What Are You Waiting for?

Luke 2:22-38

It seems like there’s been a lot of waiting this year. From those early days of optimism, when we were so young in March, when we were waiting at home for just two weeks until this virus thing died down. Then we waited for the summer and good weather to kill it. Now we’re waiting for vaccines. We waited for the election, then waited for the results, and now are waiting to see how the transition of power goes. We are mostly waiting for life to go back to normal, when we can go out to eat, watch our kids play sports, and gather with our families; when we can see people’s entire faces; when we aren’t dominated by fear. We are waiting.

You know who else was waiting? The Jewish people during the time of Jesus’ birth. They were waiting for Rome to go away. They were waiting for freedom and for self-governance. They were waiting to not be oppressed with taxes by a foreign power. They were waiting to return to the glory days of King David. In the midst of their waiting for military, political, and economic freedom, Jesus was born, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

As I was going through Luke this year, I was struck by two people who got to meet Jesus when he was presented at the temple. Not only did they get to see Jesus, but the Bible is clear that God specifically rewarded them by showing them Jesus. They are Simeon and Anna. Why them? Why those two? I think it’s because they were waiting. Now, all of Israel was waiting, but Anna and Simeon were waiting for something different

First, let’s read what Simeon was waiting for. Luke 2:25 says “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He was not waiting for freedom or a military deliverer or earthly power at all. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. What does consolation mean? It means comfort or rescue. Okay, so rescue could still mean a military rescue right? Well no, he was waiting for the Savior who would rescue Israel from sin, and not only Israel, but the Gentiles too. We can tell that by his blessing in Luke 2:29-32 which says, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel, a permanent consolation, that could only come through God’s Son, who did not stay in heaven, but came down alongside us, to walk with us, to give His life to reconcile whoever believes to God. A revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. Because Simeon was waiting for this, he didn’t miss Jesus.

The other person who got to meet little Jesus was Anna. She was a widow of many years who spent her time fasting and praying night and day in the temple. What was she waiting for? We find this in Luke 2:38 which says, “and coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” She was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Now, what does that mean? Redemption means to be bought back from sin, to be free from the guilt of sin. Anna was waiting for the one who could free us from sin.She knew she was a sinner, and not only that, but that her sin was a bigger problem that the Roman occupation. She was waiting for the one who could redeem her, who could reconcile her to God, and she met Jesus. She not only met Him, but told of Him to others who were waiting for the same thing, for redemption.

It struck me that neither one of these people were saved out of their circumstances. After they met Jesus, they still lived under Roman rule, they still paid too much in taxes, they still weren’t politically free. But they were consoled, they were redeemed, they met Jesus, and did not miss him. They had a Savior who came alongside them. The rest of the book of Luke contains many people who missed Jesus, from the pharisees and religious rulers trying to trap and get rid of him, to the disciples who lived and walked with him but still missed Jesus at times, waiting to rule in the kingdom they were sure He was bringing. The only people who are sure not to miss Jesus are the ones who know they are sinners, who know they are in need, who come to Jesus to seek consolation and redemption. Those people never miss Jesus.

So in this time of waiting, I realized I should not spend so much of time waiting to be delivered out of these circumstances, waiting for better, more normal days. “Normal” may be weeks away like we first thought, or months away. Who knows? In my impatience, while I focus on my circumstances and being delivered out of them, I might miss Jesus. What I need to be focused on is my need for redemption, my need for consolation, my need for a Savior to walk alongside me as I navigate this uncertain world, and not only my need for those things but the needs of my loved ones, my countrymen, and the world. We all need consolation. We all need redemption. When we come to Jesus with that, we find it, and we find Him. 

This Christmas are you weary of waiting? Are you weary of coronavirus and lockdown, of political unrest and uncertainty all around? Then come to Jesus. Come to Him in your weariness, with your needs. Bring them to Him. As Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Come to Jesus in your need and find consolation. Find redemption. Find a Savior to walk alongside you. Find Him.

We Have No King But Jesus

As one of the most divisive Presidential election moves to its close in the USA, there is a division not only among the electorate, but also one deeply dividing Christians. Politics is described as the art of compromise, but we live in a time when things are divided as if one is all good and the other all evil (depending on your preference). Political differences now are drawn in stark contrast, as if good or evil itself was at stake. This division is seen in relations among Christians. Friendships have been strained or broken. One person I saw on Facebook said if you are voting for the opposite candidate please unfriend yourself. People who point out flaws of character or policies of a particular candidate or party are regarded as victims of ‘Fake News’ or betrayers of goodness itself. There is no dialogue over issues or policies, just shouting affirmations or accusations.

We know that Christians are to be known by their love for one another. We know that our love for each other brings power to Jesus and the Gospel in the world (John 13:34-35). Jesus said He had one commandment for us flowing from our love for Him and our obedience, and that command was to love one another (John 15:12). So, how do we love, and how can we be known by our love in times of such deep division? Is it found in wholesale and unquestioning surrender to one political viewpoint or another? I think the Word of God and even the twelve Apostles of the Lord Jesus have great help for us in loving brothers and sisters in Christ in times of such deep division.

As we come to this issue let’s realize that tensions between the Kingdom of Jesus and the political kingdom are as old as the church itself. Christians have always been forced to discern how to live in the Kingdom of Jesus and live in the political kingdom of Caesar. In Jesus’ lifetime one of the most powerful and cruelest world empires in history ruled Judea, the land of the Jews. The Roman Empire dominated the Mediterranean region. Judea was ruled by Rome. In Jesus’ day there were three responses to the rule of Rome. For many there was passive acceptance with a longing for the Messiah to come. For some there was collaboration. The religious leaders collaborated with Rome giving them great power and wealth. The tax collectors oversaw a powerful and often corrupt taxation process that greatly benefitted them. The third response was led by a group called the Zealots. The Zealots believed the Romans had no right from God to rule them. They believed the rule of Rome must be resisted. They sought to incite rebellion among Jews who would throw off the power of Rome. They committed terrorist acts to make occupation painful for Rome and to incite others to rebel.

How did Jesus resolve this issue? How did He teach us to live in His Kingdom while we dwell in the kingdom of Caesar? How did He teach us to love even when political differences are part of our daily lives? As we come to the twelve, the inner circle of Jesus, we find that before Jesus were the three different responses to the rule of Rome (Matthew 10:1-4). Most of the disciples, the working poor of Galilee, reluctantly accepted Rome as they looked for the Messiah who would come and throw out the Romans. Matthew was a tax collector. He was a full collaborator with Rome, making great income off his power to collect Rome’s taxes. Simon the Zealot had been committed to those seeking to cause insurrection and for people to use violence to throw out the Romans. How is it that this group of twelve became brothers in Christ known for their love?

The disciples were united by their love of Jesus, their singular commitment to Jesus as Lord, Savior, and King, and their commitment to the Kingdom of Jesus. They had No King But Jesus. They lived in one kingdom, the Kingdom of Jesus. They weren’t trying to live in two kingdoms, the kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of Caesar. They lived in the Kingdom of Jesus in which He is Lord and King. They were in the world, but they were not of it. They honored Caesar, paid taxes, and lived in submission to the laws of Caesar (except when the laws conflicted with the Gospel). They lived in submission to Caesar because Jesus is King, and those in power are there by the will of Jesus. Jesus is the King, and His will is to place those in power and to remove them. Christians were to pray for the rulers. In democracies where they have the power to vote, they did their best to support candidates that best honored the principles of justice, righteousness and good judgment. But they rested in God’s superintending will in who the leaders were.

I think the great problem among Christians today is that we have placed real and almost ultimate value in who the Caesar is, as if the future is in the hands of who the Caesar is. As if God’s will on earth is done through the Caesar, and thus everything depends on who the Caesar is. That thinking is unbiblical, untrue, and in conflict with our loyalty to Jesus, because we have no King but Jesus. We see the conflict between Jesus as King and Caesar as King in Pilate’s presenting of Jesus to the crowds. Pilate said to the crowds, as recorded in John 18:39, “So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” Here is Pilate introducing Jesus to the Jews as their King. He said again in John 19:14, “Behold your King!”. But as recorded in John 19:15, the religious leaders said, “We have no king but Caesar.””

I believe too many Christians are living in two different and often opposed kingdoms: the Kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of Caesar. Strangely, in the era of Donald Trump many ‘evangelicals’ believe that the kingdom of Trump as Caesar is the one which will bring peace, prosperity, and security to the USA and blessing to the world. How is it that we came to believe that the agent of bringing the blessing and rule of God to a country and world is through the Caesar, and not through Jesus and His Kingdom? When or where is it Biblical that a Christian should ever look to the Caesar as the instrument of God’s blessings to a country or to a world? We know from church history that whenever the church became closely allied to a Caesar it went badly for the church and ultimately for the nation.

Let’s look briefly at the Biblical truths that guide us through this dark and disturbing political world. The Apostles went into the world in which for them there was no King but Jesus. Jesus commanded them, and through them us, as He taught in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” That word first doesn’t mean that we should have a long list and that seeking first the kingdom and righteousness of God is at the top of the list. Seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness is the list. The King of the Kingdom of God is Jesus. We are to singularly seek His rule in our lives and through our lives. The righteousness of God is His character perfectly reflected to us in Jesus. Thus, the priority of our lives is to become like Jesus in character and action. He is the King in whom is our love, obedience, loyalty. The Apostle Paul put it most simply and completely when he said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” When the power of Caesar confronted the service of Jesus as King, the choice for the Apostles was simple. As Peter said in response to the order by those who held the political power of the Caesar not to proclaim Jesus and His Kingdom, “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:19-20).

Second, what guides us in this life is that we live on earth as citizens of heaven. As Peter instructed Christians in 1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” A sojourner is someone who comes from another country and is passing through. Exiles are those separated from their homeland. We honor the kings and laws of the land, but our loyalty is to Jesus and to His kingdom. Our homeland is the New Jerusalem, kept safe in heaven for us which is waiting to be revealed. Our love and loyalty is not to a country on earth. It is to Jesus, His kingdom that is now, and that will soon fully come. Abraham is our example in this as he and others are described in Hebrews 11:13-16, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” The secret to the faith of Abraham and other examples of faith is that they lived on earth as strangers and exiles. They were patriots of heaven, not of any country on earth.

Many Christians have mixed this up. They see the USA as the instrument of bringing God’s purpose to Earth. With all due respect to former President Ronald Reagan, the USA is not the shining city set on a hill, a beacon of light to the world. The light of the world is Jesus shining through Christians, united in His church (Matthew 5:14-16). We are not confused as to what brings the light to the world. It is Jesus, through His disciples. God uses nations, but Jesus is building a kingdom of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. The world is not changed for good through Caesars or nations. It is changed through lives transformed by Jesus through the Gospel. All Christians should want from a nation is the opportunity to live quiet, godly lives, passionately committed to the Gospel advancing. As the Bible puts it in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Notice there is no nationalism in the prayer. It is a prayer for all people.

As Christians live in the kingdom of Caesar, we do so as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know the problem of every person and their collective as nations is that they are at war with God. They are in rebellion. Christians are the ambassadors to them of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are the messengers bringing the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. An ambassador is in a country as an official representative of another country. Here is how our ministry is described in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Notice this ministry of reconciliation as ambassadors for Christ is for all who are new creations in Christ Jesus.

