The Christian Church in the Last Days 4

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

Abraham discovered both his true self and God through his journey of faith, pushed to the limits of human patience and endurance.  Likewise all of the positive characters of faith recorded in the Bible found their true selves and God by being pushed to their limit by the carefully crafted journeys of faith composed by God.

No one could have engineered these brilliantly imaginative biblical life-scripts except for the living God.  There is no comparable frame of reference throughout all of human culture, literature, or history for a biblical journey of faith.  By intentional design, a biblical journey of faith falls completely outside of humanism.  It is not something that we can manufacture on our own.  A journey of faith following Jesus Christ comes entirely by grace through faith.  This is why the scripture says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Without a God-composed journey of faith fully integrated into our lives, God cannot impact us in the supernaturally transforming way He intends.  This is what is at stake for individual Christians and the Christian church as a whole.  This is what Lucifer and the powers of deception will attempt to undermine and destroy in the days ahead.

In the last-days one of the things in Christianity that will be most targeted by radical skeptical unbelief is the one thing…the supernatural element in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible…that serves as the strongest antidote for the individual defense of our faith.  The debate over the credibility of the Bible is not only a macro-battle that will continue to take place within apologetics, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, linguistics, and the natural sciences, but also at the micro-level in the everyday experiences in the lives of Christians.  We prove the faithfulness and credibility of Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life within our personal and collective journey of faith experiences.

It is easy to have faith when we are living on the mountaintop.  Christianity is easy when life’s events are going smoothly in parallel with worldly conventional normalcy.  The acid-test for Christians is at the point where God inserts hardships and suffering, expertly designed for our character growth but painful nonetheless, according to a game-plan and training regime that is not of our making.  This is a key feature of our Christian walk following Jesus that elevates it far above irrational and make-believe religion.  Defining who the real Jesus Christ is, as Creator, Savior, and King of the realm for all eternity as revealed in His divine Word the Bible but also through God-composed journeys of faith, is the central issue to be finally and emphatically resolved in these upcoming last-days.

Can we as individuals and as the church exercise our faith and maintain our fidelity to Jesus Christ if He leads us into the darkest valley (Psalm 23:4)?  Can we push through in faith as overcomers, bearing our cross despite dauntingly negative appearances?  This requires the most expert advance training.  This training needs to begin now.

The first-century apostles were not initially the intellectual and spiritual elite of Israel.  They were ordinary and unremarkable people from a worldly viewpoint.  God crafted them into the spiritual elite of Israel, creating through them the early Christian church that has withstood the test of time.  God has been capably transforming lost sinners into mature saints of God for thousands of years.  This provides hope that God can do the same for Christians today.

What is it worth to find out through first-hand experience that our God is more intelligent and wiser than ourselves, beyond human imagination?  Is it worth a journey of faith containing the risk that God might fail us?  This is the question that was in the back of the minds of every person of faith answering their individual callings of service in the Bible, and the question that each of us has to individually face in our own journeys of faith.

What would be our source of joy for the length of eternity?  It would be to serve a King who is wise, intelligent, adored, respected, and interesting beyond our imaginations, and has our best interests at heart in all of the activities He would involve us in.  God has enlisted this current broken world as the optimum, temporary school for the lessons of faith that will serve us for eternity. This is why an active journey of discovery now is vitally important for the Christian church as a preliminary lead-up to the enormous spiritual conflicts of the last-days.

The Christian Church in the Last Days 3

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

In my opinion, the organized Christian church (the outwardly visible church) today does not know who or what it is.  Some “mega-churches” rely on well-dressed people driving into the parking lot for Sunday worship in expensive luxury cars, able to write substantial checks to support the large new building mortgage debt.  The stark economic reality of  increased financial responsibilities often forces the “church growth” program of the mega-church to foster and maintain an artificial exterior front that everything is socially, economically, and spiritually perfect in the lives of its church members in order to attract the “unchurched” and expand its support base.

Other churches sadly are so mired in stuffy rituals and old-fashioned tradition that the Holy Spirit and most young people have left.  Some churches wanting to be acceptable to the world and to fit-in with the liberal cultural agenda of moral relativity and universal tolerance, have abandoned any fidelity to absolute moral truths and biblical ideals.  All the while a new covenant journey of faith following Jesus Christ that would actualize into every Christian experiences leading personally to knowing God from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:31-34), is sadly neglected and placed at the bottom of the priority list.  The Christian church needs God’s help to find itself.

The Christian church does not need an early exit, pretribulation rapture from the typically biblical, unimaginably unconventional scenario of events that God will guide and shape in the last-days for the eternal benefit of His church.  The plans, schemes, and actions of God that we read about in the individual lives of the people of faith in the Bible give us a clue as to what we might expect for the last-days Christian church as a whole.  This is the final exam, the capstone course on faith and trust in the good intentions of God, worked out through the tightest of circumstances to match His normally unusual, brilliantly ingenious method of operations.

