And it does, doesn’t it?

In this post, I start with the biblical root of our sermons because that picture is easier to see. If I preach on the instructions Jesus and the apostles gave then my congregation is going to focus on living out those teachings.

But now, think with me, what part of the Bible or Bible book does our philosophies of ministry, mission statements, vision statements, etc. for our churches and ministries derive? What biblical instruction shapes your paradigm for pastoring and church leadership?

Again, I wish I had a scientific study, but I’ve been to a lot of church growth conferences and have read most of the books on the subject. And again, the Gospels and the Epistles lead out with the addition of The Book of Acts. Our church leadership is modeled after the apostles. Our leadership paradigm is motivated by the instruction of the Great Commission. And this is definitely how it should be, for the Great Commission is our mission. I’m not opposed in any way to this foundation for our church leadership practices.

But, I believe we lead our churches without considering the whole story of Scripture and the whole story of salvation history.

Digressing a bit, but at some point, in my elementary career, I was told the easiest way to complete a maze was to begin at the end and work our way out. It’s definitely easier to begin at the end of the maze, right? Do you know this secret? If not, try it!

Now if we only had the knowledge of the ending of the mission of church and ending of salvation history, then we would have the end of the maze of life, right?  We then could lead our churches through the maze much easier. Pastoring would be much easier!

Wait a minute! We do have the end. In Scripture, we know how this age ends. We know what the age-to-come is like. We know how the church age will wrap up. Yet, how many church leadership decisions are we making based off this knowledge? Yes, our mission will always be the Great Commission, but The Book of Revelation and prophecy throughout the Bible provide even greater clarity and motivation for the Great Commission.

Pastor and church leader, we are leading through paradigms that only consider part of the story.

Pastor and church leader, we are leading from the middle of the maze and not the end. When we actually have the end of the maze!

Pastor and church leader, we need to look at the end, and let it show us how to lead now.

And pastor and church leader, looking at the end will give us a leadership paradigm that priorities preparing our congregation to remain faithful—to stand firm.

 

 

Connection: So, if we need to prepare our congregation then what do we need to prepare them to face? Learn here!

 


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15 Ideas to Be a Stand Firm Church

 

  1. Host a Stand Firm Emphasis Sunday.

 Yes, this is self-serving, but experience proves that ministries, issues, and doctrines that are set-aside to be remembered in an emphasis day or some other like event in our churches become important to the church. They become interwoven into the church’s DNA especially when that emphasis day becomes an annual event. Churches that recognize the Sanctity of Life Sunday—become pro-life champions. Churches who remember the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church become churches that know and care about the persecuted church. This is true for missions, family, and any other issue that is set aside in the form of a special day. Regardless, if you choose to let SFM lead your Stand Firm Emphasis Sunday you need to do one. But there is value in bringing in a guest speaker especially for your first Stand Firm Emphasis Day. SFM also is able to provide you with pre-event messages, post-event lessons, and focused experience on the subject.

 

 

  1. Continue Holding Annual Stand Firm Emphasis Sundays.

As mentioned above, Stand Firm Emphasis Sundays are powerful in establishing the importance of commitment, endurance, and perseverance in your church. These truths become part of your church’s DNA when it becomes an annual event. To encourage you to make this an annual day on your church calendar, each year SFM will make available free a message outline, presentation slides, and promotional material for you each year after we partner with you to host your first Stand Firm Emphasis Day.

 

  1. Listen and read our Hold-On Stories.
 
And again, this is self-serving I realize, but we are creating a large library of Hold On Stories written and in podcasts to be available for you to use. Research and experience shows that people are more likely to hold on to their faith when they hear they are not alone with the struggle, and that others have been through the same issues. Our Hold On Stories are available free on www.standfirmministries.com.
 

 

  1. Tell Your Own Hold On Stories.

Stories and testimonies of struggling to hold on to one’s faith are powerful tools to help someone not give up and leave the faith. Yes, we provide stories, but your church would be strengthened if church members shared their own stories at your church from the stage, in videos, in newsletters, etc. Let your people share their struggles to keep the faith and how they held on.

