Whenever difficult times come, there arises a mass of people who wonder whether or not we are “living in the last days.” Today, in our climate of political and economic upheaval, people again are pondering whether the last days are upon us.
Recently, I’ve been told more times than I can count, “the end must be near.” But is it? Let’s consider a few facts.
First, in the Bible the phrase “last days” does not refer to the end of the planet as we know it, but the end of the Jewish temple system with the coming of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:17; Heb.1:2). Consequently, we have been living in the last days since the first century.
Second, there are hundreds of instances in history when it was believed that the “signs of the times” proved that the end of all things was near. During the fall of the Roman Empire, for example, it was widely believed that the end of the world must be at hand. It wasn’t. It was simply the beginning of a new world.
Third, the Bible tells us that Jesus is the heir of the nations (Ps.2:8), and that the end will come after He has brought all things under subjection (1 Cor.15:22ff.). It’s because of this Christians have been commissioned to disciple the nations (Mt.28:18-20) and to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt.6:10).
Thinking through these facts presents an alternative scenario to the common end times vision that preoccupies many.
Just because difficult times come does not mean it’s the end of the world. Those difficult times may arrive for other reasons. For instance, the Bible repeatedly teaches that societies who disobey the Lord, He will judge – those who sow the wind will reap to the whirlwind (Hos.8:7).
We have a name for figures of speech that contain normally contradictory terms. We call them oxymorons. So, phrases like “a fine mess,” “a new classic,” and “accurate rumors,” are oxymorons.
Another oxymoron is “unchurched Christian,” because it is a contradiction for a Christian to live disconnected from the church. Sadly, this is a contradiction that is lived out by many who profess to follow Jesus Christ.
There are different reasons why people avoid making a commitment to a local church. These include bad experiences, unwillingness to change, resistance to authority, pride, laziness, and a host of others, I’m sure. And, because of the weaknesses found in any church, it’s easy to find justification to absent oneself from the corporate gathering of God’s people. But, whatever the reason, for a Christian to remain unattached to the church is neither healthy nor biblical.
God commands His people to come together to worship Him. They are not to forsake their assembling together as is the habit of some (Heb.10:25). This point can be easily established by the fact that in the Bible you don’t find solitary Christians, but Christians coming together in community.
This coming together is by God’s design. Although the Lord regularly calls people to Himself as individuals, He does not leave them by themselves. He incorporates them into His body (1 Cor.12:13). The refrain of Scripture is, “I will be your God, and you will be My people” (Jer.7:23).
Every day we have choices to make. Shall we eat at this restaurant or that one? Do I want this pair of shoes or the other pair? Shall we watch a movie or take a walk? Even though people can find decisions about these simple questions hard to make, eventually they do get made.
But there other kinds of decisions of far greater consequence that often never get made at all. Questions about one’s character, reputation, legacy and future are often just neglected.
One reason for this is that decisions about these areas don’t always seem as significant as they should. Relativism has taught us that one way is as good as another, so why be overly burdened with the course of our lives?
As a result, people easily end up drifting along, spending their lives in what you might call “the murky middle” – a place that seems safe and comfortable because that is where so many reside. But a place that – despite appearances – is not safe. There is a way that leads to life and a way that leads to death. And we must actively choose to step out of the murky middle and onto the path of life, lest we die.
The need to choose where our lives are headed is a message that the Bible gives us repeatedly.
It’s not uncommon for the gospel to be understood in very personal and other-worldly terms. In other words, the gospel is viewed as a message given to individuals so that they would respond in faith and have assurance of heaven when they die.
The message typically goes something like this. . . Jesus came, died, and was raised again for your sins. Repent and believe and you will be forgiven of your sins, and experience everlasting life in glory when your days on earth are over.
This message is true enough, as far as it goes. The problem with it, though, is that it often leaves those who believe it living little differently than they were beforehand. Yes, they have the hope of heaven in their hearts, but they don’t have a clear idea in their heads of what they are to be doing until they get there.
