Get Ready! Stay Ready! Be Ready!
Very nearly half a century ago I remember the enthusiasm my church inspired in me (as a new follower of Jesus) in the area of categorized truth they usually called "sound doctrine" back then. In thinking about this topic (which as near as I can tell is apparently not much discussed these days) I was pleasantly surprised to discover that some old fashioned web sites still make this subject of Biblical orthodoxy a big deal--which it really is! (See for instance, http://www.dtl.org/apologetics/wright/doctrine.htm). I have ranted a lot in recent years about the dumbing-down of Christians everywhere. Surely ignorance of who God really is, is one reason things are falling apart as fast as they are. The Christian faith has specific content--which reflects who God is, what He likes and dislikes, what He is doing in the world, and on and on. God has not changed nor has he receded into outer space. In fact He is on His way back even now.
Fortunately, knowing God in a personal way does not require that we know, ahead of time, a lot about God. When asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me." (Matthew 18:1-4). But after we have come to Jesus in simple trust, we all must move on and grow in the knowledge of God. This involves not merely more head-knowledge, we are to all grow experientially with God. He is a living Person and we are each miniature persons. For most of us, the other persons who are part of our lives are of great importance. God deserves to be Number One. He is totally into knowing and loving people. The better we know our God, the easier it is for us to relate well with all sorts of other persons. Simple basics like this are the most quickly forgotten it seems.
...And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us." (1 John 4:16-19)
One item on my list of basic Christian beliefs presented to me (way back) was the topic called "the blessed hope of the church." I was taught that the world is a hostile place for us followers of Jesus, at best a very temporary residence for God's family. The unseen government of the social order around us is opposed to God. Our very presence on the planet arouses hostility against us, and unleashes a myriad of enemy attempts to take us out of action. The hosts of enemy arrayed against us Christians hang out down here mostly around Planet Earth. C.S. Lewis called Earth the "Dark Planet" ruled over by a "Bent Angel."
The really good news called "the blessed hope" of Christians in every generation, I learned decades ago, was the reality that Jesus Christ will actually return to earth, quite probably very soon now. When that happens, it will be to take us to safe-haven--to a splendid New City made just for us. It will be a splendid day likened to a Bride Groom at long last being united to His greatly loved Bride. After we've gone, Jesus has a lot of rehab waiting for Him to address. He owns the planet and it was created for Him in the first place. A lot of bad tenants have trashed the place, so a major overhaul is coming soon.
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you." (Titus 2:11-15)
Many of the early followers of Jesus paid with their lives for publically naming Jesus as Lord instead of Caesar. As the centuries have rolled by it should be obvious that the return of Jesus draws nearer day by day. In fact if Jesus delays much longer it seems plausible that He will not find anyone down here who knows that God wants to save them, and why.
But, strangely, I see little evidence today that the "blessed hope" holds out any real attraction for what's left of Christ's church. Fear, dread, apprehension, hiding, seem to dominate instead--at least in the hearts of many people I know.
Jesus could have returned any number of times since the First Century. His disciples originally expected His absence would be only weeks or months. The good part of the long delay is that Jesus might have chosen to return a hundred years ago. In that case, you and I would not be here. We would never have been born and never had the chance to choose to follow Jesus. I, for one, am very glad Jesus waited for me, and that He has patiently endured while all sorts of wonderful people I know have come into His family by faith in Jesus Christ. I know a really neat group of "travelling companions" I am eager to spend more time with--and then, too, there is the challenge of getting acquainted with a billion or so others who have called Jesus Christ their Lord since Pentecost.
God has sent major wake up calls to our planet just in the past century or so. Jews in Europe began to long for a national homeland in the late 1800s. Circumstances arising out of World Wars I and II resulted in a small sliver of the ancient land of Israel being allocated to the Jews, who established a new national identity there in 1948. What forces or powers could regather and revive ancient Israel against all the odds? Surely all of us should ponder why this tiny nation should exist today, surviving nicely though constantly attacked by surrounding nations in a series of wars since 1948. The enemy nations who have lately chosen to eradicate the Jews are mostly obscure peoples newly awakening to power after slumbering, long centuries in the deserts of the Middle East. It is as if the chess board of world conflicts was suddenly wiped clean just a few years ago, and a whole new suite of players were suddenly in place confronting one another according to a plan no one could remember had been previously scripted--written ahead of time in great detail, and recorded in the Bible.
