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Monday, August 10, 2020

The Last Days

Introduction
2020 may go down as the worst year in the last century! 2020 will always be remembered as a unique leap year. It had 29 days in February. 300 days in March. Five years in April. (And we stopped keeping count after that.) 

It’s been bad y’all.  I cannot believe that “Tiger King” was the most normal part of 2020 so far.  If 2020 was made into a drink, it would be a colonoscopy prep.

There have been a lot of jokes made about 2020 being a bad year.  But “the year 2020” is the worst joke

of them all.  Can we just skip to 2021 and start over? (But then, how do we know if 2021 will be any better?) 

With all that’s been going on, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people like this: “Pastor, is this the end of the world?  Do you think Jesus is coming back soon?”

It’s on everybody’s mind—especially

if you grew up with a Christian background.

Jesus said he would come back one day and create a new heaven and a new earth and the world we live in now will be destroyed and replaced (see Revelation 21). 

So I want talk about the last days and get to this question:  Are we living in the Last Days?

 The Apostle Paul wrote about the

“End Times” to a young man named Timothy.  Paul perceived the end was near for him and he wanted to giv some advice to the next generation of Christian leaders.  Paul knew, as we all do, that the next generation will not do things exactly the way we do them.  That's as it should be; they will live in different times and must adapt to their times.  Even so, we hope the next generation will hold fast to the essential values we've help dear, even as they adapt for their context.  Paul wrote to advice Timothy to be true to the essential elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be ware of those who would try to lead people astray by changing the message and living in ungodly ways in the last days. 

2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

Does It Seem Like the End is Near?
With all that’s going on, it’s no wonder that people are asking if the end is near.  And when we read what Paul wrote to Timothy here, it may sound very familiar.  And other places in Scripture teach similar themes about the “Last Days”.

Paul wrote Timothy: in the last days there will be very difficult times.  These are some of the most difficult times we have faced in a long time.  And we definitely see a lot of selfishness and greed all around.  So much of the public discourse, business practices, and even personal behavior of people today is saturated with selfishness and greed.  And Paul told Timothy in the last days, people will be puffed up with pride and scoff at God.  That's a very accurate description of the way people act these days.  Scoffing means to make fun of or ridicule someone so as to discredit them.  People don't even listen to each other anymore and they certainly don't listen to God.  Instead, they write God and others off as stupid and not even worthy of giving the time of day.

And Paul told Timothy when the end is near, people will love pleasure rather than God.  I see this so clearly right now.  I always knew the attitude was there, but I see it so clearly during this pandemic.  People are "afraid" to come to worship God in a public gathering.  And I get that it is risky and some people because of health issues or other legitimate reasons do indeed need to avoid public gatherings like a church worship service.  However, I see some of the same people who are avoiding church because it is too risky also quite willing to go to entertainment venues for pleasure.  It's to "unsafe" to worship God but "worth the risk" for the sake of pleasure.  Really?  It seems we have our priorities all out of wack!

Paul writes, in the last days, people "...will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly."  You can see this clearly in America today.  While church attendance has been declining for decades, we actualy see a surge of interest in spirituality among the population.  People are intrigued by things like new age religious philosophy, eastern religious techniques, yoga, and self help.  There have been television series made about spiritual mediums who contact the dead and talk to them.  So it's not that people aren't "religious"; it's just that people prefer to dabble in religion as an intriguing hobby.  They will try a little religion they way they will try a fad diet.  They take a little bit of Christianity and a little bit of Buddhism and a little bit of this or that and blend in all up into a cool little cocktail they can sip and and show to their friends like the latest, hippest craft beer.  And if their "religion" or "spirituality" ever comes into conflict with something they want ro like, they can always just set their cocktail aside and grab something new that's more pleasant.  Hardly anyone is ever deeply committed.  Few ever turn to Christ and fall on their knees and completely surrender and say, "Jesus, You are Lord!"  Your Lord is the absolute sovereign of your life.  You do what your Lord says, even if you don't want to, even if it challenges you or changes you. And so, may people today act religious, but they reject the power that could make them godly.

These are all characteristics of the “End Times” and we see them clearly in our world right now.

And I pray that everyone reading this will repent of any of these attitudes and actions, immediately, because we do not know how much time we have left.  Jesus promised he would return.  And he will return in your lifetime.  Either he will will return for the whole world or he will return for you.  One thing is certain, you will come before Jesus at the end of your life.  The question is:  will that be a very good thing or a very bad thing?