It’s because of this we need the full picture of what the gospel is all about. Yes, Jesus came to save individuals from hell and bring them to heaven. But there’s more.
In the gospel, Jesus Christ is declared the Lord of all things in heaven and on earth. As Lord he is making all things new. The message of the gospel, then, is about more than simply the salvation of individual souls. It is about nothing less than the renewal of all of creation.
This new creation was initiated and secured at the time of Christ’s resurrection. When Christ was raised from the dead, he was the “first fruits” of what is to come. And what is to come? The subjection of all things to Christ so that God would be “all in all” (1 Cor.15:20-28).
Individuals become an active part in this new world as they are joined to Christ by faith. The Bible tells us “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have past away, behold new things have come” (2 Cor.5:17). As a result, individuals who trust in Christ are not simply waiting for heaven, but are participants in the redemptive work God is doing now.
The recent Koran burning controversy has revealed something significant – secularism is dying. Europe has been learning this for awhile. Now it’s America’s turn.
For years secularism has been put forth as the desirable operating system of the world. Secularism, it’s been argued, is the only system that can supply the neutrality necessary to allow all viewpoints to flourish. But now the virus of relativism has snagged up the secular system, making it inoperable.
The recent brouhaha over the burning of the Koran reveals this in several ways.
First, it reveals secularism’s inconsistency. Not too long ago the U.S. Military burned a whole shipment of Bibles in Afghanistan for tactical reasons. This is not widely known, but once you learn about it, it makes any sensible person wonder, “Why is it OK to burn Bibles in Afghanistan but an outrage to burn the Koran in America?” Secularism cannot offer a consistent answer.
Second, the Koran burning controversy shows that secularism is losing authority because it’s becoming apparent it has no standard. Even if you agree with the slew of secular authorities who believe burning the Koran is a bad idea, it is proper to ask them, “By what standard is it wrong?” After all, if someone were to plan a similar stunt using something Christians hold dear, there would be no outcry. He may have even got Federal funding. At best, the only standard secularism has to offer is, “be nice,” and even this is applied selectively.
An important step toward getting on in life is for a man to realize that his greatest enemy is himself. No amount of complaining about one’s circumstances, past, boss, bank account, or political leaders will move him forward. He must take responsibility for that which is under his control – namely, his own life.
The Bible tells us that God ordained men to rule the earth as kings (Gen.1:28). In this role, human beings are to wisely cultivate all that God brings into their care. And as they do, they fulfill their highest purpose and bring glory to God.
Too often the reality is that men do not live as kings, but slaves. Instead of governing the domain that God has given them, they sit as in chains waiting for their lot in life to somehow improve. But it never does improve, because the life of a slave remains the same day after miserable day.
The good news is that men do not have to continue on as slaves. Jesus Christ came to set men free from sin and guilt, fear and folly, so that they would live as the kings God destined them to be.
How can this be?
The Bible tells us that those who have faith in Christ live in union with Him. We have been buried with Him in baptism and raised up with Him so that we would walk in the newness of life (Rom.6:4). The old things have passed away, and new things have come (2 Cor.5:17).
A consequence of this new life is that men are restored to their kingly status. They need not live bound in servitude to all that holds them back. This is confirmed in that the Bible tells us that those who have faith in Christ are seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph.2:6). In other words, all who humbly believe are put in the exalted position of co-regents with Jesus Christ.
If you were to sum up the need of our times in one word, that
word would be “repentance.”
While often thought to be merely an outdated preoccupation of
backwoods preachers, the theme of repentance runs throughout
the Bible and remains necessary for all who desire life over death.
This is because repentance is the stepping stone that enables
one to cross from the path that leads to ruin to that which is life
in the Lord.
Being so, repentance is an extremely relevant theme for us today,
as we live in a nation that has lost its way.
The word repentance literally means a change of mind. Consequently,
repentance begins by recognizing you are on the wrong path, and if
you continue it will lead to trouble, and eventually doom.
But repentance involves more than just recognition of your condition –
it requires confession and change. Without these elements, you
have merely thought about repentance – you have not actually
repented. For repentance to be genuine, it must show itself in
the way one lives. There has to be fruit in keeping with repentance.
