How Shall We Live in These Tough Times?

Text: 1 Thess 5:1-8                   


If Paul were here today, would he change his thinking about the end of the world?  Or, would he tell us what he told the Thessalonians? Paul said that they should “know perfectly” about closing events. 


What could Paul mean? Paul was telling the Thessalonians and us today, that they and we have inside information.  Thessalonian Adventists and Adventists today should know what others did not know, Paul said, for you “are not in darkness . . . for you are sons of light and the day, not of the

night nor of darkness, so that the Day of the Lord should overtake you as a thief.”


Now, let’s be reasonable—for everyone, last-day events will be overwhelming. But Adventists, then and now, were not to be afraid, though they would be overwhelmed! Why? Because they had inside information!  On one hand, they would hear world leaders paint a marvelous picture of security and hope in the midst of world problems. And everyone will vote for security and hope. But Adventists, Paul is saying, would not believe these promises.  Why?  Because they had inside information!


But you say  “Paul, the world is different today. Why not believe world leaders who have all the scientific evidence that earthly problems are being solved!  Cancer will be a footnote to history in perhaps ten years like polios and scarlet fever is today! Note the fantastic news this week about the elimination of ovarian cancer in a short while! We will have fossil-free, cheap fuel to run our factories and automobiles, in perhaps ten years!


Why not believe the world’s religious leaders who for the first time in the history of this world have a peace plan that includes everyone—Hindu, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Protestants, Spiritualists—everyone!  Just think of the 200 religious leaders of the world that were gathered together by Pope John Paul in late January in Assisi, Italy. Muslims and Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and a wide spectrum of Christians.  And what were the pope’s comforting words: “Violence never again!  War never again!  Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life. Love.”  World peace with a religious peace maker is nearer than you think, much nearer than most anyone realizes today.


But Paul, however, remains adamant.  He is clearly saying: “The big picture of the last days will not change no matter what the TV and newspapers may say.  Be gracious, but don’t believe those who make wonderful scientific promises or point to all the peace talk.  “Keep the course” he is saying to us down here in the end of the end-times, “you have been given enough information, you should not be blind, you should know how the end will come—you are not of the night nor of darkness.  .  Keep your eye on the ball.  Therefore keep awake and be sober and do your job as teachers of truth, full of faith and love and hope” (vs. 8).


That was Paul’s famous trilogy—faith, hope, and love.  We call it the best life insurance that money can not buy.


How should we take Paul’s advice in 2002? Do we really believe that we “are not in darkness so that this Day should overtake us as a thief?”  How can we “watch and be sober” even when our human emotions are wrenched with sadness and perhaps anger at the human suffering that will explode in the days ahead?  The World Trade Center was just the beginning of many tough times to come.  Believe me! Just a small sample! That is what I want to talk about today.


On all sides, from about every TV anchor and newspaper editorial, we have heard that since Sept. 11, “nothing will ever be the same.”  That we have entered “a new era.”  That “everything has changed forever.”  That we all will “feel differently about security.”


How does an Adventist relate to all this?  What is our evidence that we are “not in darkness,” that we are “sons of light and sons of the day”?


Anyone who has been an Adventist even for a few weeks knows that God has given to this church a lot of inside information as to what to expect in the last days.  To ignore this enormous amount of information is to deliberately put ourselves “in darkness,” and to set ourselves up for “sudden destruction.”  To dismiss Ellen White, for example, for any reason is to avoid reality and to live in denial as if the future will be “peace and safety.”  Not a good bet!


What kind of light do we have about the end-times?  What does our inside information tell us?


1. Events will come as an “overwhelming surprise” to the world generally. (LDE:41) And to church members is this warning: “Let no one feel that he/she is secure from the danger of being surprised.” LDE:17.  So, how does that work?  The more we study, the less surprised we will be.  Will we be stunned, yes! Just as everyone was on September 11, stunned that so much death and Evil could happen where we least expected it. But Adventists should not have been surprised!


2. Events will come with “blinding force.”(4MR:74) The “storm is coming, relentless in its fury,” and then she asks, “Are we prepared to meet it?” (8t:315)


3. We should be able to “catch the steady tread of the events ordained by Him to take place.” (7T:14).  “Those who place themselves under God’s control, to be led and be guided by Him, will catch the steady trend of the events ordained by him to take place.” (RH: Aug 5, 1902).  So the question: How much effort are we giving to a calm study of prophecy and world events so that we can be catching “the steady tread of events”?  The promise is—the  more we study, the calmer, wiser, and more responsible we will become.  The less overwhelmed we will be, the less surprised!


