Watch!

Luke 21:34-36

By John Grimm

Every year it seems like Christmas comes before we are ready.  We are going to work.  We are doing our daily and weekly routines at the store, with our family, and with the church.  Suddenly, there it is.  It is Christmas (again)!  How did we not notice it creeping up on us?

Jesus warned the disciples and all the people (Luke 20:45) to be on guard.  We can be weighed down with the concerns of work and home.  We can be drunk on how well our college tournament brackets are going to perform.  We can even be worried about how high the gas prices will go.

Life can trap us., so much so that we may actually miss out on what God is doing around us.  Heaven forbid if we miss what God is doing in our lives!  Our social media feed will not get us caught up with what we missed from God.  What can we do?

We pray.  We are alert in prayer as we ask Jesus for strength to prepare us for the destruction Jesus foretold in Luke 21:5-33.  The power of the Holy Spirit can get us to the point where we can stand before the Son of Man.

Until Jesus Christ returns, we can be praying.  That will be the best posture for Jesus to find us in when that day happens.

Almighty God, we know not when Jesus Christ will return.  Until that day arrives, we read that Jesus wants us to be on guard.  Thank you that we can meet you in prayer.  May all the troubles of this life and the destruction to come not trap us, making us unready for when Jesus returns.  Holy Spirit, give us the strength we need to make it through that day.  We ask this request in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Endings and Beginnings

Mark 13:32-37 (NLT)

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

“The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”

By Chuck Griffin

Here at the end of another year, today’s gospel reading from the daily lectionary gives us words from Jesus about the end of creation as we know it. I sometimes feel I want to avoid such texts.

The subject is complicated for a 20-minute sermon, and more so for a devotion that might run 700 words. When I have a group of people who really want to study what theologians call “eschatology,” I prefer the reading time and lessons to stretch over several weeks in a small group or Sunday school setting.

The concept also has been muddied to the extreme, particularly in American religion, by people with some strange ideas about how to read the Bible. The most troubling of these authors and preachers fail to heed Christ’s words that begin our reading today.

A lot of these charlatans not only want to predict the timing of the end and tell us exactly what must happen on earth before Christ returns, they also want to sell us books explaining their theories. If they are sure the end is near, why don’t they live their convictions, going deep in debt to print their books and give them away? Why do they feel they need the money?

But the end of our Christian story is important, so let’s consider the matter, at least a little. If you want to consider it more deeply in a different setting, I’m always glad to help.

Are we living in the end times? Yes, we are. We have been since Christ ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit arrived to guide the church.

Jesus warned us that all sorts of terrible things would be happening around us: “wars and rumors of wars,” natural disasters, famines, pandemics and so on. Such events were happening even as he spoke.

From a global perspective, they have continued to happen nonstop, but they do not represent the end; as Jesus said, they are merely the “birth pangs” of what is to come. Evil was defeated by the cross, but evil will continue to snap and bite, to try to take as many of us down with it as possible, until Christ destroys evil forever.

Many of the earliest hearers of Jesus’ words lived long enough to think the world was coming to an end. In the year 70, the Romans burned and razed everything on top of the Temple Mount in response to a Jewish rebellion. The historian Josephus claimed that 1.1 million people were killed in this destruction.

There have been other times people have been convinced the end must be near. In fact, I would assert there has been no definable period in history where someone didn’t think, “This must be the end of everything.”

Just imagine being in the midst of the Black Death, when plague killed anywhere from one-third to one-half of Europe’s population in the 14th century.

Or think of the 20th century, when two world wars left people with the sense that everything was crumbling around them. Those wars gave us nuclear bombs and were followed by a Cold War during which it seemed most of us might die at the push of a few buttons.

It’s depressing stuff to think about. And maybe that’s why I want to be careful when talking about the end times. We don’t want to get so lost in the sad and scary stuff that we miss the true message Christ is trying to give us. His return is good news; it is the end of suffering, with ungodliness and death destroyed forever.

I want all of us to live with a sense of joyful immediacy. Let’s live as if we are going to see Christ with our next breath! When we live this way, evil cannot really touch us, not even if it takes our lives. Even if we are killed, we are sheltered with Christ, destined to return with him on that great day.

In Christ, what we call the end is merely a new beginning.

Lord, help us to live with a sense of your immediate presence. Amen.

Living a Lie

Revelation 22:12-16 (NRSV)

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”


By Chuck Griffin

If you were in church last Sunday, you probably picked up on the fact that we are now in the season of Advent, which begins a new church year. With our minds on Christmas, Advent can seem like an odd church season.

For one thing, we begin the church year like people who read the last few pages of a novel before starting the first chapter. Advent is about the end of a great story, one we will spend the rest of the church year hearing and exploring through its cycle of readings.

The ending is pretty straightforward: Jesus Christ will return. Justice will become a visible reality, and the Messiah who died for all will reward those who stand with him and reject those who rejected him.

