Saturday, June 11, 2016

Seeing the End from Here

I grew up on End of Times prophecy seminars and evangelistic meetings. My home town of Keene, Texas is pretty much the capital of Adventism in Texas and the Southwestern Union, being the home of Southwestern Adventist University. My great great grandfather signed the charter for the Keene Church back in the late 1800s. I lived literally in a city on a hill - Keene is the highest spot in Johnson County. There used to be a train that ran through Keene back in the 20s. The train's conductor, a would-be humorist, used to announce Keene as "Next stop the Holy City."

So I heard a lot about prophecy as a kid. It was during the great schism of the 60s between hard-line, Sister White thumpin' legalism and the rise of the second great righteous by faith movement in the church. There was a lot going on. The one constant however were the stories about what would happen at the end of time.

It was scary stuff; the SDA preacher's version of hell fire and damnation preaching. Baptists scared people into the pews with tales of the horrors of an ever-burning hell. Adventist evangelists (some and by no means all) scared people into the pews with tales of being "unready" for the time of trouble. So I have this spidey sense about end of time signs.

The first thing man needed to bring the world to an end was a means to literally end the world. Well we already had that. I grew up with cartoon turtles teaching us to duck and cover in elementary school. We've lived with mutually assured destruction for a long time. We already have the means to turn the Earth into a dead and blackened husk fo a thousand years. So that's already done.

Some ten or fifteen years ago Pope John Paul II sent out an encyclical calling for Catholics to start lobbying for Sunday laws in their countries and declaring that Sunday was the symbol of the church's authority which all recognize. This was suggested as a means to improve the quality of family life. Nothing happened in the USA (apparently we think family life is okey dokey, so we didn't really worry about it too much, at least in North American Adventist circles. What I didn't know is that European countries like Germany did enact such laws. You can, for instance be arrested and fined in Stuttgart for mowing your lawn on Sunday. You can be visited by the police for washing your car on a warm Sunday afternoon in Munich. Quietly other strongly Catholic nations have followed suit. I don't know how many. I only recently became aware of the strong Sunday laws in Germany.

Then I stumbled on an encyclical by Pope Benedict calling for one world government with "teeth" to rein in countries like the United States. He suggested such a clearly socialist government be organized by industrial leaders, trade unions, international political parties (there's only one of those) and religious leaders. I stumbled hard over the bit about "trade unions" in particular and I heard "bundles to be burned" echo in my brain. The plan was proffered as a way to insure the relief of the world's poor - a massive redistribution of wealth from wealthy countries to poor ones. In his encyclical, Benedict stated "Obviously it (the global government) would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums." Can you say, "Beast".

Then we got a Jesuit pope, Frances. Given the history of Jesuit twiddling with the Protestant interpretation of the identity of the anti-Christ through stealth campaigns in Protestant seminaries and its insertion of the Secret Rapture doctrine into the Protestant eschatology, I could hear the far off rumble of a coming storm. In short order, Frances is invited by an ex Israeli prime minister to head up something called "The United Religions", an organization designed to be a kind of spiritual United Nations. He has not said "No". Shortly after that, the pope sends a video invitation to American charismatics to give up "Martin Luther's protest" and rejoin the Catholic Church, claiming the problem has been solved with a little wording change in the church's doctrine related to salvation by faith in Christ alone. That sent a little chill up my spine. Then he visited the USA and spoke to Congress while the Speaker of the House stood trembling with tears in his eyes.

Now we see in the very nation that SDAs have long predicted would become the "Image to the Beast", a presidential election in which both candidates are outright criminals, demonstrated liars and con artists. One owns strip clubs and borrows slogans from Adolph Hitler. The other is suspected of treasonous behavior, collusion with our enemies and massively poor judgment during her term as Secretary of State. And one of our own Adventist "bright lights", who ought to know better, is asking us to choose the lesser of two evils. Can you say "...some of our brightest lights will go out?" Thought so.

In the news today I saw an article about a new technology that has the ability to scrape all your records online, social media and everything for data. It analyzes words and puts together a report about you - one that purports to tell whether you are trustworthy or not. Google has already done something similar. The CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, said this when questioned about privacy concerns, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. The company, Score Assured, is offering its services to landlords, loan companies and employers as a way to vet those apply to them for housing, loans or employment.

