David Jeremiah - In a World of Lawlessness, BE KIND
Zaki Anwari was 17. He was good-looking and athletic and a rising star on Afghanistan's national soccer team. He spent hours practicing every day, trying to emulate his hero, Argentinean footballer, Lionel Messi. "He couldn't get enough," said his older brother. "It's all he ever talked about. It's all he did". He was born after September 11th, so he didn't remember the brutal state of the Taliban or the early chaos of the war in Afghanistan. He grew up in Kabul in relative peace and prosperity, thanks to the presence of American forces there. When President Joe Biden announced that he would withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in August of 2021, Zaki felt apprehensive. He'd heard reports of the Taliban heading toward Kabul and, as the Afghan resistance collapsed, he feared for his family, he feared for his future, but most of all, he grieved the loss of becoming a soccer star. The Taliban banned most sports.
Instead of rounding up young men for sports, they forced them to participate in the religious rituals and live under strict control. It was on August 16 that Zaki went to the International Airport with his older brother and a cousin who had worked for the American company to attempt to secure passage out of Afghanistan. There had already been one suicide bombing in the city. People were beginning to feel panicked. The Taliban forces were close, nearly surrounding the city. The US-backed government was showing more and more signs of imminent collapse, and the plan was for Zaki to watch the car while the older men negotiated, but Zaki couldn't wait. He jumped the fence and entered the airport.
And it's not clear what happened next, but at some point he made his way onto the tarmac as a US Air Force C-17 prepared to take off. He ran toward the plane, he raced alongside the aircraft. He was knocked off balance and fell under the wheel. Among his final known words were, "Pray for me. I'm going to America". But he never made it. He was killed in the accident. And the question that comes to our mind when we hear a story like that, we're not surprised because we watched it, we saw it on TV, why would anyone run alongside an airplane as it's taking off? Why would anybody do that? And the only reason they would do it is out of desperation. Rising terror in the heart, lawlessness, violence, chaos, brutality. Any of those words will do, and all of them describe our world today.
We see it most vividly in our failed states such as Yemen and Somalia and Syria and, yes, Afghanistan, where law and order have collapsed and extremists fill the void, fomenting hatred and exporting terror. It's difficult for you and me to understand the gruesome life that befalls people that don't live in a place like we do. Most of us in America and the West, we feel relatively safe. We elect leaders who say they're gonna uphold the law. We have law enforcement agencies and emergency response systems populated by millions of good and decent people. But something is changing. Our police officers have been so vilified by the media that they're finding it hard to do their jobs. Politicians curb law enforcement budgets, and prosecutors release people who are arrested the next day.
With open borders, it's difficult to control human smugglers and sex traffickers and dangerous drugs. Our western nations have become so divided that we never know what's gonna happen next, what will provoke rioting in our streets and violence in our neighborhoods. What is happening to us? The answer's just what Jesus said would happen in his discourse with his disciples. Listen to his words in the 12th verse of Matthew 24: "Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold". All you have to do is watch the news. Every single day, there's something on the news about lawlessness, about the law no longer being obeyed, about people no longer paying a penalty for their crimes, scenes of terrible things happening. "Oh," you say, "Pastor Jeremiah, there's always been..." Yes, that's true, we've always had people that wanna break the law, but we've always had people that stood behind the law and made sure if they did, they paid a penalty for it.
Today, the law means almost nothing in some places, and people are being more and more liberated to do whatever they wanna do without penalty. Jesus said that "in the days before I return lawlessness will abound, and the love of many will grow cold". Let's talk for just a moment about this world of lawlessness. If you remember the birth pangs principle, where things start and then they get more intense and they get more close together, that's kind of what happens. Lawlessness starts and then it becomes more lawlessness, and more lawlessness close together and more intense lawlessness. Deceivers are going to come, Jesus said, wars and rumors of wars will rage and famines and plagues and earthquakes will increase in size and in scope, and the world authorities will track down Christians and persecutions will spread to all corners of the globe and we'll face betrayal and hatred, and false prophets will rise up and deceive multitudes.
That's what Jesus has already said. With this cascading torrent of crisis, it's not surprising to learn that there'll be more violence, and it will increase, and love will proportionately decrease. The Bible is clear. Jesus's words are unambiguous. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way. He said, "The most experienced psychologist knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing, and that is what sin is". Bonhoeffer went on to say: "Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but worldly wisdom does not know that godlessness is what's behind it all. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can only be healed by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Only the Christian knows this".
