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.

The Work

We preach Christ crucified.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NRSV)

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.


Lately, when I hear this passage quoted, the focus seems to be on the people who will not put up with sound doctrine, the ones who seek out teachers who simply confirm what is comfortable.

Certainly, that’s a problem today. But it’s also pretty easy to argue that itching ears and wandering hearts have been around since the earliest days of the church. We cannot bring people to Jesus Christ simply by pointing out what stands against the Christian message.

Instead, let’s focus on what Paul told the young pastor Timothy to do. Be persistent in following God’s call, which is placed upon all Christians.

This passage reminds me of an encounter with a church member I had several years ago, when President Barack Obama was running for a second term. The parishioner revealed his political stance when he grabbed my sleeve and asked me, “Pastor Chuck! What are we going to do if Obama is re-elected?”

“Well,” I responded, “I guess we should do exactly what we should do if he loses. We will preach Jesus.”

Times may be favorable or unfavorable, and people may have a lot of trouble agreeing on our current status. But for Christians, our work remains simple.

First, we unhesitatingly declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, using the Holy Bible to expand upon that core truth. We present that beautiful message of love and grace to nonbelievers as attractively as we can without compromising the call to holiness that goes with it.

And within the church, the body of believers, we live in mutual accountability, ensuring we are growing in our faith and love.

Paul described a simple mandate, one that should be easy to remember.

Lord, help us today to consider when we last went to work for you, what fruits we bore, and what opportunities might lie before us. Amen.

The Q Recovery

2 Peter 1:20-21 (New Living Translation)

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.


Discerning whether supposed prophets speak for God can be difficult. The task becomes even more difficult when their audiences desperately want to hear someone assert that change is swiftly coming.

Such an environment is ripe for abuse by hoaxsters, con artists and power mongers. This is an ancient problem; nearly 3,500 years ago, God gave the Israelites simple instructions regarding how to discern whether a prophet is true or false. In short, God told them, time will tell.

Deuteronomy 18:22: “If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.”

I raise this subject today because the ancient problem remains a current problem, and I am genuinely concerned for a group of people. They are or were followers of an anonymous self-styled internet prophet called Q, forming a fringe movement which began to develop many of the traits of a religion. In some places, people even have attempted to blend Q with Christianity, resulting in a voodoo-like mashup of ideas.

I don’t spend any time drifting about in the part of the internet where Q followers share their thoughts, but people who monitor these places say many of these folks are struggling. Q’s prophecies regarding the Trump presidency and what was supposed to happen by now in U.S. politics simply have not come true.

People with a strong stake in profiting from the movement—think of online donations and Q-emblazoned sweatshirts for sale—already have begun to adjust their interpretations to stretch the timeline. A lot of these Q followers remain disillusioned, however.

I don’t know if any of them would ever see what I write today, but I do want to offer them some comfort and a new path to consider.

You clearly are passionate people, and you have a deep desire to participate in important change in this world. Someone took unfair advantage of these powerful traits you carry within you, but those traits are gifts from God!

I so want you to examine prophecies that have come true, ancient promises from God fulfilled by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is no way I can unpack that statement for you in a short blog item, but it is my prayer that despite your frustration, you will explore this idea: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

If this is a new idea, consider it for the first time by picking up a simple translation of the Bible, something along the lines of the New Living Translation I’ve been quoting today. Start at Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.

If you were disillusioned by a bad church experience, or if you realize you’ve drifted from core, traditional Christian beliefs, please consider doing exactly the same thing. Let the Holy Spirit rather than human beings do the talking through God’s word, and you then will know what to do next.

I pray you also will see how the Holy Spirit brings about true Great Awakenings, those moments when communities rapidly grow in their understanding that the work of Jesus Christ is setting all of creation right. This holy process happens not via politics, but through the peaceful transformation of hearts, and Christ’s followers have a critical role to play in the change to come.

I seek nothing from you. If I or people in similar roles can help, don’t be afraid to ask.

Lord, speak your empowering word to passionate hearts, and may your truth resound in them like a tolling bell calling the faithful home. Amen.

Seven Churches: False Teachings

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 2:12-29

As we continue our exploration of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation, let’s deal with the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira together.

In appearance, they were significantly different cities. Pergamum officially was the provincial capital of the Roman Empire, described in other sources as a wealthy and beautiful city. Thyatira lay about 45 miles to the east, and while not considered a great city, it was very commercial, undergirded by a network of trade guilds.

The churches within these cities had the same basic problem. False teaching had made its way inside.

Paganism surrounding the churches exacerbated their situations. Pergamum was a city known for pagan temples set aside for the worship of the Roman emperor and other supposed deities. Several of these temples offered sex with temple priestesses as part of their rituals. No wonder John the Revelator referred to Pergamum as the “city where Satan has his throne.”

In Thyatira, the trade guilds each had a particular patron deity, and their festivals also emphasized sexual revelry. In both cities, there also would have been the consumption of food sacrificed to idols, which implied participation in unholy worship.

These were tough places for Christians to try to live out their basic commitments to marriage as described by Jesus and the apostles. Most people around them would have questioned the Christians’ unwillingness to participate in premarital and extramarital sex.

I have no doubt that at some point, more than one person said to the Christians, “Hey, everybody is doing it!” In our sex-saturated culture, we should certainly understand the struggle, assuming we take our own commitments to Christ seriously.

It’s also not hard to see how dynamic, alluring liars could begin to deceive these churches, convincing their members it was okay to hang out at the temples, fully enjoy the festivities and still be in good standing with Christ. As in any era, it was a message some church members were itching to hear.

In Pergamum, the lies seem to have been carried into the church by organized heretical sects, while in Thyatira, Christ’s condemnation fell upon one false prophet in particular, a woman referred to as “Jezebel” in an Old Testament allusion.

Regardless of who led these Christians toward sin, the solution was simple, these letters said. Repent—stop doing what Jesus and his apostles taught is wrong. And then cling to doing what is right, knowing you will receive your eternal reward!

As old-fashioned as the formula may sound, it remains the best advice for today.

Lord, thank you for the well-established Scripture we now have to clearly instruct us about your will in all things. Where we have been wrong as individuals and churches, may we repent, and may we follow your teachings closely as we proceed. Amen.