The world’s going crazy! Have you noticed? In all my life I have never seen the world in this kind of mess: from war in Ukraine to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (scientists are warning that the Ebola virus is likely to reach Europe and Britain in the next three weeks). Cold war tensions are rising between Russia and the West; there’s civil war in Syria; simmering tensions continue between Palestine and Israel, Pakistan and India, North and South Korea and China & Japan; and, probably the most concerning of all, is the rise of Islamic State.
Just this morning I received this message from a friend who pastors a church in Turkey: “Anti-ISIS demonstrations and provocations by Kurdish groups all over Turkey turned violent today. The demonstrations were broken up by Turkish police in full riot gear using tear gas, pepper gas, pressurized water canons with acid water, etc. One reported dead and many injured and detained. Already martial law declared in some cities. One of our evangelism outreach teams found themselves in the middle of a mess in Taksim square area and got gassed. They are ok, but a little shaken up. Last week the Turkish parliament approved a resolution to send troops into Syria. There is massive military build up along the Turkish-Syrian border as ISIS is now engaged in war with Kurdish militants in Kobani just south of the Turkish border. Everything is setting up for a NATO invasion of Syria and Iraq. Soon NATO-controlled regions will blanket Israel. Could we be headed for Armageddon? Keep the Christians in Turkey in your prayers.”
Meanwhile, the Taliban group that seeks the overthrow of the Pakistani government (The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) – has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and has directed jihadists across the region to help IS set up its caliphate which stretches from northeastern Syria to western and central Iraq, and threatens to take over all of the Levant that includes Jordan, the rest of Syria, Lebanon and Israel. This group seeks to overthrow by violent means the Pakistani government, which possesses nuclear weapons.
This all comes at a time when Pakistan is facing yet another political crisis that threatens the existence of its democratic secular government. Jihadist groups see this an opportunity to assert their influence. TTP’s swearing of allegiance to ISIS potentially extends the jihadist groups influence and potential for a caliphate from the Middle East into South Asia.
And of course these things are now no longer just happening “over there.” We’ve already witnessed firsthand the actions of militants on our own soil and without great vigilance, there’s no doubt we will see more.
None of these events should be a surprise to those who study the Bible. Jesus made it clear that before He returned we would “hear of wars and rumors of wars … Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places … then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:6-14).
In this prophetic chapter Jesus describes these things as “the beginning of birth pains” and He also gives some good advice to His followers: “see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” It’s easy to watch what’s going on in the world and be fearful but Jesus encourages us to be faithful. In Luke’s record of Jesus’ sermon he writes, “So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”
The instruction is clear. Many will turn away from the faith or simply grow cold. But the faithful will read the signs of the times and stand firm and strong. As Jesus encourages us, “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning” (Luke 12:35). This is a timely reminder to us all. It’s so easy to allow our Christianity to become an optional extra. I hear all the time from Christians how they’re “too busy to gather with believers” or “it’s just not a priority for me at the moment” or “I’ll come soon when I’m free” or “I just sit at home these days and watch on live stream.” Well good luck with that because as times become more intense and challenging, the gathering of the believers will need to become a greater priority in order to keep our lamps burning bright. The writer to the Hebrews wrote this two millennia ago: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
Pastor Mark Howell put it this way:
In community we can know and be known.
In community we can love and be loved.
In community we can forgive and be forgiven.
In community we can challenge and be challenged.
In community we can celebrate and be celebrated.
In community our joy is doubled and sorrow is halved.
In other words – “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning.”