So you ask yourself what's going on in our world, what's going on in our world is sin is just exploding everywhere. And we have no answer to that apart from the forgiveness of Almighty God. We have no way to curb that with our plans and our policies. We curb it over here and it breaks out over here. Because the issue isn't what people are doing. The issue is why they're doing it. Because we're broken and we're sinful, and without the forgiveness of God to make us whole again, we do these things that we can't explain. Jesus knew that. Look again at Matthew 24 12. He said, "Lawlessness will abound, and the love of many will grow cold". The word "because" implies a cause and effect relationship. It's a people that reject justice that comes from God will forfeit love that comes from God.
If you don't want God's justice, you don't get his love either, because love and lawlessness don't co-exist. This becomes a vicious downward cycle: lawlessness begets lovelessness, and lovelessness produces more lawlessness. And the Bible says wickedness will increase. When Jesus said that, he was describing more than the absence of laws or law enforcement. His words call to mind periods of human history that were defined by chaos and disorder, like the Dark Ages, for example, or the bloody legacy of the first half of the 20th century. Or as I said earlier today, failed states and terrorist havens. But the lawlessness that Jesus pointed to at the world of the end will be exponentially worse than anything we have ever witnessed before.
Biblical scholar Dale Bruner describes this future period as a season of unique lawlessness in which the very concept of morality will be turned upside down. Right and wrong will be inverted, with entire cultures celebrating what is evil and condemning what is good. In Bruner's words, sinful human beings always practice lawlessness, but there will be a unique lawlessness at the end. Good will be called evil, and evil will be called good on a massive and unprecedented scale. Exponentially, people will glory in their shame. The prophet Isaiah put it very clearly: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight"!
If you watch carefully what is happening today, and it's not just in Somalia and Afghanistan, what's happening today in our own country, there's an awful lot of this inversion going on. So we have to look at this world today in our own lives and try to find a point where we can put the stake down in the ground and say, "This is the truth, and we won't move from that". And Jesus said as you get closer to the time when I come back, this is what it's gonna be like. People will say good is evil and evil is good, and they will glory in their shame. We see this twisted logic in our headlines. The United States Department of Justice recently equated parents as "domestic terrorists" for pushing back against school boards and other groups teaching children to judge people on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, violent protesters were celebrated as heroes after setting buildings on fire and looting businesses. Local firefighters responded to 37 separate fires during 1 single night of protesting. Society is moving ever closer to the world of the end and we feel the currents of the Tribulation blowing backward into our own cultures. As never before, we need to be able to articulate biblical positions on moral issues without confusing or reversing right and wrong. And as never before, we need to understand that the growing insanity in our world isn't primarily a political or a military problem. It's a spiritual problem. The further our world strays from Christ, the closer it drifts toward cruelty and chaos and wickedness, and Jesus said it will increase. You put God out of the schools, you put prayer out of the schools, and then you wonder why the schools are being shot up.
Wherever you take God away, wherever you take Jesus away, wherever you push him to the perimeter, you leave a vacuum, and that vacuum is always filled not with good but with evil. And that's what's happening in our world. And Jesus said that's what's going to happen. He's not telling that to us because he wants it to happen: because he knows it's going to happen. And then the Bible says when this wickedness increases, love will grow cold. That's an interesting thing. The growing wickedness will cause the love of many to grow cold. The NIV version of this particular verse says it this way: "The love of most will grow cold". Not just many people but most people. The further we drift from God's justice, the less we'll be affected by God's love.
While working on this material on the 4th of July, I remember checking the headlines. A gunman started shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park outside of Chicago. Seven people were killed, two dozen wounded, as he fired away from the rooftop perch with a high-powered rifle. Initial reports indicated he had been planning the attack for weeks. The mayor of Highland Park actually knew the alleged gunman from many years earlier when he participated in the Boy Scouts. She said, "It was all too familiar". And then she made this comment: "It breaks my heart," she said. "I see this picture and through the tattoos I see this little boy who was in my Scout troop and I don't know what got him to this point". Pundits debate the reasons for these kinds of things, guns, mental illness, broken homes, drugs, all these things may play a part. But the root cause that got all of this to this point is here in Matthew 24:12.
