Dire Warnings

But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Mark 13:14

Churches refrain from teaching what the Bible says about end times because it’s controversial and confusing, at least on the surface. Better to steer clear and focus on something practical. But in doing so you carve out big chunks of scripture that were put there for a reason. This is one of those passages (Mark 13, otherwise known as the Olivet Discourse).

I was fortunate to spend most of my church life in settings where eschatology was addressed in a clear and non-hysterical fashion, which is how the Bible addresses future events. We do not fixate on prophecy, but we do not ignore it.

Actually, we are to look forward to Lord’s  returning, but not at the expense of being no earthly good. But as John Piper observed, these people are rare or nonexistent. On the contrary, if they do exist, they’re likely the most effective in God’s eyes.

Not to take on verses like these is to refuse to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27)The main principle to keep in mind is that some predictions can have an initial fulfillment, and then a more dramatic and ultimate manifestation. Here is one of those cases. If you just read what is said there is nothing unclear or controversial. There will be a very bad man standing in the Jerusalem temple someday, worse than his predecessors. There will need to be a temple in the first case. Presently, there is not one, but there will be, by this reference.

But hasn’t this happened already in 70 A.D. when the temple was flattened by the Romans? Yes and no. The clue is in the verse below where the nature and extent of this time is discussed.

For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. Mark 13:19

This tribulation will be unique in history. We have not yet seen the likes. The Bible describes how ominous the situation will be, not affording the luxury of time to pack a lunch.

And the time has to be shortened for the sake of the God’s elect.

Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. Mark 13:20

We’ll believe and dread almost anything the press reports these days, pandemics, stock market crashes and rising seas, and the list goes on. The question is what do we do with these dire warnings?

Do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully. I Thessalonians 5:20-21



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When Things Go South

Then I said, “It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. Psalm 77:10-11

When things go south, we wonder if God has withdrawn his helping hand. It is upsetting and unnerving to sense that you’ve been abandoned, cast out to sea, if you will. This apparent severing could be a source of real panic. It causes great grief. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The problem is you can’t always separate an act of God from your own failure (both acts of God by the way). Rarely are you fired for no cause. You might be laid off due to a numbers game, but there may be guilt or anger at not being viewed as good enough to survive the cut. Dwelling too long on the latter can do great damage to your faith and hope. If you did fail, if you weren’t good enough, it was by God’s hand for a greater purpose. You might not see this now, but you likely will later!

I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Psalm 77:12-15

The hand of God moves in mysterious ways. We see it, give credit to it, when good things happen. But we must remember it’s also in what appears to be bad. “God causes all things to work together for good.” (Romans 8:28) So as you inventory the works of God’s hand in your life, recall the missteps as well, and how he reached out to grab your hand. Remember, meditate, muse on what he’s done in the past to derive hope for the future.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, remember God’s holiness and greatness, his strength and power. Far be it from us to know what’s best. Leave it to him to work his wonders! He’s a very present help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

There is nothing he can’t conquer with the might of his right hand!

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The End of the World

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” Mark 13:4 (but read all of Mark 13:1-13)

The natural desire is to know when and where “the end of the world” will occur. We’re curious people. We’re anxious people. But no one knows but God alone.

He who says he knows or suggests signs that what is to come is about to take place, is not the one. Even dramatic signs in nature or signs politically are at best preliminary.

What will happen has pretty much been divulged in God’s word (Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Matthew 24). We just need to wait for it.

It’s good to be discerning. It’s important to remain faithful. But you’ll know full well when the time—your time—has come, because you’ll run out of hiding places, and be, if not already, targeted for elimination. All of Jesus’ disciples except one died as martyrs, and the other was exiled.

So don’t worry about that prospect for yourself now. Don’t practice what you’re going to say when called upon to defend your faith now. The occasion, if and when it comes, will be too big for you to handle yourself. The spirit of God will take it from there.

Simply understand that nothing’s permanent in this world. You can appreciate things for now, like beautiful buildings, with that mindset.

