An Honest Question About What It’s Really About

As a dad, I learned early on to give my boys Christmas and birthday presents that I really wanted. Kids get bored with things pretty quickly, so why not give them something that would entertain me as well? I will confess that there were many times when their name might be on the gift box, but the agenda was more about me. You can call it a bait and switch, call it deceptive, or maybe just call me a bad father. Whatever you call it, though, let’s admit that we all have our moments when we say it’s about someone else, when in reality, it’s about us.

I saw the story this week about the lawsuit filed over a policeman witnessing to someone he pulled over for a traffic violation. Apparently, with lights flashing, he asked about her faith, handed her religious materials, and explained her need to acknowledge that she was a sinner. Many have risen to the police officer’s defense, citing this as another example of religious intolerance and the restriction of our rights. It may well be that very thing, but the incident has pushed me to wrestle with a deeper question. What does our reaction to situations like this say about our motivation?

Responses to these kinds of stories tend to be focused primarily on the issue of our rights and freedoms. Without devaluing the importance of upholding the rights and freedoms of all, can we ask an honest but uncomfortable question?

What is it we are truly concerned about – witnessing or our right to witness?

The two are distinctly different. The first is focused on the Kingdom and others; the second is a matter of self-concern. I cannot help but wonder if our reaction to these incidents is rooted more in fear and self-preservation than it is concern for sharing the Gospel. Stories like this stir the fear that our rights are being taken away and, perhaps, days of increased persecution are coming. You can argue that is the case and you may very well be right. But if that is our greatest worry, then don’t we have to admit that what drives us is our own welfare and not the mission itself?

Much has been said about us now living in post-Christian culture. Such talk makes us uncomfortable. It creates uncertainty and it generates fear. From that flows the reactions of self-defense, the desire to protect ourselves, our place in the public square, and the privileges we have known. Such reactions can become a powerful force, and perhaps without realizing it, our priority soon becomes more about us than it does the mission of Jesus. But I think we need to step back a moment and ask ourselves this question:  When did Jesus ever tell His followers to react in fear, fight for their own rights, and seek to protect themselves from persecution?

He calls us to lay down our lives for others and His kingdom. We are compelled by love to fight for the rights of others who cannot speak for themselves. We are challenged to live as the embodiment of Jesus, revealing His love, grace, and hope to a world in need. At no point, however, did He call us to act out of fear and self-concern. On the contrary, we are to live as light in the darkness, fully understanding that doing so will bring conflict and persecution. In the way of Jesus, our response to the conflict is not one of fighting for ourselves and our own protection. Instead, we turn the other cheek, we bless those who curse us, we pray for those who persecute us.

Jesus overcame the powers of evil not by fighting for His rights, but by laying them down and taking up the cross. Those who follow Him are called to overcome in the same way. We do not fight for our own rights, comforts, or protection; we pick up the cross and follow. The kingdom is not built by the rights and liberties granted by any earthly government; it is built by the sacrificial love revealed in the cross of Jesus. Could it be that we have come to believe and trust more in the power of rights and privileges than we have the way of the cross?

Understand that I am not passing judgment on anyone else or questioning their motives. I simply ask the question because I believe it is worthy of our thought, consideration, and prayer. Given my own ability to put someone else’s name on the gift box when it’s really more about me, I need to honestly wrestle with the questions of my true agenda and concerns. Perhaps there are times when the fight becomes more about fear and self-protection than it is the mission of Jesus.

If You’re Going to See “Left Behind” – Do Me a Favor. . .

The new Left Behind movie is out, and I have no intention of seeing it. My personal reasons are many, but the fact that it’s not my thing doesn’t mean I insist on others holding the same opinion. If you’re a fan of the book series, the previous movies, and you’ve been anxiously awaiting this newest rendition, that’s fine. We can still be friends. As a friend, though, I would ask that in your “end times” fervor you do me a favor. Several favors, actually.

Please don’t turn a particular view of eschatology into a matter of orthodoxy.

The specific understanding of last things expressed in the Left Behind series is deeply ingrained in the thought of many American Christians. So much so that even in churches like mine, which takes no particular stand on issues such as a pretribulational rapture, there are those for whom no other system of thought can be considered Biblical or even Christian.