Repentance is indispensable when it comes to turning the tide from
misery to hope. It’s through repentance God’s pardoning grace is
brought to bear on us where we need it. When we repent and believe,
God forgives us and moves from being under judgment to under
Repentance has the power to change the status of an individual –
or even a nation – in an instant. When the people of Nineveh
repented at Jonah’s preaching, the whole nation was spared the
judgment God had prepared for it overnight.
Though repentance is a simple concept, it is not easy to implement.
As I write, a number of states are holding primary elections as a precursor to the general election in the fall. The big question is, will any of these elections bring the significant change needed to reverse our nation’s decline?
It’s not likely.
It’s not that I’m cynical. Nor do I think there are no differences between candidates. But as a society we have conferred upon the State the power to save us, and this the State cannot do. We have put our faith in politics, but the politicians are unable to deliver.
At least part of the population is beginning to recognize this. That’s good news, and gives us some hope that there are those who are up for radical change. The bad news is that the masses still like the idea of the State as a provider, and want to continue to get from the State whatever they can.
This cannot go on. We need a radical turn around – and soon — because here’s the root of the matter.
Over the past years we’ve seen God increasingly marginalized from American life. Everyone knows it, and the pace of denying God’s place just seems to be accelerating.
But there’s something else that’s been going on at the same time. While God has been increasingly marginalized, the State has been increasingly idolized. That is, we’ve come to the place where we look to the State as an idol, to assure us that we will be secure and satisfied — no matter what sane principles we may violate.
How you view the future has a lot to do with how you live in the present. So, thinking through what the the future holds can have a real effect on your life today.
The dominant view of the future for a long time has been that of evolutionary progress. This is the idea that over time conditions will naturally get better, and what is necessary to move things along is to provide education, economic benefits and freedom to as many people as possible.
This thinking is common among politicians. As a result, we are continually exposed to one new program for progress after another. But it’s all to no avail, because these programs do not take seriously the fact that humanity has been corrupted by evil, and that this evil needs to be addressed.
To confirm that this is indeed the case, all you need to do is note how all the efforts to provide greater educational opportunities, further economic redistribution, and spread democracy have done nothing to halt the extent to which human beings exploit one another.
This reality has led to a widespread acceptance of another view of the future. This view is that what really counts is not life in this material world, but the spiritual world that is beyond us. With this view is the idea that the world is a wicked place, and our greatest hope is in escaping the confines of it at death.
Those who hold to this way of thinking will show forth the consequences of it in different ways. Some will live as though what happens in this world really doesn’t matter, making a god of personal pleasure. Others will just hang on in this world, enduring the best they can, hoping that life on the other side will be better for them.
In either case, the escapist falls far short when it comes to engaging life in the here and now, and fails to bring the good that can be brought to others in this world.
Fortunately, there’s another way of looking at things.
With last week’s ruling by a California judge, the movement toward gay marriage has picked up steam. This resurgence is not surprising. Rather, it’s a fairly logical result of ideas that continue to dominate American culture.
Let’s consider the significance of a few of these ideas.
First, there’s the idea of American individualism. It’s been a long-held, cherished belief in our nation that nothing should stand in the way of an individual seeking to fulfill his or her desires. Taken by itself, the spirit of individualism makes gay marriage appear as a natural right for those who desire it.
But there are other interests at stake — like the interest of society as a whole. For millennia, marriage between a man and a woman has served as the primary civilizing influence of society. At the heart of this is that marriage is a bond for the raising of children and passing on values to the next generation.
To accept individualism’s push toward gay marriage is to gut the family of it’s stabilizing role to the detriment of society as a whole.
Another idea that continues to propel the gay marriage movement forward is our exalted view of the State. By marginalizing God from American life, we have given the State the power to define the most fundamental matters of life. But it is not the State’s place to determine issues like when life begins or what constitutes a marriage. The State’s place is to recognize these basic definitions and uphold them.