As most of you know, in addition to pastoring I also teach Math to Middle Schoolers. Each August before the school year officially begins for students, the teachers come in a week ahead of time and go through various trainings. The title and subject matter of these annual sessions may change but there are some common elements that remain the same. I’ll hold off telling you the first and most important thing each of these instructors wants us teachers to know (a little tease to hopefully keep you reading more paragraphs!), but for now will speak of something they almost always say that is actually helpful. These trainers tell us that as educators we must “begin with the end in mind.” What they mean by that is that you should make up your test first and then plan the lessons that will lead up to the exam, instead of the other way around. Beginning with the end in mind, making the test first and then developing your lessons, keeps you focused, makes sure you’re teaching the students the most important information, and helps give the pupils the best chance to be successful in your course. As we begin a New Year we will look at how keeping the Return of Christ in view helps us to develop in our current Christian walk. Essentially, let us begin 2018 with the end in mind!
Keeping The Return Of Christ In Mind Helps The Things Of God To Command Our Attention (Matt. 25:1-13)…Okay, I won’t hold out any longer. The number one thing, the most important truth each instructor wants us teachers to know on the aforementioned annual trainings is “THE WAY YOU LEARNED MATH (or whatever the subject at hand might be, Math in my case) WAS ALL WRONG AND YOU CAN’T TEACH IT THAT WAY ANYMORE!!!!” As you might guess I, along with many other of my colleagues, often disagree with this assessment. One of the main reasons these “know-it- all trainers” (okay, some of them are good) think that the way we teach must change is because they say kids don’t have the attention spans they used to. (Hence, teachers who lecture and students who take notes give way to students in groups talking to and supposedly “learning” from each other while the teacher “facilitates”—whatever that means!) Now, I don’t want to demean or dismiss everything we teachers may learn at these educational seminars, but I do take issue with the idea that kids can’t stay focused on anything for too long anymore. Just give one of them a cell phone and they’ll be busy texting, talking, and You-Tubing for hours on end! Sit them in front of a gaming system and they’ll stay up all night just trying to make it from level 101 to level 102! Give them a pair of headphones with some “beats” on the other end and they’ll tune out the whole world around them to focus on the lyrics of the songs for as long as you let them. Now, before you think I’m just picking on the kids, when I began seminary in preparation for ministry over 20 years ago (I started when I was 9!), the professors would tell us that our sermons should be no longer than 20 to 25 minutes in length because the people in the pews (yes, the adults) couldn’t handle much longer than that. You’ve got to be kidding me! I know of adults who can spend multiplied hours “binge” watching DVD sets (or perhaps DVR recordings these days) of their favorite TV shows. I’ve watched as people who can’t seem to sit through a whole hour-and-a-half church service without going to the bathroom for twenty minutes of that time, miraculously become able to refrain from the restroom at a two-and-a-half hour movie even though they’ve been downing a large Coca Cola the entire time! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s necessarily ungodly for kids to listen to music and play computer games, or for adults to watch tv shows and movies and to have to go to the restroom during church; but what I am saying is that all of us have attention and focus for what we’re interested in.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable we’ve come to call that of the wise and foolish virgins. It tells the story of some bridesmaids back in New Testament times. In those days, after the groom and bride were engaged the man would go away for a period of time and prepare a place for him and his bride to live in. After all the preparations were made, at an undisclosed time, the groom along with his side of the wedding party would go to the bride’s house to take away his darling and her bridesmaids for the ceremony. Oft times the groom delighted in coming in the middle of the night to see if his bride and her attendants were eagerly anticipating his coming. Because of this, the women would often have lamps at their sides so that they would be adequately prepared at a moment’s notice. In our Lord’s parable the groom indeed comes in the middle of the night. Five of the bridesmaids had lamps with oil in them; giving the momentous event at hand the proper attention it was due. However, five others, while having lamps, had no oil; they had grown bored and drowsy and were not captivated by the grandeur and privilege of the wedding to which they were to be a part. The foolish maidens tried to buy some oil at the last moment but alas it was too late; the door had been shut and the groom firmly replies to them that He did not know them. If we begin with the end in mind, if we truly believe in the biblical return of Christ, then the things of God will command our attention.