The particular eschatological view that dominates the Left Behind landscape is an innovation that arose in the first part of the 19th century. It is not something taught by the Church Fathers or affirmed in the historic creeds of the Christian Church. There are many orthodox, Bible-believing followers of Christ who hold a different view. I would mention, as well, that there are many conservative, Bible-believing scholars who have shown that the Biblical basis for the form of premillenialism advocated by Left Behind is not as obvious or airtight as some want to believe.

That’s not to say you can’t hold to that system of thought, and there are many good people who do. Just don’t make it a dividing line of who’s orthodox and who’s not. We can all affirm the Second Coming and the advent of the new heaven and new earth without building walls around disputable matters.

Please don’t become consumed with matters of speculation.

There is a certain fascination for some when it comes to last things. Like solving a mystery or putting a puzzle together, one can become consumed with a desire to figure out the who, when, and how. There are even those who have built an entire ministry on teaching “prophecy” and unraveling the end times scenario. Too often this has led to misguided and unfortunate predictions and conjectures.

Remember there are some questions that we can’t answer and don’t need to answer. Beyond that, there are some things that are just simply more important and more worthy of our attention. Deepening your relationship with God, growing in the image of Christ, bearing more of the fruit of the Spirit – these are more valuable for us than figuring out the timetable of the end. Loving your neighbor, reaching out to the lost and hopeless, caring for the hurting – these are far more important endeavors than trying to find answers to questions we cannot answer anyway. Don’t give so much attention to matters of speculation that you neglect the greater things.

Please don’t forget that salvation is bigger than getting to heaven.

One potential danger of the whole Left Behind mindset is that salvation can become simply a matter of escaping the horrors of the end and making it to heaven. Don’t get me wrong – we long for the day when God’s kingdom is fulfilled and His salvation is fully realized. We must remember, though, that salvation is more than what lies out in the future and it is bigger than just me getting to heaven. We participate in the life of Christ here and now, we are being transformed into His image day by day, and we take part in bringing about His kingdom where we are. Salvation not some kind of ticket that gives me a pass at the end; it is life in and through Christ – both now and always.

Please don’t allow fear to become your primary evangelistic tool.

I did not need horror movies when I was a kid. I had a junior high Sunday School teacher obsessed with the end times. I have no doubt that her vision of the terrors awaiting those “left behind” were shared with the best of intentions. I eventually came to realize in my own life, however, that fear is not an effective long-term motivator. It might compel some behavior change for a time, but it does not have the power to change the heart.

Do not forget that the Gospel we share is truly good news. It is a message of amazing love in which the Son of God gave Himself for us; it is a powerful word of hope that tells us the grace of God, freely offered, can break the chains of sin and death, bringing us into the life that is truly life. This is a love that drives out fear. The message of love and grace is more compelling – and more convicting – than fear or threats.

Please don’t allow your view of last things to push you into isolation.

The idea that the world will simply get worse and worse as time goes is often associated with end times thought and speculation. Sometimes, we allow that to become an excuse for inaction. We look at a world that is broken and needy, and rather than responding to the need, we think, “Why bother?” Resigned to the notion that world is going to get worse no matter what we do, we choose to do nothing but put up our walls and wait for the end. Our view of the end and the condition of the world should never change our call to share in God’s mission. Regardless of what will be, as the followers of Christ we are always called to engage the world where it is with love, grace, and hope, bringing His light into the darkness.

And finally. . .

Please don’t think we have to figure out the “signs of the times” in order to live with a sense of priority and passion.

First of all, the love of Jesus alone should compel me to live with priority and passion. I shouldn’t need to put together all the end time pieces and know when it’s coming for that to happen in my life. If I do, I seriously need to examine my motivations. Second, we should all have a sense of the shortness of time, regardless of when the Second Coming will be. Let’s face it – life as we know and experience it now is short and fragile. Even if I could know when Jesus will return, I have no guarantee of tomorrow for myself or those I love. The love of Christ and the nature of life are sufficient reasons to live with passion and redeem the time we have. If I need to focus on the end of the world to find that motivation, I’ve probably missed the point.