Are we living in the Last Days?  Yes!  But so was Paul when he wrote these words to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago.  God has been working for a long, long time to save the world from the devastation and death humanity’s sin brought on Creation.  The plan God details in Scripture goes all the way back to Genesis—some four or five thousand years ago.  The most important aspect of God salvation plan was for His Son, Jesus, to come preach the Good News of God’s salvation, to give His life on the cross for our sins, and to rise from the grave.  Jesus did all these things.  We are in the last stage of God’s plan.  But God is being patient.  2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 

We are living in the last days, but no one knows when the end will come.  Jesus is full of wisdom and power.  If people knew the day and hour Jesus was coming back, they would procrastinate.  Probably, mo people would get worse before they thought about getting better.  If they knew they had two years left, they would think, 'Why worry about that now?  Let's have some fun before we need to get serious."  They would be even more selfish and greedy and prideful.  They would live sinful lives for as long as they could—turning their backs on God—and then, at the last minute, they would turn to God and beg for forgiveness.  That’s why Jesus said, “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.” (Matthew 24:36).  And he warned, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

How Bad Are Things Right Now, Really?
I know when we look around at the world today, it seems like it may all be unraveling and the world is coming to an end. I get that.  I understand that feeling.  However, as bad as 2020 has been for us, I want to help you keep things in perspective.  According to Google, there have been 727 thousand deaths worldwide from COVID-19.  That's awful.  Every one of those deaths represents someone's mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter.  My heart goes out to them.

At the same time, let's compare the difficulties in our times to those of other eras.  50 Million people died worldwide from Spanish flu in 1918.  And near the same time 40 Million people--soldiers and civilians--died around the worldwide during WWI.  And between 1941-1945, six million Jews died in the holocaust (nearly six times as many as have died so far from COVID-19.)  These are staggering figures.  I'm sure many people living through those tragedies looked around and thought, "These must be the last days."  Maybe they were even praying for it so God would come and get them out of that mess.  

And of course, right now, things are for people financially in our country.  The economy is suffering from months of shutdown and disruption.  Many people have lost jobs.  And I know it's a struggle.  At the same time, again, let's keep it in perspective.  Do you realize that Americans--even in financial difficulties--have it way better than most of the rest of the world?  I googled this and found out that the average annual income for Sierra Leon (where our church sponsors Nick and Heidi Griffiths as missionaries) is only $504.  (That's not a typo. That $504 per year, not per month).  And this is not just the case for Sierra Leone.  Similar poverty for the average person exists in Kenya, Guatemala, El Salvador... and the list goes on and on and on.  And People in third world countries have been living that way for decades.  Don't you know someone living in those conditions would look at us in our country and think, 'So you think the end of the world is coming because you lost your job and you're on unemployment?"  Meanwhile, they're digging through trash at the city dump trying to figure out how they can get they next meal.

Or what about the young boy in our own country who lives in an abusive home and has for years?  Or what of the teenage girl in Atlanta who is being trafficked for sex?  Do you think a year ago they were thinking everything was fine, but know because of COVID-19 it must be the end of the world is coming?  It's all about perspective.

Paul, writing to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago, thought the end was eminent.  He wrote his letter with that perspective.  Interestingly, most church historians believe Paul lived for several more yers, even traveling to Spain to preach the Gospel of Christ. So even Paul was a bit misled in his perspective in regard to when the end would come.  However, Paul was martyred--along with thousands of other Christians in the first century.  Some of them were were even fed to lions in the Roman coliseum.  Don't you think that kind of cruelty made them wonder if they were living in the Last Days?

We don’t know if the signs of the times mean that Jesus is coming back today, tomorrow, or even this year. What we do know is: His return is closer today than it was yesterday.  And we don't know how much time we have left.

Conclusion
Well then, what difference does it make?  
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) It was his first sermon recorded in the Scripture and it was His message throughout his ministry. And we need to take it to heart, because we do not know how much time we have.

If you feel nervous because of all the bad stuff happening, good! You need realize how vulnerable you are and how important it is that you repent and turn to God through Jesus Christ. This is the whole point of the Bible’s warnings about the last days.  You need to get your heart right with God.

If you are not a Christian, you need to recognize that Jesus is Lord. Turn to Him. Follow Him. Live the way He said we should live. Trust Him. You will find salvation. You will also find peace—even in the midst of bad times.  And if you are already a Christian, times like these ought to remind you and motivate you to get busy doing the things Jesus told us to do—loving God, loving our neighbors, making disciples, praying and working for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven.

What do you need to do today?  What commitment are you going to make?

 

 

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