Again, as citizens we are responsible for voting. We pray. But we remember our influence in a country is through our character and through the witness of the Gospel. We are the salt of the earth. We, with Jesus shining through us, are the light of the world. We know that nations are not saved or lost. People are. We want good leaders and laws, but we know only Jesus can change hearts. We also rest in the rule of God over the Caesars of the earth, as Jesus is the Lord and authority. We know that it is God who raises kings up and causes them to fall (Isaiah 40:21-24). As Jesus said to the agent of Caesar at His trial, Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11). Jesus’ servants understood this as well, as Jesus said of them in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Finally, as Christians we put our hope solely in Jesus and His kingdom soon to come to earth. We know no Caesar and no nation is bringing peace and blessing to earth. Those who see a Caesar as the hope of the world are doomed to disappointment no matter how many so called prophets declare him to be. We know that good or evil for the future lies in no Caesar nor nation. We have no King but Jesus and our thriving, living hope for the future is in Him. We urge people to register and to vote. We inform ourselves of the candidates and issues. We pray and seek God’s leading in our votes and in the results. But we rest that God’s purpose will be accomplished. We live as advocates for people of all nations. We speak up for justice, and we are advocates for compassion. We do this all with an unconquerable hope. Our King Jesus has all authority now, and He will triumph. The future is in His hands, not ours nor any Caesar or nation. Peter spoke by the Holy Spirit for us this way, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:10-13). Whatever 2020 and the elections might bring, live as an ambassador of Christ, full of His love, joy, and peace. Live with unconquerable hope. We have no King but Jesus. He has all authority now, and He is coming for us, soon!

How Great the Fall

Of all the evidences of being in the Last Times, there is one sign that is most disturbing of all. The judgments of the last seven years seem minor in comparison to the judgment from this sign. As Jesus warned us, we are not to fear those who can take the life of our body; we are to fear the one Who after death can cast body and soul into hell (Matthew 10:28). The Lord Jesus warned of many in the Last Days who will be without question in the worst condition a person can be. Jesus warned of many who will think they are Christians but are not. They are deceived. The Bible warns that spiritually within the church, the sign of the Last Days will be a Great Apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Apostasy is when a person denies the truth and turns from it. It is an abandonment or renouncement of a belief. Just as the Bible prophesied, so we are living in the days of the Great Apostasy in the church that not only exists, but is growing.

One of the most familiar nursery rhymes is Humpty Dumpty.  Humpty Dumpty is a great egg sitting on a wall.  They rhyme goes like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

In the nursery rhyme, the consequences of the fall are final and irreversible. No one or nothing could put Humpty together again. It was such a great fall.

It will be the same in the Apostasy, the Great Fall of the church. The Fall of the church from the truth of Christ will be into eternal hell. Nothing described in the terrifying events of the Great Tribulation can compare to the horror of being in the lake of fire forever with no escape, no second chance, no exit. Death is no escape. It is just the entrance into the eternal condition of being with God or forever separated from Him in judgment.

While in the Bible the Apostasy seems like a sudden change in which the church embraces the false, the truth is it is just another of many small steps. Even in the first century there were those preaching a false Jesus and a false Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). The Apostle Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus that from among themselves would come those who would lead others away from the truth (Acts 20:28-30).  The book of Jude was written to warn Christians of the dangers to the church from within. He wrote by the Holy Spirit in Jude 1:3-4, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Bible teaches that the Great Apostasy will lead to a worldwide religious deception that is Satanic (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10).  But while the deception is Satanic it is allowed and even purposed by God as it will reveal the true hearts of people and take away all allusions of being in the name of the Lord Jesus as it will blaspheme that name (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). But while embracing the deception is a clear step, it has been preceded by people in churches who do not love the truth of God and do not want their lives governed by the Lord Jesus through His Word.  As 2 Thessalonians 2:12 says the cause of falling for the deception was their refusal to submit to the truth, “… who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”  As the Apostle Paul warned Timothy of the solemn charge to preach the Word of God in the Last Days, people will reject sound preaching and teaching. He said in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  But while they reject the truth of the Bible, people will still think of themselves as Christians.  They will be as the Apostle Paul described, appearing to be spiritual, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5)  They seem to even enjoy Bible studies and spiritual learning, but they are never changed.  It describes them in 2 Timothy 3:7, “always learning and never able to arrive at knowledge of the truth.” In other words, the truth of the Bible never changes their lives because they never live in true submission to it.

While the Great Apostasy is true of the Last Days, it is based on the same strategy of Satan used in the first great deception of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden. The progression to deception is easy to see in the garden and in the history of the church in this last generation.  As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.”  The deception begins always by separating us from the revealed truth of God through His Word. As the deception with Eve began, Satan said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Satan introduced doubt of the clarity, meaning, and certainty of God’s Word. Satan summarized as if what was said gave them freedom to eat of any tree they wanted. By Satan’s word, the Word of God had no authority over their behavior.  They were not to live in submission to the Word of God, the Word of God was to be in submission to them.

As we think about the truth and role of the Word of God in our lives, we realize that we know nothing about God apart from His revelation through His Word.  We understand from creation that God is, and is worthy of thanks and praise as our Creator and sustainer of life (Romans 1:19-20).  We have a moral conscience that leads us to know there is a right and a wrong.  But we have no way of knowing God apart from His revealing Himself through His Word.  We also have no way of knowing who we are as mankind apart from the Word of God.  We have no understanding of our origins, our purpose in life, and what follows death apart from the Word of God.  We have no way of establishing absolutes in moral and spiritual behavior apart from the Word of God.  As the Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:19, the Word of God is the only light we have shining in this morally and spiritually dark world.

Thus to deceive us, Satan must first separate us from the truth, clarity, and authority of the Word of God.  Satan was causing Eve to be the authority of what God really said.  He was leading Eve, and Adam with her, to be separated from living under God’s authority.  We see this massively at work in the church today.  There is a widespread rejection of the Bible as the true and authoritative Word of God in many, if not most churches today.  The Bible is often seen as some combination of the Word of God and the word of man.  It is left to individuals to decide what part of the Bible, if any, is the authoritative Word of God for them and what part is the word of imperfect man.  Some, through people like N. T. Wright, believe none of the Bible is authoritative.  It only shows us that God will raise up spokesmen for Himself in every generation who will speak to that generation.  One popular Pastor in Atlanta has all but eliminated the Old Testament as having any relevance for us today. 

The second step of deception is deception as to the very nature and character of God. After Eve says that God warned them they would die if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, Satan went to step two of deception, changing the very character of God and the truth of judgment.  He said to Eve, recorded in Genesis 3:4-5, “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Eve was told she had no need to live in fear of God or His judgment.  Satan denied the essential goodness of God.  Satan made it seem God’s desire was selfish by keeping them from being at the level of God.  God was selfish of His own position and Satan gave the lie that you can be god without God.  Satan implied God was powerless from keeping Adam and Eve from reaching His level.  Satan said that with the knowledge gained from eating the forbidden fruit they could decide for themselves what is right or wrong.  Satan urged Eve to make choices by the desires of her appetites.

As we bring this lie of Satan about the nature of God and judgment to the 21st century, we see how it is so clearly the foundation of the Great Apostasy.  In Apostasy, the root character of God is not holiness, but love.  It is a love that is indulgent and tolerant of man’s choices.  It is a love that no longer speaks of sins but only mistakes.  It is a character of God without wrath.  In fact, the truth of the wrath of God is most clearly and loudly rejected.  To those under deception, a God of love would not subject people to a judgment of bearing the eternal wrath of God against sin.

It is in the study of the wrath of God that the deception gets most clever. To the deceived, the wrath of God rests not on sinners, but on sin.  To them, God is angry and upset at sin, which is why Jesus went to the cross: to show how upset God is with sin.  But to them the wrath of God rests on sin not sinners.  It is as if God is only upset with the results of sin not the cause which lies in the sinful choices of people.  Yet, “The soul that sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 28:20) To die is to be separated from God, who is life.  When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they died. They were separated from a life-giving relationship with God. That is spiritual death.  But the Bible warns of eternal death.  Eternal death is to die in your sins and to be forever separated from God in judgment (Revelation 21:8).  The Deception denies the truth of Ephesians 5:6, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”  Of course God hates sin, but an anger that rests only on the results of sin and not on the cause would be both unwise and lack justice.  God created man accountable for his sins, and God has set a day of judgment for those sins.  He has handed judgment to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus said of this in John 5:25-29, Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”  

Wrath is an essential part of God’s holiness and commitment to justice.  Without wrath there is no real love, for a love that is not aroused by unjust treatment of others is no real love.  Without wrath that brings the consequences of judgment to people who commit sinful actions, there is no real justice.  The wrath of God rests not only on the results of sin, it rests importantly on the cause of sin, people who commit sinful actions.  As a society, we hate murder, but what we send to prison is not murder, but murderers.

The Great Deception not only denies the holiness of God, but it also denies the work of Jesus on the cross.  The Bible gives us a great tension: if the soul that sins must die, what hope do we have, as we all have sinned? If sin separates us from God, how can we have peace with God?  If death leads to eternity, what can ever save us from forever being separated from God?  This is the major tension and question of the Bible.  It is the major focus of the book of Romans. How can we who are sinners, rightly deserving the judgement of God for our sin, ever reach a state of righteousness necessary to be at peace with God?  The tension is resolved in the Bible through the atonement the Lord Jesus Christ provided on the cross.  But if we don’t understand the holiness of God and the wrath of God that rests on those who sin, we will never understand the cross.

In God’s system of justice, He has allowed for a substitute to take the judgment we deserve.  Often, the Bible uses financial accounting terms to describe sin and judgment.  It uses the concept of the wages of sin (Romans 6:23).  Sin causes a debt that must be paid to be forgiven.  The Bible says the only way sin can be atoned is by blood, the giving of a life.  Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” As the Bible says in the New Testament in Hebrews 9:22, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”  In the Law of God, it was taught from the beginning that we could bring a substitute for ourselves in the judgment of sin by offering the blood of a perfect animal.  This was just a sign that one day God would provide the perfect atonement by the shedding of the blood of His Son on the cross.

There are many things happening at the cross of Jesus, but the most important is that the cross was the judicial judgment of God placed upon Jesus for our sins.  On the cross, the judicial wrath of God on sinners was satisfied. Isaiah 53 gives us so many truths about the cross.  It says in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  In clarity, Isaiah says by the Holy Spirit, the cross was the judicial action of God the Father as He laid on Jesus the judicial judgment and wrath for our sin.  Isaiah 53:10-11 states, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”    Did you see the accounting term?  Because of what Jesus did on the cross, those who trust in Him will be accounted righteous.  Before a holy God Whose wrath rests on sinners, that wrath has been satisfied by Jesus.  For Jesus to be able to be a substitute, He had to be perfect, without sin.  No one else could ever pay our sins because we have all sinned.  Only Jesus could do it.  As the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The great deception in the Garden led Eve and Adam to actions, the third step in deception.  No longer directed by the Word of God, they were then directed by their own appetites and judgments.  As it says in Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”   So we see today, people making their own moral and spiritual choices.  They do what they think will satisfy their physical desires, their desires for what pleases their eyes, their desires that feed their pride.  Where the Great Apostasy is present, there is an embrace of whatever a person desires. There are no longer sinful choices, just good choices and bad choices.  There are no longer sinful choices, just mistakes.  There is no awareness that we are by nature sinners, that our own bodies use our appetites and desires to deceive us.

