November 23, 2008

Encouragement for Perilous Times

by Dana Halliday

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dana Halliday is a highly regarded theological scholar and writer, as well as an educator in the US. CSWI welcomes the addition of Mrs. Halliday to its literary panel, and fully endorses the content of the article found below.

November 23, 2008 - The Church as we know it has come to a cross-roads. The Body of Christ is now being polarized, shaken to remove the chaff from the grain. Once upon a time, it was quite easy to go between churches and denominations, and while there were slight differences, the main Truth of the gospel could be found, and the main principles for living a Godly life. Now, the Body is broken over matters of great consequence...matters which should be the foundations of all who are in Christ. Many churches have departed to the wide road, teaching a very social gospel...teaching there are many roads to heaven, not just through Christ, or teaching there are many roads to Christ, not just through belief in His death, burial and resurrection. Other churches have resorted to appealing to the flesh to attract the numbers, while never once appealing to the soul...making us who are steeped in sin feel comfortable, never having to feel that desire or need to change ourselves, sending us happily on the road to hell, never feeling the need for a Savior. Subsequently, the Church as a majority has fallen asleep at the wheel...not feeling compelled to be the salt and light Christ calls us to be, desiring what the world has to offer rather than Heavenly riches.

When I was growing up as a child, I always listened with wonder to the scriptures concerning the last days and the rapture. I always wondered how the world could get to such a point, and I never dreamed I would see it in my lifetime. However, the signs are all around us now, and while I remain in a state of wonder, my eyes have been opened to the sheer urgency of our calling. What little time we have left!! And how sad that we are wasting it away over battles of basic morality and the gospel...fighting over matters of the bottle, when we should be discussing meat.

What are the signs of the times and the season? How do I recognize the lateness of the hour? Christ Himself spoke of the signs of the end times in Matthew 24. Here, it is important to understand the difference between the end times where the Church is the focus, and the Day of the Lord, where Israel is the focus. In this passage, Jesus spoke of both. His disciples had just asked him what would be the sign of His coming and of the end of the age.

"Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:4-14

From this point on, Jesus turns to speaking of the Tribulation end times...the Day of the Lord, when the Anti-Christ is revealed and God's wrath is poured out over mankind. However, the above verses are for us now.

We are told in these verses the signs of the times will be false Christs, wars and rumors of wars, nations and kingdoms divided and fighting, famines and earthquakes in various places, persecution of Christians, some to the point of death, hatred of Christianity, an apostate Church, false prophets, an increase of wickedness, and a lack of love. I can personally check off every one of these as having happened, or happening as we speak, with the ever-growing lukewarmness of the Church at the top of my list. One needs only to read the news headlines to see the fulfillment of the rest.

Paul also speaks of the end times before the Tribulation. In his second letter to Timothy Paul writes:

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." 2 Timothy 3:1-7

How many of us can truly stand and say we are not seeing these character traits in people now? Even in the Church? There has never been such a demanding, ungrateful, conceited wealth and power-hungry generation as there is now. And America seems to be the forerunner of such character traits. We are more concerned with our pocketbooks than with our moral decay. We get what we want, when we want it, without caring about the consequences, and when the consequences catch up to us, we believe we are entitled to someone solving all our problems for us, rather than learning from our own mistakes and fixing our own lives. We love pleasure above all else, and if anyone gets in the way of our pleasure, we dispose of them, using whatever means possible. A great many people have a form of godliness, yet deny its power. What is the power? It is the power of the resurrection...that death was conquered, and our sins are forgiven...power over Satan, our accuser. It is interesting to note who people with these character traits are able to deceive...weak-willed women, loaded down with sins (full of guilt, and never believing their sins can be forgiven), swayed by all kinds of evil desires, learning, yet never able to acknowledge the truth...that their sins have been paid for, and all they must do is believe. I believe women are the first to be deceived because of their strong attachment to emotion, and when guilt is in the mix, we can be quickly turned down the wrong path by those who appeal to our emotions rather than our reasoning, believing that it will eliminate our guilt, rather than turning to Christ, in Whom we find all our answers, and all our forgiveness.

I see all of these scriptures fulfilled daily, in my dealings with believers and non-believers alike, in my family, in my friendships, in the world... What are we to do? Are we supposed to cower in fear, knowing that our time is short? Are we supposed to fear the world? Or are we supposed to be so concentrated on heaven that we neglect those in the world? Are we supposed to stop doing our jobs and spreading the gospel, because we know our Lord's return is near?

The answer to that is a resounding no! We have a job to do Christians! We must never give up, and never stop, until our Lord calls us home. How do we know who we will touch in our daily lives? And how are we to know just how much time we have left? While we recognize the season, we cannot know the exact time. Likewise, we must never grow fearful or worry. God is in control! The evidence is in the fulfillment of scriptures! If these scriptures are being fulfilled, the others will follow.

In Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, he sums up clearly how the Body of Christ should be during these times. We should always encourage each other with the reminder that Christ is coming back for us.

"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words." Thessalonians 4:16-18

He later writes again of the importance of the armor of God, of which he spoke of in great detail in Ephesians. Faith and love, righteousness should be our breastplate, and salvation our helmet. The belt of truth should be around our waist, our feet shod with the gospel of peace, holding onto the shield of faith, which we use to protect ourselves, and carrying the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We must be immersed in God's Word daily, memorizing and putting to heart scripture, be assured of our salvation, be strong in our faith, so that we can withstand Satan's attacks, show our love and faithfulness, the proof of our righteousness in Christ, and pray always for ourselves and each other. And above all, we must stand firm in our faith.

Keep looking up! Although we are most assuredly entering into perilous times, and the world is on a fast-track to fulfilling God's ultimate plan, we do not have an appointment with wrath. Be ever encouraged, and continue to spread the gospel, that others may have that assurance. We may be in the very presence of our Savior sooner than we all think! Be blessed!

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