"Whoa, "that no man might buy or sell" just flashed through my brain. The company's co-founder Steve Thornhill dismisses such worries saying, "If you're living a normal life, then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about." In the age of terrorism, can you imagine the US government not wanting to get its hands on a way to make sure people are living a "normal" life. All in the name of safety you understand.

So who decides what is a "normal" life. If you don't live a normal life what happens next. Can anyone else see a government market for this technology as a means to protect Homeland Security. The world has in its hands the means to insure your orthodoxy and we voluntarily have handed it to them. There's no hiding anymore other than literally going into the rocks and the mountains and hiding and with heat sensing scanners and satellites that can read a newspaper from outer space, there really is no hiding anymore.

The Great Controversy has always been about freedom vs control.  God wants us to be free and to live as we choose. Lucifer has always thought we needed a more firm hand. Look at all the most devilish governments that have ever existed and they all share one thing - a lust for power over the lives of all.  We old geezers read George Orwell's 1984 in school and for some years have managed to avoid it. An new generation is rising and Orwell and the Bible are off the reading lists for children now.

We live in a world clambering for safety, entertainment and comfort - sex, drugs and rock n' roll if you will. Greed and the lust for power has created a world so complex we can't understand it anymore. So we invent conspiracy theories to try and simplify things enough so we can understand them. We're being set up to believe that the only way to save ourselves from these conspiracies is to give ourselves a powerful leadership we can trust. Sadly, we're being set up. The only conspiracy out there is a loose sharing of mutual lust, greed and self-interest. The leader of this conspiracy is not who people think it is. We fight not against flesh and blood, but against "principalities and powers" and these have been pushing the world closer and closer to the brink of surrender and destruction using the same lies, the same inducements and the same techniques over and over. Socialism has gone down in disaster and death time after time after time and still we see men binding them selves in bundles like Mussolini's symbolic Fascio - bundles to be burned in the fires of the concentration camps, the gulags and the ghettos.

I found God during the early days of the righteousness by faith movement in the late 60s. I began a personal walk with Christ at that time, but I was impertinent enough to ask God to prove He was really who He said He was. And somewhat to my surprise, He did. Repeatedly. Undeniably. Nowadays I have a different reaction to those scary prophecies and their ongoing fulfillment in the nightly news stories.

Now, when I see the signs as Jesus said we would, my heart is lifted for I know that the time is near. It is the Autumn of our world and the winter is bearing down on us. But we are His and we need not fear. I tell people all the time that I believe that Jesus is loading up the bus to come and get us. Everybody pretty much agrees, though all of us are not completely comfortable in that knowledge. But I do not fear the time of trouble, for He is with me always. I know this, for every time an angel appears to a man, the first message he delivers is always the same.  "Fear not!" So I don't. The world IS coming to its end. Like the changing of the leaves in Autumn foretell the coming of winter, the signs of the end are all around us.

Even so, come Lord Jesus, for I am not afraid.

© 2016 by Tom King

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Grief: It's Who You Know

With Christ you do not walk alone whatever trials may come.

Up front, let me tell you I am no stranger to grief. At the age of four, my cousin who my Mom babysat regularly died suddenly of SIDS. It was my first encounter with death and the sadness that accompanies it. When I was a little older, my baby brother died due to a heart defect that he was born with. We kids brought German measles home and gave it to my Mom which caused Craig to be born with it. My 16 year old brother Donnie was shot through the chest with a 12 gauge shotgun at close range by a friend when I was 18. Fifteen years later, my stepmother shot my father through the chest with a 12 gauge shotgun and then waited to call 911 till she was sure he'd stopped breathing. I lost a business and home we had invested countless hours and dollars in. I had several jobs fold up under me. My family asked me not to visit my beloved grandmother anymore because it upset her, even though my grandmother had told us on our last visit with her that she'd never felt closer to God than she had while my wife had been staying with her. Her apparent stroke and mental confusion caused my aunt's ban on our visiting her. This effectively cut me off from my extended family on my Dad's side for years.