Godly love is a human force that's being frozen out of our culture, which in turn begets more violence. Because of growing wickedness, "the love of most people will grow cold," and that phrase is a translation of the Greek word "psycho," P-S-Y-C-H-O, the word from which we get our word "psyche" and "psychology". I want you to notice: here in Matthew 24:12, the word is literally used in the sense of blowing air across something. Think of your coffee when it's too hot to drink. What do you do? You blow on it, allowing the air to stir the top of the liquid, cooling it just a bit. That's the word Matthew used. "As the winds of lawlessness blow across our world, it chills our love and the world becomes a colder place". That's what's happening. If you need more evidence, think of the loneliness and lostness of multitudes of people around us.
A recent study concluded that 36% of all Americans experience serious loneliness. This includes a whopping 61% of young adults: 61% of our young adults are lonely. Look at the rise of diseases of despair. Over recent decades, including addiction, anxiety, depression, suicide, and more, all of these are skyrocketing in America and across the world. In fact, in the medical journal, "BMJ" recently conducted a review of health insurance claims between 2009 and 2018 and they found a 68% increase in diseases of despair on a broad level during that time. And that was before COVID, and COVID has spiked them. So this is what Jesus is telling us the world will be like, and we know he was telling the truth 'cause we live in that world. And I may have pushed the limits a little bit today to get your attention, but every one of you know I'm telling the truth. This is the way it is. And I try to make this as clear as I can so that what I'm about to tell you will mean the most that it can.
What do we do about people who are lawless and loveless? Well, the first thing I wanna say, don't be that way. Don't be lawless and don't be loveless. That's a pretty good start. It's difficult to watch the world disconnect from God, isn't it? Humanity's slide toward lawlessness and lovelessness is painful. We feel a jolt when forces corrupt the institutions and customs we've cherished for so long. The darkness seems to be deepening over our culture like the edge of night, but we are not powerless. We are "children of God, without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom we shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life". You need to nail that verse. Listen to it again. We're in the midst of this lawless, loveless generation but listen to what Paul wrote to the Philippians. He said: "You, we, are children of God. We're without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, and in this generation we shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life".
One of the biggest ways we can make a difference is by bringing back a revolutionary concept called kindness, which in many ways is the antidote to lawlessness. We have limited ability to control the lawlessness and lovelessness in our society, but we can control how we respond to it. Remember, I told you at the beginning of the series that some people pray, "Lord, change the circumstances so I can feel better," and the Lord says, "No, I'm gonna use the circumstances to make you be better". And I think that's what's happening to us now. I know that as I see these things happening in the world, and I see them as you do, I don't feel so much anger about it, but I feel, "Lord, how can I be the person I ought to be in the midst of this"?
Everybody is looking for a hope and we have the hope of Christ. We need to turn our candles up higher and shine brighter. We live in a dark world, but we are here on purpose. God could have put us down in any generation he wanted to but he plopped us down in this one, in this particular generation that seems to be coming unglued, and we're the light of the world. Jesus is the light of the world but before he went back to heaven, he pointed to us and he said, "You are the light of the world". So before we can ever be purveyors of kindness, we have to embrace it ourselves. So let me ask you this question. Do you embrace the kindness of God toward you? Let me just tell you a story to help you with that.
Rich Mullins wrote his best known worship song, "Awesome God," in 1988, and he sadly died in a highway accident in 1997. A few years later, James Bryan Smith wrote a book about Rich's life in which he shared how Rich grieved that his dad never spoke the words, "I love you". Rich also battled feelings of worthlessness as a teenager. "God," he once prayed, "why am I such a freak? I wanted to be a jock or something but I'm a musician. I feel like a sissy all the time. Why couldn't I just be a regular guy"?
Despite his struggles, Rich attended church, he read his Bible, he began writing worship songs. But all the time he was doing this, he was feeling like God didn't love him and doesn't care about him. Along the way, he began to truly embrace the love of God. It struck him when he looked at the creation around him. He became awed that God in his love gave songs to the birds and majesty to the mountains and laughter to the children, all of that for our benefit. And he became centered on Jesus. And Rich's brother, David, said that Rich always struggled with feelings of self-worth but he found his self-worth in Christ's death for him on the cross. And once he told a concert crowd, "If you only knew how crazy about you God really is, God has already loved you, if you only knew". Rich's mother said, "He actually felt God's love. I think because he was a stranger everywhere he went, he leaned into God and drew close to him. He was not a saint, but it was his sense of being loved by God that made him different".
