Monday, April 20, 2015

The Big Trouble

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart;
I have overcome the world." Jesus
 John 16:33 ESV

If you could go back in time and tour just about any town in the ancient Roman Empire, you would encounter people working the fields surrounding the town. If it was harvest time, you might see an ox pulling an agricultural implement—a heavy block of wood, set with iron or stone teeth. It would be pulled over the harvested grain to crush it so the desirable heads of wheat could be separated from the worthless chaff. It was time-consuming, laborious work, but a necessary part of the process of making the grain fit for use. The farming tool was called a tribulum; it’s where we get our word for tribulation.

We tend not to like that word, because it conjures up scary end-times scenarios, but it’s actually just a fancy word for trouble. Jesus’ reference to the heavy threshing sledge grinding over the grain, gives us immediate insight into the role of trouble in believers' lives. In this life we will have trouble...tribulation is a given. So why does putting the adjectives “The Great” in front of the word give us the vapors? 

A wise teacher I know calls those final years at the end of history, "The Big Trouble" as a way of defusing some of the anxiety inherent in the words “The Great Tribulation.” That’s helpful, because sometimes dread of a thing is worse than the thing itself. Years ago when I was pregnant with my first, women came out of the woodwork to tell me their horror stories about labor and delivery. As I was planning a natural, drug-free childbirth, they scared me to death. But after I got the facts about what was going to happen, the fear receded. Didn't make going through the actual labor a pleasant experience (except for the baby, after), but I was able to get through it. At each stage of labor, I knew what was next. Not saying that the Tribulation will be as straight-forward and ‘easy’ as childbirth, but it’s a biblical picture of the end of the age (I Thess. 5:3). So the way I see it, we can either surrender to dread or take a deep breath and see what all the fuss is about.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ contains a wonderful promise—a blessing for those who read it; not, please note, those who understand it. A study of Revelation gives us all sorts of good intel. The duration of the Big Trouble; the sorts of things Christians will encounter; what will happen in the world around us; and what will happen in Heaven at the same time. And it's okay that there are a variety of opinions about what it all means and when it all happens. There is room for that. But no matter how you interpret the events contained in Revelation, or when you believe these events will take place, it's clear that things will get pretty bad for believers long before the Big Trouble arrives.

Because God is loving, faithful and merciful, the good news is that the Big Trouble is only as big as it needs to be. Every step of the way, God will seek to save the lost and purify the saved. The role of trouble is to get our attention. To stop our wandering. To illustrate our need for a savior. To turn us from our own way back to His.  It is the culmination of the story He began in the Garden, when His desire was to have a people with whom to share His love. The Big Trouble is His final warning that He really is and that the earth is really His. It's His mercy extended to a hostile and indifferent world. His bootcamp for believers who’ve grown accustomed to life in the world and dull to their reason for existence. For believers, the Revelation of Jesus Christ is full of encouragement. God will be with us. Every.Step.Of the.Way. Even in hardship. Even in persecution. Even in martyrdom. Whatever we face, we will not face alone. The final throes will be intense, but quick; then we will have all of eternity to enjoy. Again and again in Revelation the message comes through to stand, to take courage, to trust, to watch and wait for God’s ultimate redemption. God says, “Do not be afraid,” not because things aren't bad or scary, but because He's bigger, wiser and stronger. He is able...more than able. And that's where our confidence lies (Isaiah 41:10). This is good encouragement for going through trouble, whether it’s garden variety or the apocalyptic sort.

So how do we prepare for the Big Trouble? The truly overwhelming events that will unfold at that time will cause many to faint from fear. My only hope of remaining faithful, while attempting to live out the love of Jesus is to draw strength from Him. Therefore, I must move closer to Him, growing in my ability to lean on, trust in, cling to, inquire of and crave Him as a vital necessity. That will build a shelter in which I can weather any storm, whether the Big Trouble remains far away for another generation to confront or suddenly appears on our plate.

Jesus redeemed our souls on His first visit. When He returns, the earth itself, broken and stained by thousands of years of sin’s effects will be made new as was intended at the beginning of time. It will be an awesome time—awesome in the strict sense of the word—inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear. The tribulum of God will roll over the earth, separating the grain from the chaff, reaping a Great Harvest and purifying the church to abide with her Messiah forever. Through Big Trouble God will lead us home.


 "..strengthening the souls and the hearts of the disciples,
urging and warning and encouraging them
to stand firm in the faith, and [telling them]
that it is through many hardships and tribulations
we must enter the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22 AMP

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