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This Week's Teaching: "Hardship is Coming and Many Will Fall Away"
I've been saying this for a few years now and I'm gonna say it again: Hardship is coming and many will fall away.
I've asked the question: if the above ground structures and systems that we rely on for the practice of our faith... -- meaning, if the worship services that other people plan for us, if the sermons that other people deliver to us, if the video platform that we log into to watch teaching, or the streaming services that we tap into to listen to worship music; if the songs that other people are writing and producing with all the lush instruments, which are great, but if the things that we rely on for the practice of our faith; if Zondervan and whoever else publishes the Bible, if those who have studied the original languages and are skilled in translating the scriptures into our modern languages, into our vernacular; if the people who pay the bills and do the maintenance on a building so that we have some place to go on a Sunday morning so we can go to church; if the bank accounts that allow us to pay someone that we call pastor to watch over us and care for us and be there when times are hard and to marry us, when things are great but if the finances, if the bank accounts that allow us to hire someone to take care of us, if the 501(c)(3) status, those things that we rely on; if the ability to worship publicly; if the freedom to tell someone else about our faith without suffering persecution; if all these things -- if the above ground systems and structures that we rely on for the practice of our faith were suddenly taken away. This isn't a political statement. If politics are involved, fine, but if they were suddenly taken away, all those above ground systems and structures -- If the above ground systems and structures that you rely on for the practice of your faith were suddenly taken away, would you still know how to practice your faith?
Would we still know how to practice our faith?
If we weren't church in the way that we think of as church, would we still know how to practice our faith?
If church was about more than going to a worship service or volunteering or having someone coordinate a potluck, or having youth group to send our youth to, or a kids church to send our kids to. If all those things that we think about as church in the Western American early 21st century mindset, if those things were taken away, would we still know how to practice our faith?
It grabbed me several years ago, when Covid hit and I looked around and I said, "No, we don't." Like, we don't know how to practice our faith. Because as soon as someone said, "Sorry, you can't meet in big groups," we went, "Oh no! Now we can't worship God!" We didn't know how to practice our faith. As soon as someone said, " You can't meet in a group to hear someone preach for you," we thought, "Oh no. Now how am I going to eat?"
If the above ground systems and structures that you rely on for the practice of your faith were suddenly taken away, would you still know how to practice your faith?
I believe hardship has come and hardship is coming, and that when it comes, many will fall away. Where I get this is Jesus's own words. Matthew 24. He says, "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, 'I am the Messiah,' and they will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Nation will rise against nation and Kingdom against Kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places." We could probably put whatever the natural disasters that we're afraid of in there. "All these are the beginning of birth pains."
Something is developing. When it gets bad something is ready to be born. When the pains are coming, when the fear is overcoming you, something good, something good is about to be born.
"All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you'll 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 -- at that time, many -- will turn away from the faith."
The next time you're sitting in a group of believers that you think of as church look around. Many will fall away in the time of testing. Look around. Is it the person next to you? Is it the person across from you? Many will fall away. This should be sobering.
"At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear -- 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 is a testimony to all nations" -- during all this time, during this persecution, during all this hardship, when it feels like everything is just being shaken up -- "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached as a testimony" as we are enduring the suffering "to all nations, and then the end will come."
I believe hardship is coming and many will fall away.
Now it's tempting to think that that hardship is going to be persecution from the outside, and it will be -- and make no mistake, it always has been. There have always been those in power who have persecuted the church. Always has been. It's not a new thing. And so yes, the hardship will come from the outside but make no mistake, it'll also come from within.
Hardship is coming and many will fall away, and even from within, " many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people."
Do you think false prophets come from the outside? Do you think that the church is going to be deceived by people who say, "I'm not even a follower of Christ? I think you should..." Like, obviously, some people will leave the faith. They'll say, "I'm done with Jesus. I'm outta here." And they'll chase those false prophets that are easy to recognize. But, do you really think the deception will come from outside? I believe the deception will come from inside the church. "Many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people."
Hardship is coming and many will fall away from the faith.
It's a hard word, but I believe the church has become idolatrous and adulterous. At best, it's just become fluffy and lazy. At worst, it's pursued this earthly kingdom as if it is our reward, as if this is our best life now -- the temptations that Jesus in the wilderness said, "No! I'm not gonna do that." We have become idolatrous and adulterous chasing after the things that this world promises, that Satan dangles in front of us and says, "You know what? If you just come and pursue these things, then you'll really enjoy life."
We've become idolatrous and adulterous, and I believe God has brought the church under his discipline. And before you say, "God doesn't discipline us, he loves us," read Hebrews 12. I'm tired of people thinking that God doesn't discipline the church.
" Do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you. Because the Lord disciplines those he loves and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. So endure hardship as discipline for God is treating you as his children... God disciplines us for our good in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline is pleasant at the time. But later on it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
First Peter. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded (from all this) by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." We're between the rescue and the reward. "In all this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith -- of greater worth than gold which perishes, even though refined by fire -- may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not yet seen him, you love him. And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and you're filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls... Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you. When Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming."
Hardship is coming now. We are living through it and many will fall away. It's a testing. And it's also a refining. Because when God brings us under discipline, it is to refine us. He is trying to bring us to holiness so that we can produce peace and righteousness as we allow the hardship to train us.
I have two more thoughts which I'll address in the coming weeks. But the thought today that I want to entrust to you, to your discernment, to the church, to you personally: Hardship is coming and many will fall away. Will it be you? Are you resisting the hardship? Are you still pressing past the hardship as if this is just something you've gotta overcome? Or are you allowing God to work in you a refining?
Are you afraid of the loss of all the things in this world, the finer things which we all enjoy here in the West, are you dreading a loss of those things so much that you're clinging to it and God is saying, let go. Let go of idolatry. Let go of adultery. Become pure. God is saying, "When I test my church, I want you to prevail. I want your faith to be proven as genuine, believing in hope that it will result in praise, glory, and honor."
Are you resisting it or are you submitting to God's loving discipline? Do you love him? Do you believe in him? Are you filled with that inexpressible and glorious joy? You are receiving the end result of your faith. Even though right now it's hard. You are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your soul. So lean into that.
Hardship is coming and many will fall away. But you can be one who perseveres, who is refined.
Your inheritance is kept in heaven for you. You haven't received it yet. Let go of the things of this world and cling to the things that are to come. This hardship is a gift to you. Receive the gift.