The End of the World?

Well, 2012 has begun…and talk of the “end of the world” will certainly increase as the year goes on. The Mayan “Long Count Calendar,” which presumably began on August 11, 3114 BC (according to the best guess of some scholars), will come to completion 5125 years later on December 21, 2012.

Uh oh.

I guess if you are Mayan then this is your Y2K moment when you fear that all your stone calendars and utensils will stop working :>).

Actually I am impressed that the Mayans had such a calendar. They were a resourceful people. And if nothing else, they made sure that their civilization would be talked about 5000 years later. But to derive any other meaning from their Long Count Calendar is obviously hype-filled speculation. The Mayans didn’t have any idea what would happen 5125 years after their calendar began…nor did they care.

But there is something interesting behind all the speculation of the world’s demise. Something inside of us reminds us that our existence is fragile and that the world can not go on forever. Something tells us that the world will eventually end.

And I agree.

Just as the world began at a certain time, it will end at a certain time. The universe is not eternal. It has a beginning and it will have an end. We just don’t know when that end will be. Jesus makes it clear: But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven [or the Mayans], but My Father only (Matthew 24:36).

That doesn’t stop the speculation.

I remember reading George Orwell’s 1984 in 1984 and being disturbed at the thought of such an oppressive, intrusive government. Big Brother is watching! I remember being in Bible college and someone giving me 88 Reasons Why the World Will End in 1988. I was bummed that I wouldn’t graduate but glad that my Greek exam might not happen.

Then my first year in ministry in NJ (1999) I spent considerable time dealing with the Y2K issue. Some in the church had read Michael Hyatt’s The Millennial Bug and were stockpiling food and gas supplies and warning others to do the same. I had to remind people that it was wise to be prepared for any unexpected emergency but that fear, speculation, and excessive stockpiling were not to be our response.

Most recently radio preacher Harold Camping made the news for predicting the end of the world on May 21, 2011 and then adjusting it to October 21 when May 21 passed without instance. He quietly retired a few days later on Oct 24…probably 40 years too late.

So how do we respond to all this? How is the Christian to live in light of the “end of the world”?

We are not to be flippant as those who mockingly say, Where is the promise of His coming? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation (2 Peter 3:4).

On the other hand, we are not to be fearful Chicken Littles or dogmatic date-setters who quit our jobs and stand on a mountain waiting for the Lord to take us home (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:2, 3:10-12).

I think 1 Peter 4:7-10 has the answer. It was back in 1999 when these verses really caught my attention. Ever since then they have been my “go to” verses whenever someone predicts the end of the world or when my own mind wonders how I should live in light of the return of Christ.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:7-10)

The apostles lived every day in light of Jesus’ return. When Jesus ascended to heaven, they were ready for Him to return (Acts 1:6). Thus Peter lived with his eyes on the skies. But he also lived practically and reasonably, realizing that the return of the Lord, while imminent, could also be thousands of years later.

So since the end of all things is near (it could happen at any moment)…therefore (this is how to live)…

Pray with a level head. Peter doesn’t say freak out, act weird, and walk around with an end of the world sandwich sign. He says be sober-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray effectively. In other words, be observant. Be discerning. Be wise. Be aware of what is happening in the world and also be knowledgeable of Scripture. And pray for God’s glory to be manifested in whatever happens in the day-to-day events of life. God is ultimately in control so fear and panic do not need to dominate the mind of the believer.

Love with a forgiving heart. Instead of becoming obnoxious with people or cursing at the world, Peter says…above all other things…make love a priority. The Great Commandment doesn’t change whether Christ comes back today or 5000 years from now. We are called to love God with the totality of our being and to demonstrate that love by loving others as Christ has loved us. That is our calling…and it is to increase as we see the Day approaching not decrease (cf. Hebrews 10:25). So to live in light of Christ’s return means to live with short accounts. I don’t let any conflict go unresolved because I don’t want to face my Savior with a bitter heart over some petty offense.

Bless others with an open home. Instead of holing yourself up in a cabin in Montana with your shotgun and your MRE’s, Peter says open up your home…and do so without grumbling. Peter is writing to suffering believers who may have grown tired of helping others and just wanted to close up shop and isolate themselves for awhile. Peter says don’t do that…and also don’t help others from some kind of martyr’s complex or sense of duty. Be hospitable with joy. Difficult times may come in 2012. An economic downturn may happen. Persecution may increase. But regardless, we are to be a giving and generous people (as exhibited in an open home) ready to help our fellow brothers and sisters as needed.

Serve with willing hands. Finally Peter says don’t retreat and pull away from the local church, but instead become more involved, using whatever gifts you have for God’s glory. The body of Christ functions best when every believer is doing their part. The worst thing about end-of-the-world-date-setting is that it usually distracts people from God’s work and often creates division in a local church. If you look at those who bought into Camping’s predictions, you often see people who are uninvolved in a local church, critical of it, and eager to follow some kind of different movement. They are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and easy prey for deceit (cf. Ephesians 4:14). Being part of a local church keeps me balanced in my thinking, accountable in my actions, and focused on relating to people who are different than me.

So that would be Peter’s advice for the start of 2012. Christ could come back this year. Maranatha! But whether He does or doesn’t, our calling as believers remains consistent.

Pray. Love. Bless. Serve.

With your eyes on the skies.

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