Syria and the End of the World

This past Sunday here at Asbury, we had a service that we have every Labor Day Weekend, something we call “Bring Your Cell Phone to Church.”  In this service, the congregation will text in questions to me that I will attempt to answer to the best of my ability during the sermon.

It’s always a fun Sunday, and I enjoy the rush of thinking, “Oh no, I may say something stupid now!”

I can always get a feel for some of the questions that I will get beforehand.  Some will be personal (what’s your favorite verse/song), some will be big picture theological (how can God be sovereign and we have free will – yeah, that’s fun!) and some will be tied to things that are currently happening in our community and in the world.

So, for instance, I knew I was going to get a question on Syria.  Now, from a political stand point, there are many people that are much smarter than I am in regards to this.  I have political opinions on this, and most subjects, but that is not my area of expertise.  If you are looking for a really good article that really lays out the basics on Syria in a relatively easy to understand fashion, check this out.

For me, though the question that a lot of people have asked  (and this may just be partial to my neck of the woods) is how does this conflict in Syria related to the Second Coming?  And what about Egypt?  And Iran?  And all of the Arab Spring?  Surely these things lead us to believe that we are living in the Last Days and the Lord’s Return must be soon.  After all, rumors of wars, unrest, tsunamis, earth quakes, famines, fires, droughts, floods.  Surely His return is soon.

And my response is. . . . . maybe.

I taught a class in Ripley about John Wesley’s belief on the Second Coming.  Want to know what he believed?  It’s really complicated.  Ready?  Here it is.

Yeah, it’s gonna happen.  

That’s it.  That’s what he, John Calvin, Martin Luther, so many great saints and teachers believed. In the end, the Lord will return. That’s as specific as they got. The left the rest up to God.

Biblically, every day that we are here is a day that we are closer to the Lord’s return.  But, here’s the thing.  In our modern society,  and for many of us in our modern evangelical faith, we are so used to talking about, hearing about, and thinking about the end of the world.  And then thinking about how do certain things relate to the Lord’s return.  I remember as a child, one of my dad’s favorite tv shows was Jack Van Impe Presents, which sought to, week after week, explain how what happened that week fit into the scenario leading to the Lord’s return.

CS Lewis in his book The Screwtape Letters famous wrote these words:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

I’ve always took that to mean that it’s unhealthy to spend too much time focusing on the devil and seeing him everywhere, just as it’s unhealthy to deny his existence and the effects that he has upon us and the world a large.

Why am I saying that?  I think we fall into the same trap with the end of the world.  We can either worry too much about it, thinking that everything that happens in the world is a sign that the Lord is coming back tomorrow.  We can spend too much time focusing on it, worrying about it, perhaps even being afraid, that we will forget what we are here for.  To love God and love each other. To be salt and light. To make a difference for the kingdom.

If we become so obsessed with the end of the world that we don’t have the time/energy/desire to be faithful, then we are aren’t doing what we need to be doing.

The other mistake that we can make is to forget that is going to happen. The Lord will return. There will be a day when He will set all things right, things will be fixed, restored, and made right.  We don’t need to forget that either.  Come, quickly Lord, and restore creation, and all that believe, to the condition in which you first created us!

So, Syria, is this end of the world?  In short, I don’t know. That’s not my call. The bible says no man knows the hour or day.  That’s God’s call.  John Wesley taught his followers that the earth would give witness to His return, He would physically appear, the dead in Christ would rise, and we would stand before the judgment throne. 

But, no dates.  No times.  None of that. That’s God’s decision.  Not ours.

So, don’t worry about it. Be faithful.  Love.  Serve. Forgive.  Give grace.  Be salt and light. And leave it in God’s hands and God’s time.  He’s got this.

As I like to tell folks at Asbury, I’ve read the back of the book. God wins. Don’t worry about it.  Whether He returns today, or a thousand years from now, it’s all in His hands.  We have important things to do for the kingdom. Let’s focus on that.

And leave the rest up to Him.  And know that in the end, for those of us that believe, it will all be ok.

Miley Cyrus, Morality, and Grace

I know this is probably a little bit late to the game, but man, what about that Miley Cyrus, performance the other night?  Being as how I’m not the target demographic for MTV any more, I will confess that I didn’t watch it the night of.  I did watch it the next day in the office because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

And as I watched it, my only response was confusion. I was generally confused by what I saw happening.  I compared it to nonsensical art.  I just didn’t understand what was happening. There are a lot of things that we can comment about in regards to this performance.

As the father of a daughter, I shutter to think that this is what society is teaching our young women to think is “acceptable” in any way, shape or form.  As the father of a son, I want him to know that in no way is it proper to think of any woman in such a way as Miley is presenting herself. As a pastor, I worries me about the coarsening of our culture and the way that the God-given beauty of sex is corrupted.

But that is what evil does, it corrupted that which is good, as Augustine warned us.

But there’s another thing that’s really been bothering me about this performance. I sum it up in this way – Miley Cyrus, morality, and grace.

We watch aghast at her performance.  We can’t believe that we let our kids listen to her, and we can’t believe what she’s become. We feel sad for her, and for us.  And we look down upon her. And that’s dangerous. I believe that there is a big, dangerous foe the church faces today.

In a world that is coarse and dark and at times vile, we can be repulsed and offended by what we see. We can worry for our kids and grandkids. We can be appalled. And we can think that we are more moral than Miley.  Or pop culture.  Or whoever.  The enemy that he church needs to fight is morality.

Wait, what?  What do you mean?

I mean this.  Morality says this.  You are wrong.  I am not.  You are bad.  I am good.  I’m better than you.  I’m more moral that you. I’m a good person.

As Christians, we don’t want to be moral. We want to be righteous.  Morality is me trying very hard to be a good person. Which I fail at.

Righteous is God working through me, making me holy, different and more graceful. Morality says I’m a better person than you.  Righteousness says that we are all just beggars looking for a piece of bread.

Morality is based upon works. Righteousness is based upon grace.

I want to be righteous. I want to be 100% dependent on God’s grace and mercy.  Know why?  Because I am.  I can’t be good enough. I can’t earn it. I can’t do it. I have to receive it. It’s not that Miley Cyrus is a bad person going to hell.  It’s that each of us, me, you all of us, are simply sinners in need grace.

Please do not think that I’m condoning or approving of her performance. I’m not.  It’s just this.  It’s not just that she needs Jesus.  It’s that each of us needs. Jesus.   It’s not that she is broken.  It’s that each of us, me, you, all of us, we are broken in some way and in need of healing. 

We all need Jesus.

And as Christians, when we see things that bother us, offend us, annoy us, harm us, it’s easy, so easy for us to go into morality mode and feel justified that we are better than them.  We are not.  We too, are broken. Are sinful.  Are weak.  Are in need of grace.  We need grace.  She needs grace.  The world needs grace.

So, what should we do for Miley?  Pray.  Pray for her, her family, and her life.  Just like we should pray for each other. And for the world.  And for ourselves.  Pray.

And know that we aren’t “better.”  We too are broken. We too are weak.  We too are in need.  And there is a God big enough to fill that need.

May we see today not be moral and stand on our own.  May we seek today to be righteous and stand on God’s grace.  It’s not that we are good people. It’s that He is a good God who is working on us daily.

Today, may we chase after the God that chases after us.