In my life, that was first seen in church in the reaction to divorce.  Divorce was forbidden by God except for those whose partners refused to live in sexual faithfulness. Divorce was incredibly rare.  It was shocking. Divorce carried with it disqualifications in spiritual life and service.  But somehow, that changed, and divorce became just a sad but necessary choice.  This has moved on to an embrace of homosexuality. It has gone on to redefine marriage.  It has gone on to all but fully embrace LGBTQ lifestyles.

We see the massive Apostasy in statistics that are shocking and sobering.  A research group called the Barna Group has surveyed those who call themselves evangelicals.  The survey defines evangelicals by nine key beliefs.  Yet studies show that of those who call themselves evangelicals, only 6% believe anymore in the essential truths.  Among millennials it is worse, with only 2% believing the essential truths.  Key in those truths is the Bible as the Word of God, Jesus the only atonement for sin, and salvation only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross.  Many are like rudderless ships driven by the winds of culture into the storms of God’s rising judgment.

But as you read this, you must realize the truth of God is always personal.  As Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 16:15, “But who do you say that I am?”.  You must answer that question.  The truth is about a personal relationship with God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus said in John 15:5, “II am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  Abiding in Jesus brings us back to where the deception began, understanding and embracing the Bible as the Word of God.  Jesus said in John 15:7-11, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Abide in Jesus. Abide in His Word. Love Him. Keep His commandments. This leads to a fruitful life full of joy.  May God lead and empower you in a dynamic relationship with Jesus.  May you not be another statistic of the Great Apostasy.

End Times Prophecy Meets Cancel Culture

One of the new words that reflects the times is cancel culture. In cancel culture, persons are thrust out of professional and social circles for a perceived offense. Whatever else a person has said or done that might be good is canceled. Whole numbers of people in culture and time are canceled because of the offense. The Bible warns us that cancel culture will meet Biblical prophecy about the second coming of Christ. The Apostle Peter wrote about it in 2 Peter 3:3-4, “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.'” Isn’t it interesting that one of the very prophecies of the last days is that for most of the church, the teaching of the Second Coming is cancelled?

Cancel End Time teaching has long been at work with the Second Coming of Jesus. Some have canceled Israel from the future and the Second Coming of Christ. They say all the promises to Israel were either fulfilled, conditional, or will be fulfilled through the church. The miraculous establishment of the nation of Israel in our day just increases their deniability of it having any Biblical significance. Cancel End Time teaching decidedly canceled of the whole book of Revelation. Some say it was all fulfilled in the First Century, despite Revelation ending with the Lord Jesus Christ bringing His kingdom to earth for a thousand years. Some of the Cancel End Time teaching sees Revelation as a kind of guide for how Christians over the centuries should deal with evil empires. The one book of the Bible that warns not to add a word or take away a word (Revelation 22:18-19) is the book from which Cancel End Time teaching removes the meaning of all of the words.

One of the places cancel culture uses to cancel the teaching on the Second Coming of Christ and signs of His coming is Acts 1:7. In that verse, Jesus says to His Apostles on Mt Olives, as He is ready to ascend to heaven and take the position of all authority, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” So there it is, they say. Jesus has canceled all teaching and knowledge of the season of the Second Coming. Despite the fact that vast amounts of the Bible address it for the church, they say, it is canceled. Well let’s examine what Jesus said about this subject. Was He indeed canceling teaching and understanding of the season and time of His Second Coming? If this is the only time Jesus or the Bible addressed the subject there would be little or no argument.

Those who scoff at End Time teaching love to use this verse. Some have said every generation of the church thought they were the last generation. Now that is a generalization without any truth, as for vast centuries the church ignored end time teaching. There have been a few times this has happened, but we will see there was one clear and unmistakable sign that has never been true until 1980. We also know every doctrine of the New Testament both major and minor has been at some times in church history mistaught and/or misapplied. If we avoided teaching in the Bible because it has been mistaught or misapplied by others, we would have nothing left.

But what about Jesus’ statement to the twelve that they are not to know the times or the seasons? Was that in the context of the moment for the Apostles as the Church Age was just starting, or is it authoritative for all ages of the church? Jesus also told them to wait in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Is that authoritative for the church as well? Should we all go to Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon us? If the first part of the statement is authoritative, why not the second part? How do we decide what was specifically for the Apostles for that moment in history and what is authoritative for the church throughout her history? Fortunately, good principles of Bible interpretation give us good guidance so that we avoid the errors of Cancel End Time teaching.

One principle of Bible interpretation is that there are teaching sections of the Bible and there are history sections. We don’t get our teaching from the history sections, we interpret them through the teaching sections. Acts is a book of history. It tells how the Gospel went from these Apostles, to Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth. It is exciting, dynamic and historic, but it is history, not teaching. Treating Acts as if it was a teaching book has led to vast errors in the understanding of the Holy Spirit and His work in and through our lives. Many people have looked for a baptism of the Holy Spirit after salvation which is marked by speaking in tongues. Treating history as if it were teaching is a violation of good principles of Bible interpretation.

Important to good Bible interpretation are the principles that the Bible teaches one truth and that you use the whole of the teaching of the Bible to understand any one part of it. The issue of signs and identifying the generation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ has already been addressed by Jesus to the Apostles. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, Jesus answers the Apostles’ questions to a request for signs. Jesus has told them that the Temple of Israel would be destroyed with not one stone left on top of the other. The Apostles asked three questions: What will be the sign that Jerusalem will be destroyed? What will be the signs of Jesus Second Coming? What will be the signs of the end of the age? (Matthew 24:3). Jesus did not tell them it was not for them to know the signs of His return and the end of the age. He gave them detailed answers. In the Bible, a sign is something that happens in the real world, but its meaning is from God.

The sign of Jerusalem being destroyed, we know from church history, gave the early church warning. When Rome lay siege to Jerusalem, they knew to flee. We know that Rome in 70 AD burned Jerusalem and tore down the temple so that not one stone was left upon another. We know the Jewish people were dispersed to the far corners of the earth. It was for the church to know the signs and to take action as a result.

In the same way, Jesus gave the church the signs of the End of the Age and the signs of His Second Coming. The signs were multiple (all being fulfilled right now), but there was one clear and unmistakable sign that would be conclusive. There is a sign Jesus gave that made it possible for even a child to recognize that it is the end of the age and that the end of the age is coming before this generation ends. Listen to what Jesus said to the Apostles in Matthew 24:32-35, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” He also said in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” That the New Testament writers knew there would be signs to recognize the last generation is the assumption of Scriptures like Hebrews 10:25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Thus, we see clearly Jesus and the Bible give the church signs to recognize the generation of the coming of Jesus and the end of the age.

Before we see the one clear and undeniable sign, let’s consider the meaning of Acts 1:7. Why did Jesus say it is not for you to know times or seasons? First, Jesus had given them the signs. He didn’t need to repeat the signs to them. But one key sign is that the Gospel was to be preached to the ends of the earth (Matthew 24:14). The Age of the Apostles was the beginning of the age, not the end. Jesus is like a coach telling the team, ‘Focus!’. Ten days later the Holy Spirit came upon them in power, and the age of the Church began. They were to be focused on advancing the Gospel to Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. All but one, the Apostle John, would be martyred for the Gospel. They were to establish the church upon the truth of the Word of God, which we now have as the New Testament. Jesus knew as He spoke to them that it would be almost two thousand years before the signs of the end of the age. Thus in the context of the history of Acts, Jesus says it is not for your generation to see the end. You are the beginning of the Church Age.

Let us see the one unmistakable sign that Jesus gave that makes it so clear and obvious that we are the last generation, the end of the age. In this sign, we see the culmination of the plans of God. In this sign, we see how the Old Testament and the New Testament join together in prophecy. The key sign is the Jewish nation of Israel and Jerusalem. Jesus said in Luke 21:24 referring to the Jewish people and Jerusalem, “They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” We know that Jerusalem fell by the edge of the sword in 70 AD. We also know that in 1967 the Jewish nation of Israel took control of Jerusalem, and Gentile control ended. We know that in 1980, Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital. This is the unmistakable sign of the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of the age. No generation has seen this since Jesus spoke this prophecy. We are now forty years from Israel passing the Jerusalem Law declaring Jerusalem as its capital.

It is the Apostle Paul who was used by the Holy Spirit to bring this prophecy about the Church and Israel together. In Romans 11:25-27 he talks about a mystery. A mystery is something known to man only by the revelation of God. The mystery is that there is a time in the future when God will turn His saving work in the world from the church to Israel. There is a time when the Gospel will stop going to the ends of the earth and will come back to Jerusalem with a focus on the Jewish people of the nation of Israel. Paul writes, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’; ‘and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’”

We are in the moment in time when the fullness of the Gospel work among Gentiles is being completed. God has brought the Jewish people back to the land of Israel. They have providentially made Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish nation of Israel. There are Jewish people in Israel who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, but Israel is not a nation whose King is Jesus. That is coming. What is next is for Jesus to take the church home, and send the two witnesses of Revelation 11 to Jerusalem and by the power of the Holy Spirit to save Jewish people who will name Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Lord, and King. It will be they at the end of the age who welcome to earth Jesus as the redeemed nation of Israel.

The Bible teaches that God is a promise keeper. He made a promise to Abraham, renewed with Isaac and Jacob that one day He would make of Abraham a great nation. Now, it is true that the seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus, would bless all nations. It is in Jesus that all the people of all nations are blessed. It is through Jesus that the Gentiles become part of the everlasting kingdom. But God made a promise to Abraham that from his seed would come a great nation. That nation is Israel, with its capital being Jerusalem. God has a love for the Jewish people and for Jerusalem that is irrevocable. God will fulfill His promise. We are the eyewitnesses as the age ends that God is a promise keeper. But just as the Bible warned us, there will be the scoffers, those who will cancel the End Time teaching of the Bible, even as it is undeniably fulfilled before their eyes.

Please don’t miss this startling evidence that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, that His faithfulness is great, and that His mercies are new every morning. God is not doing this because the Jewish people have called out to Him in repentance. He is doing it for the sake of His name, which the Jewish people bear. God is known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel is His covenant people. He promised that Israel would become great and that the glory of the Lord would reside in Jerusalem. We are witnesses to the great truth that even when we as people are faithless, God is faithful. Let’s hear from His Word what He is doing before our very eyes. Ezekiel 36:22-28, “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord (YAHWEH), declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all you uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

How blind the Cancel End Time teachers are to the wonder of seeing before our very eyes, God accomplishing His purpose among the nations and now coming to Israel. The times of the Gentiles are all but done. The mission of taking the Gospel to all nations is accomplished. We are now finishing the gathering of the harvest. The time for the church to go home with Jesus is at hand. The time for Israel to be saved as a nation is soon to be accomplished. All anxieties and fears about the future are canceled. Even the threat of civil war and violence in the USA is in His prophecy (Jeremiah 51:46). We are the peacemakers proclaiming the Gospel of Peace. Put down your weapons. Look up, church. Watch and pray. He is coming soon. Even so Lord Jesus come.

So Close to the End

Back in the time when we used to go out to eat at restaurants, one of my favorite restaurants had two large aquariums in the waiting area. One aquarium was used for lobsters. It always fascinated me to look at lobsters, their claws taped shut, who were just minutes, hours, or if by chance a day or two from death. Though it was a continuously changing group of lobsters their behavior was always the same. They would all crowd together, on top of each other, at one end of the aquarium.  I thought, “With all that space why are you spending your last moments all jammed together on top of each other?”  There was also invariably one bully lobster who would be pushing, shoving, climbing over the pile.  I thought, “You are minutes from death. Why are you shoving, pushing for space you can’t use and won’t enjoy?”

