Pastoral Perspectives

Advent pointing forward to Advent

Observing the church seasons is one way we can inhabit the redemptive Story of God. As we recall afresh the significance of each season, we allow the Spirit to draw us into the story, shape our discipleship, and affect the way we live sanctified lives before God, for our good, and for His pleasure and glory.

We are at the start of the Church Calendar again. How can recalling afresh the first coming of Jesus shape our discipleship? How does allowing ourselves to be drawn into the Christmas story help to affect the way we live our lives? Christ’s first coming some 2 000 years ago fulfilled the prophecies from of old and since we worship a God who is immutable (he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow) he too will be faithful in fulfilling the prophesies he has made concerning Christ’s second coming. In the fullness of time, Christ’s first advent came to pass. As we remember and celebrate that event, we too can look in anticipation toward his second advent which, again in the fullness of time, will surely come to pass. If we have that kind of eager expectancy, we will live our lives very differently.

There are indeed people who are anticipating the return of Christ but their response is a sad deviation from what God would like us to be doing while we await the return of the King. There is a family in Texas who supposedly has been home schooling their nine children. One of the children was overheard saying that they didn’t need an education because “they were going to be raptured.” Recently, another of their children ran away from home because she wanted an education and she wasn’t getting it through home schooling. This incident reminds me of what the apostle Paul said to the church in Thessalonica: ‘For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.’ (2 Thessalonians 3.11) These people were thinking that since Christ’s return was so imminent, there was no need for them to work. Paul therefore chided them and exhorted them not to be lazy!

Another very sad response is how dishonest individuals will try to capitalise on peoples’ fear of the End Times and make a quick buck out of them. One such person is Jim Bakker, yes Jim Bakker whom I recently highlighted in my sermon as a positive testimony of God’s grace. Ps Edwin discovered internet links that describe what he is up to these latter days. Apparently, he has ditched the prosperity gospel for the apocalypse gospel. Instead of making people part with their money by appealing to their covetous desires, he now does the same by capitalising on their fear. Jim Bakker has returned to being a televangelist and he now preaches that Christians will be forced to eat human flesh during the End Times because in the Old Testament, it is recorded that people ate their children due to the lack of food during war and famine. (2 Kings 6.29) The End Times will see us going through similar dire circumstances. What is most bizarre is that he is warning his hearers that “they’ll be forced to eat human flesh during the fast-approaching End Times unless they buy his food buckets.” He claims that those who buy one of his survival food buckets will have seven years’ worth of meals and they should not tell their neighbours about it lest the latter turn on them for the want of food.

It seems that the dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, has returned to wallow in the mud! (2 Peter 2.22) We really don’t know what happened since the last time he wrote his autobiography entitled ‘I was wrong’. Jim Bakker was imprisoned due to fraud. During his stay in prison, he confessed that for the first time he read the bible from cover to cover and realised that the proof texts he used to support his prosperity gospel were taken out of context. Doesn’t he realise that he is again falling into the same folly, using bible verses out of context to support his scam? I was both disappointed and horrified to learn that he is dabbling in all these falsehoods after having experienced the grace of God while in prison. We all the more have to be on guard and continue to be like the Bereans who ‘received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.’ (Acts 17.11) Do not be misled by people like Jim Bakker who had seemingly turned around only to turn back to his erroneous ways, albeit in another form, yet equally destructive. Even when the teachings come from a renowned preacher, always check things out for yourselves against what Scriptures have to say.

One last unhealthy response towards the return of Christ is when people try to read the Book of Revelation in light of recent events and then start to make specific correlations. They would be suspicious of certain world leaders, identifying them potentially to be the anti-Christ. I still remember when Gorbachev was president of the Soviet Union, people then accused him of being the anti-Christ because the mark on his forehead was seen as the mark of the beast! Now the mark of the beast seems to have taken an electronic form – an implanted microchip in the hand or forehead, to be used for buying and selling, identification and access to various domains of life under the anti-Christ’s rule. Apparently, employees of BioNyfiken, a Sweden company, are able to unlock doors, access their printing accounts, and pay for a meal with a simple wave of their hand, as scanners read the chip implanted within them. Many of these enthusiasts’ intentions are similar – to warn us of the imminence of Jesus’ return. There is no doubt about it. We are definitely nearer to the end compared to the first disciples. But the fact remains that Jesus will come like a thief. This means that no one will know. It will be a surprise. The only way not to be caught by surprise is to be constantly alert, so that whether the thief comes right now, or at 12 midnight, or at 3 am in the morning, we are prepared to face him.

During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy often closed his speeches with the story of Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives: On May 19th, 1780 the sky of Hartford darkened ominously, and some of the representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand. Quelling a clamour for immediate adjournment, Davenport rose and said, “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore, I wish that candles be brought.”

I like this story because it conveys to us that we just need to keep doing what the Lord has tasked us to do regardless whether he is coming right now or never in our lifetime. If we are faithfully striving to live holy and godly lives, and in the process grow in Christ-likeness in terms of our character as well as our involvement in kingdom’s work, then like the five wise virgins with flasks of oil ready to trim their lamps, we are ready to welcome our Bridegroom whenever he comes. Don’t think we are doing this alone. Listen to the encouraging words of Paul: ‘Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.’ (1 Thessalonians 5.23-24)

As we celebrate Advent, let us remember Jesus’ first coming as a baby in the manger and as our Saviour on the cross, and let our hearts be filled with joy for the undeserving gift of life that he has extended to us. As Advent points forward to another Advent, may this joy permeate our lives, through all our ups and downs, as we anticipate Jesus’ second coming as the just Judge who will right all wrongs and the eternal King who will reign over the new heavens and the new earth.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

December 6, 2015