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I have lived through at least 3 major
eras of fear—the bomb shelter fears of the 1950’s,
the later arms race and the threat of nuclear winter,
and then finally the current era of terrorism.
Through all those years, Christians thought the Lord’s return
might be soon
;
sales of books
about Armageddon
always spiked. I have always assumed that
Christians have felt that way at such times because of the Lord’s
ascension and promised return, in a sense of his “imminent return.”
Recently, a friend suggested that this idea was responsible for
believers neglecting their earthly responsibilities.

To be honest, I suspect that, in
today’s cultural environment, most people fall into one of two
groups: either they enjoy their lives and have no desire for the Lord
to end them, or they are unhappy with their lives and are eager for
the Lord to take them into eternal blessing1.
Of course, neither attitude is faithful to God or obedient. God
gave his image-bearer, Man, a sacred responsibility to be fruitful,
multiply, and cultivate the earth and its resources; that job isn’t
finished until God says so. Later, through Moses, God gave
commandments as guidelines for living wisely. Christ added the
specific task
of making disciples, baptizing, and teaching them what
Christ has taught. He told us that the greatest commandment is to
love god and to love each other; out of love flows the fulfillment of
all other obligations given by the commandments. He said if we love
him
, we would keep those commandments.

Somehow, believers have allowed
themselves to be corrupted in their thinking by this fallen culture and
have taken on attitudes contrary to those basic, God-given duties.
Work has become merely a chore rather than a divine commission in
which we may find satisfaction and fulfillment, despite its
challenges. We have accepted a managerial view of mission and
outreach that reflects the world of business more than the community
of faith; instead of working to make disciples, we delegate the task
to specialists. We rationalize that their expertise will do a better job, but
we ignore both the evident reality and the direct command of our
Lord. While the professionals are, in fact, not doing a better job,
as the Church loses ground, the people of God are mostly doing
nothing! Finally, we simply ignore the balance of our Biblical obligations that have, in
the past, profoundly influenced people to create enlightened culture. We are too busy pursuing our own individual
happiness, prosperity, and earthly security, even if it means
trusting godless leaders to provide it, or waiting idly for the
Lord’s return.

My friend thinks that a faulty view of
eschatology, an unbiblical understanding of the “end times,” is
the problem, or at least part of it. I might agree with him except
that another indication of our fecklessness is our willful ignorance. For
as much as a century in this country, a substantial segment of the
Church has scorned learning. Few believers read, study, or work at
sharpening their reasoning abilities. In fact, many Christians
object to pastors or teachers who seem to them to be too
“intellectual” (a few people criticized me for using big words
and, trust me, I am not prone to that!). In general, we can trace a
loss of vocabulary and reading comprehension simply by observing the
content of older books compared to what is currently being published.
It is not hard to conclude that a parallel decline in substantive
thinking has also occurred. A good deal of this change may be traced
to a deterioration in public education2,
but Christians have been complicit simply by scorning academic
excellence and intellectual discipline.

I consider curiosity, study, learning,
and thinking to be part of God original command to “have dominion
over the earth; we must study and learn to understand and care for
the God’s creation. Likewise, we must use all our human faculties,
including our minds, to love God and our fellow human brothers and
sisters. Furthermore, Paul plainly told Timothy, “Study” (I’m
not sure the modern translations are as clear about the effort needed).
The challenge is not only for pastors except in the sense that we
are all to shepherd and teach disciples. Isaiah recorded God’s
charge
, “Come let us reason together.”
Ignorant, mentally lazy people cannot fulfill their responsibilities
as believers, and they also end up being pretty poor at carrying out
their civil obligations, as well. Even for the purpose of
self-satisfaction, unlearned people find it more difficult to be
content; or, to put it simply, ignorant people are bored easily.

The good news is that it is never too
late to change. “Occupy till I come” doesn’t mean fill space
and wait; it means “Take care of my business till I come to settle
accounts,” as the parable
makes clear. We are engaged in a spiritual battle in which we are charged to take back occupied territory from the
enemy. Lately, we’ve been allowing him to do the advancing. His
progress is not inevitable; we only have to look at history to see
that God’s faithful people have overcome, against all odds. We
have no Biblical qualifier to suggest we have lost the ability do
resist him. Whatever the prophetic outcome proves to be, in God’s
time, it is clear that He intends for us to keep busy about his
business. He no more wants us to be “clock watchers” than an
employer wants his workers to stop working to wait for the shift to
end.

The divinely mandated duties He has
given remain for us to fulfill. They are a challenge to create,
build community, resist the opposing culture, and extend a true godly
culture. I have intentionally avoided the phrase “Christian
culture” in order to avoid the superficial and often
commercial efforts that more reflect the world than its creator. To
accomplish the work God has given, we must train and use all our
mental capabilities and gifts of every kind. We are his people and
should carry out his calling in whatever profession or employment we
have. We ought to demonstrate our commitment to his work wherever we
live, travel, study, or play. We should be creating enclaves of
Christian community where we may challenge and encourage each other,
assist in tasks that require more than one person or even family, protect our weak and
immature from the physical and spiritual threats around us. We all
need a place and a people to whom we may return from our engagements
with the enemy, even if they are just down the street. I believe we
need more connection to fellow believers than just our human families,
especially since families in this era tend to be so scattered and
often broken.

The good news is that all of this also
serves our personal interests. Amusing oneself and waiting for the
end to come are both tiresome and unsatisfying (I remember a rather
depressing song
that made exactly that point). It is no wonder that people complain
that church is boring. God never intended church to be nothing but
meetings. The joy of worship and fellowship rests on a foundation of
purposeful activity outside weekly gatherings. Singing, enjoying music (if it
is even music we enjoy), and listening to even a well-spoken person talk is not universally satisfying, and those who imply
it should be only reveal their own biases. Most people do like real
fellowship, but sitting in a pew, a comfortable seat, or standing to
sing together are not fellowship, although they may be a small part
of it. Sometimes, I get irritated that the program is so scheduled
as actually to prohibit fellowship. So many of the evident ills
of modern society have their remedy in real fellowship, but sadly a
lonely widow or troubled youth may attend “services” without a
friendly greeting or a word of encouragement.

Ultimately, God has put us here and keeps us here for a purpose.  We have divinely ordained work to do, but most of us haven’t been doing it.  We have accepted the purposeless, self-gratifying substitutes of our fallen culture–being happy, having things, and trying to find earthly security–even while we have ignored the work God has given.  We are not happy, nor should we be.  Jesus warned of the pointlessness of accumulating possessions and money that rot and become devalued (sometimes overnight!).  This world offers no true security.

I am somewhat undecided about God’s plans for the end this age, but I know we have work to do, every moment we remain.  Whether he raptures his Church at some unexpected instant tomorrow or next week or 100 years from now, he can come for you or for me at any moment.  How many of us will be shamed to be found doing our own thing instead of his thing, at that moment?  Beyond that risk, such as it is, life lived without purpose is meaningless. The Preacher said it(the whole chapter is good) centuries ago, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

1
I am reading Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver, who
makes an excellent case that a number of factors have slowly led to
replacing transcendent values with immediate material gratification,
i.e. happiness. His analysis suggests to me that even Christians
have accepted this subtle shift so that we give lip service to
following God while we generally seek to serve our own personal
desires.

2
The failure of public education is not accidental. Despite
increases in funding, which presumably allow for better-qualified
teachers, student competence has decreased. The agenda of those
in the teaching establishment is no longer knowledge but
indoctrination in a progressive, socialist, anti-religious ideology.
As one study noted, today’s students graduate with less knowledge
and skills, but they feel good about it.

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