Keeping The Return Of Christ In Mind Helps To Convict Our Actions (Luke 12:42-46)…About three weeks ago I had a parent-teacher conference scheduled in the midst of a class that I teach. Most of these meetings, in which all eight to ten of a student’s teachers attend, occur after school but this parent was unable to make it at that time. So administration made arrangements where our classes would be covered by a substitute while we were away. Now, I know that “while the cat’s away the mice will play,” so before I left the room I threatened (I mean informed) my students that they had better behave because I would be coming back before the end of class. The sub filling in might not know their name but they would be able to point any troublesome student out to me when I came back and I KNOW THEIR NAME AND HOW TO PUT IT ON A REFERRAL! I did everything I could to keep the students out of trouble and set them up for success while I was gone to my meeting. I told them the truth that I was coming back and would be back before the end of class. Apparently, some did not believe me. Even before I returned into the room I could see through the small glass pane in the door that some were acting up. When I made my grand entrance you should have seen some of them “snap to.” And, as I suspected, the substitute pointed out to me those who had not been on their best behavior. As promised, disciplinary actions ensued.
In Luke 12:42-46, our Lord tells a parable about the Master of an estate who goes away on a journey. He leaves his affairs in the hands of a manager ensuring the employee that He will be returning at a future date. The manager who sincerely believes that his Master is coming back is faithful in the discharging of his duties to provide rations to his fellow servants at the proper time. However, a foolish manager who thinks the Master will delay his coming back indefinitely eventually begins to waste resources on his own drunkenness and revelry while beating and neglecting his fellow servants. The Master, as promised, does return. The wise manager will be rewarded and blessed while the foolish manager is cut in pieces and assigned a placed with the unbelievers in eternity. If we begin with the end in mind, if we truly believe in the biblical return of Christ, then our actions will be convicted and we will treat our fellow man with the dignity God demands.
Keeping The Return Of Christ In Mind Helps To Comfort Our Afflictions (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)…The Apostle Paul had been used to start the church in Thessalonica but only remained there himself for a brief period of time. He had personally taught them the basics of salvation and other core Christian doctrines, including that of the return of the Lord. Unfortunately, in the Apostle’s absence false ministers had come along and infiltrated the hearts of minds of the young in the faith with some incorrect beliefs. These false teachers had caused much confusion concerning the subject of Jesus’ return. Some believed that Christ had already come back and that they and their fellow believers who had already died had missed out. That view led many to despair and some to immorality as they questioned, “what was the use in living the Christian life if they had missed out on the reward?” Others believed, rightly so, that the coming of the Lord was so imminent (that is that it could happen immediately or sooner!) but then took that view to its wrong conclusion becoming either lazy doing no work or busybodies engaged in gossip as they thought they would be taken away at any moment. Paul, through the inspiration of the Spirit, corrects the false teaching on the coming of the Lord. He declares that though Christ could come at any moment to rapture the church, He had not come as of yet. The Apostle then teaches that when Jesus does come, the dead in Christ will not miss out but will be raised up first and then those of us who are still alive will also be called up with them in the air to forever be with the Lord. (*Note: Additionally, Paul will go on to correct those who have taken the coming of the Lord as an excuse to be lazy by declaring that able people who don’t work should not eat in 2 Thessalonians 3:10*). The church at Thessalonica was facing false teaching from within and persecution from without; staying grounded in the truth that Christ would come for them, that they would be reunited with beloved believers who had gone on before, and that they would all be together with Jesus one day was a great comfort in their afflictions.
I remember being at a concert where, just before a song about Jesus’ return, the emcee of the Southern Gospel group quoted from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The gentleman gave a brief testimony/teaching on the Rapture stating that the Church would be called away in the air prior to the Great Tribulation and that because of this we can “comfort one another with these words.” After the program was over I heard a minister in attendance who did not believe in a Pre-Trib Rapture come close to mocking the view of the singer saying that “some people are just looking for an escape, and we shouldn’t comfort one another with that!” Now, while I agree with the eschatology (view of the “end times”) of the singer (that is that there will be a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, or catching away, of the saints), I do believe there are some who share other views on the subject that I could certainly call brother or sister in Christ. However, for someone to come close to mocking the comfort we get from the Lord’s coming again made me more than a little upset and I believe the “minister” who did so should not have. I’m not looking for an escape, I’m looking for a promise fulfilled and a reunion experienced! I’m not looking for pie in the sky, but for my Savior to come again and receive us unto Himself that where He is there we may also be! “Just one glimpse of Him in glory will the toils of life repay!” If we begin with the end in mind, if we truly believe in the biblical return of Christ, then we will be comforted in our afflictions!