Hebrews 11:35-40 – Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. History records that Isaiah was sawn in two. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Besides the fact that these verses show that we don’t go to heaven when we die, but instead sleep the sleep of death until the resurrection, they show that God’s people historically have been murdered, afflicted, mistreated, had their goods and property confiscated, at times they had to live in caves and wander in the mountains, impoverished, hungry, not allowed to work or assemble, suffering an injustice because one is a follower of God is not a new thing. It’s just new to us.
Our country started out as a nation of people who fled religious persecution from government to a new land. They tried to create a government that would protect people and their religion from persecution that they had suffered through the ages. And they created a set of laws – the Constitution of the United States – to ensure that everyone could worship freely, as long as their religion did not persecute the religions of others.
We, however, now live in what has been called a post-Christian era. The majority are no longer Christian, though many of the values of Christianity still remain. We’re starting to see what can happen to us and what has always happened to God’s people down through time when the government begins to fear Christianity. When that happens – when the government fears Christianity – Christians have to fear the government. We Christians, who have grown up in a free state, are facing something new to us. But, like I said, it’s not really new. It’s happened all along.
I’m hoping to think with you today about how we ought to think and what we ought to do about this new situation – learning from what has happened before and what is in the Bible for us to consider. Let’s start with our outlook, and then move to actions.
Jesus told a parable about two people who built houses. One built his house on sand, the other on solid rock. Predictably, when stormy weather came, the house on sand collapsed, because sand shifts easily. And the house on rock withstood nature, because it had a solid foundation under it. The point for us is that, if we’re going to withstand the storms of life in every age, we need a way to think about what’s going on around us that will hold up and keep us solid. And it’s going to be truth that does that – but truth as applied to the situation.
I was listening to the news recently while the election was in progress. At that point in time, Donald Trump looked like he was going to win. And a young woman – and I don’t have a face, just her voice, so I might have been listening to it on YouTube…I’m not sure – but at any rate, a young woman, in the most discouraged, self-focused voice said, “I don’t know what I will do if he wins.” It was though she might as well commit suicide if he won. She had catastrophized the possibility. She felt so weak and powerless, and yet, at the same time, entitled to have what she wanted. So her expectation unmet felt like a huge loss – so much so that she might contemplate killing herself if she couldn’t have it. It was pitiful. I felt sorry for her.
Christians, when things go the other way, may, but don’t need to indulge in that kind of entitled thinking. In 2 Corinthians 4:8, we can read something Paul said – somebody who was an expert at being persecuted. He said:
2 Corinthians 4:8 – We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Why? Why was he able to withstand all these things? Well, because he knew that God has a plan and that He’s working it. Despite the trials of this life, God’s plan is about and for us.
On the LifeResource site, on the front page, there’s a section that has some scriptures that appear one at a time – they kind of rotate around. They’re some of my favorites. Here’s one that is really important – 1 Corinthians 3:21. Paul said to this congregation, who were having a battle. Some of them wanted to follow Paul. Others like Apollos and some liked Peter. He said:
1 Corinthians 3:21 – All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Peter or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
See, the whole point of the plan is that God is creating a family. Christ is under God. We’re under Christ. And everything, at some point, is going to be under us. Everything God has created He’s going to give to us. It’s hard to imagine it’s so big! What Paul is telling us in Hebrews 11 is this: If we hope to be in God’s family, we’d better cling to that hope – that understanding – that underlies everything else. Christ’s sacrifice and grace, for example. He died because God is giving everything to us. And He had to have a way for us to bypass the law – or, be relieved of the responsibility of breaking His law. So Jesus died in our place, so that God could give it all to us. He is risen. By His life, we are saved.
So what does this mean in relationship to living in a post-Christian nation? Well, when we look at the way things are going – and they seem to be going badly right now for some of us – we need to always remember, that too is a part of the plan. You think about all those Christian people – patriarchs and people of ancient times. God didn’t lay out a life that was just a big picnic for all of them. It was difficult! So why would we think it’s going to be any different for us?
