Posts Tagged With: Second Coming of Christ

Endure to the End—Matthew 24:9-14

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:9-14, NASB)

Apocalyptic passages like this one get a lot of attention. Many Christians are almost obsessed with the end times. Interest in Christ’s return is not a bad thing: After all, Jesus Himself taught about His return. He wants us to keep His ultimate triumph over evil and eternal reign in mind. He wants us to live with an eternal perspective, not acting as if this world is all that matters.

However, it can become an obsession. Some preachers and authors have devoted their entire careers to analyzing current events, with the King James Version in one hand and the New York Times in the other. They continually rewrite their end-times scenarios, trying to discern32249775 who the antichrist is, when the Rapture will occur, and which countries are the beasts of Revelation. Some have set dates, promising that Jesus would return by a particular date. Many of those dates have passed already, inspiring some Grumpy Cat fans to declare it to be the “worst apocalypse ever.” I think I must have already lived through about 50 Raptures and 75 Second Comings.

Grumpy Cat’s cynicism notwithstanding, I am sure that Jesus will return someday. It may not be in our lifetime, but it will occur when God decides the time is right.

Far too often, we look at end-times prophecies the wrong way. Many of these prophecies paint a bleak picture. Just look at Matthew 24:9–12: Tribulation is happening. Christians are dying for their faith in other countries. It seems like the entire world has turned against Jesus and the church. Christians are falling away. People are betraying us. They hate us. False prophets are deceiving Christians. Lawlessness and immorality are rampant. It sounds like Jesus is talking about 2016. Many people will look at that and say one of the following:

  • It can mean only one thing: Jesus is coming back really soon! Any day now!
  • Yes, all of that is true, but it has been going for centuries. It’s all just symbolic of the cosmic war between God and Satan, between good and evil.
  • It has been going on for centuries, and it will continue to happen. But, one of these days, Jesus will return.

I admit, I adhere to the third view. Whatever happens, Jesus calls us to continue to advance His kingdom until He returns. The Bible does not describe the end so that we can try to figure out when the Rapture will occur or live in fear. God’s Word calls us to perseverance:

  • The one who endures to the end will be saved. Why does the Bible paint such a bleak picture of the last days? In part, it is because life is difficult. The world, flesh, and the devil wage war against the Christian, the Holy Spirit, and the things of God. Following Jesus is not easy. It will wear you out. You will be tempted to stop living for Jesus, or at least to stop serving Him in any active way. We must prepare to persevere.
  • Before Christ comes, the Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached to the whole world. We are not to cower in fear. The world and the devil are daring us to be silent. God calls us to speak out. When the disciples asked Jesus if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel, He simply told them that they should just prepare to receive the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Do not grow discouraged. Yes, we live in difficult times. Lawlessness is rampant: In our culture, in our government, and even in the church. Persecution seems to be creeping in, even in the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Christians have probably never been more marginalized in America than they are now. False prophets are leading believers astray. Yet, God is still on the throne. Even if America is in rebellion, Christ’s kingdom will last forever. We need courage and faithfulness to endure.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting Ready

After Superstorm Sandy

After Superstorm Sandy (Photo credit: NJ Tech Teacher)

 But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36, NASB).

Life here on Long Island took some unexpected twists over the last five weeks. On October 29, Hurricane Sandy (aka “Superstorm Sandy” or “Frankenstorm”) slammed into the northeastern coastline, inflicting unprecedented damage on Long Island, New York City, New Jersey, and surrounding areas. For decades, residents have been warned to make the necessary preparations for such a natural disaster: buy enough nonperishable food and bottled water, fill your cars with gas, and so on. This time, many of us were urged to evacuate.

Most Long Islanders–myself included–do not take these warnings seriously. I made a few minor preparations; I bought some bottled water, batteries for flashlights and a radio, and some food. But, it seemed silly to waste time at a gas pump; after all, I was sure there would be gas stations open after the storm, and I had half a tank left. This, however, proved to be a hard lesson. Be prepared: Today may not be the day, but eventually those preparations will be necessary.

It did not take too long before I regretted my apathy about gasoline. Automobile fuel became a precious commodity in the days after the storm, as lines at gas stations were often eight or more hours long (yes, we measured them in hours). Sometimes, people would spend hours in a gas line, only to find the station had nothing to offer.

