Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Heaven and the Christ Who Reigns There: A New Year’s Reflection on COVID Regulations and Social Justice

clouds dark dramatic heaven

As we prepare to welcome 2021 this week, this post is meant to consider how the largely unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have impacted us, especially the church and its pastors. May the Lord give us wisdom to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and courage to say so.

At the time of America’s founding, heterodox pastors attacked the doctrine of hell, while many of the Founders appreciated religion for its earthly and civic benefits. A century later, theological liberals exchanged the reality of heaven for the earthly message of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind. In the last century, prosperity preachers have promised heaven on earth, while many pragmatic pastors have made earthly success as important as—and often more important than—entrance into heaven.

Looking from the past to the present, it shouldn’t surprise us that the message of heaven has been threatened. Going back to Eden, there have always been those who have doubted God’s judgment and misjudged God’s eternal gospel. Movements like the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, and liberation theology have, in various ways, exchanged the glories of heaven for “Christian” messages that focus on the here and now. And always, when heaven is lost, the lost suffer.

Today, we are seeing a de-emphasis on heaven in a new way. Unlike theological liberals who might affirm universalism where everyone goes to heaven or deny the reality of hell, some evangelicals are mis-stepping with heaven on the basis of their ministerial focus. Without abandoning their orthodox confessions, Bible-believing churches are veiling heaven by focusing their attention on matters related to earth.

In 2020, you don’t have to be a “liberal” to downplay heaven in your daily living. You don’t have to preach a message of prosperity to illicitly transport heavenly blessings to earth. You don’t even have to deny Scripture to lose the heavenly mission of the church. In fact, you can hold firmly to the faith and lose heaven by doing nothing at all. The cultural winds of 2020 are that strong! Here’s what I’m getting at: Unless you realize how the events of this year are causing pastors and churches to focus almost exclusively on earthly matters, you will lose heaven—if not its doctrine, than its declaration.[1]

In what follows, I will highlight two cultural winds that are blowing Christians off course. Instead of preaching the glories of heaven and discipling the nations to obey all the Lord of heaven has commanded, churches are being tempted to give all their attention to (1) COVID regulations and (2) social justice. As a result heaven is assumed and not asserted. My argument, then, is that without Spirit-empowered effort, focus on these earthly concerns will cause us to mute the message of heaven. And if this is not corrected by faithful pastors, the reality of heaven—not just its emphasis—may soon be lost by some too. Continue reading

A Short Introduction to the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

rod-long-DRgrzQQsJDA-unsplashLast week, I introduced a new reading plan called the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. As I described it, the goal of this plan is to saturate ourselves with Scripture through repeated readings, listening, memorizing, studying, and discussing in community what we are learning.

The name of the plan from the fact this website (Via Emmaus) will, Lord willing, provide resources to a different focus book each month. In 2020, we will begin in Track 2 and offer resources on the Prophets, Writings, Mark, and Luke. Here’s the full layout.

Tracks[1] Old Testament 1

Law + Prophets

Old Testament 2

Prophets + Writings

New Testament
January Genesis Isaiah Matthew
February Exodus Jeremiah Mark
March Leviticus

Psalms

Ezekiel Luke

Psalms

April Numbers The Twelve[2] John
May Deuteronomy Psalms Acts
June John Proverbs Romans
July Joshua

Judges

Job 1–2 Corinthians
August 1–2 Samuel The Five Scrolls[3] Galatians–

2 Thessalonians

September 1–2 Kings

Proverbs

Daniel Pastorals

Proverbs

October Ezra-Nehemiah 1–2 Chronicles Hebrews
November Psalms Mark General Epistles[4]
December[5] Matthew Luke Revelation

If you are need of a Bible reading plan for 2020 or if this plan sounds like it would be helpful for your Scripture reading, please join us for reading the Bible in 2020.

You can learn more about the aims of this plan here and practical ways to put it into practice here. You can also find a printable Via Emmaus reading plan here. Tomorrow, I will outline a variety of ways to read Isaiah—something I will do each month for each focus book.

Also, if it helps, you can receive emails from Via Emmaus by signing up on the side bar. These emails will direct put in your inbox all the forthcoming resources on Isaiah, as well as other biblical-theological content from this website.

I started reading Isaiah this morning and I am looking forward to sharing this book with you and those in my local church family who will be following this plan.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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[1] Pick 1, 2, or 3 tracks. The number of tracks you read at once determines the pace of your reading. You may consider starting with Track #3 if you want to begin with the New Testament. Alternatively, you may want to read two tracks, one from the OT and one from the NT. Whichever you chose, the goal is to read one book for one month. This allows for longer readings and more detailed study. Details on this approach will come out tomorrow.

[2] ‘The Twelve’ are the Minor Prophets read as one book, rather than 12 isolated books. The Minor Prophets include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

[3] The ‘Five Scrolls’ (Megilloth) are a collection of “shorter OT books, brief enough to be read publicly at an annual religious festival: Song of Songs (Passover), Ruth (Pentecost), Lamentations (the ninth of Ab), Ecclesiastes (Tabernacles), and Esther (Purim).”

[4] The ‘General Epistles’ are the Epistles not written by Paul, namely, James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude.

[5] We will also supply a Advent Reading Plan each December. These Old Testament selections will complement and support the reading of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation—each of which testify to the birth of Christ (Matt. 1–2, Luke 1–2, Revelation 12).

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

 

How to Use the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

bible 2.jpegYesterday I introduced the Via Emmaus Reading Plan. Today I want to share a few aims of this reading plan, as well as ways to customize it for your personal reading. If what follows sounds like a personal trainer talking, it is. My undergraduate degree (Exercise Science) and one of the most recent books I read (Hearers and Doers by Kevin Vanhoozer) both contribute to the belief that pastors should be fitness instructors for the church. Vanhoozer even calls them “body builders”—very witty and very true!

So here’s a Bible reading plan complete with various stages for different “fitness” levels. For those who have never read the Bible before, there is a way to start reading the Bible and learn about Christ with God’s people. And for those who have been reading the Bible for decades, this approach will hopefully incorporate many familiar practices to help saturate yourself with biblical truth.

For sake of order, I will answer four questions to explain how this Bible reading plan works and how you can tailor it to match your time, interest, and desires. Here are the four questions:

  1. What is the aim of this Bible reading plan?  Or what makes the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan unique?
  2. How does this plan work? Really?!?
  3. How do I read in community? Where can I find a community?
  4. What sort of supplements should I take (read) with my Bible reading? Or, how do I increase of decrease the load?

Let’s take each in turn. Continue reading