Relax! The End is Near!
For a number of years I have monitored daily news clippings from various Middle Eastern sources. That part of the world is in a constant state of tension, conflict, and crisis. Even a casual observer can see that events in the Middle East in our days are escalating rapidly.
Yet the God of Israel--the God of all the earth--is not caught off guard nor surprised at the worsening events all over our planet. God's long-term point of view is succinctly stated in the Second Psalm. As far as Yahweh is concerned, what really matters is one's personal relationship with Him, and the everlasting security that relationship brings:
1 Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
3 "Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The LORD shall hold them in derision.
5 Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
6 "Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.”
7 "I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me,
‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.
8 Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”
10 Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
One of the most wonderful sections in the Sermon on the Mount is about our constant tendency to worry and to be weighed down by anxiety and the "cares of this world." Addressing this issue Jesus said,
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
"Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit (eighteen inches) to his span of life?"
"So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
"Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:19-34)
In addition to the wonderful encouragement here from Jesus for us to "not be anxious," our Lord suggests we live one day at a time--and rest at the end of the day, having lived wholeheartedly for today.
James, the brother of Jesus, was very blunt about our tendency to plan our lives well into the future, paying no attention to God as we go about our business.
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." (James 4:13-17)
When I was a new Christian--back in the '60s--a very dear woman at my favorite Christian book store always had exactly the right words of encouragement for me every time I came in the store. To this day I remember the exact situation when she quietly read to me what has become a life-long favorite passage of mine from Philippians,
"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (4:6-7)
This promise of the Bible is one of those conditional promises. Peace and inner calm do not descend upon us unless we have done our part--the prayer and supplication tasks--talking to our Father in detail about what concerns us. Only then will His peace be our present possession.
I suppose a companion passage for many of us is Paul's word, "…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in us both to will and to do according to His own good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)
Amazing isn't it? The God of the universe indwells each of His people and yet we live and act as if everything depended on our efforts and our worrying about many things.
Jesus calmed Martha, while visiting his dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany,
Now it happened as they went that Jesus entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. "But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
The great call of Jesus to the inhabitants of our planet is for us to yoke our lives into partnership with Him--and to cease from our own self-efforts entirely! "Entering God's rest" is for us--here and now, and for every day. (See Jesus is our Sabbath Rest, by Ray Stedman, http://www.ldolphin.org/sabbathrest.html).
It ought to be clear that history is "going somewhere"--and fast. New Scientist magazine, a highly irreligious journal published in the UK, last week (April 5-11, 2008) featured an article suggesting that civilization could collapse entirely because of inherent complexities and flaws in the fabric of society that could not be corrected by any amount of human effort.
Of course both the Old and New Testaments confirm that very thing. The age we live in will end with a terrible time of judgment and disaster. Our long-absent Landlord is coming back quite soon and there will be plenty of violence associated with His intervention in "our" affairs.
I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.
And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17)
Sadly, the majority of earth's inhabitants will resist to the death the return of King Jesus. (See for example the parable in Luke 19:11-27 which applies to all the nations, or to Matthew 21:28-44 which zeroes in on Israel's responsibility in God's long-term plans for our planet).
God is going to invade this earth in force. But what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream, and something else -- something it never entered your head to conceive -- comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us, and so terrible to others, that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.
It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we have really chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back, to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it. (C.S. Lewis)
As I grow old and look back on my life I see how much of all my "hard work" in years past most likely will amount to next to nothing in the end. I often think of the passage in Hebrews (12:25-29) which states in effect that those things we do which last into eternal life will be the works we Christians have allowed Jesus to do in and through us! Our very best efforts, apart from God working through us, will end up in the trash dump of the universe.
When I was in college I assumed I'd be young and full of energy forever. The possibilities for my life back then seemed limitless. Decades later, I have found adjusting to being old has made me (thankfully) more aware of my own weaknesses and the sheer brevity of life. What has remained constant in my changing life--and in the rapidly changing world I live in, is that God has not changed! I find that the promise of First John 1:9 is still 100% reliable, something which still amazes me. God is still in perfect control of everything--"upholding the universe by His mighty word of power." "He is before all things and in Him all things are held together."
"Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the LORD Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. He will subdue the peoples under us, And the nations under our feet. He will choose our inheritance for us, The excellence of Jacob whom He loves. God has gone up with a shout, The LORD with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have gathered together, The people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted. (Psalm 47)
Somehow I had overlooked, until this spring, a marvelous Psalm well suited for this season of my life—as I am growing old in a tumultuous time. A dear friend drew my attention to Psalm 71, which I heartily recommend for old and young alike.
1 In You, O LORD, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
2 Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.
3 Be my strong refuge,
To which I may resort continually;
You have given the commandment to save me,
For You are my rock and my fortress.
4 Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,
Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
5 For You are my hope, O Lord GOD;
You are my trust from my youth.
6 By You I have been upheld from birth;
You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb.
My praise shall be continually of You.
7 I have become as a wonder to many,
But You are my strong refuge.
8 Let my mouth be filled with Your praise
And with Your glory all the day.
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
Do not forsake me when my strength fails.
10 For my enemies speak against me;
And those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together,
11 Saying, "God has forsaken him;
Pursue and take him, for there is none to deliver him.”
12 O God, do not be far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me!
13 Let them be confounded and consumed
Who are adversaries of my life;
Let them be covered with reproach and dishonor Who seek my hurt.
14 But I will hope continually,
And will praise You yet more and more.
15 My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness
And Your salvation all the day,
For I do not know their limits.
16 I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD;
I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only.
17 O God, You have taught me from my youth;
And to this day I declare Your wondrous works.
18 Now also when I am old and grayheaded,
O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Your strength to this generation,
Your power to everyone who is to come.
19 Also Your righteousness, O God, is very high,
You who have done great things;
O God, who is like You?
20 You, who have shown me great and severe troubles,
Shall revive me again,
And bring me up again from the depths of the earth.
21 You shall increase my greatness,
And comfort me on every side.
22 Also with the lute I will praise you--
And Your faithfulness, O my God!
To You I will sing with the harp,
O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You,
And my soul, which You have redeemed.
24 My tongue also shall talk of Your righteousness all the day long;
For they are confounded, For they are brought to shame
Who seek my hurt.
April 8, 2008