While my house did not lose power or other utilities for any significant amount of time, many of my friends learned the value of those other preparations. About 90% of Long Islanders lost electricity for at least one day, and in some communities running water or sewer service were lacking. I feel sorry for those who chose to stay, and did not buy bottled water or adequate food.

Luke 21 reminds us that we need to be ready for Christ’s return. Luke 21:36 warns us to stay awake, or be alert, at all times, so that we are always ready for the return of the Lord. Jesus warned us not to be weighed down by “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life” (Luke 21:34). It is tempting to allow the things of this world (both the good and the bad, the necessities and luxuries of life) to weigh us down and distract us from Him. However, the times when we are most distracted, or Christ seems most unnecessary, are the times when we need to be most ready to spend time with Him.

Advent is a time when we can be most prepared or most distracted. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has given way to the maniacal materialism of “Black Friday” and “holiday shopping.” After weeks of abundant charity in the Long Island area, people are resuming their normal lives, which is not always a good thing.

While the world calls us to stores and sales, Christians need to focus more on the coming of the Lord, and His current abiding presence in our lives. That is the message of Advent, as we await the joyous celebration of Christmas. Let us not be swept away by the storm of secularism and materialism as we await the celebration of the coming of Christ.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Jesus Will Return When HE’S Ready!

It is now May 22, 2011, and still no Rapture. I am still here, and I have not heard of any suspicious disappearance of Christians (although, from what I understand, Harold Camping is nowhere to be found). Life goes on, for Christians and nonbelievers alike.

It is easy to joke about Camping’s claims that the Rapture would take place yesterday, and that the world will end on October 21. I will make every effort to avoid ridiculing the man and his followers. Nevertheless, his false teachings cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. They need to be confronted, and Christians need to learn from recent events.

Wikipedia refers to Harold Camping as “an American Christian radio broadcaster.” I would normally not be that gracious in my assessment of him. His teachings in recent years have gone beyond misguided or controversial, into all-out heresy. He is probably best described as a “radio cult leader.” In 1994, after his first prognosticated date for the Rapture did not work out, he claimed that, instead of taking the church out of the world, God had decided to take his Holy Spirit out of the church! According to Camping, the church had become so heavily infiltrated by the devil, that the Holy Spirit had left it. He began teaching his followers that true Christians must leave the established church.

This is in complete conflict with what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, where he told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I cannot see how a person who would make this sort of claim has any true understanding of the power of God, the mercy of Christ, or the plan of salvation.

Harold Camping has hurt a lot of people. One retiree from Staten Island, NY invested his entire life’s savings—about $140,000—in advertising to warn people of the coming apocalypse. I am sure he is not alone. To be perfectly honest, if I had believed Camping, I probably would have quit my job so I can spend my last days doing something more personally meaningful (like spending time with my wife and my son’s family). I can only imagine that countless Campingites made decisions that will have long-lasting harmful effects on them.

Camping has hurt not only his followers. He has hurt the church’s witness, in a way. Over the last couple weeks, more and more secular news outlets reported Camping’s “prophecy.” Unfortunately, news radio stations—including those that focus on brief sound bites and are therefore not well-suited for deep analysis of complex issues—may not always give all the facts. It was not always clear that Camping was wrong before (he previously said the Rapture would occur in September 1994), or that most evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic Christians do not agree with the man. Based on a shallow, quickly reported account of Camping’s claims, one could come away thinking that those conservative Christian nuts had come up with some crazy story.

Yet, we can learn some positive lessons from this ordeal, and I would hope more Christians try to seek a positive outcome. Saint Paul tells us that all things (I would dare say that will include heresy and irresponsible preaching by false prophets) work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). If we continue to pursue God’s purposes, we will be OK. More than that, we will see greater blessing not only in spite of Camping, but because of him.

