Saturday, April 15, 2023

Ep. 50 - Preparing For What Is To Come

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I know a few people who are preppers. (I'm assuming that you know what this word means.)

I am not allowed to mention their names (the preppers) or to even allude to where they might live. I have been extensively warned by my prepper friends that this information should not be shared even under the pain of death because when the apocalypse hits, they don't want anyone to know that they have prepared. If the preppers I know were the sort that spent time on the internet looking at things other than survival gear and food buckets, they would probably be annoyed that I have even mentioned that I know preppers. I want to take a moment to assure my prepper friends that I will stand firm when I am being interrogated. I will not give away the location of their prep work. I promise you that nobody will know where you keep your chickens.

I jest, but only slightly. If things really do fall apart, I will be knocking on their doors, asking for eggs and bacon.

There are others who are not as extreme in their preparedness. They aren't buying freeze-dried food or bags of rice, but they are concerned about the way things are going. I know that people have been saying for years that we are near the end, but you have to admit, things are getting pretty weird. I'm not going into bonkers territory here: I'm not going to talk to you about how the Nephilim are actually running the show or discuss how Baal is being worshipped by Hollywood or that the antichrist is part of Chat GPT and is creating the Biden hologram. Nope. I'm not going there. But I don't have to go off that deep end to recognize where things are headed.

In fact, this doesn't even have to be an end-times, eschatological, apocalyptic sort of conversation at all. For the last 2,000 years (and technically even before that), God's people have faced persecution. The author and finisher of our faith, Christ Jesus, even told us to expect this. "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:20 ESV) It was his destiny on this earth and it will be ours as well. Other than a few sporadic periods of peace, this has been the case and Jesus' words have been and will be fulfilled. So forget whether or not these are the end times and discard any conspiracy theories: Simply be a student of history and a listener to the words of our master and you will know that we ought to expect actual/physical persecution.

With all of that in mind, I can't help but wonder what sort of prepping I /we ought to do. I'll leave the food and ammo preppers to their business (and thank God for their friendship if ever I am in need of it), but what about a church? What sort of prepping ought a church to engage in? I would like to share with you 4 aspects that churches ought to explore to varying degrees as we near a potential onslaught of persecution. 

Number One: Minimize your Assets.

For most small churches, this shouldn't be too big of a problem, but for the majority of our larger churches, this could be a challenge because many of them resemble bloated corporate institutions more than they resemble a church. Their pastors are overpaid CEOs, their music teams are full-fledged bands with groupies, and their facilities are multi-million dollar multi-media housing and producing complexes complete with their own maintenance and IT departments. All of this might sound glorious to some, but when persecution hits and the fat is trimmed, all of these things will become burdensome. There aren't too many luxuries that survive flood waters.

This is especially true for the so-called mega-churches. When persecution strikes, mega-churches will potentially be the primary targets. Regardless, attendance at mega-churches will inevitably dwindle. Some of this dwindling will be pre-persecution (i.e. people that follow the flow of the world will abandon the churches that stick to the truth). Some attendance will dwindle as a direct result of persecution (i.e. people will be put in jail or killed). Some attendance will dwindle as an indirect result of persecution (i.e. people watching others get persecuted will cause them to abandon the faith). And finally, some attendance will dwindle as a participation in the persecution (i.e. people will abandon the faith and then turn on the others). Financial support will also decline because of other aspects of persecution, like job loss.

One of the only ways that a church could "prep" for this would be to downsize or minimize its assets. For many churches, I believe, it might be too late. Not only would it be too difficult to begin eliminating these assets, but they also ... just ... wouldn't ... want to. Because when churches are run like businesses, then their people are treated like paying customers. There are churches that know if they take away the assets, they will lose their paying customers. If they lose their paying customers, they will lose their livelihoods. But if it is at all possible for a church to minimize its assets, now would be the time to do that.

It wouldn't have to be dramatic or drastic, at least not yet. Maybe reconsider the addition that you are planning. Ask yourselves if you really need a third youth pastor. Consider the relevance of a coffee shop in your church lobby. Contemplate selling the equipment in the game room and potentially using that space for something like a food pantry for your people. 

I know I haven't given very many practical ways to accomplish this, but I have included it as the first way for a church to prep because I believe that it will be the heavy anchor that sinks several churches when the going gets tough. There are a few ways that our little church is making preparations. For the most part, we are in a pretty good spot. We are debt free. We have a small amount saved up in an emergency fund. We don't have any full-time paid staff. Both of our pastors are bi-vocational. And to be honest, if the government came and took our building, we wouldn't even falter in our continued connection as a community. 

Number Two: Maximize your Teaching.

Make it big. We are all going to need big theology. A robust, God-Sized theology that can withstand all sorts of scrutiny, unkindness, slanderous attacks, abandonment, downright meanness, insults, threats, philosophical attacks, theological attacks, actual attacks, physical violence, hardships, hunger, want, and death. It isn't that we need to teach people to have bigger faith, Jesus told us that it wasn't the size of the faith that mattered anyway (see Luke 17:5-6). Since " is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) we need to simply teach people about the God of the Bible. (He is really big and robust.)

