Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Will this world end?

The last days are a subject many folks don’t like to hear about.  There is even one theological view, Preterism, among those professing Christianity which essentially denies such claiming that all the last day prophecies were about the last days of the Jewish polity in the first century and had no significance beyond the fall of Jerusalem in 70ad.  It is understandable that the idea that God might step in and bring an end to human rule as we know it and the things which of necessity might well surround it are understandable.  But God’s word does teach that he will do so.
In his second letter to fellow Christians Peter took the time to address the subject reasoning as follows:

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."
(2Pe 3:1-4; ESV)

These words were written during the final days of the Jewish system, around 66-68ad by the reckoning of some.  Yet he speaks of the last days as future, and, as we will see shortly, global in scope.  Peter reminded his fellow Christians that those future days were prophesied by the holy prophets and thus not something to be taken lightly.  Yet, he points out that some would, and even mock those who look for them.  Isn’t it true that we see some doing just that?  Our time has seen the rise of militant atheists who openly mock any such sentiments, whatever the source.  Yet they take special delight in mocking Christians who are still on the look out or have concluded from God’s word that we may be within that period of time mentioned in God’s word.  Peter went on to rebuke such thinking:

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
(2Pe 3:5-7; ESV)

Peter here references both the account of creation, where it appears that God created the earth with an atmosphere which was once filled with water above the breathable layer, and the account of the deluge in Genesis (Gen. 1:6-8; 7:1-12).  Peter’s point, though, is that God’s word tells us about another occasion when God brought about the end of a world including every man, woman and child who wasn’t in the Ark God commanded Noah to make.

God’s willingness to take extreme measures to wipe wickedness from the face of the earth should serves as a warning to all that he would not tolerate the things we see going on indefinitely.  God does have a point beyond which he will not tolerate outright wickedness such as that practiced by those who populated the earth in Noah’s time.  There is a point at which God will arrange for a world to end, and a new one to begin under better circumstances, much as he did when the new world after the flood was one in which Satan and his demonic followers are not able to materialize in human bodies, like they did in Noah’s day, and directly affect human affairs.

Peter then gives us an idea of how far into the future he is speaking of:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
(2Pe 3:8-9; ESV)

Here Peter twice states the fact that time is relative to our God.  So a thousand years is as one day as far as God is concerned.  He isn’t in a hurry.   God has a plan and sticks to it for the good of humankind, but especially the true Church he has called to be rulers according to that plan.  So he takes the time necessary to bring his plan to fruition.  Peter continues:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
(2Pe 3:10)

Note how affirmatively Peter states his case.  From the perspective of time he is writing from that future day will come, no doubts expressed, its coming is a fact.  That is how we should see it.  If the apostle is that affirmative how should we be?  The apostle tells us:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
(2Pe 3:11-12; ESV)

First let me point out that one mistake people make is to forget that the Bible was written by Semitic minds, not Western.  How is that significant for us?  Hyperbole is often used by Semitic writers, including those who wrote the Bible.  Bible prophets often use fire as a symbol for complete and fiery conquest, and who can doubt that the end of human polity as we know it will be a conquest by our Lord, Jesus Christ.  But I digress a little since that is best a subject for another post.

Did you get the message dear reader?  We are to be eagerly awaiting that promised day as if we could personally hasten its arrival with our actions.  It is the habit of many professed Christians to put that day off in their minds, as if it won’t come.  But our attitude should be exactly the opposite.  Jesus himself taught us to pray for that day’s arrival (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2).  So this attitude of eager expectation and desire is what Christians should have.  Peter wraps his thoughts up this way:

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
(2Pe 3:13-14; ESV)

What fine instructions to give us.  While we wait God wants us to do our best to be living holy lives without blemish.  That is our first obligation, to conform our characters more and more to the example Jesus left for us.  That way our personal salvation will be assured when we will finally stand before him.

Monday, October 22, 2012

God’s Psychological Plan

Many years ago I used to sit outside in my car and listen to the radio during lunchtime.  Like most, I was a fan of Paul Harvey.  But there was also an evangelist who came on during my lunch hour who will remain names less I would listen to if he caught my attention.  One day he did when he announced he was going to talk about “God’s Psychological Plan” for us.  His sermon for that day was something of an epiphany for me which has served me in good stead at times over the years.  So I’m going to share that illumination with you my dear friends.

The formula is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in the fourth chapter:

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (vs. 5; ESV)

First of all our minds should be focused on the Lord and his soon to be revealed kingdom, which will restore that which was lost.  That will help us to keep our reasonableness in the midst of this every chaotic world which is headed towards it’s destruction at his hands.  We want our lives to be such, that others will see our God-inspired calm as things get further out of control.

Do not be anxious 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 surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Php 4:6-7)

Here we are told not to be anxious over anything, and we are told how, by making our cares known to God.  That is important, that we talk to God and let him know what’s on our minds, what bothers us.  Then after placing in his hands we need to leave it there trusting he will do what needs to be done for our best welfare.  When it seems that our prayers aren’t getting answered, then we must trust that he is working things out for our well-being and in the time best for us.  In my experience that is usually the case.

But the advice isn’t without a promise.  We are told that his peace, the peace which is superior to all troubles will guard both our hearts and our minds.  What other outcome can there be, dear friends, when we place all our cares in the hands of he who is the author of all and who is so powerful he answers to no other power on earth or in heaven?  With almighty God for us no power in heaven or on earth can defeat us (Rom. 8:31), though he could allow us to be taken down into death, just as he did his son (Rom. 8:32), if he justifies us nobody can stand between us and the prize (Rom. 8:33-39).  So with that in mind we cannot help but be at peace no matter what happens around us, or to us.  But there is more:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  (Php 4:8-9)

This is the final step in the plan and the one many mental health experts agree with.  We live in a world filled with every violent and corrupt thing imaginable.  We cannot go to the theater, turn on the TV or go to the library or bookstore without being offered some of the worse and most corrupting “entertainment” offered in the history of the world.  But for true peace we must fill our minds with that which is right in God’s eyes.

But notice the subtle change in thought in this passage.  We’re told not that we will have peace, as in the earlier passage, but that “the God of peace” will be with us.  Fixing our minds on what is right is a pre-condition to his coming near to us and giving his protection, both physically and mentally, to us.  And think about it a few minutes.  How can we ever hope to have peace if our minds and hearts are always fixated on what is wrong and strains us mentally and emotionally.  We can’t.  But if we fix our minds on what is good we are in a better frame to deal with things and we are in a better position to have God’s help.

So there we have it.  Philippians 4:5-9 was the passage a slick radio and television evangelist labeled the “Psychological Plan of God.”  Through the years, though, I’ve been convinced by using it from time to time that he was right.  In this short passage we have a compact plan for the true Christian to follow for peace of mind, even at the worse of times.  I will go it one further.  This is a plan we should keep in mind and follow everyday, period.