I don’t know about you, but over the past year, I’ve experienced moments of just about every emotion imaginable as I’ve walked through the various evil events filling up our 2020 calendars. Anger. Outrage. Offense. Depression. Anxiety. Fear. Frustration. Incredulity. Grief. Maybe you’ve had those moments too.
I’d like to give all of you a hug and say “Cheer up! Everything’s going to be fine!” – temporally speaking.
And maybe it will be.
But I don’t think so.
Sure, there are going to be times of blessing and happiness in our future, just like there were last year and every year before. But as far as the general trajectory American society and government are on, things are going downhill at breakneck speed. And unless we stop and think now, get prepared now, we’re going to be caught unawares and fail at what could be a crucial moment of decision.
Trials and persecution – real persecution – are coming. And coming sooner than we think. How can we be prepared to endure whatever comes our way until Christ returns?
Go to church
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.Hebrews 10:24-25
I get it. “Go to church” isn’t as easy as it used to be. I get that some of your churches are closed. I get that there are health concerns.
But I also get that when the Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to pen these words, He knew full well, and, in His sovereignty had pre-ordained, all the details surrounding Covid and the restrictions and hassles that go along with it. And still He said that as the day of Christ’s return gets closer, we need to meet together (face to face, in person) more, not less.
Do we believe Him? Do we trust Him? Will we obey Him?
I don’t know you. I don’t know your situation. So, I can’t tell you what to do. All I’m saying is that as Covid restrictions drag on and on and on, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your church attendance in light of this command from Scripture:
- If the primary reason you’re not attending church now is that your own church is closed, consider a friendly, loving chat with your pastor about his thoughts on the possibility of opening back up in some way, even if only partially. You can also check around and see if any other doctrinally sound local churches are meeting. If you find one, hang out with them until yours opens back up. Family is family, and you need the fellowship, teaching, and encouragement. Get to know the “cousins” down the street.
- Are all the doctrinally sound churches in your area shut down due to government regulations and that’s the main reason you’re not going? Find another way to meet together with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Get on the phone with the members of your Sunday School class or a few others you know from church and plan to meet together for worship, prayer, and Bible study at your house, the park, wherever you can gather. I realize your local government may frown upon that. Governments all over the world have been prohibiting Christians from meeting together for 2000 years, and they meet anyway, underground. Looks like it might be our turn. Prayerfully consider whether it might be time to start walking out “we must obey God rather than men” in your context.
- Perhaps it’s legitimate health concerns for yourself or your family that is keeping you away from the Lord’s house. Listen, I’m not a doctor, so I’m not qualified to dispense medical advice. All I can say is, check back in with your doctor (not the internet – your personal doctor) and ask if there are any new or different precautions you could take that would make going to church or gathering with a few others possible. Prayerfully and wisely weigh the potential health risks against the very real spiritual damage that occurs when you don’t gather with the Body.
- Finally, take some time alone in prayer with the Lord and carefully and honestly examine your heart and your motives. Is the real reason you’re staying away from church laziness or an ungodly fear that stems from refusing to trust God? Only you can answer that. If you find that those are the actual reasons you haven’t been going to church, repent, and get your posterior back in the pew this Sunday.
God gave the command for the Body to gather knowing it would cost many Christians their lives and their freedom down through the years. But He gave that command anyway. That should tell us how utterly crucial it is for us not to neglect meeting together – out of obedience to Him, and for our own good.
Realize that the rules have changed
There used to be a general sense of consistency, fair play, and “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” logic in America.
That’s gone, and we need to get used to it.
As I write this, I could throw a rock out the window and hit a dozen tweets, articles, and podcasts decrying the hypocrisy and inconsistency of liberals. I’ve remarked on it myself. How there is one set of rules for them, but another set of rules for others, whether we’re talking about governors having Thanksgiving dinner with their extended families after telling you not to, or liberal evangelicals supporting BLM riots while decrying peaceful conservative protests and church gatherings. And they have absolutely no shame about their double standards.
Don’t expect that to change. Stand for what’s right, keep pointing out hypocrisy, but don’t expect people who support torturing babies in the womb to death and sexually abusing children via genital mutilation surgery to suddenly have an attack of conscience about holding themselves to one (or no) standard, and holding everybody else to another. They don’t care one whit about being fair and consistent – especially toward Christians. And if we keep expecting them to, it’s going to drive us mad.
These people are depraved, and this is spiritual warfare. Believers are unwelcome trespassers on the Devil’s playground, and he doesn’t play fair.
Give the gospels a good study again, keeping a special eye on Jesus’ enemies. Who were they? What positions did they hold? What tactics did they use? What was the real reason they wanted to destroy Him? When you have the answers to those questions, you’ll better understand who your real enemies are, and why they’ll turn on you when you least expect it.
