Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Instructions for facing the end of the world

If the world were going to end today, what would your life look like? If you knew that this was your last day on earth, how would your life change from what it is now? Would you rush out and spend all the money you could? Would you quit your job and spend your last 24 hours in relative relaxation? Would you do that one thing you’ve always been too scared to try?

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news (or good news, depending on how you look at it), but the world is going to end a lot sooner than anybody thinks. And knowing that, shouldn’t that affect the way we live? Shouldn’t that affect our priorities?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 4:7-8.

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

The Bible is full of examples talking about the end times and what they will look like, and I’m of the school of thought that says we’re living in the end times. I’m sure there are many who would dispute it, and I’m certain those who would dispute have evidence to point to. But whether we’re actually living in the end times or not, there are enough verses throughout scripture that warn of the end coming soon it’s something to pay attention to.

The end of the world has always been a topic of discussion in books and movies. For a while, Hollywood went through this phase where every other movie that came out dealt with the end of the world in some way, shape, or form. Like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow or other movies of that genre. Of course, then there’s the zombie movie genre, like 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, or the postapocalyptic movies like I Am Legend and other movies like that, which don’t really use nature as the enemy but a disease. But the concept is still there. The concept of the world ending has always fascinated people because it’s something we can’t stop. Unless you’re a fan of superhero movies (guilty), and then the fate of the world rests on the hero’s shoulders. But people like stories, and story is conflict. And there’s no great conflict than the catastrophe we can’t stop. That’s what makes those movies so interesting. People can’t stop their impending doom. All they can do is the best they can to survive, to keep living, to retain whatever they can of what used to be.

The Bible is many things, but among its vast repertoire of possible blurbs for back cover copy, it’s an instruction manual on how to live. And I find it very interesting that the two instructions it gives for facing the end of the world are prayer and love. Prayer and love? Is that really all you need to face the end? Don’t you need a generator? Don’t you need a chemical toilet? Don’t you need to invest all your finances in gold or in unperishables? Well, according to the Bible, what you need is to pray and to love each other. And it says that even between those two, love is more important.

And we’re not talking just passive love. If you check out verse 8 in the Amplified Version, this is what it says:

Above all things have intense and unfailing love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins [forgives and disregards the offenses of others].

So what does this mean for us today? Well, I don’t know about you, but I struggle with loving people on good days. I have a hard time extending grace to people who don’t live up to my expectations. And that’s not love. I need to have an intense and unfailing love for my brothers and sisters in Christ because we are rapidly approaching the end and we’re all struggling. And the thing about this kind of love is that it’s not something that just happens. It’s something you have to choose.

The common thread in most of those movies where the world is ending is that the characters who make it out alive are the ones who focus on what matters. Those people who get caught up in the minor details and the unimportant things are the ones who get eaten or smashed or whatever. And as strange as this sounds, I think that’s where we need to be. Yes, the details are important. Yes, the differences are important too. But above all else, brothers and sisters, we need to love each other. If we have Christ in common, we’re family.

Stay focused on what matters. God will help us sort out our differences if we cling to Him. Pray and love and let the end of the world come.

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Loving those who don’t deserve it

I usually learn best by example. If someone can give me an example or tell me a story about a concept, I can usually grasp it. That’s why I love Jesus’ method of teaching because He was (and is) a storyteller. That’s one of the reasons why I’m wild about stories, because they do more than just entertain. Stories teach. And it’s the best way for me to learn something.

So this month, I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit, as explained in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” For the moment I’m studying love. But not just any love–agape (αγαπη) love. It’s the kind of love that we can only have when we are following Christ. It’s 1 Corinthians 13 love.

But it’s one thing to tell me what this kind of love is. It’s something else to show me.

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 10:30-37.

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known stories that Jesus’ told, but you really have to understand the historical context for the truth of the story to sink in. The nutshell version is that the Samaritan people weren’t well-liked at all among the Jews. They weren’t Jewish. They were a mixed race people, and the Jews just despised them. Something else we need to understand is who Jesus was telling this story to.

If you look a bit farther back in the chapter, you’ll see Jesus used this story as an answer to a question an expert in religious law asked. The expert had asked a question, trying to trap Jesus, wanting to know what the greatest commandment was. Jesus, of course, had the perfect answer (Love God, Love People), but the expert wanted to justify himself and wanted to know which people he could love and which people he didn’t have to love. This was Jesus’ answer.

I can’t wait to get to heaven so I can talk to people who were there for this moment. One of the joys of my life is sharing movies I love with people who haven’t seen them. I love the huge plot twists that make people gasp, and I love being able to share great stories with people just because I love watching their reactions. And that’s what I imagine happened when Jesus told this story. Because it wasn’t uncommon for a Jewish man to travel between Jerusalem and Jericho. It wasn’t uncommon for someone traveling alone to be attacked by bandits, especially along that particular road. The priest and the temple assistant might have been expected to stop and help, but none of them expected the Samaritan to help.

