The Return Of Christ
I taught this lesson on Sunday, March 4th, 2007, to high school students in ninth to twelfth grade. The following is the conclusion to the lesson, whose subject was the Second Coming.
My comments will follow.
NOTE: OFFENDING PASSAGES HAVE BEEN DELETED. MATURE READERS MAY READ WHAT I ORIGINALLY SAID HERE, BUT BE ADVISED THAT THESE PASSAGES CAUSED OFFENSE.
The problem is that when it comes to thinking about the end of time, we're often guilty of clicking on stuff that isn't a link. We start talking about Israel and Palestine; we get our our end-times flow chart; we start talking about the European Union. Forget it. None of that means anything.
Meanwhile, there are the bright blue links that are flashing "CLICK HERE" that we completely ignore. Are you prepared for the return of Christ? Are you longing for his presence? Click here: what are you doing to make the world ready for him to return a thousand years from now? What are you doing to prepare your own heart for his return one minute from now?
Where do you want to be when Christ returns? I've changed my answer to this in the last few years. Now I say that I want to be -------. Last time I said this I got literally called into the office for it,see note but I'll say it again, because I think it's beautiful. Catherine is the only woman I've known; I'm the only man she's known. We saved ourselves for each other, and we have a pure and holy love. I can't imagine any better way to welcome the Savior than to be in the arms of the woman I love. That's where I want to be.
You know where I don't want to be? I don't want Jesus to come again and find me -------. I want Jesus to come again and find me on my knees in prayer, weeping for a lost friend, weeping with joy for a friend who is redeemed. That's where I want to be. I don't want Jesus to come again and find me on my feet, running as hard as I can in the opposite direction from the life to which I've been called.
I want to be right *here* when Jesus comes again, standing in front of dear friends, proclaiming truths that are the great truths of the cosmos. I don't want Jesus to come again and find me huddled in darkness and doubt and fear, loathing myself because of the beautiful things I say that I don't believe. I want to be in the sanctuary of God, filling the air with D-minor chords and A major chords, doing the thing that angels do, making music in praise to Him. You know where I don't want to be? Filling the air with a bunch of useless showing off.
When Jesus comes back to earth, I want him to find me in my study, knee-deep in books about the strata of the Rocky Mountains; I want him to find me at my computer screen, laughing out loud at the perfect audacity of an equation by Benoit Mandelbrot; I want him to find me outside, gazing up at the night sky through my brother's telescope, looking at my one-hundredth Messier object. Haha! I want him to come and find my brain whirring and my neurons firing. When he comes again, I don't want him to find my brain stoned, because I filled my body with groovy poison.
Where do you want to be when Christ returns? Not that it matters to your salvation. It's like when your grandmother dies and you say, "No! I didn't get to say 'I love you' one last time!" Hey. She knew you loved her. Same thing here: if at the moment of Christ's return you're doing something sinful or unproductive, if you're sitting there eating potato chips, well if you're redeemed you're redeemed. Grace is grace.
But when you ask yourself that question, you find out a lot about yourself. You find out what your highest ideals are. You can see your aspirations right there. You can see the truth about your values.
I just don't think we do enough thinking and feeling about the return of the Lord. Where will you be? Don't miss out. It's must-see reality.
Two days later, on March 6th, I found out that that lesson had been quite controversial. Several people had raised complaints to such a pitch that the ministers involved told me there were only two options: to remove myself voluntarily, from Sunday school teaching, and from all involvement with the youth, effective immediately and for an indefinite period, or to get removed. What a choice! And that's not all: since these people said they simply could not worship with me in front leading the praise band, I was encouraged to voluntarily remove myself from doing that too. Several people threatened to leave the church over this issue.
The response to this lesson was indeed varied. According to our ministers, a large group of people reacted so explosively that there was no containing it. And I see why they did. My intention was to challenge and inspire, and if I confuse and upset rather than doing that, then I haven't done my job. I could easily have said what I wanted to say just as powerfully without the unintended consequences.
That said, there were many other people who didn't respond with such anger. One parent, who has both sons and daughters, told me that he was glad I said what I did, and that it was exactly what kids these days need to hear. One girl said she was a bit struck at first but refreshed by my honesty. Another girl said, "I want to be loved like that." That alone makes my entire seventeen years of teaching worthwhile.
Another parent compared my statements to Ezekiel chapter 23 — calling us out of our complacency, shocking us into facing the sinful ways of our culture.
As I mentioned before, I do disagree with those people who defended everything I said. I consider my blunt words unwise and a mistake, and if I could go back and change them I would. Nonetheless, those opinions are valid and I respect them, and I hope others respect them too.
One friend of mine, one of my closest friends, laid into me once he heard about the whole thing. He said I'd lost my credibility to a clumsy attempt at edginess. He said that the impact of what I was saying was dumbed down to a televistic level of shock value. He knows me well! And he's not part of my church family.
And he actually spoke directly to me. Those critical words are hard to say to a friend. But a friend must say them. Christians are commanded to say them: "If your brother sins against you,go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over."
By chance, I found out the name of one person who'd been inflamed. I called him that day, before the sun went down. He was surprised that I'd called, but very glad, and we had a forthright and redemptive conversation, winding up, I believe, closer than we'd been before, and respecting each other more than before. Jesus of Nazareth was right to emphasize that the correct process ends with brotherhood affirmed. That was certainly my experience.
But that was just one person, and I'm the one who made that phone call. I never heard from a single person who was offended; not a single one of the people who threatened to leave the church unless something "was done;" not any of the people who said that they could not worship with me doing my duties in the praise band; not a single parent or fellow teacher or church member or fellow deacon. To this day, I don't even know who they are.
I got some advice from an elderly man with years of ministry experience, who said I should simply raise consciousness about the issue of confrontation and accountability in our church, and wait for people to come to me. They haven't yet, over a year later. In the meanwhile, I've talked to several leaders and committee heads: everyone likes the idea but when it comes to actually doing anything, actually talking about the issue of how we confront each other, of how we handle conflict in the body of Christ, they've all found one reason or another not to do it. As in most church families (and families in general), the issue of how to handle conflict lies at the bottom of our worst problems. The most divisive possible thing to do is ignore it.
Do you see how these people, whose anger was legitimate, had reactions that were absolutely illegitimate? Do you see what damage it does to a family of people to remain anonymous, so that the person in question never knows which friend raised ire? How it rips the fabric? Will you promise never to let Mystery Complainers get their way again? Will you promise to be, as my true friend was, forthright with people who need correcting? Will you promise, if you are in a position of leadership, to hold people in your care to the very highest standards? Will you refuse to cooperate with gossip and mobthink?
I'm asking you to.
NOTE: I was, in fact, mistaken in saying that. I was called into a conference on the same day that I mentioned this before, but the conference was because of some other controversial thing I'd said (and again the people who complained did so in secret).