"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, . . . They are not
just idle words for you-- they are your life" (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lift Up Your Head and Be Thankful

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap” (Luke 21:34).

Just days before Jesus was arrested and, subsequently, murdered on the cross his disciples questioned him on how they would be able to recognize when life as they knew it on earth was about to end. The scenario Jesus outlined for certain events that would preclude the end of time included: world-wide religious confusion; national wars and revolutions; natural disasters including earthquakes, famines and pestilences; persecution and betrayal of Christians by family, friend, and foe; targeting of Israel for destruction by other nations; and even cosmic disturbances that shake the heavenly bodies (Luke 21:5-26).

Taking a simple stroll through the state of world affairs with eyes wide-open is alarming and disconcerting. One website that encourages religious tolerance provides information on forty organized religions and faith groups in the world–every group from Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism to the Church of Satan. Christianity, the largest group, consist of some 1500 denominations and para-church ministries along with thousands of independent churches and organizations. One frightening bit of counsel on the site’s homepage encourages visitors to “find a faith group that matches your beliefs.” The straight-forward suggestion is that all religions are equal; moreover, what each and every person believes about life, God, and the after-life are equally accurate, so people should just hook up with a church that believes what they believe. This mindset is not only dangerous, but it clearly explains the presence of world-wide religious confusion.

At present the American military is fighting in Iraq and Afganistan. The Foreign Policy website cites thirty-three conflicts on-going around the world including civil wars and insurgencies. Not counting all-out wars, cities all over the world including in the Unites States, have long been riddled with too many instances of assault and murder. Considering reality and what is reported daily on news stations, is it stretching things at all to say we are a planet at war?

Death tolls are expected to reach into the thousands after the 8.9 strength earthquake that hit Japan on Friday. It is the fifth strongest of eleven quakes recorded in the last 110 years that register at least 8.6 on the Richter Scale, and it happened right on the heals of the quake that struck New Zealand at the end of last month. Four million buildings in Tokyo alone had no electricity shortly after the disaster hit. Thousands of homes and automobiles were destroyed in a matter of hours.

Add to this kind of horror the untold numbers of people suffering from starvation, disease, and AIDS in our world. Tack on the increasing incidents of religious persecution; specifically, the numbers of Christians being arrested, detained, and killed. We cannot help but feel a cautionary check in our heads and hearts when we measure the world’s news against Jesus’ prophetic statements in the Bible, especially in Luke’s gospel. Jesus warned, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

Jesus wanted his first-century disciples and his twenty-first century followers to be prepared for what will befall this planet as the time draws nearer to him bringing history to its glorious culmination. So our Lord said, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. . . . Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34, 36).

Dissipation is excess amusement, entertainment, self-indulgence, partying, recreation, and self-gratification. Jesus sternly warns people not to let their lives be taken over by these things. A life full of these excesses cannot be centered in Jesus Christ. Drunkenness is being intoxicated to the point that our mental faculties and physical actions are diminished. Alcohol and drugs will certainly put people in this condition. So also will sex, power, and greed. Anxiety is worry, tension, and panic that sets in when we are unrealistically, overly concerned about past, present, or future events. This kind of angst creeps in and steals our ability to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, our hearts committed to him and his will, and our hope securely centered in his promise of eternal life.

Christian, you have much to make you “lift up your head” toward heaven. Because you have received Christ as Lord and Savior, do not allow anything to steal your attention from Christ. Serve him to the bitter end. Jesus died on the cross in your place to pay your penalty for your sins, and three days later he rose from the dead. Today, he sits at the right hand of the throne of God, the Father. One day soon, in an instant, whether you are dead or still alive, he himself will come for you. All who truly belong to Jesus through faith will be sucked off of this planet as in a vacuum–raptured, caught up with him in the air–where we will be with him forever.

There you will be, safely tucked away, during the great tribulation when those who have rejected God's great gift of salvation are left on this earth to suffer the worst atrocities, horror, and evil every known because God is pouring out his wrath upon the earth. Be thankful. You’ll be safe with Christ when he destroys the armies that descend on Jerusalem at the Battle of Armageddon, when he throws the Antichrist and False Prophet into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, and when he collects those saved during the tribulation and destroys the unsaved. Be thankful. You’ll see Jesus throw Satan in the abyss and lock him up for a thousand years. During the 1000-year millennial reign, you’ll be with Christ. Be thankful. When Satan is let out of the abyss for one last rampage of self-indulgence, you’ll see Jesus throw him into hell where he will stay forever. Be thankful.

When Jesus somehow hides his heavenly army and family of believers in another dimension of time and space, you will be there to see him do as John Phillips described, “detonate the earth” (Exploring Proverbs. Volume 1. New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1995, page 466). Heaven and earth as we know it will be destroyed in a great cataclysmic fire. And after the smoke clears, somewhere on the banks of eternity Jesus will appear sitting on a great white throne. The unsaved, wicked, and evil dead will be raised, judged, sentenced, and damned to hell for all eternity.
Finally, a new heaven and new earth will be come into view and the great words of Revelation 21:3-5 will become reality: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” Mark it down in big bold letters–we, who are truly saved by faith in Christ, will be there with him forever and ever. So, my Christian friend, don't let any earthly amusement, addiction, or anxiety steal your obedience to Jesus Christ. Lift up your head to heaven and be thankful.