Who was it who wanted to destroy – kill – Jesus for speaking the truth? Not the Roman government. It was the powerful and influential “church leaders” of Jesus’ day, the scribes and Pharisees. It was they who pursued Jesus, made false allegations against Him, and cajoled the government into executing Him because they wanted to preserve the position, power, and wealth they maintained by sleeping with, and fearing, the Roman enemy
If we let [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”John 11:48-50
And who was it who betrayed Jesus into the hands of those bent on His destruction? His closest of friends and protégés – Judas. Judas, who, for the price of his greed, would give Jesus the kiss of a brother while thrusting a traitor’s knife into His back.
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.Matthew 26:14-16
A servant is no greater than his master. If this is how “God’s people” treated Jesus, we can expect no less. Expect to be betrayed by those closest to you- a brother, a friend, a cherished member of your church family. Expect false teachers and influential evangelical leaders to cozy up to governmental leaders so they can hang on to their multi-million dollar “ministries,” minions, and mansions. Expect them to make sacrificial lambs of true sheep and shepherds. After all, better that one, or a hundred, or thousands of genuine Believers should die than that their nation or way of life should perish.
Those we hold dear will turn on us. Those we thought we could trust with our lives will deliver us up.
Count the cost
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.Matthew 10: 37-39
Count the cost, Jesus said. When He spoke these words, Jesus meant them – and His audience understood them – literally, not metaphorically. A cross wasn’t bearing up under insults on social media. It was a cross. Rough-hewn wood that real human beings were nailed to (after a thorough flogging, of course) to hang on for hours or days until they succumbed to one of the most agonizing deaths imaginable. “That’s your future if you follow Me,” He said to them – and to us.
Is staying true to Jesus worth losing your job…your closest loved ones…your freedom…your health…your dignity…your home and possessions…even your life? When you sing “I Surrender All” do you actually mean it? All? Do you love Jesus more? If you’ve never taken the time to sit down and seriously think about whether or not you’d follow Jesus all the way to a cross, do it now.
Count the cost, because the cost is a cross.
If you believe in your heart that robustly and unashamedly following Jesus is worth any cost, be prepared to suffer for it. Yet know that what man means for hurt and humiliation, Christ means for honor and high regard.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Matthew 5:10-12
and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Acts 5:40-41
Suffering for the name and sake of Christ is an honor.
Know your Bible
When oppressors want to stamp out an ideology – like Christianity – that threatens their agenda, the first thing they do is quash speech about that ideology. And then they come for the books.
Over the last few years, how many times have you heard of Christians getting in some sort of trouble for sharing the gospel? For refusing to call a “he” a “she” or a “she” a “he”? For saying homosexuality is a sin? For declining to “repent” of racism they haven’t committed?
We’re already seeing the suppression of speech. The written word is next on the chopping block. Bibles will be confiscated and disposed of. Publishing houses that produce Bibles and other Christian materials will be shut down. Big tech will de-platform Bible apps, Christian podcasts, Christian bloggers, and all other forms of doctrinally sound Christian media.
And we’ll probably even see something worse: the powers that be changing the written word of God to fit their own agenda. How easy would it be for someone in power to stroll through the back door of your Bible app and begin changing, adding, or deleting whole verses and passages until the “Bible” says what they want it to say? Think that kind of thing could never happen here? It’s already happening in China.
Make sure you have a good, reliable, hard copy (the kind with paper pages) translation of the Bible on hand. (You might even want to start stockpiling them to quietly give away when owning God’s Word becomes illegal.) Study it forward, backward, and inside out until you know what it says so well you could spot a modification a mile away. Memorize it. Because they can take away the copies in our hands, but they can’t touch the Word hidden in our hearts.
Pressing on in the face of all these daunting circumstances would be impossible if God were not who He is. But because of all that He is, we can hope in Him and endure anything that comes our way.
When you don’t know what to do, He says: Trust Me. I’ll give you wisdom and guide you.
When you have to do hard things, He says: I’ll strengthen you and help you.
When you’re weary from fighting the good fight, He says: I’ll give you rest.
When you’re afraid, He says: Fear not. I am with you.
With our pampered lifestyle of freedom and ease, many of us have never experienced a moment in which our only option – for provision, for protection, for help – was to cry out to God and trust Him to take care of us. I daresay, in the days ahead, those moments will come with increasing frequency. And that’s not a bad thing.
Because God loves you. He cares for you. He can be trusted. You can depend on Him.
What’s coming our way next? It’s hard to know exactly, but we can see the handwriting of persecution and trials on the wall. So gather with the Body and encourage each other. Be wise to the ways of the enemy. Ready yourself for betrayal and suffering. Know God’s Word. Trust God to carry you through.
Because Christ’s return is drawing near. It’ll be here before we know it. And we can endure ’til then.