As I think of those lobsters, I think of what is happening among us today.  As a people we are anxious, angry, fearful, climbing over one another, pushing others aside. Many live with a level of rage or anger that is just waiting for the slightest perceived threat to trigger it. We are deeply divided politically, and even the most routine issues are seen as part of that deep divide. Groups on the right and left imagine conspiracies by the other side that are dark and disturbing. Even a simple requirement of wearing a mask to protect public health is perceived as some conspiracy to take away our rights and get us ready for further government control. Why did this become the issue when we obey government regulations in all kinds of ways in life?  We obey traffic laws, pay our taxes, don’t text while we drive. How is it that wearing a mask became the key step of government oppression?  Yet somehow this pragmatic step of preventing the spread of a contagious disease is only interpreted through the most extreme conspiracy views.

As we live this in this way, we are like the lobsters in the aquarium.  We are just seconds, minutes, perhaps days from God bringing the culmination of His plans for us and the world as we know it. We are moments from the Lord Jesus coming to take His bride the church home for the wedding celebration. We are minutes from the final seven year period of this age when man’s rebellion against Jesus will reach its ultimate expression, when God will redeem a people from Israel for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and when God will bring His wrath upon the nations for their rebellion. Christians are worried about things like the mark of the Beast and the rule of the Antichrist that they will never see.

As we look at the anger and division in our society, it should not surprise us as it is another evidence that we are at the very end of the age.  The Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit warned us that the last days would be terrible times (2 Timothy 3:1-9).  These terrible times are not the rising intensity of natural disasters, wars, and diseases like COVID-19.  Those are the signs of creation in the final and intense birth pangs associated with the judgment of God and the bringing His Son the Lord Jesus Christ to earth as King and Lord, and one who will bring a thousand year reign of peace. The terrible times in this passage are the breakdown of social relations. We will become a people consumed with the love of self, the love of money, and the love of pleasure. We will not yield to others but will be like lobsters jammed in a corner fighting and pushing for space. What is sobering about this is that it comes from a people the Bible says have an appearance of godliness, people who call themselves Christians but who savagely attack others with genuine animosity.

The Lord Jesus also warns us in the last days of false messiahs who will come to deliver us (Matthew 24:5).  Let us remind ourselves that there is no earthly king who will deliver us, only Jesus. There is no king or nation that will rise to bring the rule of God to earth, only Jesus.  There is no king of destiny who will bring revival to earth, only Jesus.  There is no political party that is destined to bring the kingdom to earth, only Jesus. All the efforts of man are vain and futile.  There are no political solutions for the world, only the rule of Jesus.  Isaiah 26:17-18 describes all our efforts, no matter how well intended, this way, “Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord; we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.”  We have wasted so much of our efforts, so many false hopes, looking to a man or political movement as if they will bring glory to a nation or a people.  We have attacked and divided against one another over massive efforts that will only birth wind and will bring no good to the inhabitants of a fallen world.

If we are moments from the end how should we live?  In this question, Philippians 2:1-18 has such wisdom for us.  We are called to have the mind of Christ (verse 5).  Jesus, though God, came in the form of a servant who put the interest of others over Himself.  He humbled Himself even to the death on the cross to take the judgment for the guilty sinners He came to save.  Jesus realized the cross is the way God works in a sinful world to bring some to salvation and the kingdom that is to come to earth.  Jesus had absolute confidence He would triumph.  He knew His Father was at work and that He would triumph and the kingdom will come.  He was the humble King who had absolute confidence in the power of the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit to save and the will of the Father to bring the Kingdom to earth when the Gospel has gone to every nation, people, tribe, tongue.  Jesus faced groups of power conspiring against Him, but He knew no conspiracy of man will defeat the will of God.  God will triumph in the battle.  He doesn’t need us to triumph.  We are either cooperating with Him or resisting Him, but we will not stop His will or make it come to pass.  Jesus knew that in all the evil, God was at work for good, and He was okay with that.

Philippians goes on to call us to live a life of obedience to Jesus as we work out our own salvation.  We aren’t working for salvation as all the work of salvation is by Jesus and the Father by the Holy Spirit working through Him.  Now we know that obedience for a Christian flows from our love of Jesus.  Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  Those who love Jesus live to know Him.  They have a deep passion to become like Him.  They live to bring Him glory, honor, praise, strength, wealth.  They seek to bring all people to reconciliation with Him and with one another.  Those who, like the Apostle Paul, are working out their salvation with fear and trembling can say, “the love of Christ controls me.” (2 Corinthians 5:14).  And even as they work out their salvation they do that with a rest in their soul as they know it is God at work in and through them for His good will and pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

This life of obedience leads us to know the moral and spiritual choices and action in life are not about performance.  If we battle with sins, it is not a performance issue, it is an issue of love.  Do I love Jesus enough to obey Him?  Do I trust that His way is best no matter what the world, the flesh, and the Devil are shouting at me?  We know in this battle against temptation it is not a matter of might or power or self discipline. It is a matter of living in the life and flow of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to overcome, to grow, to find freedom.

It is what follows this call to work out our salvation with obedience that is so relevant in our day.  Philippians 2:14-15 says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”  Isn’t it interesting and revealing that of all the steps that flow from obedience, the one that is stated is that we are not to be grumbling and disputing with one another?  In our world, all but everyone does most things with grumbling and disputing.  In one message I heard recently, the pastor’s concern was that there was much grumbling over the music of worship on the online services. When it is self-love and self-interest that dominates in our heart, we think everything should be done for our pleasure and preference.  In reading the Bible, we realize how much God hates grumbling, murmuring, complaining spirits of people.  These are high on His list of serious sins. 

It is in complaining, murmuring, grumbling that we see the seriousness of the issue for God.  The Bible describes in 1 Corinthians 10:9 why of more than one million adults who were delivered from slavery in Egypt, only two made it to the Promised Land, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”  Even Moses couldn’t enter the Promised Land because he lost his temper over having to deal with a grumbling, disputing congregation.  Grumbling, murmuring, and disputing is poisonous to the spirit.  Grumbling, murmuring, and disputing sets itself against the Holy Spirit who comes to unite us in love with Jesus and in Jesus’ love for others.

The standard the Bible gives us for our words and comments, in Ephesians 4:29-32, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

As we use words to build up and to bring grace with an attitude of humbleness and servant love, it transforms us.  We act like the innocent children of God.  We become blameless in a world that blames everyone else but self.  We stand in contrast to the crooked and perverse generation.  We become like stars in the night sky shining in the dark world we live in.  We become known for our love and not for our arguing and disputing over political views or conspiracy theories.  We become people who demonstrate a confidence in God that His will will be done on earth.  We become people whose homeland is in the city with foundations built with God and coming soon to earth.  We will be filled with hope that even the darkness and perversity of the world we live within, reminds us that soon, even in minutes, Jesus is coming for His bride the church.

Philippians moves us from the disputes that are so much a part of our age to the positive of what we do.  Philippians 2:16 says, “holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”  The call to hold fast to the Word of life has two possible meanings.  It can mean to hold on tightly, and it can mean hold it out for others. I think both are meant.  The word of life is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That Jesus died on the cross for the judgment of our sins.  That He died and was buried.  That on the third day He rose in resurrection triumph.  He did that so that whoever calls on Him in genuine faith might be saved from the judgment that is to come and have the gift of eternal life.  Eternal life is to live in a living, dynamic, life-giving relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ as the loved children of God.  As we live in a crooked and perverse generation, we cling to the cross of Christ, we trust in His righteousness, and we live in His love as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

We also hold out the Word of Life to others.  Our purpose in the world is to hold out the cross and invite all to come to Him.  This is what Paul was trying to do with those in Philippi.  Paul will take joy in the day of Jesus that others are there because Paul held out the Word of Life to them and they joined Paul in their faith in Jesus.  The true impact of our lives is that we influence others to turn to Jesus and His word of life.  In the last days in which everyone is disputing and arguing, we are the peacemakers.  We call people to the ultimate election, the choice of Jesus Christ as our Savior, Lord, King, Friend.  He is coming, soon — seconds, minutes, days — soon.  Remember, we are to be the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

I See You

In the science fiction movie Avatar, there is an imagined race of beings on another planet. It is a movie with interesting thoughts on life and relationships. In the world of Avatar the most important statement you could make to someone else was, “I see you.”  In that statement is a communication of deep respect and a love for the whole being. In many ways it is an important concept in the cultural battles and wars that divide and threaten us in relationships in our world. As the USA and many places in the world took to streets in protest over how George Floyd was treated and murdered in Minneapolis, it aroused a feeling of injustice and concern against racial prejudice in many cultures. Racial prejudice is not confined to one culture and its racial history.  Racial prejudice has deep and pervasive roots in almost every culture.

In the USA racial injustice has resulted in beatings and even death at the hands of law enforcement.  It raised up the cry “Black Lives Matter.”  The movement started in Florida in 2013.  A 17 year old teen named Trayvon Martin went to a convenience store at night.  He was encountered by an armed community watchman named George Zimmerman.  In the encounter an unarmed Trayvon was shot and killed.   George Zimmerman was put on trial for murder.  When he was acquitted protests erupted across the USA, and it is then that the “Black Lives Matter” movement started.  It was as if Trayvon Martin’s life didn’t matter.  It was as if — no matter how unjust it was for him to be murdered for the only crime of being a hooded, black youth out at night — it didn’t matter.

In our day of tribal politics “Black Lives Matter” has become a phrase that divides us as we descend into tribalism.  For some it is a deep call for social justice and an elimination of that which makes black lives seem as if they don’t matter.  No matter how egregious the evil done, even kneeling on a man’s neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds, it seems like there is no justice. But for other parts of the tribes, even many in the church world, there is the response of “All Lives Matter”, or “Blue Lives Matter”,  or “Jesus Died For All Lives.”  The tribal response is blind to the point that it isn’t that other lives don’t matter.  The point is, why does injustice not seem to matter when it is a black life?

We are so often in our tribal world in dialogues as if each side is blind and deaf to the other.  We don’t really see others. We are blind to what is happening to them.  We don’t really hear others. We are caught in our own self righteous ideas.  This flows from a deep sense that “I don’t see you,” meaning I don’t regard you with respect and love.

I grew up in the Detroit area which has a history of deep racial division.  Many Detroit suburbs were created by people trying to establish white enclaves.  I grew up in a home in which, in my early years, there was an almost casual racial prejudice reflected in attitudes, words, and actions.  There were two groups that I heard this most often about, African Americans and Jewish people.  The country club my father belonged to for years not only did not allow African American or Jewish members, they couldn’t even be guests.  It was only a few exceptional African American professional athletes that broke some of the walls down.

My grandparents lived in Southern Ontario in a small town named Kingsville on Lake Erie, about 30 miles from Detroit.  For years our family rented a cottage for the summer on Linden Beach near Kingsville.  Between Linden Beach and the next beach there was a river that ran into Lake Erie.  The bridge over the river formed a great fishing spot.  You didn’t need a boat, you hardly needed anything more than a line, hook, sinker, and a wiggly worm.  It was the first time in my childhood I remember seeing people of color as a group.  African Americans from Detroit came for day fishing, lining the bridge.  However, I remember being clearly, even righteously, told by a parent that the people of color wouldn’t be able to spend the night.  The constables would clearly let them know they could fish, but they couldn’t stay.  I remember that being disturbing to me.  What was there about the color of a person’s skin that made them unwanted?