I think one of the things that we’re supposed to learn from 6,000 years of human experience is that we are not good at governing ourselves. It seems as though we could with the advent of the United States – sort of a noble experiment in man’s attempt to create a free society – but look where even that noble effort is going. Greed has forced open the door and now corruption reigns. One of the Russian writers, Dostoyevsky, said, “Without God, all things are permissible.” So we’re seing the unthinkable begin to happen in our nation – millions of people murdered in abortion, other things we’ll talk about soon. But it should not be unthinkable – not for us. No other nation in history has ever been able to withstand the dark side of what we call human nature for very long. So, it’s a bit unrealistic to think that we could be one exception, despite God’s assertions to the contrary.
So those who understand God’s plan and understand why all this has to happen, God is writing a history lesson. He’s letting humanity learn that humanity is incapable of good government, of freedom apart from Jesus Christ. Just because we don’t like what’s happening doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. God is working His plan. That’s point one – keep it in mind and you’ll feel much more steady as things progress.
The second point is this: We are all in God’s hands. We don’t need to be afraid. There’s a lot more for us to understand here. Let’s look at another one of the LifeResource scriptures on the main page of that site in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. Paul said – again, the expert in persecution:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
So rejoice always, even in the darkest times, because God is working His plan, and we know that that plan includes our victory. In the end, we win!
Pray without ceasing. When there are things that are going on bad, we should pray about them. God wants us to do that.
Give thanks in all circumstances, because it’s a part of the plan when we have trials along the way to make us stronger, to teach us what we need to know and learn. So we’re in training through these trials that we have to go through. Have you ever watched a movie where they show you what Seal training is like? They really put those guys and women through a lot difficult situations – painful. And that makes them stronger. That’s what God’s doing.
So we’re supposed to pray without ceasing. When we see something in the news or in person that is unsettling, we’re supposed to pray about it. Actually, being upset by the evil going on in the world sets us apart. We’re told in the Bible that there’s a man – a man dressed in white – dressed in white and carrying a writing case. And this man passes unnoticed and unimpeded through space and through time. This visitor attends to all the hot spots in the world, and has for a very long time – past and present – all the places where people are suffering at the hands of others. Let’s read what God tells this man to do. In Ezekiel 9:3 – or 9:4:
Ezekiel 9:4 – And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”
When we are appalled, when we’re sad, when we’re outraged by what we see going on, we can pray and we can know that in a world, where people are calling good evil and evil good, those who call good good and evil evil stand out to God, and He places a mark of distinction on each one – a special mark that sets us apart from the evil going on around us. God is going to listen to our prayers. He’s saving all our tear up in a bottle, we’re told. We don’t cry because we’re destroyed by what we see – because it’s too psychologically difficult – but because we care for those who suffer. And we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” And we know that it’s all going to be corrected because God is working His plan. We know that He’s a God of justice and that every single act will be judged. All the rich who have purchased politicians, and all the election results, and disadvantaged the poor. All their acts will bring their own punishment with them – every last one of them.
And that brings us to a third insight we need to factor into our thinking if we want to be at peace and rejoice in hard times. What is evil? If we’re going to get all riled up about what’s going on, we should understand it from God’s viewpoint. Let’s look at another saying on the LifeResource site. Martin Luther King said this – it’s not a scripture, it’s a quote. But his quote – what he said – comes out of scripture. He said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” Light and darkness in the Bible are metaphors for good and evil. Darkness isn’t anything. It’s just the absence of light. You can’t let darkness into a room, To make it dark, you can pull a shade to keep the light out.
So what can we learn from this? Well, evil is the absence of good. Good is…you know, it says, “God is good, God is love, and that love is the law of God.” So goodness comes from God and He defines what that is for us, so there won’t be any doubt, through His law. If a person doesn’t know good – doesn’t know God’s law, doesn’t have God’s truth – then they’re in the dark and they don’t know what to do. That doesn’t mean that they’re malicious or self-centered necessarily. It just means that they don’t know how to live by God’s ways. They don’t know what they are. The problem there is that, if you are living that way without God, then all things are permissible, like Dostoyevsky said. Think about it. The suffering in the world is because people don’t understand that God’s good way helps us avoid suffering.