A few lessons we can learn and remember are the following:

  1. Jesus will return when he and his Father are good and ready! Camping is not the only date setter to get it wrong. Before Harold Camping, Edgar C. Whisenant wrote a book in 1988, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. When that did not pan out, he followed up with a book proposing reasons why the Rapture would occur in 1989. I started telling people that I would write a book entitled, Ninety Reasons Why Jesus Will Return When He’s Darned Good and Ready.
    Well, I never did write that book. Plenty of “prophecy experts” have issued their warnings over the years, and have been proven wrong. It is easy to grow cynical about the second coming of Christ (see Second Peter 3:3–7). Yet, Jesus never gave us a date for his return. In fact, he told us that his Father is the only being who knows the date of his return—neither Jesus nor the angels know the date (Matthew 24:36; 25:13).
  2. It is not our job to know when the end will come. It is our job to occupy until Jesus comes. In Acts 1:7, 8, Jesus ended his earthly teaching ministry by answering yet another question by the apostles, about the dating of end-times events. Jesus said, “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.” We do not need to know when Jesus is coming back. We just need to proclaim the truth that He is returning, and that he offers forgiveness and everlasting life to all who call upon him.
  3. We do not know when our own end will occur. This should be obvious. While I was writing this post, I heard about a killer tornado in Joplin, MO. Although the article I read did not give any numbers (it referred only to “some fatalities”), I can be sure of one thing: those people who died in that storm did not expect it. I would not be surprised if they had Day-Timers filled in, like I do, specifying where they expect to go and what they plan to do tomorrow. Their plans will not be fulfilled. It does not matter to them when Jesus will return. Their judgment day is now.
    The same is true for all of us. I can hope to live another 30, 40, or even 50 years. It is not inconceivable for a man my age, in reasonably good health, to expect to live a long time. Yet, there are no guarantees. Accidents, sudden illness, or other tragedies can take us out of this world when we least expect it. So, it does not really matter when Jesus will return. We will all face our day of judgment; we will all stand before him sooner or later. We do not know that date and cannot schedule it on our Blackberry. We need to just be ready always to meet the Lord.
  4. Therefore, let us live each day with our eyes on eternity. On my Facebook page, I list one of my favorite quotes, which I saw attributed to actor James Dean: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” Sadly, he did die young, and I do not know exactly where he said it. But, the truth is worth considering. We can make plans for our future. We should have long-term goals. At the same time, those long-term goals should be pursued with a mindset that focuses on eternity.

To explain that last thought, I turn to an observation by Stephen R. Covey on page 11 of his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). He asks:

How many on their deathbeds wished they’d spent more time at the office—or watching TV? The answer is, No one. They think about their loved ones, their family, and those they have served.

So, if the world were scheduled to end this week, and we knew without a doubt that the Rapture and/or the Second Coming of Christ, what would you do? How would you spend your last days on earth? What would you do to make those last days meaningful or rewarding? What would you want Jesus to see you doing at the moment of his return?

Based on those questions, why don’t you do those things now? Make those matters high-priority goals for the weeks and years to come. Take those things that you say would matter most at the end of days, and give them priority treatment for the rest of your days.

Finally, if any Harold Camping fans read this: God has not failed. A man has made a serious mistake in his interpretation of Scripture. God is still on the throne, he is still all-knowing, and he is still in control of the universe. I urge you to find a church that preaches the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It does not have to be a perfect church (there is no such thing, because all churches are filled with imperfect people); just one that remains faithful to the truth of God’s Word. Continue to seek a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Categories: Current events, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reflecting on the Death of Bin Laden

What a way to start our day. I slept in a little this morning, since I had already decided to call in sick: a prolonged elbow soreness just seemed to get much worse over the weekend. Time to stop “toughing it out” and call the doctor. While I was brushing my teeth, Joyce turned on the radio to listen to the news on 1010 WINS, and the first thing she hears is something like, “Stay tuned for in-depth coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden.” (And I went to bed thinking the world’s biggest news is “My elbow feels horrible.”)

The death of Osama bin Laden comes at an interesting moment. It came one day after the 56th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death (perhaps they can become roommates now). It was also the eighth anniversary of George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech, after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. (Wow, I guess they can start an “Axis of Evil” fraternity in the nether world.)

I confess: I can go for days on end with these quips at the expense of bin Laden. Many have already beaten me to it. When I heard that our military gave him an immediate “burial at sea” (to balance Islam’s requirements of immediate burial with the fact that no country would accept his remains), my first thought was: “There is a part of me that wishes we had boiled his body in pig blood and then fed it to rats. Send him out in a manner most offensive to Muslims. He does not deserve our respect.” (Yes, I actually posted that online, on a friend’s Facebook friend.)

That is the human side of me speaking: the side that demands justice. However, after having a few cups of coffee, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, and spending a few minutes reading the Bible and praying, I realize that I need to apply my beliefs as a Christian AHEAD of my values as an American.