Rich discovered that the love God has for us is not an emotion, but it is, in fact, the essence of who God is. The death of Christ is the indisputable sign that shouts to you, "God loves you. God loves you". God said, "I'm gonna love my children. How shall I tell them? I know what I'll do. I'll send 'em my only Son to die for them so that they won't misunderstand the depth of my love". I know many people who listen to me today who've been jilted by life and you've never had the human love you needed. Many in my generation growing up had that situation with our parents. It wasn't that they didn't love us, they just didn't know how to say it or didn't think it was right to say it. And if you don't have love from your parents, especially if it's the father in the family, the father in the family is the metaphor for your heavenly Father. If my human father doesn't express love to me, how do I know my heavenly Father loves me? And that kind of works in your soul.
And like Rich Mullins, you have not heard the human love you needed. Maybe you've been abused or neglected or mistreated. We all battle issues of self-worth, and perhaps everyone wonders at some time or another if God really loves them. If you only knew how crazy God is about you. If you really knew how much he loved you, if being loved by God that makes us different, it's his love that's not mere emotion, it's the essence of who he is, and he loves you. Somebody told me once, if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on the cover. So our prayer should be this prayer that was written by Paul to the Ephesians. He said, "I pray that God would give us power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God". Paul to the Ephesians.
Here's what I pray for you. I pray that you would know how high God's love is, how low it is, how wide it is, and how great it is and how much God loves you. And I wanna just say on the authority of the Word of God to all of you here today, God loves you like you cannot imagine. Maybe you wonder if somebody else loves you, maybe you wondered if God loves you. But I'm here to tell you, on the authority of the Bible, God loves you, he always has, he always will. He isn't just about love; he is love, and that love extends to you. So before you can ever express love to anybody else on behalf of God, you have to accept that God loves you. You cannot give to somebody what you don't have. People who possess the knowledge of God's love for them become insulated from the chilling winds that cause warm love to become hard ice. When we embrace the love of God through Christ, we own love that will never grow cold.
That's why Paul reminded the earliest believers, "The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit". Why John said, "We love because he first loved us". On a practical level, men and women, our sense of God's love deepens as we spend time with him, and many of you know what I'm saying. You've had moments when you've been reading the Bible or listening to a worship song or just praying, and you can almost reach out and touch the Lord. It feels like he's right there.
Now, let me ask you this question. Does God get closer to us at one time than he is at another? No, he's omnipresent. It's that we feel his love. It's the things that happen to us in our life that cause us to be sensitive to what's already there. God loves you. He actually loves you more than you can imagine. And maybe you don't realize it but when you go through stress if you're a believer, and you're in the Word of God and you know the Holy Spirit is in control of your life, the things you experience will make you aware of what's already true. You are loved by Almighty God. He loves you desperately. And because that's true, because you are embracing God's kindness, now you can express it.
Now, you can share that kindness with others. When we embrace God's love, it becomes natural to express it. In many ways, kindness is God's love expressed through action. Nothing is more obvious in the Bible than God's command to love the world in tangible ways, such as providing a cup of cold water in Jesus's name to the thirsty. The leaders of Bear Creek Community Church in Lodi, California, took on the task of expressing God's kindness. They felt a burden to help provide safe water to impoverished parts of the world. The project wasn't in the church's budget and so, many of the congregation's families were already under financial strain so who took up the challenge? The children's ministry did. There's a strong recycling emphasis in California and the children began collecting bottles and cans to bring with them to church. Other congregations started to rally to the cause and, would you believe it, so far they've raised almost a million dollars for clean water projects around the world.
And Michael Mantel described this wonderful news. He said, "Jesus turned water into wine. The kids at Bear Creek turned garbage into water". That's what I'm talking about. I'm talking about us being channels of the love of God. We aren't supposed to just get love from God and store it. We're not a reservoir. We're a channel. God loves us and he wants to love the world through us. He wants his love to come through us and we become his hands and his feet and his eyes and his hugs to the people around us.
Psalm 82:3 says: "Defend the poor and the fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and the needy". Proverbs 14:21 says: "Blessed is the one who is kind to the needy". Jesus said: "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise". James said: "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble". And the apostle John said, "Whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him"?
