My intention was to share with you around the theme of: ‘Running With the Horses’, based upon a verse of scripture found in Jeremiah. And the first thing I was going to do was dazzle you with my new-found ability to create backgrounds for my slide presentations, thanks to Pastor Adam’s patience. Are you ready for this? (Show slide).
When I sat down to write a brief introduction to this message I ended up with an introduction that is, in itself, a complete message. I know that must shock some of you. I am now looking at a three part series, the overall theme of which will be, ‘Running With the Horses.’ However, the theme of this message of introduction is: The Culture of the Last Days.
As the old year was winding down I began to look towards what the Lord might be speaking regarding the year we are entering into. Three phrases or statements kept coming to me. I did not particularly like them as they seemed to imply certain things. I will share them with you for your consideration. 1) Guard your ears. 2) Guard your tongue. 3) Guard your heart. All of that sounded Biblical enough, but I knew it must mean something to our actual experience. Continuing to meditate, I believe I heard these words: “A season of testing – especially in the areas of relationships on all levels of community from the church to the nations and their governments.”
When I heard this second part of the message it seemed clear enough why the first statements had been spoken. During times of relational testing the thing we are most vulnerable to is offence, and when offence enters it tends to colour everything we hear, everything we speak, and the heart attitudes we allow. But there was something else in all of this and I want to unpack that in a very limited way this morning. When offence enters the heart it perverts perspective which means that nothing is ever the way it appears to be. To put it more bluntly –when I no longer like you it is impossible for you to do anything right even when you are doing everything right.
It is my unhappy responsibility to share with you this morning that the message I am getting is that of a warning. This warning has to do with what the Bible describes as “last days”realities. For example: 2Tim. 3: 1 – 5 – BUT UNDERSTAND this, that in the last days will come (set in) perilous times of great stress and trouble [hard to deal with and hard to bear]. For people will be lovers of self and [utterly] self-centered, lovers of money and aroused by an inordinate [greedy] desire for wealth, proud and arrogant and contemptuous boasters. They will be abusive (blasphemous, scoffing), disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy and profane. [They will be] without natural [human] affection (callous and inhuman), relentless (admitting of no truce or appeasement); [they will be] slanderers (false accusers, troublemakers), intemperate and loose in morals and conduct, uncontrolled and fierce, haters of good. [They will be] treacherous [betrayers], rash, [and] inflated with self-conceit. [They will be] lovers of sensual pleasures and vain amusements more than and rather than lovers of God. For [although] they hold a form of piety (true religion), they deny and reject and are strangers to the power of it [their conduct belies the genuineness of their profession]. Avoid [all] such people [turn away from them].
If you want to know some of the realities we are sailing into read the 24th. chapter ofMatthew’s gospel. One verse you will read is this “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. That word‘tribulation’ is intense and means ‘a great pressing down or together so as to create oppressive pressure.’ The whole idea is that of increasing weight coming upon so as to crush and deplete something; to crush the dream, to crush the hope, the potential, and the possibility; to deplete the strength, the energy and vitality. Its whole goal is to wear you down and wear you out.
And let me just say that there is no way to read the 24th. chapter of Matthew and arrive at the idea that the church is going to be exempt from all of this through a magical catching away called the rapture. It is not the intention of this message to argue that point but certainly the point needs to be made. The passion that beats in the heart of true Kingdom people is not to get out of here so we can possess God’s heaven but rather that through us God can repossess His earth.
Let me give you one more picture of conditions in the last days. 2Pet. 2: 6 – 7 And if Hecondemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds).
Notice how Peter described the culture or society in which Lot lived: sensual, unprincipled andlawless. Notice that the first word is not ‘sexual’ but ‘sensual’. This would include sexuality but it was far broader than just that. He is describing a culture driven and defined entirely by the sense realm without reference to principle and/or law. In other words there is no moral compass – there is only what feels good to the senses. Jude describes such people as having fallen to the level of ‘brute beasts’ – which implies a very particular reality: i.e. they have absolutely no consciousness of S/spiritual reality and live entirely by natural instinct.