So, the following are just a few random thoughts about bin Laden’s death. This is not an in-depth analysis by any means, just a few thoughts that came to mind this morning.

  1. At the beginning of the “War on Terror” in 2001, I shared a word, which I still believe came from the Lord, at church. I shared that terrorism is merely one of many forms of evil—of the work of Satan—in the world today. We must not allow ourselves to sell out to wickedness in our efforts to end terrorism.
  2. Growing out of that, I have to think: Maybe it is a good thing that we gave bin Laden a burial at sea. No, it is not what he deserved: For his crimes against humanity, he deserved something akin to the pig-blood-bath I proposed above. But, we proved something to the world when we buried him at sea. We, the American people, are BETTER and MORE NOBLE than bin Laden and his fellow Islamic extremists. Despite his wickedness, we treated him with a certain degree of dignity as a fellow human being. Islamic extremists will place their religious convictions ahead of human dignity. The Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes that human dignity is central to our entire ethical and moral system, since God created us in His image.
  3. Indeed, I will be so bold as to say that our value system, based on a Judeo-Christian system of morality and ethics, is more noble than the repressive value system of Islamo-fascism. I am not ashamed to say that. Am I being intolerant? Absolutely: And I will remain intolerant of immorality, evil, and wickedness until the end of eternity.
  4. The war against terror is not over. Osama bin Laden is dead, but in the days to come, we will all have the displeasure of getting to know who will take his place as head of Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden was evil, but he was not an idiot. He knew our troops were coming after him. He was fighting for a cause that he believed in, one he was willing to die for, which he would want to maintain after he died. Someone will take his place. Someone has been groomed to keep his blind vision alive.
  5. The war against evil will never end until Jesus Christ returns. The Book of Revelation summarizes the spiritual war between God and Satan, which is usually manifested in the flesh-and-blood world we live in. In Revelation 20:7–15, we read how God will finally judge the world: Satan, the demons, all those who stand condemned when judged according to God’s righteous decrees, and finally hell and death will be cast into a lake of fire. (Revelation 20:13 says that the sea will give up the dead that are in it: Yes, Mr. bin Laden, this means you!)

There are probably countless more things that can be written about this event. I am sure we will read and hear more about bin Laden and his last days as the news unfolds. As we consider this, let us remember that all of us are in need of the forgiveness and mercy of God, revealed in Christ Jesus and received through a relationship with Him. Bin Laden was evil, but we must remember that we too are sinners, in need of grace.

I, for one, will continue to pray for an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, both in our nation and in those nations that remain hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Categories: Current events, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unceasing Devotion

In First Thessalonians, Paul wrote to a church that eagerly awaited Christ’s return. The church in Thessalonica had sprung up suddenly when Paul preached there. Persecution arose shortly thereafter, and Paul had to flee to Berea. In spite of persecution, the church grew. The members struggled, enduring hardships and wondering what will happen to the church’s deceased members when Christ returns. They loved the Lord, but they needed reassurance that their faith was not misguided.

Today, our society can create confusion for Christians as well. Legislators pass laws in defiance of God’s edicts, and judges “legislate from the bench” in opposition both to God’s law and our nation’s Constitution. The media depict Christians as a flock of bigoted, narrow-minded, ignorant fanatics; many of our friends and co-workers are brainwashed to believe these stereotypes. As we await Christ’s second coming, we must be prepared to face whatever challenges may come. Outright persecution may arise. Religious freedom is gradually disappearing, even in America, despite the First Amendment. Our nation’s fountain of prosperity seems to be drying up. We need to learn how to follow the Lord so that we may not falter in hard times. We also need to wait patiently in hope for the return of our Lord.

How shall we live and act as we prepare for Jesus’ second coming? A familiar passage in First Thessalonians 5:16–18i provides some insight:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

This can look like three separate commandments. However, the passage bears a parallel structure, much like the Hebrew poetry found in the book of Psalms. This parallelism suggests that this passage is one command in three parts. To follow God’s will for us, we must rejoice, pray, and give thanks continually.

These three attitudes work together. When we pray, we give thanks, and such thanksgiving brings us joy. Such joy encourages us to pray some more, increasing our reasons to give thanks. Prayer, thanksgiving, and rejoicing become a cycle.