I’ve met hundreds of people who have had sexual relations before they got married. They don’t realize that it makes it harder for them to be committed in a relationship. They don’t realize that behavior brings its own punishment. In that area of life, they’re living in darkness and stumbling around, running into hard things. So point three is that evil is the absence of good.
So fourth, let’s apply what we’ve learned about evil being the absence of good to what we see around us. To do that we have to consider something the Bible subtly brings out. In the Bible, there are two terms used for the absence of good. One is evil. The other is wicked.
Now, in our language, wicked doesn’t seem as bad as evil. When we want to talk about someone who’s totally devoid of goodness, and malicious and self-centered in it, we don’t say that person is wickedness incarnate. We say he is evil incarnate. In the Bible, it’s the opposite. When you see the word evil, it’s talking about the absence of good. And when you see wicked, it’s going that step beyond.
What is that step beyond? Well, you know, Adolf Hitler decided that he was going to help evolution by getting rid of all the inferior people – the Jews, the gypsies, people that were politically against him, things like that. So he did it in a narcissistic way. He put himself in God’s place. And that, in biblical language, is a step beyond. He was a part of the group that God calls the wicked. Do this: Get your Bible app or a concordance and look up the phrase, the wicked, and then look up the phrase, the evil. The wicked, you will soon learn, is a category of people that God has mentioned 1,238 times in the Bible. And, if you read all of those, you’ll understand what the step beyond is that we’re talking about. He has other categories of people, too. There are the righteous, the foolish, the faithful, and so on.
So this category of people – the wicked – are in a league all of their own. They have no conscience, no compassion for others, no morals, no conscience at all. You and I are only pawns to be used by them. They don’t think like you and I think. They don’t feel bad when somebody falls down because they tripped them by accident. It’s all about them. Your suffering or death means nothing to them. The Bible talks about evil, but when it uses the phrase, the evil, it’s talking about the deeds. As an example, the evil done to so and so.
So I learned recently that Joe Biden had appointed a man to his Health of the Nation Task Force. I can’t remember the real name of that, but that’s the essence of what I heard. And this man made the comment that 75 – I don’t even know the guy’s name – 75 is a good age to die. We know that he doesn’t understand that God only gets to take human life and that He disagrees with this man. God says He’s going to allot everybody three-score and ten. So that would be 70. But that doesn’t mean that everybody dies at that age. We know that this man doesn’t understand that God only gets to take human life. So that’s the absence of good, right? But we’re beyond that suspicious that he thinks the US government is God and can determine who should live and who should die. Now that would be pure evil. When government leaders have malicious intent toward the people they’re supposed to protect, that’s evil – or, in Bible terms, wicked.
We don’t talk about pure wicked. We talk about evil, but we’re really talking about things that the wicked do. You know, Medicare was once a huge fat cash cow that the politicians could slice pieces off of to give to prospective voters. I once read – somebody sent out on the Internet – a list of all the changes in Medicare from the time it started down to the present. All those changes were made by one political party, by the way. And all of them diminished the power of Medicare to provide services while maintaining or increasing the amount of taxes that were charged. So there’s that fat cash cow. Medicare, however, is now broke. There’s nothing left to slice off. If they stopped covering all over 75 because it’s a good age to die, then the cash cow would return. Politicians could pass laws to steal from the new source of income for money to buy voters by giving away, for example, free cell phones – just one tiny example I can think of. The people who get the phones wouldn’t realize that people were dying so they could have a phone. But the people who pass the laws would know, because they would know where it’s coming from. So that is a step beyond. It’s evil – the absence of law – and it’s wicked because it’s thoughtless and uncaring and self-centered, and, in some cases, malicious.
