Tag Archives: End Times

Apocalypse, World View and Work

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?
Matthew 24:44-45 (NIV)

Whether we know it or not, each one of us approach life with a certain ingrained perspective. It’s called a world view and we each have one. Our world view determines how we perceive and react to events and circumstances around us. If something happens that doesn’t fit neatly into our world view, it can be rather disconcerting.

I thought a lot about world view this past November when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the Presidency. It was an event that most of us never could have imagined happening. We know that anyone can run for President, but we’ve come to expect from history that the winner is always going to be a member of the political establishment.

The election results definitely shook things up, and with it came all sorts of apocalyptic thinking. I still feel it simmering beneath the surface of news articles, posts, and current events. Along my life journey I’ve noticed this pattern in human behavior. If we’re rattled hard enough we go into doomsday mode.

As I sat in my hotel room on election night at 1:00 a.m. swapping text messages with Wendy and Taylor I got to thinking about world views. Among followers of Jesus the prevailing world view has been a predominantly medieval one in which things are going to get worse and worse and worse and worse until the very end when Jesus returns in a eucatastrophic moment.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a teacher of medieval literature and his epics reflect this world view. Saruman is a great example of how Tolkien viewed modern man felling the innocence of the trees to fuel his machines of war. (Interesting to think how serving in WWI and living through WWII may have affected his world view. ) Darkness grows and spreads until the forces of good stand on the field of battle outnumbered and hopeless. Then at the darkest moment something happens to miraculously bring about unexpected victory. That’s what he called eucatastrophe.

There is another world view among followers of Jesus, however, that holds that things are actually getting better [cue: The Beatles’ It’s Getting Better All the Time]. It’s the “glass is actually half-full” world view. This world view holds that despite the headlines and 24 hour news channels skewing our perspective by bombarding us with the latest tragedies from around the globe, the situation world-wide is actually better today than at any point in human history. There’s less disease, life spans are the longest they’ve ever been, things are safer than they’ve ever been globally, and food production is the highest it’s ever been around the globe. Poverty world-wide is lower than its ever been in history and what we would call “poor” in today’s world is far different (and better) than our definition just a generation or two ago.

In today’s chapter Jesus gives his followers some generalities about what’s to come in the future. It reads like the medieval world view with wars, famines, false messiahs, and Jesus returning when no one is expecting it. Even in the description Jesus admits that He does not know the exact timing of events.

These things are fascinating to think about, and many people dedicate much of their lives to studying eschatology and all the various theories of the end times. Google it and you’ll find all sorts of charts, graphs, opinions, and theories about what’s to come.

I found it interesting that Jesus concludes His apocalyptic overview with a parable of a servant in charge of feeding his master’s servants while the master is away. When the master returns the only question was whether or not the servant was found doing what he was supposed to do. Jesus’ message is clear: Don’t worry about these ordained events that I cannot control. Worry about being faithful to do each day those things I am called to do. Actively love God. Actively love others. The rest will take care of itself.

On election night our daughter asked me to text her something wise. I don’t know how wise my message was, but I gave her my perspective at that moment. Donald Trump may be President, but the next morning I was going to get up, go to work, and do the things I do everyday. Just like I did when Obama was President, and Bush 43, and Clinton, and Bush 41. Life goes on. My job is to focus my time and attention on my spheres of influence and doing the things I’m called to do to the best of my ability.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do 😉

I Don’t Want to Ruin the Surprise

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
Isaiah 66:22-24 (NIV)

Today we end our long journey through Isaiah’s prophetic tome. Granted, it’s a long slog at 66 chapters. Yikes! We started in late September last year. Isaiah’s work ends with a vision of the end times. It’s what theologians call eschatology: the study of the end times and the final destiny of humankind. Once again, there are clear connections between Isaiah’s vision in today’s chapter and that of John in Revelation.

The study of eschatology has never been an exact science.  Intelligent, knowledgable, and sincere scholars have forever argued this theory and that theory regarding how all things are going to end. I was raised in the conservative protestant evangelical tradition to believe that Jesus would someday call all believers on earth to be “raptured” to heaven, triggering a seven-year tribulation of hell on earth, followed by the return of Jesus to earth, the imprisonment of Satan, and a 1,000 year reign of Christ, followed by a final battle and judgment in which the saved go to heaven and the unsaved go to hell.

There are countless other versions of the end times in which the same Biblical texts are interpreted a myriad of different ways. There are versions in which there is no rapture, or the rapture will happen half-way into the tribulation, or the rapture will happen after the seven years of tribulation. There are versions in which there is no 1,000 year reign, or perhaps the 1,000 year reign has all already happened, or perhaps it’s happening all right now, or perhaps it will never happen literally, or perhaps it will happen but with no real eternal damnation, or perhaps… you get the picture.

When I was younger I studied it all more fervently, presented my own interpretation more dogmatically, and took it all more seriously. The longer I’ve continued in my journey following Jesus the less important it has become to me. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. I will forever continue my journey into God’s Message and pursue Christ. I have just noticed along my journey that we who claim to follow Jesus have historically been quick to place too much importance on theological litmus tests at the expense of the only two things that Jesus Himself said were truly important.