 

 

  1. Talk about Standing Firm & Holding On.

The word “talk” was chosen intentionally. The next idea is to “preach” on standing firm and holding on. As you know, our sermons are quickly forgotten. They are important, but each week we go from subject to subject and passage to passage. The messages that truly takes hold in our congregations are those we “talk” about all the time and in all the things we do. They are the subjects we share when we share our “hearts.” They are what is said in conversations, in song choices, in small group discussions, in newsletters, in social media posts, etc. Make standing firm and holding on just part of the natural flow of your conversations.

 

 

  1. Preach On Standing Firm & Holding On

 Although what we “talk” about becomes more of the DNA of a church than what we “preach,” you need to regularly preach on standing firm and holding on. One of the responsibilities of the pastor is to prepare their congregation. These subjects don’t even have to be the primary focus of every sermon, but you will have opportunity after opportunity to bring out this point in most sermons.

 

  1. Talk & Preach about Persecution.

Since the distinction has been made between “talking” and “preaching” from here on out on this idea list the two will be combined. Persecution has been a regular topic for churches in Christian history and throughout other parts of the world but has not been addressed regularly in our churches in America. One of the most effective ways to inform your congregation, is to celebrate another emphasis day—the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

 

  1. Care about the Persecuted Church.

Again, it’s not enough to just preach or teach on a topic, if you want to bring that issue into the continual conscious of your congregation. Encourage your church to continually care about the persecuted church. This begins with celebrating the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and preaching on persecution. But take it further by incorporating regular updates and sponsorship of ministries like Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors USA, and others. One of the most, helpful tools we utilized in our church was to have a church member become a “church voice” for VOM within your church. Also I highly recommend Author Tom Doyle’s books.

 

  1. Talk & Preach About End-Time Prophecy

As Christians who have the Word of God, we can know a lot about what is coming. We have the TOOL to prepare our church for what lies ahead. We have 25% of our Bible that has prophecy. We just have to TEACH it. Navigating the subject can be tricky but check out our partner ministry www.prophecysimplified.com.

 

  1. Talk & Preach about Heaven.

Not only does the Bible provide us with what is going to happen through end-time prophecy, but we also have the greatest motivation to “hold-on” and “stand firm.” Just as we are given many details of the end-of-the-age, we are told a lot about Heaven and the coming Kingdom. This is our motivation, keep it before your people. Look forward to our soon to release book on Heaven.

 

  1. Talk & Preach about Faith.

No matter how much we talk about endurance and provide the motivation of the eternity to come, ultimately holding on to our faith and standing firm will come down to faith. Continually preach on the need for faith and share stories of faith to build-up the faith of your congregation.

 

  1. Provide Accountability.

We have to talk and preach about the subjects mentioned above, but talking and preaching can only go so far. No matter how much you intentionally preach on these topics and these Scriptures to encourage your congregation to remain faithful—they will turn away. Realize this and build-in programs to help them hold on. Create accountability so that when someone has a weak moment of faith, they can be encouraged and held to the commitments they have made.

 

  1. Keep Track of Attendance & Follow Up.

One on one mentorship is the best method of accountability. Small groups or life groups follow in second. But just simply tracking attendance and actually following up when someone is out of church goes a long way. Not tracking attendance nor following-up tells your congregation that you don’t value their commitment or attendance. There are great software programs and practical methods to keep track.

 

  1. Go After ‘Em.

 Don’t give up on church members who go astray. If you are keeping track of attendance and do follow-up when someone is absent, don’t give up going after them! Show them how important their faith by leaving the ninety-nine and going after that wayward one.

 

  1. Engage Your Church in Something Big.

A few ago, America, saw many young girls leave the freedom of the United States to travel across the world to become young wives of ISIS soldiers. The phenomenon seems absolutely crazy, but ISIS propaganda fed them a message of being part of something big. Churches fail to show the grand scope of our involvement in ministry and mission. We are a part of sharing the greatest message the world can ever know and each one of us is needed—make sure your people know this. Build up their participation and celebrate that participation and volunteerism.


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