2 Thessalonians and the Lawless Times

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The United States is experiencing a time of lawlessness, the extent of which I have not witnessed in my lifetime. The politicizing of the Coronavirus, protests for social justice, and the rioters who have taken advantage of said protests have created a tinderbox of lawlessness.

In major cities all across the country, mayors have ordered police departments to stand down as these cities have been burned and destroyed, which give them the appearance of a war zone. There are increasing calls to defund police departments and there is certainly no respect for the government or the president. I’m not going to inject my personal politics into this discussion, but I want to use this unruly time to draw a biblical parallel.

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he takes the time to clarify the End Times timeline. From the text, it appears that someone either inside or outside the Church of Thessalonica has spread the message that Jesus’ return (the day of the Lord) has already past. This news, of course, has upset many members of the church. However, Paul takes the time to reassure the believers of the sequence of events.

“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, NASB).

Imagine the feeling that you missed Jesus’ return or you missed the rapture. The Thessalonian Church members must have felt devastated and hopeless. Paul goes on:

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.  Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-6, NASB).

First we will see people fall away from Church teaching and people will began to live their lives as they see fit (1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:2-4). We can definitely draw a parallel to our times and Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians.

Out of this chaos, a leader is going to rise, who of course will be the Antichrist. An interesting side note, the term anarchist means “without a ruler,” thus someone who doesn’t want to live by the rules, especially God’s rules. So under the guise of this false freedom, the Antichrist will demand worship. Paul’s reminder of his previous teaching is also a reminder for us to turn back to God’s teachings.

The current state of the world is nothing new, as there has always been rebellion against authority and God. The seeds of this rebellion go far beyond current headlines.

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,  and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,  in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12, NASB).

What then, should be the Christian response to the current state of affairs? I believe we should hold onto the teachings of Christ. I believe we must exercise great discernment before we jump on any political bandwagon. In the age of the Internet and Social Media,movements go viral and gain steam before anyone really takes the time to learn about said movement. I also believe Christians need to look after our brothers and sisters during this time. These uncertain times have created a time of social and physical isolation, as many could not attend church services in person. I believe this is a time for the Church to find ways to draw closer to God and each other.

Paul concludes this section with encouraging words:

“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.  It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:12-17, NASB).

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

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Where is Reason?

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I’ve often wondered happened to reason, rationality, and common sense in American society?

As I write this post, the United States is experiencing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. (I have tested positive multiple times, yet remain asymptomatic). The U.S. response to the Covid-19 has been irrational and erratic at best. The politicized mainstream media (including conservative and liberal pundits) waffled between “We’re all going to die” and “This is a hoax to influence the election.” During the discussions of the pandemic, the middle ground has gone the way of the dinosaur.

People have protested state stay at home orders and people have viewed masks mandates as an attack on personal freedom. There are cities which are threatening to penalize non-mask wearers with fines and or jail time. Many major companies, including Walmart and Starbucks are now requiring customers to wear masks or they will not be allowed inside the store.

It’s human nature to defy authority. People still smoke despite the health warnings and proven links to cancer. There are people who still don’t wear seat belts; motorcycle riders refuse to wear helmets; drivers speed and underage college students will find ways to get alcohol. However, I believe the United States is going through a time of lawlessness, where the rights of the individual are being trampled on by the government and society.

There have been protests and societal upheaval coupled with a war on science, which has become politicized as well. Calm and rational voices are drowned out by mob rule. People are criticized equally for taking a side and not taking a side. The voice of the crowds on both sides aren’t listening to each other. Intellectual society has gone from John Stuart Mill’s “Marketplace of ideas” to “I only want to hear my opinion coming out of your mouth.”

What’s a rational person to do? I believe the important thing to do is to continue practicing reason,rationality, and common sense. Do not follow the crowd because you might get lost. Be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, but don’t act on emotion alone. I believe the reason for the vitriol in our political discourse is because people now argue from a place of emotion and see disagreement as a personal attack on them. During these times we must also practice emotional maturity. Try to find a solution to a problem without attacking someone else.

Along with practicing reason and emotional maturity, recognize the value of every person- even if they disagree with you. It doesn’t matter if someone is a Christian or an atheist, straight or gay, white or black, or any other way society tries to divide us- we can find common ground and respect each other. It’s still possible to agree to disagree. Don’t let petty political bickering destroy relationships with family and friends. Also, if you spew venom and hostility at someone, how do you ever expect them to see your side of the issue?

I believe the time has come to throw off the shackles of division and seek peace and healing. As the Bible states:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:12-18, NIV).

On a personal note,I have started a podcast, called Life in Progress. You can find it at https://anchor.fm/michael-raley. You can also find it on Google Podcast, Breaker, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Spotify.

Be blessed.