Samaritans were bad. They were hated. So I’m sure when listeners heard Jesus say a Samaritan was coming, they thought he would finish the poor victim off. But he didn’t. Not only did he stop and take care of the man, he carried him to where he could heal and paid for him to rest, all the while knowing that if their situation had been reversed, the Jewish man would have let him die.

That is agape. That is love.

So how do we demonstrate that in our own lives? Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t often run across men who’ve been beaten and stripped laying by the side of the road. But I do encounter people who are hurting. So maybe it’s not the physical symptoms we need to be looking for but the emotional ones.

Too often we are caught up in our own problems and we don’t notice how much people around us are hurting. I get so focused on what I’m doing that I forget why I’m here–to bring glory to God. And it’s not that I can’t bring glory to God by dealing with my own issues. I absolutely can. But if I reach the end of my life and the only person who I’ve improved is myself, what’s the point?

The trouble with reaching out to people is that we make ourselves vulnerable. People are mean. Let’s just face it. People are selfish. People are frustrating and difficult and stubborn and hurtful, and opening your life to them makes you a target. But it’s worth it.

I love sequels. Even if they aren’t well done sequels, a part of me still enjoys seeing the next step in a character’s growth, and I always have wondered if the Good Samaritan ever met this Jewish man again. That would have been a meeting I would have liked to see, because if the Jewish man was a typical Jewish man of the time, he wouldn’t haven’t given the Samaritan the time of day. And see there’s no indication that the Samaritan wanted the man to know who he was. They could have met on the street, and the Jewish man would have had no idea who he was.

That’s what this kind of love looks like, Christian. It’s the silent servant who catches people when they fall and never asks for recognition.

Don’t hesitate to share this kind of love with people around you. It makes a difference, and it’s something God can use. Look for opportunities to share this kind of love. Be on the lookout for people who are hurting. If you are willing to love people like this, God will change you and He may even change them. You never know what God will accomplish if you simply let Him.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Some choices are better than others

Are you ever torn between two good options? Do you ever not know how to make a decision, especially when the two choices facing you are both good? That’s one of the troubles of choosing to follow Christ. You have so many good choices you can make, it’s difficult to choose which one. But even in following Christ, there are good choices and there are great choices. It just depends on what your motivation is for making that choice.

Both choices can lead to real happiness as long as both choices are about Christ and not about us. But the truth of the matter is that God isn’t going to bring us home until He’s done with us down here. If we really are following Christ and making a difference for Him in other people’s lives, it’s better for us to keep doing what we’re doing.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:20-26.

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.

Paul wasn’t afraid to die. He was confident that he wasn’t going to, but even if he did die, he wasn’t afraid of it because he knew where he was going. He had confidence in Christ, and that’s what mattered. Actually, that’s what he wanted. He wanted to go home because if he died he would get to go be with Christ. But if he died, he would be gone from here. And there was still work to do. There were still people to help. And Paul recognized that God had put him in place for a reason. God still had a plan for him, and even though dying for his faith would be a good option, living for others was a better one.

Sometimes I think I get so focused on going home that I forget why I’m here in the first place. God doesn’t make mistakes. He puts us where He wants us, and He moves us when He wants us to move, and we can choose to grow where we’re planted (or transplanted) or not. Many people have been killed for their faith in Christ, not in America but all over the world. And there is always a purpose in that. God always uses that. But you don’t have to die for your faith for God to use you.

Do you know other believers in your church? Get to know them. Are you part of a church? Get involved and make a difference. You never know how God can use you until you decide to allow Him to do something with you.

I go through seasons of involvement at my church. I used to be involved in every ministry that was available, but that was back when I was younger. Looking back on that time, I don’t know how I did it. Six years of non-stop craziness, plus school, plus working practically full time. It makes me tired just thinking about it. And I burned out. I ran myself ragged and painted myself into a corner and came crashing down. And that’s not what we’re supposed to do.

If you work yourself to death, maybe that brings glory to God too. I don’t know. But once you’re dead, He can’t use you down here anymore. And burn-out is about the same.

So, yes, I had to step back and recover, but I never stopped investing in people one at a time. And that’s the difference. God puts people in our path for a reason, and if you know Him and you know others who are searching for Him or who need encouragement, why would you refuse to offer it if you have it? You don’t have to be involved in every ministry under the sun. You can just help one person at a time.