The most significant message here is that we should continually worship God. The emphasis is on the continual nature of this command. In the original Greek, these three adverbs—”always,” “without ceasing” (or “unceasingly”), and “in all circumstances”—appear before the verbs. Paul emphasizes the continual nature of these actions. This passage does not encourage us to rejoice occasionally, pray periodically, and give thanks on the fourth Thursday in November. We should do these things continually. They should be more than activities: they should be part of our very character.

That can be difficult. It is easy to rejoice when your favorite sports team is winning, your checking account balance keeps growing, and you have a productive day at work. It is not as easy, though, when your favorite sports team is on a prolonged losing streak, your checking account balance approaches $0, and work equals drudgery. If we cannot accomplish God’s will for us in Christ Jesus at these times, though, how will we fare during full-fledged government-sponsored persecution?

Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual fruit grows from spiritual seed. How do we grow joy? By keeping our eyes on spiritual blessings. In Matthew 5:11–12, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Elsewhere, Jesus told his disciples to rejoice, not because of the supernatural power he gave them, but because their names were recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20). Therefore, we grow eternal joy by reminding ourselves of our eternal rewards.

We can get so addicted to this world that we forget about heaven. We may get dangerously comfortable here. If Jesus were to ask our permission to rapture us into heaven tonight, many of us may balk because of all the things we would have to leave behind! “Lord, I need my TV; I never miss an episode of ‘American Idol.'” “You mean to tell me there’s no football in heaven? What am I supposed to do on Sunday afternoon there?” “I’m still making payments on that car! I can’t leave it here!” Perhaps if we truly considered our heavenly treasures, and all that awaits us there, we would not cling so tightly to the things we have here.

Perhaps that is why Christians in some Third World countries receive the word of God with such enthusiasm. They are not enslaved by possessions. They count themselves blessed if they eat enough to stay healthy, own two changes of clothing, and have a roof over their heads (even if that roof is made out of mud or tin). Their only treasure is whatever they are storing up in heaven. They realize just how temporal earthly pleasures are.

Praying without ceasing is central to rejoicing and giving thanks. Unfortunately, it is easy to make excuses to disobey this command. There are times when conscious prayer might hinder us from fulfilling our other duties. As an editor, when I am working on authors’ proofs, I need to concentrate on the pages in front of me. Most of us encounter similar circumstances, where our full attention must be directed to a task at hand. However, this should not become an excuse for spiritual laziness.

Are you at least consistent in prayer? Do you pray every day? Do you set aside time for prayer and then stick to it, or do you wait until you have nothing else to do before praying? In the Old Testament, the Israelites were often commanded to offer their first fruits to God. In other words, they sacrificed to him first. Likewise, we should set aside time for prayer as a top priority. If we wait until there is nothing else to do, we will never pray until we are in a crisis.

Perhaps many of our lives are too cluttered. It is difficult to pray while listening to the radio or your IPod. It is even harder to pray while watching television. We need to decide whether prayer or worldly pleasures are more important for us.

Prayer is our spiritual lifeline. We need constant spiritual protection. In First Peter 5:6–9, we read the following:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Satan prowls as a vicious predator seeking souls to devour. Everything can be flowing smoothly in your life. You can be walking in victory. You might feel like you have finally overcome that addiction or life-controlling sinful habit. Suddenly and unexpectedly, life throws you a major crisis. In the midst of that stress, you are tempted in your weakest area. Maybe that sin, which you thought you had overcome, suddenly crops up as an overwhelming urge. If you have not tapped into the Lord’s power through prayer, you will be at Satan’s mercy until you call on the Lord. By the way—Satan has no mercy.

Remember to give thanks in all circumstances. If we pray continually, thanksgiving will flow. It is hard to thank God in hard times. However, when we recognize that in all things God is working for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Rom. 8:28), we can thank him for what he is doing, even if we are not currently comfortable in our circumstances.

Let us take these exhortations to heart. Rejoice always, even when you should feel like crying. Pray without ceasing, especially when you feel like God is ignoring your situation. Give thanks in all circumstances, even if you are not sure what God is doing. You may not see the blessing now, but if you remember that God loves you and is in control of all situations, you can rest confident in the hope that he will produce a good outcome in your circumstances.

Most importantly, remember that God is the One who will sanctify you and declare you blameless. His power strengthens us. His love encourages us. His guidance leads us. His Holy Spirit seals us. He holds us in His hands, and he will not let go of us. We are precious in his sight, so he will preserve us against any trial as we draw closer to him.

iScripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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