Review- American Gospel: Christ Alone

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I was scrolling through the “Recently Added” section of Netflix when I came across the 2018 documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone. Directed and written by Brandon Kimber, American Gospel provides an in-depth look at the heretical teaching known as the Prosperity Gospel.

I have to say that Kimber’s research and passion for the project comes across in the documentary. The first thirty or so minutes of American Gospel relies on interviews with theologians, pastors, authors, apologists, and church historians to lay a firm foundation for the presentation of the true Gospel. The case presented is solid doctrine and a great reminder for all Christians to study the Word of God for themselves.

Once the foundation is set, American Gospel presents an examination the false doctrine of the prosperity message and its prominent teachers such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Todd White, Bill Johnson, and Joel Osteen to name a few. The documentary traces the roots of the prosperity message back to Kenneth Hagin, who in fact plagiarized from the works of E.W. Kenyon. As a lawyer would systematically breakdown an argument in court, strong biblical teaching and the experts refute the doctrine and merits of the prosperity message until it is revealed to be the heresy and deception that it is.

American Gospel is not simply an academic or theological debate, but also provides personal stories from people whose lives were affected negatively by the prosperity teachers. One of these people is Costi Hinn, the nephew of Benny Hinn who has renounced the false teachings and is now warning believers about the prosperity message. I related with the heartbreaking stories of the everyday people who fell in with this dangerous message. As a young believer, I lacked discernment and was part of a word-faith type of church for a number of years, which taught that God always heals, God wants to bless, and placed the onus on our works and not the finished work of Christ.

No matter if you are a new believer or one who has been in church for decades, I highly encourage you to watch American Gospel: Christ Alone. I rate it five stars out of five stars. The documentary is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Isaiah 26:20, the Coronavirus,and That Day

As the Coronavirus (Covid 19) continues to spread around the world, many local, state, federal, and world governments have issued “stay at home” orders and have encouraged people to self-quarantine or keep their social distance. As with any crisis, many are taking the orders seriously and others continue to go out or have to go out because their job is considered essential.

Of course, the Coronavirus continues to be the main story in the media and on Social Media. It appears for a time the Coronavirus will change the way we live and interact with each other.

However, I have noticed a certain passage of Scripture continuously in my Facebook feed- Isaiah 26:20, which reads:

“Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; Hide for a little while until indignation has run its course.” (NASB).

While Isaiah 26:20 speaks to our current times and deals with the topics of self-isolation and God’s judgment, what is the larger context?

I’m a firm believer in studying the whole of Scripture to understand the deeper meanings. I’ve never been a believer in taking a single verse and turning it into a doctrine. I began to read Isaiah 26 in its entirety.

Isaiah 26 deals with trusting God in the midst of impending judgment on the wicked. In fact Isaiah 26:1 contains a crucial phrase:

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: ‘We have a strong city; He sets up walls and ramparts for security.” (NASB, emphasis mine).

According to Bible Gateway.com, the phrase “In that day” appears 114 times, scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Book of Isaiah, the phrase “In that day” appears 43 times, or in 38% of the Scriptures listed.

Isaiah was a prophet whose ministry took place from 740 BC to at least 681 BC. Like many other Old Testament prophets , Isaiah spoke of current day judgments and events far off into the future or “the last days.” The judgments were directed toward Israel, Judah, Assyria, Tyre, Egypt, and others, but they can be important to our study.

I encourage you to study these on your own, but I would like to highlight a handful of verses which seem relevant to the current situation.

Economic collapse:

“In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship.” (Isaiah 2:20, NASB).

The desolation of cities:

“And it will growl over it in that day like the roaring of the sea. If one looks to the land, behold, there is darkness and distress; Even the light is darkened by its clouds.” (Isaiah 5:30, NASB).

Judgment on world leaders:

“So it will happen in that day, that the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high, and the kings of the earth on earth, they will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon, and will be confined in prison; And after many days they will be punished.” (Isaiah 24:21-22, NASB).

Though it is easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom of judgment, especially if you are a student of the End Times, God is merciful. Even in the midst of His judgments, God gives us the chance to turn to Him in repentance through faith in Jesus Christ.  Isaiah also gives his listeners and readers the chance to turn to God.

“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel.” (Isaiah 4:2, NASB).

“Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse [Jesus], who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10, NASB).

“Then you will say on that day: ‘I will give thanks to You, O Lord; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song.” (Isaiah 12:1-2, NASB).

Brothers and Sisters, we are certainly living in unprecedented times. There probably been a virus spread this quickly since the influenza epidemic of 1918. We must live cautiously, but do not give into fear. Take care of yourselves and your families. If at all possible, try to help those who are hurting from the fallout of this illness. Show the love of Christ and kindness to those you encounter. God bless.