4. We know that God is not the cause of the calamities that pile up. It was not God’s will that planes slammed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  We know how the great controversy began when evil merged into the hateful heart that turned Lucifer into Satan. And we know how evil we end.  We know that Satan has done a great job of persuading most of the world today that suffering is something that God causes one way or another.


We know better than that. But another group is sweeter and scarier. For example, suppose a family is going to church and is killed in their car by a drunk driver. Or a child dies from cancer.  How often will we hear: “Be at peace everybody, this was God’s will.   We must trust His loving Hand.”  Talk like that makes Satan very happy because God comes across like a sick bully.  That’s what Job’s friends tried to get across to suffering Job and He wouldn’t buy it. 


We all know that this world is the laboratory for the Great Controversy between God and Satan.  Men and women have the freedom to decide whose principles work the best.



But to prove Satan wrong, God has had to let time pass to show the results of  unrestricted freedom.  When God is accused as being unfair and too legalistic, He had to let the universe see what happens when created beings run their lives on their own rules.  That is why we suffer so much in our lives and planes crash and children die—we are watching Satan’s principles work out..


But, you ask, how long can all this horror go on?  It shouldn’t be long! The law of cause and effect will soon put the issues in the great controversy in very sharp contrast.  The whole world will be the stage. We will soon see developments on this earth that will dwarf all the oppression and horror of past centuries.  God is letting Satan play out his hand so that the universe will never again doubt God’s wisdom and say No to Him ever again.  Everyone, even the rebels of earth and heaven, will say, “It wasn’t worth it! (Phil. 2:11; Rev. 15:3; 19:2)


And so today, we surely are watching the scary result of God’s restraining power being withdrawn. And we haven’t seen anything yet!  We don’t have time today to survey the world for all the terror that Protestants are trying to cope with in southern Mexico as their homes burn and they are chased out of their communities; in Nigeria where hundreds of Christians have lost their lives in the last few months; in China where thousands of Christians continue to be killed or imprisoned and Bible merchants thrown in prison, and thousands more killed in New Guinea.  “The destroying power” is at work more now than at any other time in history!


5. So where does God fit in to all this tragedy and suffering? Our inside information gives us some answers: “God permits them to come that the world may take heed, that sinners may be afraid and tremble before Him.”—LDE:28. Take heed to what?  Realize that Evil marches on and that no one is exempt from its horrors. And that God alone can guarantee Home Land Security, no matter how diligent Tom Ridge and the FBI are.


Satan will do his work and God will use these disasters to wake up the general public and also to wake up His sleeping Church.  Did you get the wake-up call on September 11?


6. What can we expect from here on in?  That is the question that many young people are asking.  Let’s make some big strokes that became much clearer since September 11.


a. We should expect more and greater calamities: “The time is right upon us when there will be sorrow in the world that no human balm can heal. Even before the last great destruction comes upon the world, the flattering monuments of man's greatness will be crumbled in the dust. . . . Costly buildings, supposed to be fire-proof, are erected. But as Sodom perished in the flames of God's vengeance, so will these proud structures become ashes.”—ST, October 9, 1901.


b. We should realize that we are not spectators but active participants in the end-times.  This is where so many Adventists still remain smug for two reasons: 1) Some say, “None of this Ellen White stuff is relevant today,” or 2) others say, “We know all this will happen so we will just hunker down and watch it happen.”  Paul’s advice to us today is to remember that we are not in the bleachers watching the parade go by.  We are part of the parade, we are not where we were yesterday.  Our choices today will determine where we will be tomorrow and the day after that.  In fact, our choices today, in the midst of world troubles, are determining where we will be when probation closes—when it will be very clear just which drummer we are marching to.


One of the first privileges we have is to share the light with those around us who see only darkness and anxiety in the future.  If we think we will play it safe by sitting in the bleachers, watching the parade of events go by, God will ask you some day soon, What did you do with your talents?  And loved ones and friends will say, “Why didn’t you tell us?”


Are there terrible disasters ahead for Adventists who now live in la-la land, thinking that their knowledge of last-day events can substitute for the practice of truth?  We all heard a wake-up call on September 11!


c. If we keep facing the light and not the darkness, we will be able to trace the growth of cold, organized fury that has united this country as never before in my lifetime.  That patriotic fury will swiftly focus in hot legislation that will attempt to secure safety and unify Americans against terror, whether it is the terror of mad men and women, or the terror of economic collapse, or the terror of an enormous natural disaster.  But all this unity will be bought at the expense of giving up centuries of constitutional rights and individual freedom.

