This is a time in our nation and our world’s history when stress-producing events are reaching a feverish peak. As I write these words, I am receiving texts from our pastors in Florida who are facing greater than 100 mile-per-hour winds in the next couple of hours from Hurricane Irma. I am receiving emails from our pastors in Houston with photos of the wreckage that they are experiencing from the floods. News is just starting to come in from our churches in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba regarding how they have fared in the hurricanes. And Hurricane Jose is not far behind!
At the same moment, newsfeeds on my laptop tell about the earthquake in Mexico (no word yet from our pastors closest to that area), breaking news about North Korea’s thermonuclear threats, the hacking at Equifax that has exposed the credit information of half the United States, the latest on Russian meddling in our elections, and the fact that ISIS is on the move in the Middle East. Today’s headlines include discussions about the increasing violence on university campuses regarding free speech and the terrorist tactics being used by Antifa in our cities.
Add to that the deep divisions in our nation’s capital where animosity is the new background hum to everything that goes on. As one of our nation’s top politicians in Washington, DC, (a believer) said to me recently, “If you think the news makes things look bad in Washington right now, behind the scenes here it is actually much worse.”
And people are feeling these stresses in greater numbers and to a greater degree than at almost any time in anyone’s memory. Historians, asked to compare this time in our nation’s history to any other, point back to the years just prior to World War 2, with the Great Depression dragging on, the tensions rising in Europe between Germany and the other nations, and the parallel tensions as Japan rose to aggressive prominence in the Far East.
The acceleration of these events has many people (even Christians!) feeling everything from a low-grade depression to a sense of panicked hopelessness. And Christians are facing an additional layer of stress. We are told that our views are outdated, that science is eliminating the need for religion, and that remaining faithful to the biblical view on marriage and sexuality is proof that we are intolerant and should be silenced. Although few Christians in the United States are being persecuted, there is a rising feeling of being persecuted which believers experience as they read the news and listen to the media.
So… how should we in the Missionary Church respond to these things?
One common strategy that people have used is denial. They don’t want to talk about anything that seems threatening, and they accuse others of fearmongering. This is such an old tactic that no one even remembers the definition of monger anymore! (It used to be a person who sold things.)
This strategy of denial is no longer working and should be abandoned. World events are indeed accelerating, as the Bible repeatedly predicted; and the love of more and more people in the world is growing cold as people turn away from God. We should face these realities rather than deny them.
Bravado is not bravery; it is fear in denial. But Christians do not need to pretend that events are not beginning to occur as Jesus Himself predicted. Our Lord called these things the beginning of birth pains. And denying that you are in labor does not make birth pains go away!
Another strategy that tempts some people is to just give in and give up. Some people who live near you and work with you have just given in to a quiet hopelessness. They just wait in silent terror for the shoe to drop. This too is predicted in the Bible. The Scripture says that before all is said and done, men’s hearts would fail them for fear. It says that many people would become so desperate that they would hide in the mountains and beg the mountains to just fall on them and get it over with.
These two strategies (denial of the rising danger or giving up and doing nothing) are clearly in evidence even this evening in Florida. Some are foolishly partying at their beach-front properties, raising their wine glasses and turning up the music as the winds begin to rise. Others are not even trying to make it to the shelters that have been set up for them. Their defeatist attitude is, “Well, if this is my time, it is my time.” Neither strategy is wise. And neither strategy is pleasing to Jesus.
Scripture always commands us to face reality rather than deny it. In fact, we would not have any warning that these things are coming in the last days if the Bible itself did not say so. So denying is not an option if we are to remain true to the Bible.
At the same time, giving in to hopelessness is out as well. We are commanded to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us. That would not be a powerful witness if the people all around us had hope too. But clearly the hope that we hold onto is in sharp contrast to the hopelessness that the world feels, and this helps us to point them to the Lord Jesus.
The “winds” are beginning to rise in our world, and the “storms” are beginning to howl. Our strategy has been given to us by God in I Corinthians 16:13, “Be on your guard; stand firm in your faith; be courageous; be strong.”
Alert and faith-filled and courageous and strong. Those are four verbal commands from God to His people.
- To be alert means to keenly observe the situation as challenges approach.
- To stand firm in our faith means to trust the God who said that He will never leave us or forsake us, and to be absolutely convinced that He is able to deliver us from peril, because (2 Corinthians 1:10) “He has already delivered us from deadly perils and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope…”
- To be courageous is to look our fears in the face and choose to resist them out of love for the Lord and for our loved ones. Perfect love does not deny fear. It casts it out! This is the same Greek phrase that describes what Jesus did to demons who had invaded human victims. He cast them out! It is a violent phrase. Just as Jesus took initiative and decided that the demons would not be allowed to remain in the people, so we must take initiative and decide that we are done living with fear! So finally…
- To be strong is a command to everyone, so it must be a possibility for every person. The weakest person who is in Jesus has the ability to be extremely strong in His mighty power. When worries begin to consume you and weakness seems to overtake you, remember that if God commands us to do something, He provides the power to make it happen. Since you are commanded to be strong, you can have absolute confidence that His strength will be made perfect right there in the middle of your weakness, and God will win the battle!
Jesus is the Lord of storms! He walks across the tops of them! And with His help, you will, too.