Are You Prepared for the Next Earthquake?

106616341_1aac011323_bAre you prepared for the next earthquake, or other natural disaster?

Yesterday morning, I attended an emergency preparedness workshop at our local Community Center. About forty leaders from local churches and non profits came together to learn how we can partner in time of disaster.

Whether an earthquake, flood, fire, or terrorist attack, there’s a good chance we’ll face at least one major disaster in our lifetime. God doesn’t want us to panic, but he does want us to prepare. (Remember how Joseph prepared Egypt for a devastating 7-year famine).

A few of our church members were around back in 1992 for the Landers earthquake, a magnitude 7.3. To this day, you can see where the earth shifted along Reche Rd. If an event of this scale (or larger) ever struck in a more urban area of Southern California in the middle of the day, it could result in thousands of lost lives; downed power, gas, and water lines; crippled freeways and railways; lost communication; and billions of dollars in damage. The high desert could be isolated for days, or even weeks.

Yesterday, Cheryl Nagy from the San Bernardino County Fire/Office of Emergency Services visited Yucca Valley and gave an excellent presentation. It was just an introduction, but she conveyed the importance of emergency preparedness, and the benefits of creating a local network here in the Morongo Basin. We learned about the four phases of an Emergency: Prepare, Respond, Recover, and Mitigate. It was the first of what we hope will become a basin-wide movement to prepare for disaster.

What can you do? Well, as the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you don’t have one already, please create a 72 hour Emergency Kit for your family. Start stocking basic supplies over the next couple months, and keep a small kit in your car. Here is a sample list and downloadable checklist from FEMA. Lord willing, you’ll never need it. But better to be prepared, than to suddenly realize it’s too late.

You should also consider adding earthquake coverage to your Homeowner’s Insurance policy. My family had been without earthquake insurance for years. But after taking Dave Ramsey’s course and evaluating our insurance needs, we did some research and discovered a policy with Geico would only set us back about 50 bucks a month.  That’s a small price to pay compared to the risk of bankruptcy in one minute of disaster.

Wow, how’s that for an encouraging post? If I could leave you with one positive thought, it is that God is control — even over natural disasters. Psalm 135:7 says, “He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightning for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” God is still personally involved in his creation. No wonder they used to call natural disasters “acts of God.”

Pray for God’s protection, take preventative measures, then live every day as a gift from God, free of worry, knowing God is on his throne!

Photo credit: Brian Lopez

Our First Night of Small Groups

We had a wonderful first home Bible Study last night. Eleven adults participated, plus another ten children. And that was in spite of several Wednesday night ‘regulars’ being out of town.

Perhaps most exciting to me was that several people who came last night had not been attending a small group before. This is exactly who we aim to reach with these home groups. We hope to see a higher percentage of church members and attenders (and even unchurched people) in our small groups than what we’ve been experiencing in our traditional Sunday School or Wednesday night program — or even back in the day when we did a Sunday night service.

In this post, I’d like to just walk you through our first night, so you can get a feel for how the night unfolded, and what you might expect if you are starting your own small group.

BEFORE THE MEETING- My wife and the kids worked hard yesterday afternoon to get our living room ‘guest ready’ and our family room ‘kid ready.’ I personally invited a number of people ahead of time, then texted several families around 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon to remind them of our small group. I think this last step resulted in one or two extra families that otherwise might not have come.

WELCOME – People started arriving about 15 mins early. My wife was just getting home from shuttling the kids around to afternoon sports, so I welcomed people in and offered them something to drink (water, lemonade, coffee). We officially started around 6:45 pm. Everyone shared their name and favorite ice cream. This was a quick and fun ice breaker. Several in the group are newer to the church, and I noticed at least one person was writing down names as we went around the room. I invited everyone to really make themselves at home, move about as needed, told them where the bathroom was, etc. Then I opened in prayer.

BIBLE STUDY – I explained to everyone that we would be studying the Book of Hebrews over the next year. I asked what they knew already about Hebrews. Then I gave a handout (click here to download) and we all went to Hebrews 12:1-2 to see how the Christian life is like a marathon requiring endurance. We discussed the major theme, outline, and some interesting features of the book of Hebrews and looked at a few sample passages to whet their appetites. I also have them a copy of our 2016-2017 teaching calendar so they can read/study the next section in advance if they’d like.