In short, we need God to set-up the unique circumstances in life to enable us to find ourselves and to find God.  A journey of faith is a journey of discovery, and only our Creator God knows the end-point of purpose that will fulfill each of us individually and as a church.  This is a work of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God purchased for us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Christian Church in the Last Days 2

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

A biblical adventure of faith, where our self-sovereignty as kings sitting atop the thrones of our lives is placed on the cross to be crucified alongside Jesus, is specifically designed to cancel-out the stubbornly prideful component of the I-know-it-all, I-can-do-it-on-my-own tendency.  If the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers in the first century had been flexibly open-minded and teachable, they would not have rejected the message and the Person of Jesus Christ as Messiah.  If they had been actively engaged in their own biblical quality journeys of faith they would have recognized the Holy Spirit within the actions and speech of Jesus of Nazareth.

In the extreme, the insistence upon having everything our way, as demonstrated by the religious leaders in first century Jerusalem, leads to the final tragic outcome of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  A journey of faith humbly following the leadership of Jesus Christ in our lives, trusting upon His wisdom and good intentions for us in everything, is the opposite attitude of the entrenched religious leaders in Jerusalem wanting only their worldly conventional vision of a military style messiah, promising political and economic deliverance from Roman rule, or nothing at all.

Of course we should never surrender our independent moral judgment to other people (Acts 21:13).  But the ability to listen in the Spirit, and be open and teachable to truth is an attribute that with few exceptions every person can improve upon (Acts 19:30).

God invented the supernatural vehicle of a journey of faith to navigate triumphantly through this broken world.  God, in His infinite wisdom, took the malevolent temptation of Lucifer in Eden that “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5) and turned this around into a positive, commendable, prophetic mission statement for mankind.  God created this spiritual vehicle called a journey of faith, whereby He could engineer events and circumstances in the lives of the people of faith who willingly trust and follow Him, brilliantly crafting and reshaping Lucifer’s ill-intentioned and destructive temptation into positive fulfilled prophecy in the most laudably clever and commendable way (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The Christian Church in the Last Days

“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Peter 1:10

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

As I explore the narrative stories of the people of faith in the Bible, I see God deliberately leading and maneuvering people into challenging trials, almost impossibly tight circumstances, and nearly hopeless situations, way beyond our natural desire for worldly soft, conventional normalcy.  Like inspired athletic coaches pushing their players towards excellence achieved through total commitment, the God of the Bible sets up unimaginably unconventional scenarios that require faith and trust to break through to a positive outcome for our eternal benefit (Judges 7:2).  This has been the experience in my own life that informs my understanding of the Bible and the writing of this book.

It is certainly not Abraham’s idea to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah.  It is not Joseph’s plan to eventually end up in Pharaoh’s prison.  It is not the fault of Moses that Pharaoh’s heart is stubbornly hardened and bent on keeping the Israelites as slaves in Egypt.  The singularly unique strategy for Gideon to defeat the invading Midianites is God’s plan…Gideon would never come up with this battle plan in his wildest imagination.  Similarly, the unusual military strategy for Joshua to bring down the walls of Jericho belongs entirely to God.

The anointing of David by the prophet Samuel to become the future king of Israel did not include the relevant information that a jealous King Saul would pursue David to kill him.  Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi is in response to the unexpected death of Ruth’s husband.  The deadly confrontation between the three young Hebrews and King Nebuchadnezzar regarding the idol worship of the King’s image is not of their making.  Daniel is completely innocent of any wrongdoing as he is being lowered into the lion’s den.  The desperate plan of Esther and Mordecai to derail Haman’s evil scheme to destroy the Jews, balances precariously on a knife’s edge.  Nehemiah faces enormous external opposition in his attempt to rebuild the walls surrounding Jerusalem.  Jeremiah’s best prophetic utterances to reform Israel end in outward failure.

It is not the plan of Peter and John that God should heal the crippled man at the gate called Beautiful leading into the temple on that particular morning, initiating a remarkable cascade of events resulting in Peter and John being “set in the midst” of the Sanhedrin council (Acts 4:7).  The Holy Spirit empowered witness of these two disciples to the resurrection of Jesus is so committedly fearless and forthright that Peter and John were probably not only amazed at their own courageous stand, but members of the Sanhedrin “marveled” at their boldness (Acts 4:13).  The opposition that Paul faced continuously throughout his evangelical ministry to take the gospel message to the first-century Greco-Roman world is not of his making (Acts 26:22-23).

