There is no doubt that hard times lay ahead for the disciples of Jesus. For many years the Church has enjoyed freedom to worship God and serve humanity. Even if some people did not adhere to the teachings of Jesus they maintained a level of respect for those who did. However, like any segment of society, the Church's history is filled with the abuse of power by men who had no interest in faith but only in the power that they could exert over people. Much of this is now coming back in the face of the Church, which failed to deal with these abusers. But the dangerous times ahead come from many sources and people should be aware of the polarization that is happening in the world and our society at this moment.
I think most of us have seen what is happening in the news in the Islamic states of our world. People are calling for the reform of the governments and are using protests and violence to bring it about. This is a natural thing to happen in places where people feel mistreated and abused for decades. If a better government results from this we see it is a natural way that is repeating history. Some countries, such as Canada, achieved these changes by peaceful means, whereas others, such as the United States and France ended up going a more violent route. Nonetheless, in recent history we have seen that governments that are formed from such action are not necessarily better governments, as we consider Iran. That is the fear right now, that the extremist element of Islam would take a tighter grip in these places. However, there is also something else resulting from these events.
As more and more stories come across our computer screens and television sets concerning the more extreme actions of Islamic believers, all faiths are being scrutinized. There is a growing protest in the grass roots that all religion is bogus and should be done away with. More and more people are referring to the "fairy tale" stories of Jesus, calling him a fictional figure. They refer to the Bible as a collection of errant fairy tales passed down to our society, where it is now molded and used to abuse others. Any good that the Church has done in the past, from the abolition of slavery to the development of medical systems, are all being washed away by people who haven't even looked into the matter. There is a rising tide of protest against faith, with reason being lauded as the only real choice for people, as if faith-people had no reason about them at all, just a bunch of brainless fools. Is anyone else seeing this? Read Matthew 24 and understand what lies ahead for us. But this is not the reason I am writing today.
I am writing to encourage you in your faith, that no matter what happens you need to hold on to Jesus. We need to remember what our God has done in the past, what he has done for our forefathers and what he has done for us:
We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them. (Psalm 44:1-3)
This psalm expresses the important thing for us to remember; what has been done for us in the past was not done in our strength but by God's will. If we think we can save ourselves we are doomed to destruction. It is only when we realize that the strength we have is found in Jesus Christ. The world will call it foolishness at best, delusional and a mental illness at the worst. Is this not what Jesus taught us, that in order for us to see God we must have faith? Is this not what he constantly questioned people on, evening pondering whether he would find any faith in this world on his return? Faith is the hardest thing for people of this age to understand and even many of those who claim it don't truly understand it and so struggle to live it. Can we understand what has saved us?
It was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
We need to understand who our enemy is. It is not the sinner or the secularist or the Muslim. God made it clear for us that the enemy is not found in bodily form:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
We must always remember that Jesus told us to love our enemy. So those whom the enemy works through are not our targets but instead we are against the forces that control these people. The people themselves we must love because they are the objects of our Father's affection. We are told exactly how we are to fight against this rising tide of persecution that is knocking on our door:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:13-18)
If you have been neglecting the Word now is the time to get back into it. If you have been neglecting prayer now is the time to re-establish it. If you have allowed your relationship with Jesus to fade now is the time to return to worship with all your heart. Do not wait until the day of evil is upon you, be fitted for the battle today because it is going to be a battle over your heart and mind. We need to do as the psalmist did and declare who our God is:
You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever. (Psalm 44:4-8)
We will soon be able to relate to this psalmist as he continues to write, expressing their confusion over God's apparent lack of help during some dark days of trials:
But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale. (Psalm 44:9-12)
This may be our cry very shortly as we wonder how long we will have to put up with the coming storm. Our neighbours will hate us, our own children will turn against us, society will devalue us, false teachers will offer to guide us, fake messiahs will pursue us, everything we thought we had will be taken from us until we are only left with one question: do I believe?
It is good to read this Psalm because, even though the psalmist questions God about what is going on, he does not let go of his faith and trust. He knows that he cannot save himself. He knows the odds are against him. He knows the future looks very bleak but he also knows what God has done in the past. Now we must look at all of this through the lens of Jesus. God has done something greater for us than he every did for the psalmist or his forefathers. Our Father pursued us with his love, he gave his best so that we could be reconciled to him, he has pursued us to complete us not to destroy us. None of what he did was because we had any worth; he did it all because of his unfailing love. In the years to follow we must remember that he did everything he did because of his unfailing love. That was the basis of the psalmist plea for help:
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love. (Psalm 44:26)
Jesus warned us these days were coming and many have prayed over the years that he would return for us. That day is approaching but all these other things must come with it. Jesus referred to them as birthing pains because God is birthing a new thing. After a baby is born a mother quickly forgets the pain because of the overwhelming joy and love of that baby. Paul reminds us:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
So my friends, get equipped before the day of evil hits with all its fury. Get equipped, be madly in love with Jesus and stand your ground. No matter the personal cost, do not give up the ground you have been told to occupy which is your heart and your mind. Be strong and courageous; do not be terrified or discouraged because the Lord our God is with us wherever we go! Stand firm in the faith, hope and love of Jesus!