This morning I’m thinking about Wendy. My wife hates when surprises are ruined. She will blissfully ignore hints, turn a blind eye, and put things out of her mind if she thinks that it might ruin what is intended to be an eventual surprise. When Jesus was asked about His return He deferred knowledge and said, basically, “it’s a surprise.” I think I’ve adopted Wendy’s attitude as my theological bent toward eschatology. It was obviously meant to be a surprise.

So, taking a cue from Wendy, I think I’ll let the whole end-time thing be the surprise Jesus intended. Today, I’ll just keep focused doing the two things Jesus said were important for me to do:

  • Love Him.
  • Love others (even Amillenialists)

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Shame-less

source: fabbriciuse via flickr
source: fabbriciuse via flickr

They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. Ezekiel 39:26 (NIV)

I reached a point as an adult in which I realized that for much of my life journey I had been plagued with an underlying sense of shame, 

Shame (noun) \ˈshām\ a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.

I felt a constant sense of being “less than” some sort of ubiquitous “should be.” I had a friend and therapist who once asked me to place a label to the core pain I felt deep in my spirit. After pondering the question for a week or two the answer I came up with was “not enough.”

This led me on a journey of learning more about shame. There is healthy shame and there is unhealthy shame. Like our appetite for food, healthy shame is a necessary part of a balanced life. Shame for our honest mistakes and shortcomings motivates us to check our behavior and make positive changes. But, appetites unbridled lead to unhealthy places. Shame that is unchecked and out of control leads to all sorts of negative consequences like negative self image, depression, seeking to cover our nagging negative feelings in unhealthy ways, and etc.

I came to realize over time that I was not alone in my struggle. Most people, whether they realize it or not, grapple with an underlying sense of shame. I have come to the conclusion that unhealthy shame is a very natural part of the human condition after The Fall. My discoveries led me to a time of study, introspection, and change. I began catching myself when my thoughts were given over to shame. I started consciously allowing myself to be affirmed in an active counter balance to my destructive self talk. As a result, I have I’ve found myself in much healthier places over time.

Today’s chapter is a continuation of the prophetic foreshadowing of the end times that began in yesterday’s chapter. I found it interesting that one of the restorative spiritual promises God gives is that the people will, in this climactic conclusion, “forget their shame.” I look forward to the Day when I can completely forget my shame.

Until then, I will continue on in my struggle to keep unhealthy shame in check, one day at a time.

Foreshadowing and Climax

Megiddo Valley of Armageddon

You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. Ezekiel 38:15-16a (NIV)

The prophetic messages of Ezekiel in today’s and tomorrow’s chapter are part of a curious and mysterious niche of theological study known as eschatology, the study of prophecy and the end times. The vision and message in today’s chapter calls out a leader named “Gog” of the land of “Magog” from the “far north” who will gather a multi-national coalition of armies to march on Israel in a massive battle.

Most scholars agree that these chapters parallel the vision of John (Revelation 16) who names the location of this gathering of kings for a final great battle: Armageddon. The valley of Armageddon near the ancient town of Megiddo is in northern Israel which is now the site of an on-going archaeological study and a tourist center. I had an opportunity to visit several years ago and that’s the valley of Armageddon behind me in the picture above.

As fascinating as these prophetic matters are to ponder and discuss, I have come to a few conclusions about them along my journey. First, I have known many people who become so obsessed with these prophesies (it can be like solving a massive, unsolvable puzzle) that they get lost in it. I don’t quite see the point of getting so distracted by trying to understand these things that we ignore more important and current matters.

Second, in any story the idea of foreshadowing is to hint at what is to come in the climactic chapters without giving it away. As author of the Great Story being told in history, I think God intended these foreshadowing prophesies to give us a hint of climactic events to come but never intended us to actually understand all of these matters with certainty. No author wants us to know the details of the climax until we actually get to that point of the story.

Finally, I have come to believe that these foreshadowing prophetic messages are there to remind me that there is a bigger story being told in this life. When encountering the daily headlines and the ebb and flow of international events, I take solace in faith that things are being played out toward a prescribed chapter. We are not yet to that point of the story. And, I’m okay with that.

Sudden Realization

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,

    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’
Revelation 18:10 (NIV)

I had arrived at a client’s office first thing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was scheduled to conduct a number of call coaching sessions that day. As I entered the building I passed by the corporate cafeteria and glanced inside. A large crowd of people were huddled beneath one of the televisions that were mounted on the wall. There was something eerie and surreal about the silent crowd and the empty stares on their faces. It stopped me in my tracks.

I stepped into the cafeteria and stood on the outskirts of the silent, huddled mass. I looked up at the television and viewed for the first time the iconic image of the World Trade Center with a giant plume of smoke billowing out of it. For the first few moments I took in what was being said by the reporters and the hushed whispers around me. “Tragic accident,” was what everyone was saying. It was only a minute or so later that there was a blur on the screen and everything shook. A second plane struck the other tower. In that moment I knew two things: 1) It was not an accident and 2) I would be doing no call coaching that day. I grabbed my briefcase and headed home where I sat and watched the horrific events of that day unfold.