So, it’s interesting that there’s been a lot of research done about politicians and what makes them tick. It’s almost impossible to be an effective politician the way they have modified our political system without being a narcissist. It’s also impossible for a narcissist to enter the Kingdom of God. That’s going to have to be stripped away before a person can enter God’s Kingdom. And it can be. But right now, most of them don’t have any interest in doing that. So there we go. The crimes all have penalties. You can’t get into God’s Kingdom if you’re narcissistic. So, there’s the penalty for being a politician-type person. We do not have to bring to justice, or even judge, those people. It’s all being handled “upstairs.” Look at what Daniel wrote after a communication from God – Daniel 2:19 – sorry, 2:21:
Daniel 2:21 – He changes times and season. He removes kings and sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. So that’s why we’re not supposed to judge. We don’t have all the facts. We don’t know, in every case, what God is doing. We’re told that God sets up leaders and He takes them down, so the fact that they’re in there is not really our business.
So okay, what are we supposed to do with all this? Can we make a plan for our lives in the face of wicked actions and evil deed and people. Well, I think it’s possible. Let’s think about hard times for a bit. Jesus had a lot to say about this, because they were in hard times, too. It just got worse during Paul’s time. Matthew 5:44:
Matthew 5:44-45 – But I say to you – Jesus said – Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. So not our job to judge – just pray for our enemies. And sometimes, those would be our political leaders.
Now, most of the Christians I know want to obey the law of the land. That’s good, because obeying the law of the land is a necessity to stay out of trouble with the law. And it’s also biblically appropriate as well. Jesus talked about staying away from the unjust judge. Don’t go to court if you don’t have to and that sort of thing. So that’s why Jesus told His disciples to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s. He wanted them to obey the law as close as they could so they would stay out of trouble and why He told them, if someone wants your coat, give it to them. Back then, if a Roman soldier asked you for your coat, you had to give it to him. That was the law. Jesus also taught the disciples to obey the monetary requirements of the temple laws, which were, by that time, laws of men. Peter came and told Him one day that the Pharisees had asked them why he and Jesus hadn’t paid their temple tax. So He told Peter to go to the sea, catch a fish, take money that was in the fish’s mouth and go pay the temple tax, even though the Bible says they were exempt from it. He showed Peter after he got back that they didn’t really have to pay that tax, but He paid it anyway. You say, “Well, I might pay it, too, if I could go fishing and catch a fish….” I think it’s a pretty hilarious story, really. But the point is to try to avoid conflict with the unjust rules and rulers.
Now there are several sticky situations for some of us. The Constitution is the highest law of the land. But our politicians have made laws that violate Constitutional law. Two current examples would be restrictive gun laws. And another would be restrictions on group meetings. So, which law to break? The Constitution? Or the local law? I think, when considering what Christ said, as long as we’re not breaking God’s law, we can choose for ourselves, in these cases, which one to break, considering the actions that might be taken against us. I mean, if you don’t want trouble, don’t draw attention to yourself by taking a stand on something that you don’t have to take a stand on. But, if you want to do that, then you should be willing to pay the penalty for it.
I heard of a congregation recently – not one of our independent COG congregations – that voted to continue church services in accordance with the Constitution, but contrary to the state’s governor. They didn’t distance. They didn’t wear masks. They had church like they always had. Of course, it probably helped that the local county sheriff supported the congregation and quietly placed a watch over their services. He was a man that believed in the Constitution. So, God bless that sheriff! And I suspect he will be. So they were obeying the free right to assemble given by the Constitution, but breaking the law enacted by politicians that violated the Constitution they vow to uphold. We should all be aware that that’s what they’re doing.