God orchestrates history to suit His own purposes. We are mere houseguests on His planet and we may have much less to say about where history is going than we ever imagined. Have we lost hope? Not because we don't believe Jesus will ever return, but because our personal love for Jesus has faded? Are we just now beginning to be dimly aware that in neglecting our personal walk with Jesus we have paid a great price? C.S. Lewis was gentle when he said of our generation, "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
A young friend of mine runs his own small start-up high tech company in Silicon Valley, where I live. He also manages a restaurant conveniently located on my way to church. This week I asked him what he felt were the overwhelming issues facing his generation. His near-instant response was "the end of the world." Right away he summed up the rapidity with which we have moved from fear of nuclear war or of total annihilation to a foreboding sense of helplessness where there is no possible way to escape. I have been asking people I know to tell me how they feel about life right now. What bothers them most? Apparently the current economic downturn is only a symptom to many who are discerning. Institutions such as universities, churches, think-tanks, great and mighty corporations, international banks -- are now seen as part of a cosmic problem with no apparent answer. Our unresolved past lives are catching up with us, there are no new frontiers to flee to, and no credible leaders are speaking words of genuine hope.
Frances Schaefer predicted our situation which he called "existential despair" when he spoke on university campuses 50 years ago. Sure enough, hopelessness and despair are everywhere now. Moral absolutes have faded away. Truth has been almost fully marginalized--death by mocking evidently. The God our forefathers hoped in has quietly faded into near-total obscurity. Have can one tell the difference between a holy person and the profane? Who can one trust?
This is not the time for us to try to hide from God. Israel has not paid any real attention to God in two millennia and more, yet the Lord still says to them, "All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people." (Romans 10:21).
Truth never changes. If something was once true, it is still true. That is how we identify truth! It was for very good reason that Jesus told us to seek, because those who seek find. God loves you and He loves me and He is ready to get us ready to go home, and to get us safely there as well. This present world is really about to go up in flames. All the evidence I take to be credible now points to the return of Jesus for His people as being now truly "at hand." Something said to be "Imminent" for 2000 years will actually happen. One does not wait forever for the Return of the King when history demands it. We can not know the exact date, but all the evidence now shouts "Soon!" "Get Ready!" "Stay Ready."
When all else fails, get out the Instruction Book, open that dusty Users' Manual, and go back to the basics about our sinfulness versus God's great love for us. We may have endangered ourselves greatly by drifting away from Him, but He is eager to have us open up, get honest with Him, and to seek His face. That is the need of the hour. The more honest we are with God, the better. God has announced well in advance what He has already done in the world so that we can know Him and be made whole. The Bible tells us in a much detail where Jesus is now taking things. Our ignorance of Who God is, is what is killing us. Ignorance is not bliss!
The words of the prophet Isaiah 2700 years ago, are still God's call to all of us today:
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you-- The sure mercies of David. Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people, A leader and commander for the people. Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, And nations who do not know you shall run to you, Because of the LORD your God, And the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you.”
Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
“For you shall go out with joy, And be led out with peace; The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the LORD for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55)
The return of Jesus will not be the end of the world as we know it. The Bible describes the coming of Jesus as a two-stage event. First Jesus will come and quietly remove all those of us who have known him during the past 2000 years. Most of these people (all ages, every age group, all parts of the world) have already died. They will be raised from the dead, restored to perfect health and given new bodies (resembling the new body Jesus had after His resurrection). Immediately following, all those of us who are true Christians here and now will be called up to join the vast company who have preceded us. Where will we go, what will we do? What will happen down on earth after we leave? You can be sure we won't be bored. It is all in The Book!
To be Practical: Surely this is a great time to get together in small groups and study together what the Bible says about reality, and what life will be for us who have already placed their faith in Jesus as Lord.
There will come a time when it will be too late. The gates will be closed and the offer of God's grace will cease. The New Testament echoes the Old in this regard,
We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
July 19, 2010
Special Note: Ron Graff and I are now revising our very popular Prophecy Handbook, "Thy Kingdom Come... The Prayer Most Offered is about to be Answered," first written in 1998. More than 320,000 copies have been downloaded free of charge. We expect hard copies to be available this Fall. Ron and I are both careful and conservative in every way. We believe every follower of Jesus should have a basic knowledge of what the whole Bible says about the future. Online version.
Ron and I do not believe in impersonal web sites hosted by unknown writers. Much of our time is spent answering email and getting to know people. This springs from our belief that God's people are one great family. Several friends work with me to be sure we cover your email questions as thoroughly as we can. Send your inquiries to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.