According to Peter, in such a culture the righteous fine themselves ‘oppressed’. And please note there is a vast difference between oppressed and depressed. Oppressed goes back to what we have already stated: ‘a great pressing down or together so as to create oppressive pressure.’It is this business of weight coming down upon. This weight is nothing more than the reality of contrast between your righteous values and the unrighteous values of the culture that press upon or against you.
The second word Peter used to describe the experience of the righteous in this sense driven culture is the word ‘tormented’. Now this is an interesting word as found in the original language of the text. Here is its first or oldest meaning: to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal. The word siliceous according to its Latin root referred to a hard flint-like stone.
In the culture of the Bible this stone was used to test the purity of the gold or silver used in the coinage of the day. They would rub the coin with this black siliceous (flint-like stone) and the colour left behind upon the touch stone revealed the true state of the gold or silver. What that means is that we can howl all we want about that culture just outside these doors, but God is actually using that culture to reveal the true colours of His church as it rubs up against that culture.
If there is some thought that this message is a bit negative I don’t know what to tell you other than I have only presented the scriptures themselves with some deeper study of a few of the key words found in those references. What I do want us to understand is that there is no contradiction between the first two messages you have heard from this pulpit this year and the one you are hearing right now. Pastor Adam opened this year with a profound reference from the book of Daniel: “… the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” Dan.11:32
No one would argue the point that Daniel knew his God, and that Daniel did great exploits. My follow-up question to that is simply this: ‘Where did Daniel know his God, and where did Daniel do great exploits?’ And the answer is – right in the halls of a heathen government at the very heart of Babylon. All that culture did was reveal the true colours of his heart: He refused to defile himself by eating the king’s meat and drinking the king’s wine; he refused not to open his window towards Jerusalem and pray three times each day; he refused to fall down with the crowd and worship the image of the king.
Last Sunday we heard the call through Pastor Dave’s message – ‘Let the Church be the Church.’ Take that back to Daniel’s word and understand that the church is only the church as it knows its God and carries out great exploits. And again I follow-up Pastor Dave’s message with the same question: ‘Where is the church to be the church; where is the church to do these great exploits?’ I can tell you where it is not; it is not in some protected, religious hothouse environment that isolates us from the culture around us. In fact Jesus himself answered the question I am asking. Jn.17: 15 & 18I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but that you should guard them safely from the reach of the Pernicious One. In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.
We can read these warnings that Jesus and Paul and Peter prophesied about the last days and ask – ‘Hasn’t there always been evil in the world?’ And the answer is that from Gen.3 forward evil has always been present. But the issue concerning the last days has nothing to do with the absence or presence of evil – it has to with the increasing measure and intensity of evil. Believe me it gives me no pleasure to have to state that the world is not about to become a nicer place just to relieve the stress and pressure upon the nice Christian culture we have designed for our personal comfort. Just remember one thing – each day you tick off your calendar moves you deeper into whatever the Bible means with the phrase, ‘the last days.’
But the news is not all bad. In fact if we understand what God is up to in these last days, the news is not bad at all. As Pastor Dave reminded us last week – ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ ‘You are the light of the world.’ Please understand and rejoice in the fact that as this culture falls deeper and deeper into darkness, and as this culture becomes more and more corrupt – here’s the good news – the opportunity for the church to be the church becomes greater and greater. Either that or we will do what Romans 12:2 warns us against: ‘Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.’
I close this out with two closely related and very critical questions. First, what are we doing with respect to the culture we live in? Second, what is the culture we live in doing to us? The first question I am not going to answer because I can’t. I can only answer for my own life. But the second question is being answered twenty four seven with respect to each of our lives. The culture is revealing the true colours of our inmost heart – our values, desires and standards.
Going back to what Pastor Adam shared – this is where we discover the difference between mere Bible knowledge (what we know about God) and our actual experience of God and of living out of the abiding presence. I do not need – nor do I intend ever to start – to sneak around your life in an effort to find out your true colours; the increasing pressure of the culture will reveal both yours and mine. And with that revelation there comes the call and opportunity to repent and turn away from a false and destructive direction.
Guard your ears. Guard your mouth. Guard your heart.