It was by faith in God, a God who keeps his promises and tells the truth, that people did what they did in that "faith chapter" of Hebrews. In that same chapter, we are told that the Father of our Faith (Abraham) along with others, "...died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13 ESV) If the theological teaching at your church consists of anything resembling "your best life now" it does not correspond with the Faith of Abraham. As children of Abraham, we must speak in such a way:

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:14–16 ESV)

Even amongst those who are rejecting the world's sinful trends, there are still too many with their eyes on the country they are leaving, not on the homeland that is prepared for us. It is through the learning of this great God of ours that we can be included in the halls of faith and have these words said also of us: 

who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. (Hebrews 11:33–35a ESV)

Oh... but let us not end halfway through verse 35... 

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:35b–40 ESV)

Oh. To long for that "something better for us!" If your world is huge and the evils of this world are goliath-sized giants, and the thought of something else being better than life and limb seems like insanity... It isn't because there isn't something better... you just don't believe that there is. 

Pastors, I implore you to boost your theology. Engage in some serious Expository Preaching. Sing Songs that speak and teach about the attributes of God. Teach and learn Catechisms and Ancient Creeds that have endured the test of time. Read meaty books with bones and ligaments and gristle that explore, with bold wonder, the mighty God whom we serve. Stop wasting time keeping up with the Kardashians or the hype of the most recent Marvel movie, read biographical stories of those who have gone the distance for their savior and have given everything so they could get everything. 

Number Three: Memorize your Scriptures.

There are many reasons that I could give to encourage someone to memorize scripture. This is clearly something that all of us should be doing anyway. One of the first passages that my mother made me memorize as a child was Psalm 119:11, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." (ESV) This was good to memorize, but it also laid a foundation for why to memorize. Storing up God's word in your heart is a key tool in NOT sinning. 

Standing up to persecution will require God's words to be embedded deep in our hearts and in our minds. We must use practical tools to make this happen. Consider the command of the Lord to the children of Israel just before they entered the land of promise: 

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:4–9 ESV)

Get some 3"x5" cards. Write out those impactful, heart-strengthening, soul-turning, feet-planting scriptures. Commit them to memory. Make signs with those scriptures and hang them on your walls. Tape them to the dash of your car. Plaster them around your soul-quenching, mind-numbing televisions and mobile devices. Make them the backgrounds on your computer screens. Listen to the words of God preached and taught while commuting to work or while you spend time on treadmills and workout machines. (At least all of that time won't be wasted on that which has little profit - see 1 Timothy 4:8

But I've included this at the third Church Prep point, for other reasons as well. It should probably be said that we should at least stop relying on our mobile phones and tablets for our scriptures.  Online resources, as much as we can love and appreciate them, may not withstand the world's takeover. One of the easiest things for a government that shifts from a separation of church and state to an attempted manipulation of the church by the state, will be banning and blocking digital resources. Physical Bibles will be much more difficult for the government to burn.  Kings and governments from the past and present have tried to snuff out the Bible, and have yet to do it. 

Committing the Word of God to actual memory would be the next logical step. Not necessarily because we won't have access to our physical Bibles, but because we may not have them available when we are in jail. But if we have God's words in our minds and on our hearts, then we will be better equipped for ourselves when in chains. We will also have the words of life available to share with those who are questioning us or the jailers who are holding us. (It wouldn't be the first time a jailer came to Christ. See Acts 16:25-40)

Number Four: Utilize your Members.

The final way that we will most definitely want to become church preppers is through the utilization of our members. If the majority of your church is being served and not serving, then something is off and your church won't survive the hard times. The Local Church (the Body of Christ in a community) is composed of its members. 

[14] For the body does not consist of one member but of many. [15] If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [16] And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [17] If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? [18] But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. [19] If all were a single member, where would the body be? [20] As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14–20 ESV)

Trying to go through the hard times without a fully functioning body would, well... be like trying to go through hard times without a fully functioning body!  All of the body parts are essential and will become increasingly more essential to a persecuted church. Business churches won't make it. CEO Pastors won't be able to individually hold it all together. All of those programs won't survive, but God's true people will.

The primary way that a church ought to be utilizing its members is through the raising up and training of men to serve as elders and deacons. These are the two key roles in a Biblically functioning, Christ-exalting, God-honoring church. These roles will become even more important when our people face hunger and want because of persecution, when our pastors are thrown into jail or executed, and when those who are scurrying away from the sinking titanic churches, looking for actual churches that teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as laid down by his Apostles. 


There is much more that could be said in descibing the value and validity of each of these points as methods of church prepping. But there are also so many variations of each of these, that to go into too much specific detail might miss the main point. That main point being: get ready. It's coming. 

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