The people of Kingsville didn’t see the people of color.  Their lives didn’t matter.  What people saw was only their color.  What people saw were the stereotypes they had formed in their minds of the character of people of color.  Based on their stereotypes, it was easy to make the people unwanted, if not dangerous.  I wonder if instead of a white boy,  I was the son of one of the persons of color, what would I have thought of the reactions to me?  I wonder if I would have wanted to go play on the beach with other children while my father fished. Would I understand why as a black child I wasn’t wanted or welcomed?  No one would see the children of color.  No one would care that their families couldn’t rent cottages and spend the summer as I did.  They weren’t welcomed in the restaurants and were viewed with suspicion in the stores.  They were both outsiders and unwanted.

I reached adulthood in the 1960s.  I had seen in the 1950s the start of the civil rights movement.  I had seen a whole army raised up so that a young girl could be integrated in a wholly white school.  The racial prejudice that I had been raised up with was so wrong.  What perhaps was most disturbing was that the church reflected the same racial bias and prejudice found in the rest of the culture.  The church didn’t bring transformation to the issue. In fact, the church defended the racial division, hostility, separation.  I remember how grieved I was when a Senior Pastor who had been used of God profoundly in my life expressed the same racial bias and prejudice of others.

Where does all this prejudice come from and how is it defended by people who call themselves Christians?  We know as Christians that all people are created by God.  We know that God calls us to the principles of justice and love in our relations in the world.  God, in showing Judah what revival would like, said in Hosea 12:6, “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”  In Zechariah 7:9-10 God gave the call to revival definition when He said, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against one another in your heart.”  In the New Testament the call to love and justice for all gets even more pointed in its call on our lives.  John notes that love for others is the evidence of God’s change in our heart.  He says by the Holy Spirit in 1 John 3:14-15, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

Where does racism come from?  What are its lies?  How is it that those who have called themselves the church of Jesus are so guilty of racism? Why is it we are silent at the unjust treatment of people because of the color of their skin?  Racism starts with the lie that somehow by race, ethnicity, nationality there are essential differences of one group from another.  It is the lie that each group or tribe has characteristics common to all.  It is the lie that we can look at a person’s skin color and make judgments on what they are like.  It brings the lie with it that we are so different we can’t live in close relationships.  We see the lie even in churches today when thinking that we are better apart because there are essential differences that will lead to conflict of the style and practice of worship and church fellowship.

Closely related to the idea that there are essential differences among people by ethnicity, color, nationality there was the opinion that one group was superior to others. It was advocated widely that white people were superior to people of color.  Even to the point that it was felt white people had a God given destiny to bring rule and order to the world.  Even missionaries who went out were going out to the ‘savages’.  When people were converted every effort was to make them not in the image of Christ, but in the image of how white people dressed, sang, acted.

The USA was founded by the Declaration of Independence.  The key line in it said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness …”. The Declaration went on to say something important as protests arise over George Floyd, that when these rights are violated it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government.  Yet some of those who wrote the document owned slaves who had no rights because they were property. Somehow they found no intellectual dissonance between saying that all people had God-given rights, and yet these slaves had none.  They were property.  Those who owned slaves felt very comfortable to call themselves Christians and be in churches in which no person of color would be allowed admittance except in slave service.

There were many Christians in the USA of course that worked to abolish slavery.  Eventually Southern States declared their independence and fought for the right to have slaves.  In the midst of the war President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves.  In 1875 a Civil Rights Act was passed by the Congress.  It said no public accommodations could be denied a person by their color.  But in the South multiple laws were passed to perpetuate a discrimination against people of color and segregating them in schools.  The issue came to a head before the Supreme Court and in a decision in 1896 titled Plessy v Ferguson. The ruling established the principle of separate but equal.  States were allowed to segregate by color in schools and housing.  Public accommodations were allowed to discriminate and not serve people of color.

It is in that concept of ‘separate but equal’ the church for the most part has lived since.  It has been felt that it was better to have churches where people could be with their own ‘kind’.  Falling back on the idea that there are essential differences among us as races, ethnicities that make it better if we have churches for our own ‘kind’.  The argument was that it wasn’t prejudice of racism, it is just we are more comfortable with people who are like us.  In Seminaries the church growth movement came along that said statistically churches grow fastest when people are most like each other.  Thus the effort was made to start churches that were homogenous.  Churches advocated that churches should be established for each ‘kind.’  Thus, a CNN news report said America was most segregated at 11 AM Sundays, when the church met.  The concept of separate but equal was all but totally embraced.

Yet in the USA that concept was legally turned around by a unanimous  Supreme Court decision in 1954, titled Brown v Board of Education, that separate is not equal.  That separation gave a sense of inferiority to one group and that resources were given differently and with prejudice so that those of color received an inferior education.  Courts ordered schools to be integrated.  I happened to start teaching in Pontiac, Michigan the year it was ordered to start court-ordered busing for the integration of all schools.

But for churches, the concept of separate but equal has held on for far too long. Even today as culture has so changed and communities have so diversified that there is increasing diversity in church attendance.  Still, in many cases, it is a white-dominated culture in style, music, preaching, leadership.  People of diversity are welcomed if they adjust to the culture.  People are allowed into leadership in few number and only as they support the dominant culture.

What is the truth about race, ethnicity, nationality? Are we so essentially different that we are better apart than together?  As we come to the Bible, we come to the realization that we have all come from one man (Acts 17:26).  We all have been made in His image.  We all are made for living together as brothers in peace, respect, acceptance, love.  But God does have purpose in our identity.  It is our diversity that brings to the family of God a fullness of expression and beauty.  We are unique, and when that uniqueness is welcomed we become a key part of the whole that makes the whole better.  Imagine in a garden that God made only one kind of flower, and every flower was the same. The flower would lose its beauty and wonder.  It is the diversity of flowers joined together that makes a garden such a delightful place.

God created languages to divide us because when we are united, the evil we conceive and do is so much greater.  But color, ethnicities, nationalities existed before the language confusion.  It is part of the diversity of creation that God calls good.  Diversity is not to be a cause of division, but a cause of celebration.  Sin has divided.  Satan is the author of prejudice, division, racial pride, and hatred.  What sin and Satan has divided, Jesus has come to make one.  God is not content until there are those from every language, tribe, tongue, people group part of the church, the bride of His Son.  It glorifies God not only to bring us to peace with Him. It glorifies Him that we are one family together in Jesus.  Jesus’ prayer for us is that we are one as a church family as He and the Father are one (John 17:20-22).  The church is to be the witness to the world that in Jesus all the walls of division and separation are torn down.

We know it is the plan of God in Jesus to bring all people together in the body of Christ.  We know it is His plan to tear down all the walls of division and make us one new man in Christ.  Ephesians 2-3 highlight that part of God’s plan.  Jesus says the world would know we are Christians and that Jesus is the True One as we love one another (John 13:35).  It is how Jesus makes us one from the diversity of color, nationality, ethnicity, age that demonstrates the truth and power of Jesus to save.  That we are equal and one, and not separate, helps a world see Jesus and His love and truth.

As we view ethnicity, nationality, and color we know it is part of our eternal identity for the glory of God.  When John records a vision of the resurrected church before the Throne of God he sees people from, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).  In eternity we are not homogenized, we are perfected and glorified.  There is something about us that makes the family of God complete.  There is something that God celebrates that there are people from every tribe, ethnicity, color, nation before the throne as the family of God united in worship and love for eternity.  That is why the plan of God is not complete until those from every nation are part of the church (Matthew 24:14).  If we are at the end of this age it is because that purpose of God is done.

Some people say that the church shouldn’t get involved in racial issues. They say we should focus on preaching the Gospel and God will change hearts.  But if the power of the Gospel is the power of Jesus to change lives and truly make us one, how does the world see it if they don’t see it in His visible church?  If we come to church and find a dominant culture excluding others in worship, music, preaching, and leadership, how will they see Jesus and how He can change?  If we love people, how can we not be passionate for justice for them?  How can we not weep with those who weep if we don’t weep for the family of George Floyd and the injustice of his life taken by a knee on his throat, while two others held him down, and another kept people from helping him as his breath left him?  How could we not say, “I see you and his life matters to me”?

When the Apostle Paul had his rights violated by the civil authorities in Philippi as he was beaten and then imprisoned the next day, he would not quietly leave town.  He had the civil authorities acknowledge that they had abused his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 16:35-39).  When Roman soldiers heard John the Baptist preach and were convicted of their sin, they cried out what should they do? He called for them not to abuse their power over people by extortion and false accusations.  As citizens of a country where we have the right to address our grievances to the government, it is right for us to add our voice to denounce injustice of the treatment of people of color.  To go to the streets and to stand with those who cry out for justice is being a good citizen.  We condemn actions that turn to violence but we are not going to allow some who have abused the moment to deny its true purpose and intent.  That would be like what happens with racism, where the actions of a few are used to categorize and prejudice the whole.

It’s time for the church to renounce any thought that separate is equal.  Jesus has come to tear down every lie, prejudice, and division among us.  Let us put in practice the children’s song, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.”  Let us see the ways we are unique in color, ethnicity, nationality is a celebration.  It is not that Jesus homogenizes us as if we are people without color, ethnicity, and nationality, but rather He celebrates it.  There is something unique, beautiful, and desirable about each that makes the whole better because each is part of it.

Let us reject as the church any effort that makes us “We/They”.  The church is only “us”.  Let us let the church enter new levels of becoming.  What too often has happened is that churches form at a particular time with expressions of worship, discipleship, fellowship true to that moment in time.  Then a church stops becoming, and the dominant culture exists to perpetuate the past.  The Holy Spirit is blocked from where the church is to be, a place of becoming.  I fear the Holy Spirit, who is working so powerfully in so many parts of the world, has left the USA, for we are no longer the church becoming.  I fear particularly conservatives who have mixed up a commitment to the Word of God as unchangeable truth with their own cultural biases and prejudices that have little to do with the truth of the Word of God.  I fear those who have worshiped their idea of a nation and confuse needed change as if it were an attack on a nation’s identity.

What we need is for people of color, ethnicity, and different nationalities to have a church that sees them.  I see you.  Yes color, nationality, and ethnicity are part of me, but I am so much more.  Let us learn to see the individual, not the ‘they’.  Let us learn one another’s story.  Let us appreciate the uniqueness of how the Holy Spirit has shaped, gifted each person to make the whole better.  Let us not work for a blended church where all uniqueness is gone or only the church of the past is honored. Let us become the church as the Holy Spirit does something new and beautiful.  Let us work to make those who lead in worship, preach, teach, and lead the church as different as the community.  Let us have a church where each sees themselves reflected in leadership that are like them.  Let us be the place where the world can see it is Jesus who has come to bring peace and to tear down all the walls of division and separation among us.  Let us remember Jesus’ word, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9).  We aren’t about keeping the peace when it is unjust and wrong. We are about making the true peace Jesus brings, where we all live as brothers and sisters, one family.

When “Go and Tell!” Becomes “Look Up – Watch and Pray!”