If we are engaged in a biblical-quality adventure of faith, God will eventually take us to places where we do not want to go, to fulfill unseen potential within us and to stretch our faith, both for personal growth and for the benefit of others (Luke 22:42).  We all have a tendency to want to do things our way (Isaiah 53:6).  Each of us to some extent has trouble listening to others…listening to parents, a spouse, family members, children, friends, co-workers, and listening to God.  We all want to stay within the comfort zone of our own ideas and our own ways of doing things.  Only our Creator God could beneficially override this innate tendency by inserting supernatural plans and outcomes into our everyday lives.  But this requires our willing cooperation, and faith and trust in God’s character and intentions.

The Falling Away 7

“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”  (Mt. 24:13)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

I believe there is a storm coming, a massive spiritual hurricane that will engulf the entire planet (Matthew 24:21).  But you would never know a storm was coming by the outward attitude in contemporary Christendom.  Some churches in America today seem to have an almost pre-storm party atmosphere.  Light-heartedness in our worship can be taken too far.  The word “good” can have too many O’s in it, if we are not careful and not biblically watchful.

The Old Testament prophets were rejected and sometimes killed because they brought a sobering message that people did not want to hear.  Jesus told us to always be alert and to watch.  This is certainly a timely message for today.  But a portion of the organized church seems to be looking the other way, towards things that do not lead to spiritual alertness and readiness for the end-times.

Finally, every Christian should examine where their investment lies.  Unsaved, nominal churchgoers, who have their investment in careers, material possessions, family, friends, the future well-being of children and grandchildren, and next summer’s European vacation, will be extremely disappointed in God when and if conditions deteriorate on earth as prophesied in the Bible during the upcoming end-times.  If our investment is in earthly things exclusively, then we are setting ourselves up for the great falling away.  When our expectancy for world normalcy begins to become jeopardized, this will be one of the factors initiating the falling away.  World events will begin to expose people’s expectations and motivations, and will sift-out and separate true Christian disciples willing to stand with Jesus at the cost of their lives from nominal churchgoers perfunctorily going through the motions of church attendance for reasons similar to those of Judas Iscariot.

All of the good things in the natural realm…careers, family, friends, material possessions, are virtuous only when they are recognized as God’s gift to us and are therefore completely surrendered to Him.  True spiritual balance comes when we can understand that everything good that we have and enjoy comes from God alone, that we ourselves belong to Him, and that we can let go of our treasures and confidently place them in His hands for safekeeping.  The concept of “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13), including all of the normal cares and responsibilities of this life…when in proper balance…compliments and harmonizes with a journey of faith following Jesus Christ.

But the catastrophic end-times events, assuming the Christian church is on the earth for some or all of its tribulation and persecution, can and will cause a shaking loose of our attachment to everything that is near and dear to us, so that we will correctly focus our eternal investment upon God alone.  We can begin doing that now in anticipation of these end-times events, through a surrendered, crucified life in service to Christ.

If we are coming up upon the start of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period, which begins the final countdown to the end of this present world, then beginning to let go in service to Christ, while still occupying till He comes, is the most rational approach.

When the storm of persecution and tribulation finally comes, each person on earth will respond according to their character.  Some will be brought down by the terror of the situation.  Others will flee in fear and attempt to hide.  Christians who have been prepared by God for these events will spread their wings like eagles and soar with the wind.  That is God’s promise to us, and the consistent history of God’s performance in the lives of the people of faith in the Bible.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”                                                                                                    Isaiah 40:31

The Falling Away 6

“All these things are the beginning of sorrows.”  (Mt. 24:8)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

2 Corinthians 4:17 reads: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  One of the clear signs we can detect in the apostate church is the attempt to homogenize the “light affliction” part of Christian discipleship out of the experience.  “Christian” churches that have a lot to offer in terms of various programs, but demand very little in terms of teaching people about the costs of discipleship, actually prevents the Holy Spirit from actualizing in the lives of the congregations the challenges of faith that lead to spiritual maturity.  Apostate churches celebrate worldly success in the outer natural realm, having no potential for creating spiritual growth.  Paul says that momentary light afflictions will work for us eternal glory.  The apostate church has no idea what Paul is talking about here.

In John 6:22-65, Jesus is talking about Himself being the bread of life from heaven.  Many of the disciples at that time were offended by the statement by Jesus that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life.  John 6:66 then says: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”  Then with a voice that has a note of sadness in it, Jesus asks the twelve apostles: “Will ye also go away?”  This is not an Old Testament prophet or one of the New Testament apostles speaking.  This is Jesus the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  Jesus is teaching the truth, because He is the Truth, and some people are choosing to “walk no more with him.”  The preaching and teaching of the truth sometimes winnows and sifts out people from following God.  In this example, we see that teaching the truth does not always result in increased popularity and “church growth.”

