August 20, 2020
2 Timothy 3:1-5
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
New International Version (NIV)
               "Are these the last days?"  Someone asked me just the other day.  A good friend said, "It is hard to believe that the end of the world will start out a lot worse than 2020 has."  What do the scriptures say?  What evidence should we consider?  If these were the last days, what would you do?

               Paul offered a decidedly different list of the signs of the times than the usual ones we hear.  He didn't even mention Israel.  In this passage he didn't talk about the antichrist, the beast, marks on foreheads, famine, plagues or war.  It is hard to believe there is no 666 anywhere in the paragraph!  It doesn't look like he offered any charts either.  In his last letter, Paul invited Timothy to look at the church to discover if the last days had begun.

               Do Paul's words to Timothy look like the people who claim to be followers of Christ today?  Two things stand out to me:  first, what do the people who claim to follow Christ love?  Paul writes about a misplaced love in the church as a sign of the last days.  When believers love themselves, love money, do not love others, do not forgive others, do not love what is good, love pleasure rather than God, these are "terrible times."  Jesus predicted that one sign of the last days will be that most people's hearts grow cold (Matthew 24:12).  Do our fancy thermometers measure the temperature of our hearts?  Dare I ask?  Whom do we love most?  Jesus said, "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength" and "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." 

               How are we doing?  Have the awful challenges of this year made us love God more or less?  I know this has been a difficult time.  Are our thoughts more about ourselves or others?  Is our primary frustration these days with inconvenience to ourselves or with the real possibility our lost neighbors are dying without Christ?  As we prepare to regather in the next days (I can't wait either!), we remember that the work of the church has always been more about "go and tell" than "come and see."  Many generations of believers around the world have been denied access to buildings for public worship and have loved God with a pure heart fervently.  By taking Christ to their communities, they offered them hope in Christ by loving God and their neighbors more than they loved themselves. 

               Second, Paul envisions a time when people have a form or outward display of Christianity without the transforming power.  Unless our praying, meeting, singing, preaching and gathering forms us more closely to Christ and makes us love our neighbors outside the church, we have worshiped in vain.  As much as we love being together, unexamined koinonia fellowship can slowly turn into dreaded "koinonitis."  The danger with a form of godliness is that it so often becomes a formality.  Little children sometimes love the box at Christmas more than the gift that was inside it. 

               Those early believers who were forced out of Jerusalem by persecution (even though Jesus had told them they would have to go), left their friends and families, landed in Antioch and loved the Gentiles there more than they loved their own traditions  (Acts 11:19-26).  The Gentiles came to believe in Jesus because Jewish strangers cared enough to tell them the good news.  Out of their hardship came an explosion of new disciples in the city.  No wonder their neighbors in Antioch first coined the word "Christians" to describe them.  They responded to their own suffering by loving others.  Just like Jesus.  These "little Christs" were so much like Jesus that they had to find a new name to describe them.

               Please do not misunderstand.  I do not diminish the difficulties of this season.  My personal eschatological understanding of scriptures makes me think that Christ may return at any time.  When he does, I pray that he discovers us loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  I pray that the good news of Jesus' love becomes even more contagious than the Coronavirus.  One offers life and the other sickens and sometimes kills.  If we give them anything, let's give them our Christ.  How will they know we are Christians?  By our love.  

Pray with me:         
Father, you have searched us and you know us.  Nothing in our hearts is hidden from you.  We whine.  We moan.  We groan.  Please forgive us.  These times have been so hard in so many ways.  But we pray that you will draw us close to you and close to each other so that we can complete the work of sharing your contagious gospel with everyone we can.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.
Join us in memorizing the Word.  Scripture for this week:    
Matthew 6:25-26
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Our 2020 Every Day with Jesus readings will follow the Foundations New Testament reading plan.  Copies of the reading plan are available at Tallowood Baptist Church, or download your copy at REPLICATE.ORG 
We would love for you to join us as we read the New Testament through this year, five chapters a week.  In addition I will continue my long-standing practice of reading one Psalm a day through the year.  Use Robby Gallaty’s H. E. A. R. plan to study each chapter (also found at REPLICATE.ORG). Highlight verses which speak to you, explain what they mean in your own words in a journal, apply them to your own life, then respond by doing what God tells you to do.  

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