GROUP DYNAMIC – The group was very informal and relaxed. We sat around the coffee table, but a couple others were at the dining room table or in the kitchen. Some folks had to get up to attend to kids, feed a baby, etc. One mom got down on the floor with her child, and kept her Bible on the edge of table. There was a little commotion at times, but I just spoke up louder and kept moving. Some people ate dinner before they came, but one family brought dinner with them and sat at the dining room table with their McDonalds cheeseburgers at the beginning. Everyone remained flexible. It was pretty special to see 80 year olds and 2 year olds present in the same room, with Bibles open and everyone talking about Jesus. I tried to keep everyone involved by asking questions, encouraging dialogue, and inviting others to read the scripture passages, and even to read some of the handout so they could hear other voices besides mine. At the same time, this was not just an open discussion or group share time. I had specific content I had prepared ahead of time, and several people were taking notes.

WRAP UP – We ended at 8 pm and dismissed with prayer. Natalie had baked brownies. Some people had to leave right away, but others lingered for another 30-45 minutes eating snacks and talking while the kids played. I think the last family left a little after 9 pm. Next time, we will take sign ups and ask other families to bring snacks so we don’t have to be responsible both for the food and getting the house ready for company.

Overall, it was a great first night and I pray you have a similar experience. To God be the glory!

God Has You Right Where He Wants You

Dashboard_HiRes_Unsplash_David_Marcu

Normally, when we hear the word “contentment,” we immediately think of material wealth. We know we ought to be happy with that rusty car and last year’s cell phone model.

Certainly, God wants us to be grateful for our possessions. But He wants something more. God wants us to be satisfied not only with our stuff, but also with our situation in life — With the unique place He has put us right now. This may be even harder than being content with our stuff.

Are you content in Christ today? Do you recognize you have been treated far better than you deserve? Can you sing with sincerity, “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!”

In 1 Corinthians 7:17, while discussing marriage, the Apostle Paul makes an incredible statement on contentment: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”

Every Christian sovereignly summoned by the will of God has also been sovereignly assigned a unique place to serve. Paul says we have been “assigned” or appointed to this. The Greek word is merizo, meaning to divide into parts, to deal or distribute out. To put it bluntly, God wants us to play the cards we have been dealt.

Just think. The God of the universe ordained you to be exactly where you are at this moment. You aren’t there by accident, or some cruel twist of fate. It may feel at times like life is spinning out of control, or that poor choices drove you to where we are today. But rest assured. Nothing happens by accident! Even Joseph’s years in a filthy dungeon, and Jonah’s three day vacation in the belly of a fish were all part of God’s itinerary.

Pause for a moment and realize that God has sovereignly and lovingly chosen you to be exactly where you are today.

Paul instructs us to be content where we are, and to bloom where we are planted. This is so different from how we usually think. Teenagers look at the opportunities stretched before them and can’t wait to finish high school. Single adults can’t wait to find that special someone and get married. Newlyweds can’t wait to have children. New parents can’t wait for a full night’s sleep. Parents of teenagers can’t wait for some peace and quiet around the home. Empty nesters can’t wait to retire. And then, after all of that looking to the future, senior citizens look back and say, “Oh to be 20 again!” Do you see this vicious cycle? Everybody wants to be someone else, somewhere else, instead of where God has them today.

The Apostle Paul, however, exhorts us to accept our current situation as a gift from God. Instead of looking off to the horizon, we are to be content and thankful for today. We aren’t to compare ourselves to others and think, “Oh, I wish I was there,” or “I wish I had that.”

Paul knows contentment was not an isolated problem in Corinth, so he says, “This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17). It is a command given to everybody, including us. Just a few verses later, he repeats, “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called” (v. 20). Then again in verse 24, he says, “in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”

Now, it may be that one day, God will call us to a new situation (e.g. a single person to get married). But we can’t rush God’s timetable or grumble over the lot we’ve been given.

So stop right there. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving and contentment. God has you right where he wants you.

the right way to handle conflict

223594422_afc5ffd696_b

Two mountain goats met each other on a narrow ledge just wide enough for one of the animals. On the left was a sheer cliff, and on the right a deep lake. The two face each other. What should they do? They could not back up—that would be too dangerous; they could not turn around, because the ledge was too narrow. Now if the goats had no more sense than some people, they would meet head-on and start butting each other till they fell into the lake below.
But goats have better sense than this. One lay down on the trail and let the other literally walk over him—and both were safe.