In struggling to do God's will with our lives we've run up against roadblocks and what I can only describe as attacks by Satan. We endured poverty and deprivation, our son developed a seizure disorder. Another son developed bipolar disorder. Our middle son died in his sleep in his senior year of college. I did CPR for 30 minutes before the ambulance arrrived. My wife developed bipolar and suffered a massive breakdown. My son's bipolar and the poor choices he made while not on his meds landed him in jail for we know not how long. We have passed through displacement, hunger and homelessness. We've witnessed God's deliverance and intervention many times when we thought we could not go on.

And then last month, the little dog that God had given us and who had brought us untold comfort and joy through the difficulties of the past 7 years died in my arms. It felt like losing a child. Then, my wife went back home to Louisiana for six weeks to help a cousin who's husband is suffering liver failure due to exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam. 
I found myself alone without even my doggy companion to keep me company.

It sounds like a tale of unrelenting woe when you put it like that. My life, however, is not a tale of woe. Viewed from the perspective of one who endeavors to serve God as best that he can, my life has been chiefly one of peace, joy, love and happiness, albeit interspersed with grief and trouble. I have done things that I thought God wanted doing and am pleased that many of them resulted in good things happening. I have friends who love us, children I am proud of and the hope of heaven. I am content. 

Grief can make you a kinder, more sympathetic person or it can turn you into a self-absorbed angry monster. It is living daily with Jesus that makes the difference. It is He who heals a broken heart and keeps it from hardening and turning in on itself. It is Christ who helps the broken-hearted to heal by opening those same hearts to even more opportunities to share his love with a world suffering at the hands of the Prince of Darkness.

Men grieve differently than women. Though we don't show it or talk about it as much, we still experience it. In many ways male grief is a more difficult process. Women talk about their grief and express their emotions openly with other women and with their supportive menfolk - fathers, brothers or spouses mostly. Men seldom show emotion with other men and often actively hide it in front of their womenfolk. Because we stuff our grief, we probably aren't terribly good at listening when our wives are grieving over the same thing we are. To listen and empathize would mean exposing ourselves to the danger of opening up our own emotional pain and that is something men don't like to do. 

Most of the time, if men shed tears over our grief, it is when we are alone, driving in our cars, sitting in a fishing boat or walking alone in the woods. In every case in my own life where I lost someone important to me, my tears have flowed mostly where no one but God could see them. I had to actively go to God about my grief, because, for some reason, the human mind processes grief in close proximity to where it generates anger. I've had to pray a lot during periods of grief in order to keep from being surly or short with my loved ones. Solitary prayer alone with God can help. Walking and weeping while praying seems to valve off some of that emotional pressure caused by the internal struggle we men have in trying to bury our sadness and sense of terrible loss.

We learn through grief that loving others, that offering ourselves to act as the instruments of our loving God is the only way through our pain. There is a bright and hopeful eternity beyond this sad little world, but we cannot go around life's dark valleys. We must, like David said in Psalm 23, "... walk through the valley of the shadow of death." David, in typical male fashion, however, follows up that statement with a ringing declaration. "I WILL FEAR NO EVIL!" One evening during a particularly difficult personal trial, I had just received another phone call with more bad news. I went out on the front porch and stood there looking out upon a darkening wood. I suddenly remembered David's declaration. Almost instinctively, I squared my shoulders, raised an arm and shook my fist at the darkness. Out loud I shouted, "Come on you old deceiver. Is that the best you've got?" Some people chide me for doing that, saying you should never tempt Satan that way. To me it felt like a battle cry in the midst of some war that was going on in my life. It gave me courage in a strange way and even though the devil didn't let up on us for a while, we did manage to overcome him anyway and came out with our faith stronger for it.

My neighbors probably wondered what the crazy man next door was yelling about, but it did give me a great sense of relief. The Apostle Paul said, "
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." In any conflict, it is important to understand who your enemies are. It helps you to bear the losses that you inevitably have during any war and helps you stay out of the trap of blaming yourself or, worse, of blaming God.

A life which bears much grief can be viewed as either a tragedy or a triumph. Loss doesn't have to be defeat. Remember the Alamo. Remember the cross. Whether your life ends in defeat or victory, it's resolution does not depend on your won/loss record nor even on how well you fought. Whether you win or lose depends instead on who you know.

Me? I choose to know Jesus.

©  2016 by Tom King