When we go to somebody for help in overcoming something, it's often just to get a different perspective.
The counselor or therapist looks at our problem from a different perspective and, through questions, helps us to see things differently. And through experience with seeing what has helped others is able to prescribe what can help us.
The primary care physician looks at our symptoms from the perspective of having seen many people with the same symptoms, and then uses that perspective to decide whether we should be concerned, and to prescribe either medication or behavior modification that has the best likelihood of fixing the problem.
We go to the mechanic for perspective, the contractor for perspective, the accountant for perspective, the consultant for perspective, etc.
As a minister I am called upon to give perspective. My perspective as a preacher and teacher is to remind everyone how God has spoken into our circumstances. I open the scriptures to "correct, rebuke, and encourage." (2 Timothy 4:2) And my perspective as a pastor is to look at presenting problems and give spiritual direction, not always to alleviate the symptoms, but always to correct the root causes of whatever spiritual dysfunctions I see. Again, this is from my perspective.
As I was studying for last week's message (Encouragement in These Last Days) I was living with the perplexity I hear in many people as they ask, "What next?!" Like what bad thing is going to happen next?
Just last week (feels like forever ago) there was the explosion in Beirut, reports of earthquakes all over, a hurricane, and a tornado in PA. And that was on top of the ongoing pandemic, riots, political unrest, and all the posturing of a contentious election on the horizon. It just seems like we keep getting hit with "one more thing." I even learned last week that hundreds of elephants have been dying in Botswana and no one knows why. "One more thing."
As I pondered it, something felt familiar. I looked back a few years to gain perspective, and I found a message I preached on September 24, 2017. In it I addressed the same sense of perplexity we were experiencing then. See if you remember it. I said,
"Five weeks ago we had a Solar eclipse.
"Six days later Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston.
"Two days later North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan.
"Ten days later an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico.
"Two days after that Hurricane Irma hit us.
"Five days later North Korea launched another ballistic missile over Japan.
"Four days after that a 7.1 magnitude earthquake crushed Mexico City.
"Two days after that Hurricane Maria swamped the Caribbean Islands again.
"The day after that we had what seemed like a monsoon here.
"The day after that another earthquake in Mexico.
"And the whole time wildfires were consuming 2 million acres in the western United States.
"And, to top it all off, Christians were saying the world was going to end September 23rd. Otherwise known as 'yesterday.'"
At that time we were all asking "WHAT’S GOING ON?!?!" People were declaring unequivocally that "THE END IS NEAR!!!" Many were living in a state of constant alarm. I had forgotten a lot of those things, but now I remember them. Because it was my job to give perspective then, and it's my job to give perspective now.
I said then that many of us were "emotionally multitasking," going back and forth between “WE'RE ALL DOOMED!” and just watching the latest kitten videos. Today, instead of kitten videos, it's probably trying out the latest dance moves on TikTok or whatever.
I said then what I say now. And this is why you don’t catch me being alarmed about stuff.
I believe God wants his Church to be a non-anxious presence in the community. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned. But it does mean that we shouldn't be alarmed.
We need to remember that worry is a sin. I don't say that to shame you. I say it to free you. Don't give into it any more than you'd give in to lust or hatred. Confess it as sin and resist it. And then replace it with longing.
Worry looks forward in fear. Longing looks forward in anticipation. Hope holds all things in eternal perspective. This is foundational to our faith.
These are crazy times — and many say it’s evidence that we are in the End Times. Sure. I prefer the biblical phrase "the Last Days." It is less of a commitment to an eschatalogical framework as simply a faith statement that Jesus is coming back. The evidence for that is not how bad things are. The evidence is that Jesus left and hasn’t returned yet! When Jesus ascended into the sky (Acts 1:9) it was with a declaration that we were now in the Last Days. He would soon come back to get us.
So far that "soon" is 2000 years old. In other words, it's a really old "soon." It's a "soon" that has gone through 80 generations so far. Yet believers in each of those generations believed the Lord's return was imminent. And that's the better word: Imminent. That's what Jesus wanted his apostles to believe, and it's what he wants us to believe. So we believe. Eagerly.
Jesus is coming back soon. It could be today. Or he might delay another day. And even if he delays another generation, we're okay with it. We don't get to know when because we don't have to know when in order to be ready when. We just have to be ready now.
Like I said in this week's message, I’m prepared to see him coming on the clouds! But I’m also prepared to steward this life for another several decades if given the opportunity. I hope to live a long life, but more than that, I hope to live life longing for the Lord’s return, so that when he appears, I leap to my feet in eager anticipation.
I do fear that some feel like the bus is careening off the cliff and they're just trying to figure out whether it’s better to go along for the ride, or jump off before impact. If I can give this counsel from my perspective: Don’t jump off. The end will come soon enough.
Instead of fearing, start longing. Instead of being alarmed, just be encouraged. Focus on that, and soon enough, Jesus will return, and your whole being will erupt in a joyful shout at the glory of is appearing!
It's good to long for heaven. And for now, it's good to long patiently. As long as the Lord waits patiently, we must give witness to the hope of our gospel for all who receive him. I am encouraged by the imminence of the Lord’s return, and yet I count each day a sacred opportunity to encourage others to give their heart fully to Jesus.
Be encouraged today with this perspective: Jesus is coming soon. And Today is the Day of Salvation.
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.