One of the things that I took away from that day is how quickly things can fall apart. When John had his vision, the world was a very different place. Great cities were not destroyed in an hour, they were subject to long sieges that could take months and years. There were, of course, natural disasters like ancient Pompeii which could and still can bring about rapid and massive destruction. Nevertheless, the idea of a great city being brought to its knees in an hour was almost unfathomable.

Until now. I had seen the black and white news reels of the German blitz on London and the reciprocal Allie bombings in Europe. I had seen the documentaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were all, however, scratchy black and white film from a time before I was born. Even growing up in the Cold War era of “duck and cover” drills, the idea of sudden destruction was simply that – an idea. On 9-11, along with everyone else, I witnessed how quickly things can fall apart.

I see today’s chapter differently than I did before that fateful day. I have heard the endless speculation of prophetic junkies who wax ceaselessly their theories about the identity of Babylon and the beast she rides in John’s vision. I don’t find the chatter worthwhile. When I read the chapter I see the big picture that is painted in John’s vision of the prophesied future: Sudden destruction followed by economic chaos. For the past thirteen years I have lived with a greater understanding that the fulfillment of that vision could be a sudden reality almost any day. I do not live in fear and anxiety of that day, but I do enter this day with the realization of how fragile our world really is, and of what is truly important.

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Believing Such Nonsense

Me standing on an ancient altar, the Valley of Armageddon behind me.
Me standing on an ancient altar, the Valley of Armageddon behind me.

Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
Revelation 16:16 (NIV)

I had a chance to visit Megiddo and look out over the Valley of Armageddon while in Israel several years back. My trip to Israel impressed on me a number of things. I had always known that Jerusalem and the surrounding area is the biggest political “hotspot” on Earth, but while visiting I experienced it for myself on a number of occasions at different sites. Having experienced the conflict and having felt the underlying hatred I looked out over the Valley of Armageddon and pondered John’s vision with a new perspective.

We often speak of Armageddon as if it’s a place of fantasy fiction like Middle Earth or Narnia. Armageddon is the place of comic book battles and apocalyptic Hollywood movies. Perhaps that’s what prophetic writing feels like to a lot of us. But, Armageddon is a real place. According to John’s vision there will be “kings from the East” who march in for a great battle.

As I looked out over the valley and tried to envision what John saw. I tried to picture what it would look like. The writer in me wondered about how the story would unfold. Perhaps a better writer could weave a thriller of a story around it, but I couldn’t see through the fog of the prophecy. That’s the way it is with prophetic writing. It points forward and gives snapshots of a future spot on the timeline that don’t quite make sense in the context of the spot on timeline I find myself.

Nevertheless, I look back now with hindsight and read the prophetic visions of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, they probably made as much sense to the faithful as Revelation 16 does to us today. Now we can see clearly what David and Isaiah envisioned, and I marvel at the fact that they were penned hundreds of years before the events they foretold. And so, I stood and looked out over the Valley of Armageddon. Though I can’t see clearly how and when it will unfold, I do believe that a great battle will happen there in the end as surely as David saw the soldiers gambling for Jesus’ clothes.

Some, I’m sure, think me foolish to “believe such nonsense.” But, I do believe things which we do not see. My journey through God’s Message and capturing a glimpse of the larger story has led me to do so, even as it has led me to dismiss some of what the institutional, organized church has twisted it into. Does this make any difference in my day today? I think it at once makes little difference and all the difference. It does not change my task list nor the events of my day, but it changes my perspective on how this day and every day of my life fits into a larger, unfolding story.

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Original Works Night

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And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. Revelation 14:3 (NIV)

One of the cooler things my local church does is a semi-annual event called Original Works Night (O.W.N.). The idea is rather simple. Creative types are encouraged to bring their original songs, dance, poems, scripts, paintings, photographs and etc. Our church’s auditorium is transformed into a relaxing coffeehouse atmosphere complete with free food and drink. People gather and for a couple of hours to take in the artistic expressions.

O.W.N. happened to be this past Saturday night. While the artists were all over the map in terms of their own personal faith journeys, there were two themes that emerged. First, there those who, upon placing their faith in Jesus and experiencing salvation, felt compelled to write songs to express their gratitude and wonder. Second, like many of the psalms we’ve read together in recent months, there was a lot of creative expression that came out of pain.

Earlier in John’s vision, we encountered angels and creatures who continually utter the same praise over and over and over again. I found it fascinating that in today’s chapter there is a new song brought into heaven’s throne room. As it happens, it is sung only by those 144,000 who had experienced the pain of the great tribulation and were saved from it by the blood of the Lamb.

I am jazzed by being made in the likeness of the Creator of all things. I love to see and hear the creation of others as they express themselves, their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in artistic ways. I love that in a vision of the end times, we find Creator God in heaven’s throne room having His very own Original Works Night.

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