As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ we live to honor Him, know Him, obey Him, trust Him, proclaim Him. We are warriors under His command. We are servants under His lordship. As His disciples, members of His church, His basic and compelling command has been to go and tell.  He has commanded us to take the Gospel of His Kingdom to all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  He has given us His Holy Spirit so that we are effective witnesses (Acts 1:8).  He has given us the power of the Gospel message which has the power to save (Romans 1:16-17).  He has given us the Word of God which is able to produce faith through its proclamation and hearing (Romans 10:17).  Jesus told us this present age of the church will finish the task of taking the Gospel to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).  We are at the time when the Gospel has gone to all nations and peoples.

But when it comes to the very end of the age, the commands of Jesus take on a dramatically different focus.  No longer is the emphasis on “Go and Tell!”.  Jesus said in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Now the coming of Jesus has always been the blessed hope and longing of Jesus’ disciples (Titus 2:13).  But Jesus tells there is a time we will stop and look up and make that our focus.  That is a very different strategy than go and tell.  Why is there a change in focus from go and tell to one of looking up, for Jesus’ coming is so soon?

We also see Jesus’ command to us to focus on our own spiritual lives.  He says in Luke 21:34-36, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Watch and pray for there is a day of judgment coming to the whole world. This is a very different focus from “Go and Tell.”  The encouragement of the focus is on our own integrity of faith, so that we might escape what is coming on the face of the whole earth.  The sense is that the times and their challenges to faith are so overwhelming that it will take all our energy just to stand faithful.

Why is there this change from “Go and Tell” to “Look Up – Watch and Pray”?  And is this the season we are in?  Are we so close to the end and in such perilous times for faith that our focus needs to be on Jesus coming soon and our need to be ready?

Now, the church is to never, and will never, stop holding out Jesus and salvation to all.  We don’t stop seeking to influence others to turn to Jesus.  As the Bible ends in Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”  And let the one who hears say, “Come.”  And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”  So the church never stops holding out Jesus and the promise of the Gospel to all who will hear.  The door of salvation is still open, and the invitation to all is to come. Still, calling all to come to an open door of salvation is different from the focus to “Go and Tell.”

We do know from witnesses around the world that the Covid-19 virus has stopped almost overnight the church from going and telling.  I live in the USA where our self-absorption blinds us to what is happening in the rest of the world.  There are some who see the reaction to the virus as a combination of media hype trying to create fear and Democrats wanting to ruin an economy so Trump is defeated at the polls.  But Covid-19 is a highly contagious virus that is deadly to some and has impacted over 200 countries.  The world economy has all but stopped.  Stay at home orders have been given in vastly different nations, from Italy to Bangladesh.  Where the virus is ignored, as in Brazil, the infection rate and death rate are astronomical.  In most of these countries churches are closed.  Christians are confined to home and cannot go and tell.

This reaction to the virus is unprecedented in its universal impact. Even the Spanish Flu of 1918 did not stop the economies and the work of the church in such a universal way.  There has never been a time like this. But is this the time Jesus had in mind when He would change our focus from “Go and Tell” to “Look Up – Watch and Pray”?

When Jesus sent His church into the world it was with the command to look to the field for the harvest is plentiful.  He called for us to pray that God would raise up and send out harvest laborers into the harvest field (Matthew 9:37-38).  Yet, at the end Jesus doesn’t call us to look unto the harvest fields. He calls us to look up, for our redemption draws near (Luke 21:28).  Why the change from looking for the harvest to looking up for the end is near?

When Jesus sent His disciples into the world, as recorded in Acts 1, they asked Jesus if His kingdom would now come to earth.  Jesus said to them in Acts 1:7-8, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  This was the time for the Gospel to go to the ends of the earth, and that was all they needed to know.  Yet, at the end, Jesus’ direction changes dramatically.  His direction is for the church to know the season.  We are to know it is all coming to an end (Luke 21:28).  We are the generation of the church to know our time and season.

The key to understanding the transition of focus is Jesus saying, “Now when these things begin to take place” (Luke 21:28).  What are the things which are taking place?  And why is the church only to see when things begin to take place, not when they finish? While Jesus taught that no one would know the day and the hour Jesus will come to take home His church, He did tell us we would know the season, the generation.  The writer of Hebrews spoke to the same truth calling us to assemble together as “you see the Day drawing near.”  Thus it will be real events we can see in the world, and we can conclude that Day of judgment for the world is drawing near.  What are the signs of the seasons?

We know that Jesus’ one key sign has been fulfilled and is unarguable, unless you want to deny the theme of Bible prophecy itself.  The key sign is Jerusalem becoming the capital of the a reborn Jewish nation of Israel (Luke 21:24).  We live in the only time in history to see this sign fulfilled. Israel becoming a Jewish nation under United Nations mandate in 1948.  Jerusalem taking control of a united Jerusalem in 1967. No other generation has seen this.  No other generation has seen Jews dispersed among the nations of the world being brought back to the land.  Israel is reborn in troubling, threatening times when the future of Jerusalem is the key to the world finding peace (Zechariah 12:2).  We know from the prophet Joel that when God brings the Jewish people back to Jerusalem He will also draw the nations there for the final judgment of the battles of Armageddon and Jesus’ return to earth (Joel 3:1-3).

We know from Jesus there will be intensifying times of natural disasters, pestilences, floods, droughts, earthquakes.  It will be as if creation is like a woman in labor going through the intensifying birth pangs (Matthew 24:8).  Jesus warned of people fainting in terror at the roaring and tossing of the sea (Luke 21:25-26).  Right now, many are alarmed that the world is facing a double pandemic.  One is from Covid-19.  The other is from mega-famine.  The shutting down of economies in the poorest nations is creating a dangerous time.  There are plagues of grasshoppers in the Horn of Africa, Mideast, and now moving to India.  Even casual news comments call them crises of biblical proportions.

Jesus also warned of the breakdown of civil order.  In the USA right now we have seen protestors in full armor shouting in the faces of police in the capitol of Michigan.  These have been encouraged by the President calling them good people who are protesting for their right.  Now we are seeing protesters in Minneapolis, Washington DC, Atlanta, New York City, Los Angeles protesting the taking of life of a man of color in a casual display of police brutality.  The Bible warns the last days will be terrible times, not so much from natural disasters as from civil disorder that comes from people compelled by the love of self, money, and pleasure, who are treacherous in relationships (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

As Jesus calls us to “Look Up –  Watch and Pray,” we know that no one knows how to prepare for the future.  Everyone longs for a return to ‘normal’, yet it is obvious we will not in the foreseeable future be going back to normal.  Churches are reopening with such limits that it threatens the nature of worship services themselves.  Borders are significantly closed among nations.  International and national air travel are at a trickle of former levels.  It’s time for the church to realize we have switched from the “Go and Tell” season to the “Look Up – Watch and Pray” season.

While the church has always been to watch and pray, Jesus says at the very end the disturbing nature of the times, the rise of wickedness as normal, and the great apostasy by the church from the truths of the faith will make it incredibly dangerous for true faith (Luke 21:34-36).  While we see the warning of the rising wrath of God coming on the nations, we have many in the church denying there is such a thing as the wrath of God.  As the prophecies of the Bible are coming true with such dramatic clarity, many in the church deny the Bible as a book of specific prophecy.

As the church looks up we are to know we will escape the judgment that is coming on the whole world.  The church will not be here for the final seven year Tribulation.  We will escape all that is about to happen (Luke 21:36). That is why Jesus calls us to look up when these things begin to take place, because we won’t see the finish on earth.   We don’t have to fear vaccine conspiracies.  We will not see the Beast, nor will we be faced with taking the Mark of the Beast.  We aren’t here for that.  The Mark of the Beast won’t come as some vaccine marking. It will come as an explicit act of worship of the Antichrist.  All of the means needed to make that possible are being seen in what is being planned with vaccines.  The vaccine, marking, contact tracing, people being declared as safe or unsafe are just the final trial run before the final rebellion takes place.  We don’t have to worry about that.  We won’t face it.

That is why Jesus calls us in this season to “Look Up – Watch and Pray”.  It seems like things have passed the point of no return.  We go back to the call to “Look Up – Watch and Pray” from Isaiah 26:20-12, “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.  For behold the Lord is coming out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.”

Alone Together …. Really?

There is a television series I haven’t seen, but its title is captivating in the midst of the most isolating time in world history. As we are in many places still under stay at home orders, we are by necessity living alone. The series Alone Together is about two quirky personalities in marriage. On this theme a key statement of encouragement given through media is “we’re in this together, ” meaning that we agree to isolate ourselves from one another.  But can we? Are we alone together? Or are we just alone?

Churches have sought to pursue how the church can be alone together. Services are live streamed. I have seen communion offered as part of those services. Is it a worship service if we are alone together? One service leader said the Holy Spirit is not limited so that we can be alone together in worship because of His presence and work, but is that true? Does the Holy Spirit work in a video worship service when each is alone, when the service has been taped in the same way as when we are together? Now, the Holy Spirit is always at work, but is that a worship service or just another way He could work? Hebrews 10:25 commands us, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Are we meeting together when we are socially alone, isolated from one another, our only connection the common showwe are watching?

Now, I am not encouraging civil disobedience. The COVID-19 virus is highly contagious, and for some it is a deadly disease. With its high contagiousness and no effective therapy or vaccine, it must be respected. With a contagious and potentially deadly disease, it is not loving to put others at risk by assembling together. There may be suspicious reasons for its development. Government may be exercising a control and power over our lives and information that could be used for other times and other purposes. But still it makes sense at this moment for this disease to socially distance so that it doesn’t overwhelm us and our ability to provide good medical care at any one time.

My concern is that you really can’t be alone together.  My concern is the way life will change following the crisis. There may be parts of our spiritual lives lost that will never be fully regained. My concern is that there is a priceless moment in this isolation we must each pursue. My concern is that we will accept alternatives to gathering together after the crisis that will be weak and ineffective in their spiritual value.

As I think about this time of being alone together, I am drawn to a parallel time in the Apostle Paul’s life. 2 Timothy is an incredibly poignant letter written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison in Rome for (we think) the second time. Nero was Emperor, and Christians were targeted for one of the fiercest times of persecution in church history. Nero had targeted Christians to distract from his weaknesses and failures, even to the point of allowing Rome to burn by his negligence. It was during this time that we believe the Apostle Peter was crucified. It was during this time we believe Paul would be beheaded. Everything in the letter speaks of the knowledge of the Apostle Paul that this is the last letter he will write. The Apostle Peter wrote 2 Peter at the same time, with the same knowledge. It is important for us to note that both these letters give the most explicit endorsement of the Bible as the Word of God, authored by men writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  They both compel us to embrace the Bible as the authoritative and sufficient Word for the church until Jesus comes to take her home.

As Paul faced trial for saying Jesus is Lord in the time of the Emperor’s madness, no one stood with Paul. Key members of Paul’s leadership team were disbursed to other parts of the Empire in ministry. Christians in Rome were too afraid or too isolated to feel safe to stand with the Apostle Paul. We can feel the weight of his being alone when he writes in 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first defense no on came to stand by me, but all deserted me.”  Even while the church around the world desired to stand with Paul, he could not be alone together. There is something irreplaceable to the work of the Holy Spirit when we are together that no desire or effort can bridge when we are not together.