Also, one other thing that we need to think about here, if we talk about a plan. No one knows exactly what’s going to happen. It’s hard to prepare effectively. I read a story about this doomsday prep – one that points up the problem. In Germany, after World War I, there was a terrible, huge inflation. You may have seen the old-time newsreels of people wheeling money down the street in wheel barrows. It was worth nothing. It would take a wheel barrow full of cash to buy a loaf of bread. Some people saw this coming and tried to make provision. One man gave his sons their inheritance early, and told them trouble was coming and to invest it in a way that would deal with the coming financial problem. The prudent, more responsible son banked his money as a hedge against hard times – didn’t spend it – and the other wasted his money on alcohol. Every time he finished off a bottle, he threw it in the cellar where it would break. After a while, there was a very large pile of broken glass down there. Well, it was during the inflation that money was worth nothing and so durable goods became important for barter. And glass was extremely hard to come buy – even broken glass. Who could figure? You know, they say, “The devil is in the details.”
You have to understand what might happen to know what to stockpile. But a stockpile of things that will be hard to come by might help in an emergency – things that wouldn’t spoil and may be helpful. After the recent Covid thing, I could put my money in toilet paper. Remember what that was like at the beginning – back in March of 2020? Do you know, too, that right now it’s hard to find guns and ammunition in stores? Why? Well, because people are worried about social unrest – possibly even revolution. Or, maybe in addition to, an attempt by the government to disarm the population. So, knowing that there is a shortage of ammunition and firearms…. And you know, the Bible does say people are eventually going to throw their gold in the street at some point, because it won’t be worth anything. When you don’t have food, you need food more than gold. When people need food, water and shelter, things devolve down into a situation where there’s no law, a like the old West, everybody was wearing a gun. There’s that to think about. But will it get that bad? Well, probably some places, but…I’m just trying to point out that no matter you do, you better be careful, because you never know how it’s going to go. But it does say in Proverbs 22:3:
Proverbs 22:3 – The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
I was at Costco last week and noticed a stack of bins big enough to hold about a bushel. The stack wasn’t – the containers were. They were labeled emergency food. And the label said that the shelf life for one of those bins was 25 years. So why do you suppose they were selling that? Well, people are worried about what’s going to happen.
Also, there’s another scripture to consider in Isaiah 26:20.
Isaiah 26:20 – Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you. Hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. Be prepared to hunker down – not that we can save ourselves, but food, water, clothing, fuel, a way to cook and keep warm, something to barter.
If you want to learn more about that sort of thing, look on DuckDuckGo for prepping and Prepper. You’ll find some extreme stuff there, but there are also some things that have a lot of good sense about them. By the way, what is DuckDuckGo? Well, DuckDuckGo -Duck-Duck-Go – is a search engine, like Google, but they don’t track you or sell your computer address – your IP address – to other big businesses or to the federal government. Your searches are private. I haven’t noticed any difference in the effectiveness of their searches over Google’s either, so why not? It’s free.
Another thing to think about is what they call gray man stuff. Gray Man is the way they train FBI agents to dress and act so that they don’t draw attention to themselves. It reminds me – probably shouldn’t – but it reminds me of Inspector Clouseau in the Return of the Pink Panther. He went to Hong Kong to catch some criminals. He wore a hilarious disguise which was supposed to cause him to appear Asian, and he signed into the hotel as Mr. Lo Kee – Mr. Low Key.
How do we balance out letting our light shine and not casting our pearls before swine? This is another thing that bothers people. Well, swine don’t value pearls. So people who don’t value truth…. By the way, people who don’t value truth, they do evil, because evil is the absence of good, right? People who don’t value truth don’t need to hear it from us. When Jesus was before Pilate, the time for evangelism was past. He said very little. So we ought to let our light shine where it will do some good and we always obey God.
Now, this next thing may seem contradictory, but while all this bad news is assailing us about Covid and politics and the Chinese and Bill Gates owning the nano-robot technology that might be in the immunizations, we should try to live a normal life. Don’t let anxiety take over us. When the Jews were in captivity in Babylon and Persia, God told them, while they were captive, to bear children, plant crops and live life the best they could. He also told them in the book of Esther, when their enemies wanted to slaughter them that they should fight, and He made that possible for them to do that. So what are we to do? Well, it depends on what happens around us. The plan that we develop has to be flexible. Should you start throwing your glass in the cellar? Or, should you buy toilet paper? Perhaps the best thing to say about all this is to do the best you know to prepare for any eventuality, and then relax and trust God to keep His promises.