The Spread of Fear

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. Travel has been restricted, public gatherings, including church services have been cancelled, major sporting events and leagues have been cancelled/suspended. Countries and major cities have gone on lock down, which have led to colleges, universities, and  schools being shut down. Not to mention that world economic markets are in a nosedive.

Of course this is not the first outbreak of a virus- as there have been outbreaks of the Swine flu, Bird flu, Ebola, the Zika virus along with the seasonal flu. Why has this outbreak of Coronavirus caused the world to go into such a panic?

I believe the Coronavirus is a serious threat- especially to the most vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with other chronic illnesses. However, I do not believe I have seen this level of panic and fear being spread at the same time. I remember the panic of Y2K and the heightened anxiety of 9/11, but life went on in a matter of time.

The news media, of course, will hype up any story to increase their ratings and revenue, so these stories create anxiety. Social Media and the hyper-political culture we live in also contributes to the growing fear and panic. “Self-quarantine” has now become part of our lexicon. How long will this be “the new normal?” Time will tell.

The best advice for anyone dealing with the possibility of getting Coronavirus is simply to exercise common sense. Protect yourself- wash your hands, be mindful of your surroundings, maintain a clean work area or home, don’t delay medical treatment if you’re sick. Above all, don’t fall victim to fear and please don’t panic.

I cannot stress the importance of not giving into fear. Please do not hoard groceries and other necessities. Please think of those less fortunate, who cannot stockpile, and may not be able to purchase what they need if hoarding is taking place. Even in the midst of this unprecedented and overwhelming crisis, please do not fall victim to fear. If you are a Christian, we can still take comfort in God’s words.

The Coronavirus outbreak may be out of our control, but we can control our response to it.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV).

 

 

 

The Danger of “ist” Words

According to the website Lots of Words.com, 5,262 words in the English language end in “ist.” Although I won’t go through every word on the list for time and space constraints (not to mention the ensuing boredom), but I do find word studies interesting.

A good portion of “ist” words describe an occupation or a set of beliefs. We have such occupations as typist, oncologist, therapist, or someone can be a specialist in a chosen field. A person can also be a Buddhist, Taoist, or if you are a fan of Ancient Aliens, an “ancient astronaut theorist.”

However, in today’s hyper-political American culture, there are some “ist” words which have become pejoratives, a verbal grenade to destroy the other person’s worldview. It seems gone are the days of rational discussion, whereas the new goal is to crush your opposition. The use of these words have become so common, many people don’t understand the gravity of calling someone the said word.

Words such as racist, atheist, Socialist, Communist, fundamentalist, feminist, misogynist, elitist, globalist, capitalist, fascist, ageist, etc, are often lobbied at people we simply disagree with as an effort to dismiss or belittle what someone has to say. If someone disagrees with you, that doesn’t automatically make them a bad person. I believe we should make an effort to go beyond the talking points espoused on Social Media, cable and network news, talk radio and the like. Make an effort to have a civilized conversation with someone, even you disagree with them. I consider myself to be politically independent, yet I can have political discussions with conservatives and liberals and not resort to name calling.

I am against all forms of discrimination and oppression. We must call out discrimination and oppression when we see it. We must speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. I believe we must follow the example of Jesus, who “reached across the aisle” in His day. He spoke with Samaritans and Gentiles, elevated the status of women, fed the hungry, cared for the sick, and called out hypocrisy and injustice when He saw it. Above all, we must get back to the place where we can show Christian love and kindness to everyone around us. If everybody stays in their echo chambers, nothing will be done, and we will be driven further apart.

Walk in the Light

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7, NASB.

There is a sharp contrast between the light and the darkness. When I take my dogs out first thing in the morning, it’s still dark outside. The apartment parking lot is dark, but a street lamp lights up the grassy area adjacent to the building. I walk my dogs over to the grassy area, but sometimes they are curious about their surroundings and I have to tell them to “get into the light.”

Get into the light. A simple statement with spiritual implications. Jesus referred to Himself as “The Light of the world,” (John 8:12). Jesus also calls us to be light in the dark world around us. If your electricity were to go out and left you in the dark, just the act of turning on a flashlight or lighting a candle, penetrates the darkness. The darkness cannot seize total control as long as there is light. We need light in our current world, as we are surrounded by darkness on all sides.

As I write this, the date is September 11, 2019, the 18th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I remember well the darkness and the terror of that day. Evil made its presence known that day, as nearly three thousand people lost their lives. There were equal parts tragedy, horror, confusion, and anger in the ensuing aftermath. 9/11 is that “where were you?” event of a generation, the same as Pearl Harbor or the John F. Kennedy assassination was to previous generations.

For a brief moment of time, light shined in the darkness, as the world came together to mourn. For a brief moment differences were put aside, as they seemed petty and insignificant compared to the catastrophic losses suffered on that day. However, that unity was short-lived because of the responses to the war in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan which followed 9/11. The division and hatred has only grew worse, as we are now in a time of deep political and personal division.