Today’s text from Revelation references “everyone who loves and practices falsehood,” saying they will be excluded from God’s presence, where the gift of eternal life awaits. Another translation, the New Living Translation, describes these people as those “who love to live a lie.”

Christians do occasionally stray from living as true disciples. We forget what Jesus Christ did to restore us as children of God. We live as if there is no truth to the story.

Usually, we snap back to reality as defined by God, the maker of all that is real. We resume that effort to live as he would have us live. We conform our lives to God’s will out of gratitude for the great gift we have been given.

Like Lent, the church season preceding Easter, Advent is a good time to ask ourselves what lies we might be living and how we can return to the truth. Recognizing our errors and turning from them amount to what we call repentance; growing in truth and love then becomes a powerful work God’s Spirit can perform in us.

Eventually, we may be so blessed that we can show the truth to those who have never known anything but life as a lie.

Lord, reveal where we lie to ourselves, and show us how the truth really does set us and others free. Amen.

Out of the Fire

2 Peter 3:8-13 (NRSV)

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.


The Apostle Peter paints a cataclysmic picture of Christ’s return. It is an image of the universe melting away in an unimaginable heat. The earth remains, stripped bare, its people exposed before God, their inner holiness and evil undeniably on display.

Peter’s words could be just mind-boggling symbolism, of course. But as I’ve pointed out in the past, symbols are a simple way of understanding a more complex reality.

If we believe the Bible is communicating God’s truth, then we have to acknowledge the experience of judgment will be at least as overwhelming as what we see here, and likely more so. We will come face-to-face with our holy creator while stripped bare of our pretenses and self-delusions.

Peter’s letter is a call to ready ourselves, to plunge into our own personal purifying fire. It should help us to know this: What comes out of the fire is far greater than what went into the fire.

Peter would have been familiar with Malachi’s Old Testament prophecies of a day when God’s appointed one would come to act as a “refining fire” and “fuller’s soap,” purifying what has been tainted by sin. The prophecy is not so much about the refining process as it is about what comes out, gold and silver in their purest forms.

After his images of fiery destruction, Peter also alludes to the “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” We submit ourselves to purification by God’s Holy Spirit not out of fear, but in joy, knowing God’s purifying work through Christ will establish a greater way of living. We ready ourselves for a place in the new creation.

So, how do we submit?

Many of you have made that first step, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. Those of you who have not—well, Peter makes clear that God is patient until the time of patience ends.

Our faith leads us to a new level of engagement with God. The early Methodists had a simple set of rules to live by as they pursued holiness. They are just as instructive for us today.

First, do no harm. What are we doing that damages others? How do we stop doing those things?

Second, do good. Again, the principle is very simple. Do we do good in every way we can, whenever we have the opportunity?

Third, stay in love with God. I’m borrowing Rueben Job’s paraphrase of John Wesley’s more elaborate statement, “By attending upon all the ordinances of God.” By this, Wesley meant participating in public worship, studying God’s word, receiving communion, praying, and abstaining from activities that can distract us from God.

When we follow these rules, we open ourselves to the refining work of the Holy Spirit. And we do not regret the loss of any sin that is burned away.

Lord, make us ready. Amen.

Keep Alert!

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Luke 21:34-38 (NLT)

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him.


When Jesus said, “Watch out,” he was ending a discourse on the coming of the Son of Man, what we sometimes call “the last days” or even “Judgment Day.”

During his prophecies about the future, Jesus talked about signs that would rattle the world, but he also indicated his return could be immediate. Apparently, it’s possible to be so swept up in earthly living that we could miss even dramatic signs and be caught flat-footed.

“Keep alert at all times.” Those words should shape how we live as Christians. In the midst of life, we need to carry within us an understanding that a full encounter with our creator could happen at any moment, and then adjust our lives accordingly.

The last two sentences in today’s Bible passage seem almost tacked on, or the beginning of a new story. They are important, though. Jesus, knowing he is headed for his moment of trial and testing, modeled single-mindedness.

By day, he went about the work of the Savior. In the evening, the Son communed with the Father, drawing on the strength he would need to continue.

It’s a good pattern for children of God to follow, one that keeps us ready.

Lord, when the moment comes, may we be found expectantly waiting and thrilled to see your face. Amen.

Strange Signs

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Luke 21:25-28 (NLT)

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”


This season of Advent is in part about anticipating Christ’s return, knowing God’s promises will be fulfilled. Evil and death will be cast away forever.

It is the lead-up to Christ’s return that can scare the jujubes out of us. When we’re told all people will be perplexed by sudden changes in the sea and sky, the word “cataclysmic” comes to mind.

We are left to decide how we are going to read Jesus’ statement. Is this symbolism, perhaps even hyperbole, an overstatement designed to indicate the serious nature of Christ’s words?

Was Jesus speaking of ongoing events, which certainly can be dramatic, or are the hurricanes, earthquakes and strange events in the sky (think conjunctions and Oumuamua) merely foreshadowings of more shocking events to come?