And I’m not talking about non-believers right now. Yes, we have a responsibility to reach out to people who don’t believe, but we are also here to build each other up. We’re also here to support each other and hold each other accountable and pray for each other. It’s uncomfortable at times. And it’s usually inconvenient. Satan will make it even more so because the last thing he wants is for believers to show love to each other, because that’s how we show everyone else that we’re different.

It’s one of our purposes for being here. And there’s nothing that brings joy in my life more than when I can fulfill a purpose that was intended for my life. So if you have the opportunity to encourage another believer, if you have the chance to help another believer, do it. Most likely, God brought that person in your path for that specific reason. Maybe the happiness won’t come right away as a result of helping another believer, but it will come.

You want to make a difference for Christ? Yeah. Dying for your faith is a good choice. But living for your brothers and sisters in Christ, showing Jesus’ love to those who believe the same way you do? That’s a better choice.

Mayan ruin - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

How do you live at the end of the world?

I don’t trust the Mayans. So when I see a lot of people up in arms about the world supposedly ending on December 21 this year, I don’t exactly roll my eyes, but I certainly don’t take them seriously. People thought there would be a catastrophe in 2001 too. Remember Y2K? And I think it was this year or maybe last year when someone started assuring everyone that the end of the world would come then. But it didn’t. And unfortunately, those folks have been made into the Boy who cried wolf.

It’s unfortunate because the world as we know it will end someday soon. The Bible promises that it will, but the Bible assures us that no man knows the day it’s going to happen. Not sure how this is possible, but even Christ said that only God the Father knows that date (Matthew 24:36).

So where does that leave us? It leaves us on the cusp; that’s where we are. I’m no scholar, but if I’m right, there’s only one prophecy that remains to be fulfilled. And that is for the whole world to have the opportunity to know Christ. Folks are still working on that because there are still some areas of the globe where Christ hasn’t been shared, but once that happens? Everything else the Bible has prophesied would happen has happened.

And this isn’t like some wild-eyed prophet preaching about the end of the world. It’s not like a blockbuster movie where the world experiences all sorts of crazy natural disasters. It’s not like a computer bug that will send our culture rocketing back to the stone age. This is a promise in a Book that was written thousands of years ago by more than 60 different authors over a period of thousands of years, a Book that doesn’t contradict itself once and that has remained relevant to culture in spite of radical changes in the world. It’s not a promise made in chaos; it’s a promise that comes from a trustworthy, consistent source. And actually, it’s not even the end of the world; it’s the beginning of the end of the world, and the only thing we know is that it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.

Mayan ruin - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Mayan ruin – Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Romans 13:8-11

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

The Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites so that they would know what God expected of them. If anyone can follow the Ten Commandments word-for-word perfectly every day of their lives, they are worthy to have a relationship with God. But no one can do that. That’s the true point of the Ten Commandments, to show us that we need God and that we need His forgiveness if we want to walk with Him. So the Ten Commandments show us what God expects from us and how to live, but since we are incapable of meeting His expectations and He offers us forgiveness for that, the Ten Commandments represent a lifestyle instead.

But who can keep track of ten laws? Maybe that’s lazy of me to say, but that’s a lot, especially in day-to-day life. I’m all for summaries, although I’m sure you would never believe it because of the length of these crazy devos.

The Ten Commandments can be summarized in two phrases: Love God. Love people.

God should come first in our lives. No one should be a higher priority than He is. Our lives belong to Him anyway, and the least we can do is give ourselves back to Him. That’s salvation. That’s why Christ came and died for us.

But what about the rest? Love people. That’s how we show we’re different from people who don’t believe. That’s how we demonstrate that what we believe is real. We love people who don’t deserve to be loved, because God loved us when we didn’t deserve to be loved. That’s what this verse is saying: love people.

Why? Well, other than the fact that God has commanded it, because we don’t have a lot of time left. Yes, Romans was written a very long time ago, and, yes, Paul was saying even then that we didn’t have a lot of time. But look how long it’s taken to get the word out. Thousands of years have passed and the whole world still doesn’t know.

So what does all this mean for today?

I’m tired. I’m bone weary of our culture and the darkness. I’m tired of being looked at funny when I talk about living the way Christ has told us to. And I’m tired of being sad and grieving for a world (and even other believers) that has turned their backs on the God who gave so much to save them. But I can be encouraged because I trust Scripture and I trust God, and everything points to the fact that Christ is coming back soon. Very soon.

So I’m going to keep pressing forward. I’m going to love people, and I’m going to love people now more than I did yesterday because if God can use my love to turn someone’s heart toward Him in these last days, it will be worth it. And love has a better chance of that than pounding them on the head with a Bible.

And who knows? Maybe December 21 is it. Because, seriously, who really does know for sure?