Thursday, February 26, 2015

What's the Point: Living hope in a violent world

Stories of horror at the hands of ISIS’ members continue to pour out of the Middle East. In fact, what began as a trickle of atrocities has grown into a raging river as incidents increase in frequency and barbarity. This week, they reportedly kidnapped approximately 150 Christians from a region in northeast Syria. Early reports put this number at about 90; subsequent reports have increased it to 150. I say with a prayerful sorrow the future is bleak for those followers of Jesus. News reports have also surfaced that ISIS funds their operation in part through harvesting organs, such as kidneys, from prisoners. An alternate source of their income is selling young girls and women into sex trafficking.

My older two daughters asked me the same question at different times last week. “Is this it? Is our world falling apart? Is this the end?”

My daughters were two and newborn when Al-Qaeda flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. I realized the world they grew up in would look very different than did my childhood environment. I realized that was their reality – better to help them deal with it than sugar coat their exposures. I answered, “We don’t know for sure. ISIS’ behavior is consistent with biblical prophecies of the end times. Many Christians are sensing that this will lead to that time soon.”

They both responded in similar ways; basically, “Then what’s the point?”

What is the point?

Our purpose doesn’t change
God gave us signs to watch for which indicate the end is drawing near. However, He chose to withhold exactly when those events would begin. I believe one reason why is because our job doesn’t change whether we know the exact time or not.
  • Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).
  • Love other people as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39).
  • Love faithfulness, act justly, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
It doesn’t matter if Jesus returns today, in a decade, or in a century, our call as Jesus’ followers is the same. We are to know, love, and serve God. We are to love and encourage a hurting world. We are to behave in a way that honors God and glorifies His name.

We have a message of hope
Current events in the Middle East may or may not lead to the fulfillment of biblical end-time prophecies. Either way, we have a message of hope for the world. I don’t know about you, but the number of hurting people in my life is increasing. Economic problems, family relationships, drugs, unemployment, and many others are all surface indicators of hard times. Below the surface, though, much bigger problems arise under names such as fear, depression, rejection, bitterness, insecurity, disbelief, and deception. Followers of Jesus, we have a message of unconditional love, strengthening joy, unsurpassable peace and gentleness, limitless patience, sacrificial kindness and goodness, unwavering faith, and supernatural self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We have everything we need to accomplish the task to which He calls us – the task of reaching the world with His gospel of grace (2 Peter 1:3, Philippians 1:6, Matthew 28:19-20).

We have hope even in midst of persecution
I can’t speak for the hundreds of Christians held captive in Syria right now. But I can speak for countless others throughout history who’ve faced persecution for following Jesus. I can speak the words of Paul who endured a lifetime of persecution, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

In studying Paul’s testimony, along with others in the New Testament, I discovered seven aspects of persecution that seem contradictory to human thinking…
  • Serves to advance the Gospel
  • Encourages others and reduces fear
  • Causes rejoicing
  • Promotes patient endurance
  • Teaches us to trust God and about the power of prayer
  • Is a source of comfort
  • Brings us to maturity
You may read more in depth on this area in Everything We Need: God’s Path to Know Him Better.

The point is Jesus, the Messiah

I’d like to give you rose-colored glasses through which to view the world. I’d like to give solutions for defeating ISIS and promises that bloody religious persecution will never reach America’s shores. Just like I realized when my daughters were babies, that isn’t the world in which we live anymore. We can ignore it or deny it; reality doesn’t change.

But I can give you a point – a reason – to endure it. I can give you a message of hope. Our hope and reason are both in the name of Jesus. One day, after seven years of tribulation, He will return and reign peacefully over the entire earth. Until then, we have a purpose that doesn’t change. We are to love and serve God, love and encourage others to believe in Him, and live in a way that glorifies His name. In the midst of all the turmoil, only Jesus’ followers have a message of hope found in salvation through faith in Jesus. He alone has the power to bring comfort, encouragement, patience, rejoicing, and more out of barbaric persecution.

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