To review the Lord’s counsel for living “in the last days,” see to it that 1) no one misleads you. 2) Do not be frightened. 3) Be on your guard. 4) Do not worry beforehand about what you’ll do or say when persecuted.

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On Draining the Treasury

And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

Churches talk a lot about giving. Some mention it frequently from the stage. Others thread it through most every sermon, never missing an opportunity to promote “cheerful” giving. The reality in megachurches is that there are a lot of mouths to feed who’ve grown accustomed to the finer things in life. It has to be that way to keep things afloat. You’ve got your corporate donors who stroke big checks to pad the wallet, and then, of course, the “widows’ mites.”

It’s very much like us buying the big house in the suburbs within a gated community. Along with this comes the huge mortgage and compulsory big salary. You’ve got to feed the monster to maintain your style of living. It’s a reality of life.

Here we read about how giving should be. Not the fact that the widow gave everything, but that she was obviously confident enough in God to recognize his worth—worthy of everything she had—and trustworthy enough to not worry about where her next meal would come from.

It’s quite difficult to operate in this fashion, that is, to dump everything, I mean everything into the offering bucket when doing so would put you in debtors‘ prison. For example, the rich young ruler walked away from Jesus rather than do it, ignoring the unseen riches of the kingdom. How about that same mega-church sharing all of its reserves “for a rainy day” on some acute need, even in its congregation.  Not likely. Oh, we of little faith!

One of the issues that plague us is who trusts a cause enough to drain their treasuries for it? In this situation, were the people with a lot doing it to curry favor with muckety mucks? Giving the widow’s way is a Masters level class. None of us will probably reach this lofty—or lowly—point in a first-world country.

The cure in my mind is to create your own “foundation” if you will. Set out to cheerfully give in response to the Lord’s nudging in your own sphere of influence, rather than to the endless pleas of those who get a share of what you give before it can fund a cause you believe in.

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True Magnaminity

“Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40

As we enter into an intense and raucous political season, like Jesus, we need to see through all the words for actions, and all the actions for motives.

Here the proud religious leaders of the day, who bellowed out sanctimonious prayers in public, were devouring widows houses in private.

Jesus saw them for what they were, “white washed tombs.” (Matthew 23:27)

It’s one thing to primp and strut about for the show of it, it’s quite another to use piety as a front to shake down the poor and downtrodden.

We need to see through all the pomp and circumstance for true magnaminity.

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Daily Double

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Mark 12:28

After Jesus silenced the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees, a scribe took his turn. Whether he was persuaded by the Lord’s responses or simply shrewd, he asked a sincere question, “What commandment is foremost of all.” Since the Jews counted 613 statutes, the majority of which were negative, to focus on the first and foremost might be a better use of time and effort.

By the way, if I were to ask Jesus a question, I’d certainly want to avoid any slight of hand, especially after his associates had been schooled.

Whatever the case, Jesus could now pivot off a passage familiar to all the people of Israel, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) which was recited twice daily: Love the one Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to this he added, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)

To fulfill this brilliant synopsis of all the law would be better than “all burnt offering and sacrifices,” said the scribe. He’d answered correctly, but knowing was much easier than doing. In James 4:17, the principle is this, “he who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

The scribe had happened upon succinct marching orders. He was not far from the kingdom. Would he go there? Will we?

It’s so much easier than keeping track of 613 dos and don’ts!

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Curses, Foiled Again!

Some would call the detractors of Jesus gluttons for punishment. They kept coming at him with contrived questions designed to entrap him. But each time he makes them look silly, and simultaneously teaches major truths. Mark 12:13-27

Perhaps more importantly, these men unwittingly acknowledge significant truths in the process.

The Pharisees and Heroduans in setting up their question regarding taxes, acknowledge that Jesus is not partial to any, but teaches the way of God in truth.

The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, oddly said this, “In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one’s wife will she be?”

This is no way to win a debate! It will not go well for you when your first statement to your opponent is, I grant that you are the all-knowing God of the universe.

Why not be like Simon Peter who humbly said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” John 6:68

You can’t outwit the Lord.

Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? Mark 12:24

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