You know, Elaine and I live in an area that can get snow in the winter sometimes. We have before…we used to live in Erie, Pennsylvania, right on the lake, where they get 3-foot snowfalls. Because of my experience there and where I live now, I have in both cars some water, some tools, some flashlights, some flares, a post wrap (in case we slide off the road), and in the winter, we also throw in some coats and boots in the trunk. I also discovered this stuff on the Internet, called Life Boat Food. It comes in blocks about the size of a brick. And it’s a water tight package, compressed and wrapped in aluminum, and put plastic over it. It’s a water tight package of tightly wrapped food. It looks like bars of shortbread when you break it open, but it doesn’t taste as good. But it would keep a person alive for a few days in a tight spot. No cooking needed. It costs eight bucks. A person can live off one of those for three days. I think you’d get pretty grumpy if you went further than that with it. If we’re going on a trip any distance, we also have a couple of back packs, loaded with winter clothing, more food, a way to build a fire, emergency and weather solar ban radios. Sounds expensive, but it costs $25.00. You can even use it to charge your phone. We put sleeping bags and rain gear in there. And I put some plastic that I could build a shelter for us from wind and rain. I mean, suppose you slide off the road and roll down an embankment, or slide down an embankment and nobody can see you from the highway, and the snow’s too deep to climb up for help. Who knows what’s going to happen? And it was a hassle assembling all of it, but now it’s ready to go. And every year or so, I take it all out and repack it, so that I’m familiar with my gear.
Like I mentioned, I learned to do this years ago when we moved to Pennsylvania. As winter approached, an elderly man in the congregation approached me at church, and told me this story. He and his wife had travelled four hours to visit family one weekend. And when it was time to go home, it had gotten dark, and it had started to snow. He and his wife got in their little pickup truck and started out up the Interstate toward Erie, where they lived. And the snow was so deep that he had to put his truck in low gear, and that burned a lot more fuel. After a while, they ran out. It got extremely cold very rapidly. And he told me that, if a trucker had not stopped for them, they probably would have frozen to death right there on the Interstate. And he said, “As it was, my wife was so cold, she almost couldn’t get up in the cab of the big truck.” And then he smiled, and said, “Before winter, put more clothes than you think you’ll need in your car, some water, some food, a shovel, a bag of sand and a good flashlight in your trunk.”
So we may be headed for cold weather metaphorically. It’s good to make some kind of provisions – though different situations require different plans. But the main part of the plan is to rely on God to save us, isn’t it? That’s our salvation. But the wise man makes preparation. That doesn’t mean you don’t rely on God and you rely on yourself. It just means that you do what you can and ask God to do the rest.
So let’s loop back now to the most important thing, keeping God’s plan in mind. If, when you read the letters of Paul, James, Peter and John, remember that these people were under Roman law. And, as time passed, they were increasingly thought of as a threat to the system. It became dangerous to be a Christian, especially for those who were called to speak out. If you know that anxiety was their passenger, as you read what they wrote, it helps to understand what to do. Pal said that he had to face wild beasts at Ephesus, and that his trials had become so hard that he despaired of his own life. He also said that God came and rescued him and strengthened him, too. But, under extreme danger, these people succeeded at starting and spreading the Church of God, the body of Christ. That said, when we read the epistles, we have a map of how to carry on. Read how Jesus did that in the Gospels, as well. And we can also read about the Jews in captivity – mostly in Daniel and Esther.
So there can be no set plan yet, because we don’t know what’s going to happen exactly. But Jesus did say that when we see the buds on the tree that we can know summer is near. Spring occurs at different times in different places. So our needs probably will be different in different places. And there are some things that may occur that there can be no plans for. So we have to be wise to see what is happening, and then plan as best we can and asking and trusting God to care for us, no matter what happens. And then we may need to, at some point, as Moses told the new nation of Israel, “Stand still and watch what God does!” It may be slim pickins’ in the short term, but in the end, everything is going to be ours.