Expressing God's love means fulfilling these commands in small ways, doing things that you see need to be done. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. Everywhere you go in your neighborhood, among your friends, if you just say, "Lord, today, help me to see the needs of people that I might be able to help," and he will show you and you will have a list you won't be able to keep up with. The fact of the matter is, over the years, we have trained ourselves to blind ourselves to the needs around us, to live in our own little world, to pull the moat up in our house when we go home at night, and not to see what's going on. And today, in our world more than ever before, there are people who are just waiting for someone to share with them because, you see, people don't care how much we know until they know how much we care. And when you help them with their physical need, they will listen to you when you try to help them with their spiritual need.
God's love is not about warm thoughts and well wishes. It's expressed through action, through actually being kind. It's expressing God's love through our daily attitudes and actions. We keep it fervent, we keep it hard for the devil to blow his cold breath over our heart, by doing the works that God calls us to do. That's the spirit I'm recommending. Those of us who know God have embraced his love and we have to resist the urge to just become complacent and to say, "Oh, this world is going to hell in a hand-basket. There's nothing I can do. Get me some food for this week. Close the door and lock it, I'm gonna just be", you know what, the Bible teaches us that these things that are happening are happening not to make us feel better, but to make us be better. And I don't know about you. I have a passion in my heart, I want to be better. I want to be better for God. I want to know him better.
So, embrace God's kindness in your heart, express his kindness, and then embody it. How do we pour out kindness in a world that's defined by lawlessness? There's no better solution than just to be known as a kind person, a gracious person, a loving person. What if you and I were to reflect God's love to such a degree that the world around us said, "Oh, you know that guy? Oh my goodness, you should meet him. He's the kindest person I ever met. Oh, you know her? Oh, I tell you, if you go near her and you whisper that you got something wrong in your life, she'll be at your house with something to help you. I mean, she's just the kindest, most loving person you ever met".
Don't you just kind of in your heart wish you could be like that? I mean, people are gonna talk about you anyway. Why don't you figure out how they can talk about you and talk about you in a good way, right? Give 'em something good to talk about. Jesus gave us another picture of what it means to embody his love, and I wanna introduce it by taking you through a little exercise. I wanna take a moment and mentally transport you back to the ancient world of Jesus's day. It's late in the evening and the sun has set, and the last of its light is fading from the night sky. You've been walking for more than 10 hours under the heat of that sun, and you're not sorry to see it go, but you're also tired and sore and hungry. And you see it, a glimmering light in the distance.
Another few minutes of walking and that light becomes the welcoming glow of a city built next to a road on the side of the hill. The light you see is not produced by wires and bulbs, but by cook fires and hearths and oil lamps hanging on doorposts. There are people in that city and water to wash the grime off of your feet and a bed to recline as you take your evening meal. As a weary traveler, can you imagine anything warmer, more wonderful, in that moment? Could you stumble upon anything more welcoming and refreshing? That is the image Jesus used to describe how his church should shine the light of the gospel in the middle of a dark and dreary world. Here's what he said in Matthew 5: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven".
Here's a simple principle: light shines the brightest in the darkness. The darker the night, the brighter the light. In a world frozen from lawlessness and the lack of love, you and I have the opportunity to radiate spiritual warmth that comes with the gospel, the warmth of community, the warmth of kindness, the warmth of fellowship, the warmth of intimacy with our Creator. We may not be able to control what's happening in our world. We wish we could, but we can't. I can't do anything about the lawlessness that's in our country right now. I don't have that kind of power. But I do have power over me, by the Spirit of God. And I can use what I see around me that's so wrong to ask God to make me so right, to make me the kind of person that people will say, "He's kind, he's gracious, he cares. There's something different about that person". And then the Bible says that as we do that as a church, we become like a city on a hill.
We must never forget what God has called us to do. When he sets before us an agenda, we must follow it. We must do it with all of our hearts because God has called us in a world of darkness to be light. Let me ask you this question. Is he the light of your life? Jesus Christ comes and offers himself to us. He wants to come and live within us and take the darkness away, become the light of our life. If you haven't accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, if he's not the light of your life, there's no way for you to shine to anybody else. You cannot give away what you don't possess. So let me ask you this question. Are you a Christian? Is Jesus Christ the light of your life? And if he's not, wouldn't you like him to be?