"And Why not?" was her response.
Being the smart alec kid I was, I retorted that I could give her 3 good reasons why I should just stay home today and skip church. One, it was raining and cold outside, and it was nice and warm in my bed under the covers. Two, I have been going to church for years and years, and it's so boring, and I hear the same thing over and over and over again, I probably won't miss much this week anyway. And third, no one really likes me at that church anyway. I could stay home and no one would miss me.
My mother, the ever dutiful Catholic mom pulled my covers off, and said she could give me 3 good reasons why I should go to church today. "One", she said, "we are Christians and as such, we believe the Bible, and we are told in God's Word not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together. Two, so what if it's raining outside, the church roof does not leak so you won't even know it's raining, and third; so what if no one likes you. You're 48 years old, you're the pastor and you have the only key! Now get up! Get dressed and get down to the church this instant!"
I thought that would make you smile. Even if you heard that before, it probably brought a smile to your face. Or at least a grin. And it seems like today, there is often little to smile about if we watch the news or read a newspaper or listen to the latest on the radio. It seems that no matter where we turn, we see that mankind has gone from bad to worse, thinking up more and more ways to shock, to destroy and to bring ruin. How many people are going to strap bombs onto themselves today and blow themselves up in sacred service to God? How many money managers are going to swindle folks out of their life savings to finance their own greedy, selfish lusts? I know I don't have to keep going on about how bad things seem today. If we asked a thousand people to describe something horrible they heard today, we would get a thousand different scenerios.We all can feel in our gut that something is not quite right with the world anymore.
Even Hollywood has gotten that message and is capitalizing on it right now. Movie after movie is being produced with storylines that revolve around the end of the world, or Armegeddon or satanic forces at the End of Days, and the like. Yes, we all seem to have a gut feeling, even if we can't seem to put a finger on it, that certain and sure trouble lays just ahead.
Many people claim that we are living in the Last Days. The end of the world as we know it. Others scoff at that idea, just as Peter wrote, "Where is this promised coming of his? Why just as our forefathers lived, everything is the same as it has always been..." (paraphrased). As a pastor, it seems that I am asked with more frequency and more urgency the same question: Pastor, do you think we are living in the Last Days?
Before I go further, I must say that yes, I believe that we are living in the time period that Jesus and all the prophets prophesied about throughout the Bible. All the signs are in place, and I look forward to the soon return of Jesus Christ. And when I tell someone that, sometimes I get a blank stare or even a snicker or a sarcastic reply. Others get a look of dread on their face. I am not going to go into all the reasons why I believe that we are living in the end times, such as the return of Jerusalem to the Jews in 1967 or the restoration of Israel in 1948, as being of significant fulfilment of prophecy that needed to happen to usher in the endtimes.
You see, ever since there was a Christian Church, us Christians have been waiting in joyful anticipation of The Lord's triumphant return. The first century church also expected the end times. And every generation looked to world events as they saw things happen in their own world view, and tried to put a biblically prophetic face to world events of their own time. Just as we tend to read the newspaper headlines and yes, I must admit, taking my Bible and comparing Scripture to headlines, trying to 'prove' my own theory.
Jesus told us that no one knows, not the Son, not the angels, just the Father in the heavens knows. But he said that when we see all these things occur know that He is near at the door. If you knew that you only had a few months to live, what would you do? Would you make ammends to those you hurt in the past? Would you ask for forgiveness from those you offended? Would you go out of your way to forgive someone else who hurt you? Or would you go on a wild, self indulgent spending spree, charging items that you knew you would not be around to pay for when the bills came due? If you attended a church that you loved your entire life and found out that in one month it would close its doors forever would you go to every service? Would you sing in the choir with a little more gusto? Or pray a little more fervently? Would you become a better steward of the precious resources God gave you, even if it is for only a short time, knowing that the end of your congregational home, or the end of your life was coming soon? Or would you figure that you would now be able to take a few Sunday mornings off, since your church is closing, or blow every dime you had on one roll of the dice at a casino figuring what's the use anyway?
My point is this: Why do we need to look for signs of the end times before we decide how we are going to live our lives? When someone asks me "Pastor, are we living in the Last Days?" , or "Do you believe in the Rapture?" I give them a response they don't expect. I say "Why should it matter to you if we are living in the Last Days, or if God will call us home in a Rapture?", which usually draws a blank stare or a "huh?" Then I explain.
Why can't we live our lives in such a way that it does not matter if The Lord returns today or tomorrow or next year or next generation. We should live our lives in such a way that it does not matter if it is the Last Day. Because when Our Lord returns, should he not find us doing all the things he commanded us to be doing anyway, whether or not we thought He was returning today? If we simply lived our lives in such a way as to be the absolute best we can be, living a godly, God-fearing life, silly debates on whether we are in the Last Days, or arguments over the Rapture become nothing more than distractions taking valuable time away from hands on service to our living God. Why can we not become better stewards of what God gave us today? Why do we need to open that dusty book that has been sitting on the coffee table for years just to determine if the movie 'End of Days' or 'Legion' is true? Why don't we open that dusty old book to see what God wants us to be doing today? It is the same thing Christians should have been doing for the past 2000 years. Living His Word. For generation after generation Christians have been awaiting for Christ's return, and those who chose to live the way He wants us to lived lives of contentment and peace, if not physically, at least spiritually. And obviously, the end did not happen in their generation. Or else we would not be here. If we live our lives as though we were sure that this is the End of Days, we can cast off the desires of the world, the showy displays of ones means, the keep up with the Jones' mentality, and focus our lives on a life of contentment, of satisfaction with what we have, not what we want, knowing that all these things of the world are temporary. If we live as though these are surely the Last Days, we become very clear as to what is really important and what is vanity. We would spend more time with our family, more time serving other, more time focusing on God, faith, and friends.
Well, world events leave me to believe that yes, we are living in the Last Days. Truth be told, my understanding of Pauls writing to the Thessalonians does speak of a Rapture of His people. And we have a grand opportunity to see the fulfillment of what the prophets, the saints and Christians have waited eons to witness. We have the privilege of being a part of the grand events about to unfold. We have a choice. The Narrow Road, leading to everlasting life, or the Broad Road, leading to everlasting death. If Jesus were to return tomorrow, what would you want him to see you doing?
Is it very hard? Is there a great secret? Is it difficult? Jesus said there are really two things required: Love The Father with your whole heart, mind, body and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Really, if you think about it, Love God, and Love your neighbor. What else is there to add to that?
We are Ambassadors of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are His hands and feet in a fallen, sinful and decaying world. When He returns, will He find us engaged in doing His will, loving God and loving neighbor?
Sadly, far too many will ignore those two simple commands. For if we all lived like Jesus said, loving God and loving neighbor, and everyone on earth lived like that, we really wouldn't need the End Of Days, now would we?
May The Lord bless you and grant you peace.
Rev Sam Guido,
Presiding Bishop, CEO
The Lutheran Orthodox Church, inc.