Sunday, February 25, 2018

Peace, Preparedness, Preaching

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas on August 25th, the first category 3 or higher hurricane to hit the US in 12 years. It dropped the second most rainfall in US history. Hurricane Irma is hitting now in Florida, a category 5 storm. Every western state from Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and west all are experiencing fires. With Montana, Oregon and Idaho covered in them.

Thousands displaced here in the US, thousands more waiting to see what will happen next.

I was recently asked if I believed these things were a judgment of God. Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains and the Left Behind movies fame, said that he did believe this was a judgment of God, and is for us to repent. On the other side Jennifer Lawrence, who played in movies like the Hunger Games and the new X-men series, believes that this is judgment of God too, except it’s because the US elected Donald Trump as president.

But it’s not just here in the US that we see destruction. On September 7, Mexico and Guatemala were hit by an 8.2 magnitude earthquake. The death toll has risen to 61. Going back to the same time as Harvey, flood waters, effecting three different countries in southeast Asia, has left at least 100 dead.

Do I believe that God uses physical storms to bring judgment? Yes I do, he once sent the biggest storm this world has ever seen to obliterate humanity from the face of the earth in the global flood. I do believe there is judgment in the storms. But I think that we’re missing the point if we point to any one natural disaster as the judgment of God. Instead, we need to look at the whole of what is happening in this world as the birth pains before the coming of Christ. Instead of seeing this destruction that we are seeing as being God’s judgment on us for whatever we have done as a nation or as a world, we need to see it as the precursor to Jesus’ return.

In Jesus’ teachings of Matthew 24-25 he goes in-depth to what will happen before his return. Earthquakes, famines, wars, Christians will be given over to death, people will fall from the faith, there will be false prophets and christ’s, wickedness will grow, love will grow cold. Everything we are experiencing, the hatred, the violence, the natural disasters, the turmoil in the churches, it’s all a part of what has to happen before we can see the return of Christ. 

But that’s not the point of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24-25. If we take a step back from the passages and look at them as a whole, only 27 verses deal with these things. These beginning signs to Christ’s return. But Jesus turns around and spends 57 verses on what he sees as a more important topic for his disciples to focus on. If you have your Bibles I want us to open up to these two chapters of Matthew 24-25.

We’re not going to go in-depth here, I just want to ask you what are the section headings in your Bibles say? My Bible has five different sections: Signs of the End of the Age, The Day and Hour Unknown, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, The Parable of the Talents, and the Sheep and the Goats.

In the first section is where we find the 27 verses that deal with these destructive signs, that we can see all around us. The last few verses of the first section and other four sections all deal with one pointed teaching, are you ready for Jesus’ return? And before you answer, here some of Jesus’ words, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.”

Are we recognizing the birth pains, or our we chalking them up to something else? To a specific judgment of God, and not the return of the King? Are we missing the point of what is happening in our world, with love going cold, and violence everywhere?

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Our we living our lives in expectation of the return of the King, or are we unprepared for his coming? Is are focus on our comfortability, but we have not taken the steps necessary for his arrival?

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Are we becoming to comfortable with the things around us, that we are preparing our hearts, minds, and bodies for Jesus’ return.

29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Are we squandering what God has given us during this time? The possessions, the finances, the place in life that we find ourselves?

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Are we wasting the opportunities that God has given us to serve him, and those he has given us?

But, why? Why does Jesus tell us all of this? Isn’t to prepare us? Isn’t so that we are not living in a state of worry?

Isn’t it because of his words in John 16? Hear what he says three times, first in verse 1, “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.” Then in verse 4, “I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.” And finally in verse 33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus tells us these things for the three purposes that have been brought out in all of these passages. He tells us so that we have peace. With all the fires, with all the storms, with all the flooding, with all the violence, with all the falling away, with all the strife that comes from it all, God desires us to have peace with it all. Why, because we have the inside information. We know that these must happen because that means Christ is near. 
Jesus also tells us these things so that we may be prepared in our own lives. That our hearts would be in a right relationship with him. That we would not only accept him, but be more interested in him than in the world around us.That we would be people pointing to his return, than our earthly comfort. 
Finally, Jesus tells us these things so that we would use what he has given us, not for our advancement but for his. Our possessions, our finances, our time, and our strength. Are we using it to advance the gospel, or our we hoarding it for purposes that are all our own?

These storms, these fires, these floods, this violence, this falling away, this cold love is not going to stop, it’s going to increase, because Jesus, the God of the universe has told us it would. The question is not why is the destruction coming, that question comes from the lips of the ones that do not know Christ. The question we should ask of ourselves is, am I doing everything God requires of me to prepare the people around me for his return?

And if we are not. If we are not walking in the peace that he gives, if we are not ourselves prepared, or if we are not using what God has given us for his kingdom purposes, then are we ourselves ready for his return? Let us be the people God saved us to be. The people that can face these storms, because we know the One who has foretold it all.

This week my challenge is simple, take an inventory of these three parts: Walking in Peace, Preparing ourselves, and using what God has given us for his kingdom.  And then ask yourself of each one, am I doing what God would have me do in this time of unrest? Or am I not? 

May the Lord who calls us into action give you his strength, and may you in turn abide in him for all things. Amen.

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