-Attributed to Martin Luther, in Roy Zuck, The Speaker’s Quotebook

Photo credit: Gianluca Ruggiero

The Millennium – An Issue that Just Won’t Go Away

Rapids_HiRes_Unsplash_Daniel_Beilinson

A friend who has been growing in the Lord wrote me the other day,

“Just by reading the Old Testament, I am a Pre-mil. It never occurred to me to be anything else because the scripture is so clear on the subject.  So when John MacArthur starts explaining [in a sermon] the different points of view I was astonished. … I am so disappointed and disillusioned that this cancer could take root and thrive in the Reformed Church.”

I too have been disheartened by the lack of premillennialists within Protestant evangelicalism. Sadly, Reformed Premillenialists are a dying breed in this generation. But I would stop short of calling other millennial viewpoints a ‘cancer’ in the church.

I was at Shepherd’s Conference back in 2007 when MacArthur fired the shot heard ‘round the Reformed world with his keynote address, “Why Every Self Respecting Calvinist Should be a Premillennialist.” The title was meant to be tongue in cheek – but only slightly. It took social media by storm, and even led to Sam Waldron writing a book-long rebuttal called, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto.

Many Christians, even very devoted and scholarly ones, now view the Church as the new or “true” Israel, and believe that Christ’s present rule has begun to fulfill the promises of the Davidic Covenant, and that ultimately it will be fulfilled in the Eternal State. This is called amillennialism. There is no literal future thousand-year ‘millennium’ to be expected on earth. Rather, they say, Jesus already rules over his kingdom. One pastor even said to me, “Jesus is the Millennium!”

Many amillennialists have a high view of scripture and even a high Christology. They are not deliberately anti-Semitic per se, but rather view the State of Israel just like any other nation now. Where they err, I believe, is to read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament so deeply that everything becomes about Christ and his church. It is very subtle, because Christ and the church are so central to God’s redemptive plan. But God also made promises to Abraham and his offspring and chose to uniquely bless Israel.

Amillenialists blur the OT and NT together, creating in my opinion too much continuity, and overlooking that God can work in different ways during different eras (dispensations) of his redemptive plan. In light of the wonderful blessings we have in Christ, they forget that the OT contained real promises (land, seed, blessing) to real people (Abraham and his physical descendants). This side of the cross and resurrection, they now spiritualize many of the prophecies given to the Jews and say they are fulfilled in Christ and his church. According to them, any remaining kingdom promises will be fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth of the Eternal State. I believe this is a serious misunderstanding of Scripture.

Yes, the NT extends God’s new covenant blessing to those outside the Jewish covenant community. But God NEVER revokes his original promises to Israel made through the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenant, and repeated throughout the rest of Scripture. That is my position.

Reflecting on John MacArthur’s message at the 2007 Shepherd’s Conference, I think it could have been stronger. A good debater will try to accurately understand and represent both viewpoints, then dismantle their opponent’s arguments one by one. I think MacArthur did this in part, but in some ways, he failed to make a convincing case. Kim Riddlebarger, for example, claims the sermon totally misrepresented his view. Over time, I believe MacArthur tightened up his argument a bit and released this article, excerpted from the excellent book Christ’s Prophetic Plans.

I’ve found over the years that my Amillennialist friends love simplicity. They emphasize the unity or ‘continuity’ of scripture. There is much to admire in their approach, but they go too far. They smirk at our complicated dispensational charts and timelines, instead mapping out a very simple eschatology with one people of God, one single return of Christ, one judgment, one resurrection, etc. It sounds so very nice on the surface. But it does not hold up to Scripture.

The main problem with amillennialism is that the Bible says God made an unconditional promise to the nation of Israel, and we dare not revoke it. God said he would rebuild ethnic Israel. And Christ will reign physically from Jerusalem.

A plain reading of the Bible (literal-grammatical-historical) necessarily leads to premillennialism. A typological reading of the Bible (viewing the Old Testament allegorically, through the lens of Christ) easily leads to amillennialism. This, to me, is the fundamental difference between the two systems. It all comes down to hermeneutics.

My favorite author on the subject is Michael Vlach at The Master’s Seminary. I encourage you to read this article if you’d like to learn more about this ongoing debate.

The Official Blog of Stephen Jones