This is a subject that requires at least an hour to unpack.


 On one hand, I understand every effort to secure our borders from those who want to destroy America.  I understand every effort to track down evil men within this country by whatever means are appropriate, even to having a national identity card for airplane travel, hotel check-in, etc.  I applaud those who now recognize that evil does exist and is not merely a matter of poor housing or lack of education.   And I understand why so many recognize that in this crazy world we must give up some liberties in order to have more security. For instance, a year ago, most of this country thought it outrageous that surveillance cameras would scan crowds in football stadium looking for known felons.  Since Sept. 11, we want the system to work in every airport. 


But, I have a large but!  I also applaud a recent column in USA Today (1/10/02) by James Bovard, “Don’t bed down with tyrants to fight terrorism.”  One of his thoughts ran like this: “In the long run, people have far more to fear from government than from terrorism.”  That is a prophecy that will soon be fulfilled in this land of the free, and the home of the brave.


Adventists have the inside information about the clouds on the horizon predicted in Revelation 13.  We know that America especially will lead the way in forming a world network that will eventually use legislation to rule out any religion that says negative things about another church.  Further, we know that enormous economic crises will bring America especially to its knees, a crisis that will far exceed the terror of 9/11. 


The cries today to do something about Enron will be mere whispers compared to the demands of a whole country screaming for the government to do something when real disasters strike.  The demand will be everywhere, especially in the Halls of Congress:  No more divisions, no more hateful stuff about which day is the Sabbath, no more appeal to a Constitution that does not work in times of great crisis.  And it will be overwhelming to all of us!  Even though we are not surprised or alarmed!


For now, let us remember Paul’s counsel: “You are all sons of light and sons of the day.  We are not of the night nor of darkness.  Therefore let us not sleep as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”


A few weeks ago, Norma and I toured the aircraft carrier, Lexington, now moored in the Corpus Christi harbor.  It is the fifth ship in U.S. history to have that brave name.  The fourth was lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942) after a brilliant and surprising effort that stopped the advance of the Japanese toward Australia.  As soon as this news hit America, the next aircraft carrier being built was named the Lexington, which alsosoon saw heroic action in the Pacific.


On December 4, 1943, this new Lexington was disabled by a Japanese bomber on a moonlit night off Tarawa.  The skipper, Captain Felix Stump went to the ship speaker system so that all aboard could her him: “This is the captain speaking.  We have taken a torpedo hit in our stern and the rudder seems badly damaged.  Each man must do his job calmly and efficiently. Don’t worry.  That’s my job.  I got you here and I’ll get you out .and home.”  And so he did.  Marvelous story in how they did it.


But there’s more to that story.  More than 95% of those on board had never been in the open sea before.  They were not seasoned sailors and pilots. Citizen sailors and pilots they were.  Recently assembled, trained but unsure of themselves.  On that moonlit night, they were an easy target but the captain kept maneuvering the ship into the moonlight so that the Lexington would not give the bomber or submarine a silhouette.  All the time changing his speed and direction. 


On the way back to Pearl Harbor with that disabled rudder, the Admiral of the fleet radioed to Captain Stump, “That was wonderful seamanship, Captain.” The Captain replied, “Thank you, sir, my crew was magnificent!” 


Those words swept through the crew.  “They were magnificent in the eyes of their captain.” The sailors wrote home about their captain. When they limped back to Pearl, they didn’t need the serenade of the Navy Band to make them feel like they were heroes.  They had already heard the commendation of their captain.  Knowing their captain for what he was, kept them unafraid, kept them doing their duty.  They could trust their captain, because he got them there and he would get them home.


One of these days, a wonderful group of people will, in a way, limp into the harbor after the worst time of trouble ever to hit people on this earth  And they will hear their Captain say: “Well done, good and faithful servants . . . Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt 25:21. And then He will turn to the unfallen worlds, to the unfallen angels, and wave His hand over the veterans from earth, and say, “My crew was magnificent!”


Quietly, I want each of you to tell yourself, that by the grace of God, you will be there to hear your Captain.  You are already on the ship’s manifest, you know.  Your name is already in His book.  Will you promise Him, right now, by His grace that you will not disappoint Him?


© 2002 Herbert E. Douglass.  All rights reserved.