Go for the Testimony "End Times, Our Times"

So Reverend, won't you tell me, are we living in the End Times?
Pastor, don't you think God's about had it with us?
Is he about to pack it in and call us all home, at least some of us?
Preacher, does anybody know when the end is coming?
Isn't all the talk we hear just talk?
Hasn't Jesus already come and gone…forever?
Isn't all this 'taken up and left behind' stuff just pointless?
For those keeping score, and for time's sake, lest He come before we finish: no suspense. The answers are: yes, yes, yes; no, no, no… and, I don't think so. Whew! Finished before time ran out. Score! My last message, my briefest!
[Rising]… Umm, it looks like we have a little more time than I thought. 'Looks like we'll have to keep on goin'. Sorry about that.

With no desire to be cute or coy, we've just seen and heard a very brief history of the Christian conversation about end times and our times. 'With all the wisdom and faith of Christ's Church, and not a little of its sin and sorrow thrown in! Now, with folks uniting with the church today and all our plans for days to come, I'm grateful for another minute, another hour, day or week. Maybe even more, much more, to love and serve Christ. I believe it when Scripture says, "He will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do." (Hebrews 6: 10) I believe Godly hearts have asked me to speak on this topic.

So much end time talk has proven unhelpful, unkind, unreliable, "un-understandable", and occasionally, even unfaithful. But at least three things about the end times and our times are crucial to say. We need to grasp them. They're vital to our witness as a church and to living our every day life. So here goes.

First, we need to know what Jesus knows and teaches about the relationship between our times and the end (purpose & finish) of time.
Now so far, I haven't used those churchy words like rapture, millennium, pre & post-millennium. Why? Because Jesus didn't. Not once. Not ever. In fact, none of these words is anywhere to be found in all of the Bible. But don't be misled. Jesus himself has things to say about "Kingdom Time", as do Paul and the other NT writers. These things have shaped our present day words.

Jesus teaches us several lessons about time, ours, God's, over and over. He reminds us that time has a purpose for us. And we have a purpose in time. "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" And, "Let your light so shine, that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. …Truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." Jesus insists that forever belongs only to God. We don't have forever. We had better decide for him and live like him, beginning today. Right now. Jesus' claim on our souls is urgent! Remember the farmer who thought his plenty was plenty? "I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; …eat, drink, be merry.'" Jesus reports, "God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; whose will your things be then?' A fool lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Like the maidens awaiting the bridegroom, always be ready. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." Our Lord also insists that what he does not know, we cannot know, "the day and the time", when God will bring the end of history and the beginning of his reign. "Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only," says Christ. To believe we can know more than Jesus, no matter the signs of the times is folly at least, faithless at worst. It is the gravest sin. It's to play God! It's enough for us to know, God will bring an end, and it will not be with a whimper, but with power and purpose. "Take heed; I have told you all things beforehand. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven." (Mk. 13: 22-27) Jesus preaches purpose, urgency, readiness, mystery and power as the marks of human time amidst God's time. Is your faith marking your life with the imprint of God's plan in this way?

Second, we need to be wary, and weary, of those who go beyond where Jesus goes. A certain certainty is unseemly, especially when it severs the most vulnerable from God in Jesus Christ. Twenty preaching minutes can't survey the entire of Last Days/Our Days conversation over the 2000 years since Jesus. But a little history would help our perspective when others rail and rant.

We can hear/see preacher after preacher. 'Read book upon book. 'Watch program after program tell us when and how, even why old Michael-the-Archangel's tunin' his trumpet to signal: game over! Jesus was never so sure. He was emphatic, as we've seen, God's in charge, taking charge, moving to a climax. But Scripture records no systematic, detailed thought or teaching of Christ in this. Paul's writing lifts the rapture notion (never called that by Paul, by the way) only in his earliest letter to Thessalonica. At other points he comes close, but differs in the details. John's Revelation accounts for last days too, but differs from Paul. What do all these have in common? Purpose, urgency, readiness, mystery, awesome power. The interruption, the culmination of human time in God's time. Isn't that enough for us to know? Apparently not. Across the centuries church folk have gone farther. In various forms, belief in Jesus' returning soon appears from the early church writings of the Apostolic Fathers. (E.g., Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Shepherd of Hermas) Origen and Augustine write on this in early medieval times. Folks are arguing how the end will come in the 1300's. By the time of Martin Luther and company in the 15 & 1600's, reformers are so mad with the Church they say it is the sign of the Antichrist in our midst. (Heaven's tunin' the trumpets.) The Church answers back at the Council of Trent. By 1690, Jesuit priest Francisco Ribera tells us the books of Daniel & Revelation don't apply to the Christian Church of the ages. 'Only to the final seven years of history. By the 1800's, John Nelson Darby, Irish lawyer/Anglican preacher, "father of the rapture doctrine," develops a Bible interpretation called dispensationalism, following Ribera. This is the first ever full-blown theology teaching Jesus' secret return (His "second" coming) to rapture His true followers. He leaves the rest behind, ruled by an evil antichrist for 7 years, and then returns again (His "third" coming) in visible, glory. He destroys Antichrist, saves those converted during the 7-year tribulation, and establishes his own Kingdom. Cyrus Scofield, a disciple of Darby's, later published a Bible with explanatory notes using Darby's views. The Scofield Bible's still quite popular. Huge arguments still rage over many of these details. Absolutely certain Christians insist they're absolutely right, will be among the chosen, and the 2/3's of humanity not so believing, including even fellow-believers-in-all-other-respects, will be left behind. What do you think?

I think Jesus tells us to live with what we know from him, in a way that shows we know him. Christ teaches and we can affirm: all our todays are always Everybody's last days. We never have any others! Any of us. So we-who-cling-to-Christ need to live these, our only days, for him! The title we apply to our times is not as important as the testimony we give through them. Let God do as God will do in Jesus Christ. Our task is just to be on his side every day, so that we may be at his side come the last day, ours, or even the whole world's! A quick example or two. Most of us know of General/President Dwight Eisenhower of the 40's/50's. Few of us know of his early religious background. 1st Mennonite. Later Jehovah's Witness. His folks embraced dispensational preaching. They literally drew apart, (figuratively, packed their PB & J sandwiches and waited on the hillside), convinced as they were told, it was for certain God was ending things in 1914/15. Oops! Not! Disillusioned, Ike and family went elsewhere. Ike took with him the more humble certainty of Jesus. Purpose, urgency, readiness, mystery, the awesome power of God to make of human time, his own good time. 'Time for grace to triumph over tyranny and trial. That was enough to get this Kansan son of God through a world war, the decisions of D-Day, and the turbulence of leading a nation. Mother Theresa didn't seem to need to know how near the end of time. She could see. The wretchedly poor child in her lap was out of time, so she gave that child a glimpse of the face of Jesus with the time she had. Next week, we mark the saints we've lost this year. Among them, Joyce Kendall. She showed a lot of us how to live like there's no tomorrow, except the one we have with Jesus. She did it for years! Friends, however you title the times, go for the testimony today! Take the name of Jesus with you!

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