As Christians, we are to understand that this encounter with Christ, the beginning of the eternal experience of his full presence, will dwarf all other events in human history. The language used to describe this great day may be poetic, but the day will not disappoint us. Those who get to experience it from an earthly vantage will no doubt be astonished.

The very biblical concept of Christ’s return is critical to our understanding of the work Jesus did on the cross, a redemptive act still moving toward completion. The hard part is done; as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” and the rest is inevitable.

Those blessed to see that day will be rattled to the depths of their souls. If you are among them, just remember, it’s all for the best.

Maranatha, Lord.

Scoffers to the End

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Jude 17-23 (NLT)

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.


Like many pastors, I get this question now and then: “So, do you think we are near the end of time?”

In response, I usually say, “I can guarantee one thing. We are one day closer today than we were yesterday.” Most people don’t seem to find that very satisfying, though.

The question usually arises because of strife in the world: wars and rumors of wars, or in 2020, a pandemic combined with particularly tense U.S. politics and civil unrest. I try to keep all of that turmoil in perspective, though.

Look at it this way. Would you trade living right now for a life in 14th-century Europe during the Black Plague? Would you instead choose the World War I era (capped off by the Spanish flu pandemic) or World War II?

No doubt, Christians have thought to themselves many times, “This is it—this must be the end!”

Jude obviously wrote his letter to an audience struggling with such thoughts. The date of writing is hard to nail down precisely, but the letter would have been delivered just before or not long after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which was preceded by insurrection and followed by ethnic dispersion and brutal horrors.

What Jude had to say is interesting, however, not because it is rooted in a particular time, but because it is good advice for all times. In his day, and in the centuries to follow, the church, local or global, has had a basic problem. There always are “scoffers” hanging around the edges or even lurking within as false teachers.

They live for themselves, to satisfy their own desires, so very naturally they bring division to any group of Christians they find.

As Jude said, the cure is relatively straightforward. Christians must worship and live so they remain true as a group to their Savior, Jesus Christ. They must disciple themselves so their churches are guided by the Holy Spirit in all that they do.

We are particularly blessed in our era because we have God’s word so freely available to us in the Bible. Discipleship has a lot of competition in our busy, media-saturated world, but at the same time, discipleship through prayer and the study of God’s word has never been easier.

And while Jude counsels vigilance against those who would tear the church apart, he emphasizes mercy and love for people needing to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That would include those scoffers, who simply are aggressive sinners who got through the door.

Keep sin and the encouragement to sin out of the church, but keep Christ’s mercy continually available to all in need. That’s a strategy to sustain us until the end of time, regardless of when that may be.

Lord, give us discernment to see both obvious and subtle strains of sin, and as we find these in our midst, may we trust in your Holy Spirit to gently guide us toward holiness. Amen.

Being Immediate

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 15:1-4 (NLT)

Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your works,
    O Lord God, the Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and glorify your name?
    For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
    for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”

When exploring ideas about the end of time, thoughtful Christians have to piece together a lot of Scripture from various books of the Bible.

As we see in today’s text and the verses further into Revelation, we are promised there will be an end to the influence of evil, a completion of Christ’s work on the cross. Sin and death have already been defanged by Jesus’ sacrifice, but they still have to be put down completely, rabid dogs of Satan that they are.

Much of the Book of Revelation is highly symbolic, the images depicting events in the past, present and future. Complicating interpretation further, the reader’s perspective in Revelation keeps changing between heaven and earth.

As we study and process what is written there, one conclusion seems certain to me. We should sense a responsibility to let people know that heaven and earth will be remade one day, for the better, after terrible birth pangs. God is very much at work in the world.

Simultaneously, we should understand that we cannot know with any real certainty the what, where and who of Revelation, the apocalyptic sections of the Book of Daniel, or other biblical references to the last days, and we certainly cannot know the when.

“No one knows when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself,” Jesus said. “Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36.)

To process and live out what we are taught about the end times, I find it useful to cling to “immediacy,” the idea that God’s redemptive work in this world could end and Christ could return at any moment.

In the same section of Matthew, Jesus’ words continue:

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 24:37-39

I think it’s dangerous when people claim certain events have to happen before Christ returns in full—even as believers, we can be lulled into apathy by such thoughts. The Apostle Peter had this in mind when he wrote, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8.)

A proper understanding of our own mortality should also give us a sense of immediacy about conforming to the will of God. None of us truly knows whether a particular day might be our last. We tend to imagine observing the end of days with an earthly view, when there’s a significant chance we will have a very different perspective.

So, what to do? Well, today’s text has one image that should give us inspiration and joy. This side of heaven or the other, let’s be sure that first, we are praising God, who through Jesus Christ has saved us from what should have been the eternal grip of sin and death.

Let’s praise God here on earth with our voices and whatever musical instruments we may have on hand, just as we will praise him one day in a new heaven and earth. Perhaps we will even lift these praises with harps in hands, standing on something like a brilliant sea of fire-imbued glass.

Lord, let today be about you, and then let each day that follows be the same. Amen.


Website image courtesy FantasyStock at fantasystock@deviantart.com.