There is something being lost right now as we can’t be together. Texts, emails, even Zooms may be communication and connection, but they cannot reproduce what only the Holy Spirit can do among us when we are together. There is a sadness and loss to this time which we must acknowledge and grieve. Church leaders might with good intent hype these as ways in which the connection continues, but in fact they fall short. I thought of these as I saw a news story describing what happened in Italy when people were allowed for a short time to leave their apartments and homes. I watched a picture of two grandparents with their grandchildren running to them, both full of such joy and excitement. It was profound. Just that simple gesture of joining together in joyful hugs, full of such passion, told you all you need to know to understand you can’t be alone together. I suppose they might have had some way of video calling, but nothing replaces being together. It is good for the substitutes and the bridges in this time that connection through social media can bring, but it all falls short of being together.

As the Apostle Paul spoke of this time with no one standing with him, he went on to share how he was never fully alone. Paul wrote in the next verse 2 Timothy 4:17-18, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Paul says he was never truly alone, for standing with him was the Lord Jesus Himself. How good it is to know that no matter what, we are never truly alone. Jesus is with us. We can draw near to Him. We can lean on Him. We can draw from Him. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10, there is a fellowship with Jesus that comes through sharing suffering with Him. David, in the most loved Psalm 23, wrote in verse 4 of the presence of Jesus, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  We are alone together with Jesus by the Holy Spirit. He will never leave us or forsake us.

It is this that gives our time of being alone such an opportunity. We have undistracted time to seek Jesus face to face. We have time for Him to reveal Himself to us through His Word. We have time to reflect on Him. There is time for us to open ourselves to Him and seek the ways He wants to make us more like Him. There is time for us to pray with Him for our brothers and sisters in Christ as we join with Him in His High Priestly prayers. I have felt the Lord leading me to go back with Him through key events in my life. I have reworked with Him through painful times in life and have felt His comfort and healing, His wisdom and perspective. I have gone back through many times when His resurrection power was at work. I reflect on those times as the Apostle Paul did when Jesus was using moments for the Gospel to be heard. This is an opportunity the church around the world has never had together, for us to be alone to pursue our relationship with Jesus undistracted (though I know in many places homes are full of other people and family).  This moment will soon pass, so don’t let it be wasted.  No, you are not truly alone. Jesus is with you.

Even with Jesus, this is not the fullness of life He plans. There is fullness in the presence and work of Jesus that is only fully at work as we are together. We are part of a body in which each joint and ligament is needed to enable us to grow (Ephesians 2:21-22).   We are a family called to minister the one another’s to each other. Welcoming, encouraging, exhorting, comforting, building up, exhorting are just a few. John tells us that there is a reality of God’s love that is only truly perceived as we are together.  He wrote by the Holy Spirit in 1 John 4:12, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

I find in this time of isolation that we are getting used to being isolated from others. More and more people pass each other by without eye contact or acknowledging the other person. We have been taught to think of ourselves as being infected and to act as if the other person is infected, and it is settling into our understanding of one another. As we pass, we are more concerned to have the proper distance than we are to have a proper connection. What normal will be once social distancing rules are relaxed, I don’t know, but I think something will be lost of our humanness in connection that for many will never be regained.

I also think live streamed services, no matter how well produced and presented, cannot match the work of the Holy Spirit even in the most humble of worship services when people are together. There is a presence and work of the Holy Spirit in worship services that doesn’t happen other ways. It is a key reason behind the command not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. The person who modeled the heart of worship in the Bible is David. He saw the glory of God in the heavens. He meditated on His Word in the night watches. He felt the presence of the Lord in all the moments of life. But it is profound for us to understand the irreplaceable presence and power of the Lord that is revealed in the congregation gathered together in worship. David wrote Psalm 63 when he was exiled from the throne by the rebellion of his son Absalom. It is profound to note what David missed as he waited events out on the other side of the Jerusalem. David missed going with the congregation in assembly for worship. He wrote in Psalm 63:1-2, “O God, you are my. God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” For David, there was a presence and power of God in worship services that he could find nowhere else in life.

I am not saying God cannot work and hold us together in some ways through live streamed services, but they are anemic substitutions for what happens when we are together as a church in worship. This virus has brought a loss that is real. While I understand why it is done in inviting people to take communion together with the video, it is that which reminds me most of what can become ritual without reality. Maybe I am wrong, but we cannot have communion together before our TV or monitor screens and have it approach what it is to do this live together. I fear it only becomes form without reality.

What the new normal will be once this social distancing is loosened, I don’t know. The church in China went through a season with large church gatherings. Buildings were built. People flocked. But the government has now turned viciously against the church, bulldozing churches and arresting leaders. But one church leader says we know how to do this. For years we met in house churches of no more than 15. When we grew to more than 15 we divided. Will we need to have church as house churches? If we do, it will be an opportunity to see God work in powerful ways. There is something about being together before the Lord in worship that is real whether the number is 15 or 1500.  The power of the Holy Spirit is not so much in great music or in great preaching. He works as lives are lifted in worship of Jesus and connected together in relationship. Let us realize we cannot be alone together. Let us realize we are either alone or we are together. Let us realize that together is so much more. Let us realize we may not be going back to times of full worship centers where all are gathered. We may be going to smaller house gatherings, but let us run to them. Let us embrace the way God has worked throughout so much of the history of the church and in so many countries today through house churches. Let us realize that it is Satan’s desire to isolate us from one another, but it is the Holy Spirit’s passion to join us together. Let us realize that live streaming is a poor substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit at in person worship services, no matter how humble. Live streamed may be necessary now, but falling so short. We cannot be alone and truly together.

Walking the Line of Faith Between the Craters of Fear and Foolishness

When I pastored in Colorado for a number of years, I taught at a conference at the Navigator’s Glen Eyrie Center near Colorado Springs. As the evening speaker, I would drive the 50 miles in late afternoon down Highway 83. The road follows a ridge that forms the Black Forest. As you get close to Colorado Springs, the road has many curves through the forest and ravines on either side of the road. One night as I returned, an incredibly dense fog set in. The car lights were helpless to penetrate, only creating a cloud of light at the end of the hood. It’s not a road you can safely drive in dense fog, but I realized as I looked out the side of the windshield I could see the bold white line that marked the edge of the lane. I could safely drive if I kept the car aligned to the painted line. It was slow but safe.

As we live in a world in the grips of the COVID-19 virus, we are in a period of history’s deep fog. None of us could have imagined a world which has all but stopped. People are sheltering in place. The economy, as one commentator described it, has been put in a coma. Schools, churches, and most businesses are closed. Over 180 nations are dealing with the virus in their country. A fog no one can penetrate to see when or how it will end. No one can plan for the future. Yet life goes on. How do we navigate as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we are utterly unable to see tomorrow and what it will bring?

A children’s song has much help for us. There is a song that says, “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All I have to do is follow.” This season of unknown length is a gift to us, for it compels us even more to live by faith. It takes away all the assumptions we have about today and tomorrow. This is a time when no one has the wisdom to show us the way through the wilderness, a future over which we have almost no control. This is a time we are compelled to walk by faith or to stumble in the darkness. The statement of Jesus takes on an essential meaning as He said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  We know the voice of Jesus’ leading comes through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God working together.  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as Psalm 119:105 compels our trust and obedience, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.Like the white line defining the side of the lane, if we stay aligned with the Word of God listening for the voice of Jesus guiding us, we will find the way through the wilderness.

But as we walk the line of faith in this time of dense fog, we realize there are dangerous craters on either side of the line of faith. On one side is fear that will lead us to a paralyzing numbness or choices that will add to the danger and casualties of our times. Fear leaves us prone to vast conspiracy theories or cruel hoaxes. On the other side of the road is the crater of foolishness.  In the African wars where children were used as soldiers, they were told they had magic shields and the bullets of the enemy couldn’t penetrate them, so many fearlessly went to their deaths. We see some in the Christian world living in defiance of the virus or believing somehow the blood of Jesus will exempt them from harm. One pastor in the Washington, D.C. area went ahead with church services as the virus was spreading. He said God was bigger than a virus (which He is). The next week he came down with COVID-19, and on Easter Sunday he died. Faith doesn’t live in defiance of reality. Thus, as we put our eyes on Jesus and live in confidence that He knows the way through the wilderness, how do we find the safe line of faith that will safely lead us, avoiding the craters of fear and foolishness?

A good example for us is in the history of the Kings of Judah.  The truth is recorded for us in 2 Chronicles 20.  Jeshoshaphat was King.  He was leading the nation in revival. But as he did, the nation was challenged. Great armies came from the East.  Jehoshaphat felt powerlessness and fear.  He knew he and his armies could not overcome the enemy.  However, fear quickly turned to faith.  He called for a fast, and then called people together in assembly before the Temple.  He called on the promise of God that He would hear and respond to their prayers.  He said to the Lord as recorded in 2 Chronicles  20:12, “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.  There is faith that puts its eyes on the Lord in the fog.  It is honest in feeling powerless.  They were honest in saying they didn’t know what to do, but they had eyes of faith.  They fixed their eyes not on the enemy.  They refused to live in fear.  They refused to surrender to the enemy.  They refused to turn to their own plans.  They refused to surrender any of their brothers in battle.  Their eyes were on the Lord.  They knew the Lord knows the way through the wilderness and all they had to do was follow.

After their prayer, God answered through a man named Jahaziel whom the Holy Spirit came upon.  He brought the way through the wilderness.  He said, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:15, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.”  He then said to them the secret of spiritual battle.  He said in verse 17, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.” As Ephesians 6 reminds us, we stand in the power of His strength as He fights the battle.

The next day when Israel went by faith to face the enemy, the strategy was clearly of the Spirit of God.  At the front, rather than putting the best soldiers, he put singers in their holy attire used for worship services.  They were to go before the enemy, singing the praise of God while He fought for them.  2 Chronicles 20:21-22 describes the action, the song, and the results, “And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.” And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.  The victory was so total it took them four days to take all the possessions of the enemy.  The people sang in praise while God fought the battle.

As we look into the fog of history we live in, we are called to the same faith.  The battle we are in is not ours. It is the Lord’s.  We are not in control.  We don’t live in denial of the realities of the virus or the social and economic consequences.  We don’t live in paralyzing fear.  Our Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All we have to do is follow.  This is a time for us to lift our praise to the Lord and express our total confidence in Him. 

The New Testament missionaries Paul and Silas come to mind.  They were preaching the Gospel in Philippi and there was great fruit. But with great fruit, as always, came great opposition.  Paul and Silas had been dragged into the market place and beaten. Many blows were inflicted upon them. They were thrown into prison and put into stocks.  So here were Paul and Silas in the prison cell with their feet in stocks.  They were powerless.  They did not know what tomorrow would bring.  They had no way to control what tomorrow would bring.  They were in the most dense of fogs. At midnight, the Holy Spirit takes us into the prison cell and we see faith at work.  Their actions are described in Acts 16:25, About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.  Like the people of God under Jehoshaphat, they faced the fog and sang their praise to the Lord.  They weren’t paralyzed by fear.  They weren’t offering deliverance prayers, as if they could command their release from prison and the destruction of the enemies.  They praised and kept their eyes on Jesus.

Why did they find their time in the dense fog to be a time of praise?  They praised first because it is an evidence of someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit and totally under His influence.  Ephesians 5:18 calls on us to continually seek to be filled with the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit, as He is the source of the life of Christ within us.  The passage then gives the threefold fruit that comes from a life filled with the Holy Spirit: A heart that is continually praising the Lord as we make melody in our heart.  A grateful heart that gives thanks for all things, even being in the midst of dense fog and events out of our control.  The life of a servant giving love to others as we put them before us.