How are we as Christians to respond to the current climate? We must follow the words of the Apostle John and simply walk in the light of Christ. We have a living hope that the world needs. We cannot allow ourselves to fall victim to the darkness and feel overwhelmed, but we must shine our light. We must walk in the darkness. Even if we are a mere street lamp in a dark parking lot, we must shine.

Movie Review- Unplanned

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Abortion is a divisive political issue in the United States, which consists of two camps- protecting a woman’s right to choose versus protecting the unborn. The R-Rated Christian movie Unplanned delves into this issue.

Unplanned in the story of Abby Johnson (portrayed by Ashley Bratcher), who went from the youngest clinic director in the history of Planned Parenthood to Pro-Life activist. Unplanned makes no attempt to sanitize Johnson’s story, which gives it an emotional weight and depth as the audience goes on the journey with her.

The film portrays Johnson’s choice of career as coming into conflict with her husband, Doug (Brooks Ryan), her Christian parents, and the pro-life group who always stands outside the facility fence. Johnson also comes into conflict with her boss, Cheryl (Robia Scott), when she decides to become a mother while working at the clinic. Later on in the movie, the conflict between Abby and Cheryl widens as the corporate goals of Planned Parenthood clash with the ideals Abby has concerning the purpose of the clinic.

Unplanned is not for the faint of heart because there are graphic images of performed abortions and the aftermath of said abortions. There is also some minor language throughout the movie. Unplanned affected me deeply as I left the theater and is one of the most thought-provoking Christian movies I have watched in a long time. As noted in various media, Unplanned is not without its critics, as it has riled up the Pro-Choice camp. However, Unplanned is a movie for all too see. I give Unplanned 4 out of 4 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review “Football for a Buck”

Jeff Pearlman’s book, Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL is a fascinating read that brilliantly weaves in multiple narratives of an upstart football league, politics, and larger than life personalities of players, coaches, and owners.

The USFL, aka The United States Football league, was in operation for 1983-1985 and was a spring American football alternative to the NFL. Pearlman’s research is thorough and describes how the idea for the USFL actually dated back to 1961, when New Orleans business owner David Dixon conceived of a spring football league. However, it wasn’t until the early 1980s before his idea came to fruition.

The USFL had teams in established NFL territories such as Houston (the Gamblers), Tampa Bay (the Bandits), Philadelphia (the Stars), and Chicago (the Blitz) to name a few. There were also teams in other cities where there was no NFL presence: Jacksonville (the Bulls), Memphis (the Showboats), Orlando (the Renegades), and San Antonio (the Gunslingers). The USFL played an 18 game regular schedule compared to the NFL’s 16 game regular season schedule.

Pearlman’s book has many stories of the gross mismanagement and incompetence of multiple USFL franchises, but teams were not short on talent. Four players from the USFL- quarterbacks Steve Young and Jim Kelly, defensive end Reggie White, and offensive lineman Gary Zimmerman went on to have hall of fame careers in the NFL. The USFL also managed to snag three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners away from the NFL- running back Herschel Walker, quarterback Doug Flutie, and running back Mike Rozier. In many ways, the USFL was ahead of its time. Several USFL innovations- a salary cap to control team spending, an instant replay challenge system, and the two point conversion have been adopted by the NFL during the last three decades.

The USFL was not without its growing pains, but the league tried to do too much too fast. Pearlman’s book shows how politics and greed led to the USFL’s downfall. The politics has an effect on our world today. Donald Trump, the current President of the United States, purchased the New Jersey Generals and was instrumental in convincing team owners to play a fall schedule in order to compete head on with the NFL. The move lead to the USFL filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, in which the USFL won, but received $1 in damages. One dollar. The USFL closed its doors prior to the start of the 1986 season.

Overall, I enjoyed Football for a Buck, as it combined two of my interest- history and American football. Pearlman does a great job in bringing parallels of the USFL’s politics into our current political environment and he also focuses on stories of lesser known USFL players. I would recommend Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL for anyone interested in sports, history, and politics.

The Distance and The Resistance

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By Michael W. Raley

Continue to go the distance

In spite of the resistance.

You will encounter your share of pain

Along with equal days of sunshine and rain.

There will be body pains and heartaches

To go along with the negativity and the fakes.

Remain the captain of your ship

And do not allow anyone to recalculate the trip.

Why voluntarily surrender your time

To that which does not rhyme

With your life goals and story,

That which will only bring regret and no glory?

Do not allow your time and power be given away

Like a neatly wrapped present on Christmas day.

This life and this time have been allotted to you,

As the Bard wrote,”To thine own self be true.”

Above all with yourself, be patient, employ perseverance and persistence;

No matter what happens, remain unbroken and resilient.