The lesson of Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, tells us that a person can be in the presence of Christ (in the church), and yet not be born again in heart and mind.  Judas had a divided heart. He wanted to follow Jesus as long as this appeared to lead toward a position within an earthly kingdom of the Messiah in Jerusalem.  When it finally became apparent that Jesus would be rejected by the recognized political establishment, and that following Jesus would lead to a much more costly, worldly-humbling brand of service to the Messiah, Judas sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  All the while, not even the other eleven apostles appear to be aware of Judas’ traitorous intentions.

It is possible to produce large bodies of similarly unconverted, half-hearted “followers” of Christianity simply by downgrading and diluting the gospel message to the point that adherence produces no real discipleship challenge.  Christianity then subtly morphs into self-composed and self-directed religion, with churchgoers sitting atop the thrones of their lives in self-sovereignty.  Peter said to Jesus “Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee” (Mark 10:28).  Judas Iscariot brought some of the world with him in following Jesus, and never “left all.”  A large number of Judas Iscariots can be created in the apostate church by compromising the “left all” portion of the gospel message.

The falling away is a real event that will occur in the future.  Whether the main body of the Christian church will be on earth for this event I cannot dogmatically say.  But there is a strong argument that there cannot be a noticeable falling away, worth mentioning in Holy Scriptures, without a large number of Christians and nominal churchgoers together as one homogenous group on earth at the same time.

The Falling Away 5

“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.”  (Mt. 24:7)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

The gospels tell us not to be afraid when we hear of wars, of nation rising against nation, of great earthquakes, and famines, and pestilences, as if we are still on the earth and not raptured yet (Matthew 24:6; Luke 21:9).  The Bible tells us that the whole world will be evangelized before the end comes (Matthew 24:14).  These scriptures suggest either an intense preliminary period of distress and spiritual activity containing all of these challenges for the church leading up to the tribulation, or the church still being on the earth for some period of time overlapping into the tribulation.

How might the falling away transpire?  If large numbers of people were attracted to a version of Christianity Light that promised positive-thinking outcomes with no discipleship costs involved, in keeping with our instant coffee, microwave popcorn culture, and they were transported back in time to one of the great persecutions under the Roman emperors in the first or second century, then we can easily see where a lot of these people would reconsider their membership in the church.  There was no opportunity for a Great Falling Away during the first three centuries of the Christian church, because there was not the time and population numbers to build up a watered-down, worldly attractive apostate church in existence that would draw in millions of nominal adherents.  Life-and-death persecutions under the Roman Empire from time to time sifted out nominal believers from the Christian fold, because it truly meant the possibility of death when the authorities would catch and put on trial a professing Christian during these periods of widespread persecution.

In our modern times, people who have joined a church because they are attracted to the positive-thinking, upbeat message of God helping us to obtain better jobs, bigger houses, nicer cars, and better relations with family and friends through what really amounts to self-realization, will in all probability abandon the Christian church at the first signs of trouble.  People who join a church because it is a friendly club for social networking, family activities, and to make business contacts, will have a difficult time re-evaluating the decision they made for this easy and worldly compromised version of Christianity, when it is compared to the alternate real version of Christianity where believers will have to take a courageous stand for their faith that will cost them their lives.  When the Antichrist changes his tactics from deceptive peace (Daniel 8:25) to deadly persecution, and begins to require people to take the mark of the beast or suffer the consequences, the nominal churchgoers will probably opt for survival (Daniel 3:7).

We can have large, arena-type sanctuaries, with comfortable stadium seating, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, worldly entertaining “rock and roll” style worship music having over-simplified Christian lyrics that appeal to large numbers of people, and positive-thinking motivational style messages mixed with watered-down Christian doctrines.  But what will it profit if the people who attend these churches do not get challenged and inspired to follow Jesus into an intimate journey of faith?  What will it profit if end-times persecution exposes these types of churches as being shallow and empty in terms of preparing Christians to live lives that would faithfully stand up in the heat of hard times?  What will it profit if people have been mistakenly taught that they could successfully have one foot in the world and one foot in Christ, without any future adverse consequences or reckoning? 

                What will it profit if the external environment of persecution and tribulation removes overnight the possibility of safely attending the currently popular mega-churches, and the churchgoer is left “high and dry” without having established a personal relationship with Jesus Christ with the ability to listen and follow the Holy Spirit on their own?  What will it profit if the end-times churchgoer cannot tell the difference between the counterfeit but worldly appealing Antichrist (Daniel 7:25), and the genuine Jesus Christ who calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him?