They praised God because He is worthy to be praised no matter what our situation in life.  He is good and His plans are good.  His grace is amazing.  His wisdom so high it is beyond understanding.  His eyes are on His children, and He never slumbers or sleeps.  Jesus has promised in the Father’s plan He will never leave us.  His grace is always enough.  His will for our lives will be accomplished.  Our salvation and place in the eternal kingdom of the Lord Jesus is secure.

Paul and Silas had an awesome confidence that while events were out of their control, they were not out of God’s control.  God is working His plan to bring the Gospel to all nations.  He is working His plan to make us each more like Jesus.  He is working His plan to enable us to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It wasn’t one praising and the other not.  They were both praising the Lord, encouraging one another as they did.

Their praise in the denseness of the fog, when life was out of their control, had a profound influence on the other prisoners.  Their joy in their salvation, their confidence in God, their trust in Jesus.  What power there was in their prison of circumstances when Paul and Silas did not turn to fear.  They did not turn to foolishness.  They did not try and control events themselves. They didn’t try and declare their future in some prayers that seemingly would put power back in their hands.  They trusted. They rested.  They didn’t know what to do, but their eyes were on Jesus.  Paul had learned what he declared in 2 Corinthians 2:14, But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  They had confidence that it was the Lord’s battle, and He would fight for them.

While they were praising, God sent a great earthquake.  The prison doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds on their feet were broken.  Yet, we see the influence of these men of God, as none of the prisoners ran to escape.  We see Paul’s kindness to the jailer.  The Gospel was shared with the jailer and his household.  They all committed their lives to Christ and were baptized.  Paul and Silas were legally set free in the morning, as the leaders were forced to acknowledge they had not treated Paul legally.

Not every story ends like this.  We don’t know how this will go with the virus.  We don’t know if it will pass, if a treatment will be found, if a vaccine will be created to protect the world.  We don’t know what will happen to our economy.  We don’t know if everything will go back to normal.  We don’t know if churches will be opened to large assemblies any time soon.  We don’t know if this is the final moment that will create an opportunity for Satan’s plan for a new world order in rebellion against God.  We don’t know if this is the last moment for the church as Jesus will soon take us home.  No one knows. Well, no one knows but God.  So we will turn our eyes to Him.  We will lift our hearts together in praise.  God is absolutely in control, and He is fully worthy to be trusted and praised.

Let us as the church show the other prisoners of our world, who are with us in the grip of this pandemic, that they also can turn by faith to the Lord Jesus and enter into His salvation, His Kingdom, and His work on earth.  May they see in us a peace that passes understanding.  May they see in us a confidence that God fights our battle as we stand by faith on His promises.  Let the world lean on our song, The Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All we have to do is follow.   May our songs of praise in Jesus fill the darkness of our times.

What Are You Watching?

In these days of almost global social distancing, social media takes on a heightened role in our lives. The Easter service of Joel Osteen reportedly had over 11 million views. Cable news channels give their competing points of views as to what is happening. In the USA, everything seems to be interpreted through President Trump. For those who oppose Trump, he is the reason why the USA leads in COVID-19 infections and deaths. To those who support President Trump, he is the savior, the one who will lead the USA to become better and stronger. To his supporters, China and the World Health Organization are the villains. Facebook, Twitter, and other media give exaggerated, false, and misleading interpretations, warnings, and remedies. But what are you watching?

The Bible says what you focus on will influence your state of mind, your spiritual health.

The Highway Department in Texas once ordered a study that was very revealing. The Department was concerned with the number of highway workers being injured on the road. Even on clear days with well marked road construction sites, people were still endangering the workers. So they commissioned a study. The study was very revealing. They found that we steer our cars in the direction our eyes look. So as eyes were drawn to the workers they tended to steer toward them.

The Bible has long recognized this issue spiritually. What you focus your spiritual eyes on will lead your life. This is why the writer of Hebrews says to us, “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The phrase “looking to Jesus” means to fix your eyes on Him. The prophet Jeremiah can help us understand the importance of fixing our eyes on Jesus.  Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet because the country he loved, Israel, was headed to judgment and captivity by Babylon.  Indeed, Israel was in captivity as his life ended. God had sent Jeremiah to warn people and call them to repentance. The people refused Jeremiah’s warnings to repent. They put him in stocks, put him in pits, threatened him. The people rejected him because they were willfully blind and deceived. They had multiple false prophets denying all of Jeremiah’s warnings. The false prophets reasoned that Israel was the favored nation of God. They believed they were entitled to prosperity and protection from the ills of the world around
them and the dangers from Babylon. They believed their nation was the only favored nation of God on Earth. As recorded in Jeremiah 14:13, one example of the false prophets’ words, “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.” Even when carried away in captivity, the false prophets said they would be freed in two years, and I suppose in the language of politicians today they would come out stronger and better.

The people of Jeremiah’s day were similar to the false prophets in Isaiah’s day. God was bringing judgments on the nation to call them to repentance and to warn them of worse judgments coming. But when judgments came, it did not lead them to repentance. It led them to increased national pride. They said, as recorded in Isaiah 9:8-10, “The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.”” Thus, rather than the judgment of God leading to repentance, it led to a pride that said we will be better and stronger after this. It is this passage that is behind Jonathan’s Cane prophesy called the Harbinger. Verse 10 was actually quoted by a US Senator after 9/11. Without understanding the irony of his words, he said the USA would come back stronger and better. The 9/11 attacks, rather than leading the USA to humility and repentance before God, led to a rising national pride.

It is my conviction, as I have written before, that the attacks of 9/11 were a warnings of God’s judgment on us as a nation. There was an immediate moment after 9/11 when people turned to God, but they soon turned from any attitude of dependence to a spirit of pride. A pride that believed we were an entitled nation with the “God given” right to live in prosperity and isolation from the problems of the world around us. That pride has taken new levels under President Trump and the call to Make America Great Again. Many evangelical leaders regarded Trump as the man designated by God to make America great. Everything seemed to be moving the right way until COVID-19 came.  It has humbled the USA and the rest of the world. The reaction we see to this crisis is the statement that, “we are Americans, the best and smartest people in the world, and we will defeat this virus and come out stronger and better.” There seems to be little chance of repenting of pride, greed, entitlement, sexual immorality, drug and alcohol abuse, idolatry. The debate is soon turning to an issue of which is more important: survival of the Dollar or lives? Somehow, to some it seems the virus favors the old and people of
color, so we ought to ignore its peril and choose the Dollar.

It is at this point that the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations at a similar time are so important. As Jeremiah writes, the judgments of God have come. Babylon has taken Israel captive, the temple is in ruins, and the temple treasures are in Babylon’s storehouses. As Jeremiah focused on current events and their message, he felt great loss and despair. He wrote in Lamentations 3:19-20, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” It’s like Jeremiah has split his time between watching Fox News and CNN. He realized no one had answers, only blame and false hope. The situation was so beyond control Jeremiah knew there was no hope in mankind or in man’s answers to the problems. All the political solutions were rooted in blindness to the future and the utter powerlessness to control or influence it.

But there was a dramatic change within Jeremiah when he chose not to fix his eyes on the world and man’s answers. He chose to fix his spiritual eyes on the Lord and the real truths of life, in a relationship by faith with the true and the living God. He said this in Lamentations 3:21-24, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”” Jeremiah brought truth to his thoughts. Jeremiah was saying, “what do I truly want from this life?” His answers weren’t measured by wealth, health, pleasantness in life’s circumstances, or a full and secure retirement storehouse. His sole desire in life was his relationship with God. The Lord was his portion, and was all he needed for life. Paul expressed similar words in prison on trial for his life in Rome when he wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

What Jeremiah knew in his relationship with the Lord is the absolute security of his relationship with Him. He was in a covenant relationship with God made by faith, and he knew the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Steadfast love is a love by covenant. God is faithful, loyal, and committed to the covenant He has made with us in Jesus. Jeremiah spoke of the new covenant God will make with us in Jesus in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Paul wrote of that covenant in Romans 8:39, that nothing in the present or the future will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jeremiah knew that no matter what the circumstances in life were saying or what dangerous unknowns may lie in the future, his confidence was that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

Jeremiah also knew God had daily mercies for Him. God’s mercy could never be exhausted, could never run out, could never be a thing of the past. He wrote that His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Whatever a new day may bring in challenges and dangers, he knew His mercies are new today, and they will always be enough. God will always make a way. Elijah found it when he was in hiding and fed by ravens, and then miraculously fed by a widow with her son as the grain and oil never ran out for over three years. David, hiding in caves and in many hopeless situations, wrote in Psalm 34:18-19, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all.” We can welcome each new day with all its challenges, dangers, and opportunities knowing that the mercies we need from God today are new and always enough. Though afflictions come, His mercies and deliverance will always make a way.

Underlying Jeremiah’s confidence in the steadfast love of the Lord and His new mercies for each day is the faithfulness of God. Great is God’s faithfulness. He will never give us up, never forget us. God is faithful. When He makes a promise, He keeps it.

But Jeremiah knew that an important part for him in finding hope was to wait upon the Lord as He finishes His work of salvation. He wrote in Lamentations 3:25-26, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Salvation is coming. That is our hope. The coming of Jesus for His church is the blessed hope of those of us who have put our confidence in Jesus (Titus 2:13). We never put our hope in a country or in a political leader. We know greatness could never be measured by wealth or security. We know the purpose of time is the proclaiming of the Gospel to all nations and making the church from the people of all nations, each fully valued, wanted, and treasured.

As we come to the grand climax of history we know it will be in unsettling times. Disasters in the natural world like COVID-19, plagues of locust in Africa and the Mideast, earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, and major storms are all part of the rising birth pains of the coming judgment of God and revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know instability in governments and economies will lead to a compelling call to a new world order in economy and governance. It seems inevitable that a virus like COVID-19 will not be defeated by each country going its own way. We know huge questions rise up over our future. Knowing what was coming, Jesus instructs us to fix our eyes on Him, for all of this is exactly how He described it would be. He instructs us in this last generation directly when He commands in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is Jesus directly calling us to focus on the truth that He is soon coming for His church to take us home. He says to do this when things begin to take place, for we will not be here for the terrifying last seven years before Jesus brings His kingdom to earth.

Thus we find ourselves with Jeremiah having to make a choice. Do we focus on the loss? Do we focus on the sadness that many of us have that things will never be the same again.? Or do we focus on our hope as we fix our eyes on Jesus? We are very much like the Apostle Peter who, when the wind was blowing the waves, at the invitation of Jesus, got out of the boat and walked on the water. But the Bible says he took his eyes off Jesus and began to measure the wind and the waves, began to fear and sink. It says in Matthew 14:30, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid,” We are in a time when the wind and the waves of the rebellion of man are heading to final judgment. The dangers are real. The dangerous waves are real. This storm may pass, but more are coming. We can fix our eyes on the competing outrages of CNN and Fox News, or we can fix our eyes on Jesus. We can put our head down in discouragement and depression, or we can lift our eyes to Jesus, knowing He is coming so soon. We can take His hand and know His steadfast love will never let us go. We can know His mercies are new today and will always be enough. We can know that He is faithful and we hear His Spirit calling, “lift up your eyes child, I am coming. I am coming for you.” With Jeremiah, I call this to mind and in this I have hope.