Missing the Final Flight

Imagining the plight of thousands of panic-stricken people abandoned at the airport in Kabul is almost too tragic to comprehend. Some were American citizens. Others that served with us during the past 20 years are now facing the threat of death at the hands of the Taliban. It appears the current reports coming out Washington, D.C. have greatly understated the number of people left behind. 

Those words, “left behind,” resonate with the words of Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus, however, was warning about missing another final flight. Whether you or I depart this life via physical death or the glorious return of Jesus Christ, it is imperative that we be ready. That we don’t miss the final flight.

A couple of days ago as I was reading the Bible lyrics from a very old County Music song tumbled back into my mind: “How many, how many, I wonder? But I really don’t want to know.” The artist was wondering how many other people claimed to have loved him or her. 

It was reading and meditating on Psalm 1 that triggered a thought about how many professing Christians are truly authentic Christ-followers. The person whose life is based upon God’s Word is distinguished from those who choose to live their own way or by some other religion or philosophy. Choosing to follow God’s way will change our lifestyle—and our future destination.

For me, the question is simply this: How many friends and acquaintances are prepared for the final flight? How many are truly prepared if Christ was to return today? Tomorrow? 

Missing the last flight out of Kabul was tragic. Missing the “final flight” out of this world will be eternally tragic. Some that were stranded in Kabul waited too long to get to the airport with visas and tickets in hand. Some were at the airport on time, but without proper documentation they were turned away at the boarding gate. Many of these that were left behind now face potential persecution or even death.

When Jesus returns or the death angel comes for you and me, will we be ready? One fact is rigid: there is only one way to heaven—to God—and that is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I (myself and no other) am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes (can come) to the Father except through me.” Those are very strong, exclusive words. I’m sorry, but there is no way to put a positive spin on them and make them less severe or more inclusive.

The key is to understand and accept Jesus’ words and warnings. He, Himself, is the one and only route to heaven. He is—or has provided—the boarding pass through His sacrificial death and resurrection. If and when I believe this truth and accept (submit to) Jesus, He grants the right to join God’s family. Believing and trusting in Jesus not only changes our future destination and our present identity but will change our worldview and values—our code of ethics, priorities and life purpose.

It is not ours to judge whether another person truly believes in and trusts Jesus. I am responsible for myself. But we can look for evidence or fruit of a changed life in a professing Christian. If we do so, and discover little or no evidence of authenticity, it behooves us to encourage, even warn, them to test their own claim to faith. 

It’s not enough to listen to God’s Word or read it without putting it to practice. To do that is like a foolish person building his home on shifting sand. (Matthew 7:24-27) Jesus accused the Pharisees of reading and teaching God’s Law without obeying it. (Matthew 23:1-12.)

Self deception is so subtle, especially living in our materialistic culture.  Consider Jesus’ warnings: 

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34–36, ESV) 

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32–34, ESV) 

The routine of life can detract us from living in a state of preparedness for Christ’s return. That was how Jesus described the time of Noah, when the Great Flood caught all but eight people by surprise. This happened even though Noah had spent decades building the ark and warning his friends and neighbors.

Even the routine of attending church—perhaps singing on the worship team or teaching Sunday School—can create a false sense of security. Jesus spoke of that future judgment day when some will plead that they served faithfully, but will hear these devastating words: “Depart! I don’t know you.”

My credit card statements and bank account reveal my priorities. Am I investing in things of eternal value? Do I care about the hungry? Do I pray for and share resources with my brothers and sisters facing persecution and threat of death every day?  Am I even aware of their plight, or have I pulled the curtains?

Do I care about my friends and neighbors and family members still living in darkness and unbelief? Am I a  witness by my life and with my lips? 

All these things and more help expose where my heart is focused. It is good to stop and take inventory of my life. Do my actions and priorities match my profession?

I write today because I wonder how many of my friends and family remain outside God’s family. I wonder. I wonder. But unlike the lyrics of that old country song, I really do want to know. I want to know so that I can warn them before it’s too late. Before the last flight leaves our earthly tarmac and the gate has been closed. Forever.

I Wish I Had Been Ready

“Syd, get a pencil and paper and pull up a chair.” 

Being a compliant kind of fellow, I promptly obeyed my old friend Chuck, with a tape measure in hand to set the forms for a concrete extension to our patio. 

Returning with paper and pencil, I prepared to write down measurements. But suddenly the patio construction seemed far away. Chuck looked me in the eyes and asked a pointed question about the return of Jesus Christ. 

It was one of those “when” questions, reminding me of the time when Jesus’ disciples asked about His second coming, in Matthew 24:3: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming at the end of the age?”

 It was a natural and expected question for the disciples, after what He’d just told them about the destruction of Herod’s temple. But it wasn’t the most important question at that moment, as Jesus made very clear in His response. 

Jesus offered a few brief signs that will precede His return. But for the most part, He told them, things would remain pretty much the same. Life would go on, just as it did before the great flood. In spite of Noah’s persistent warnings, everything was same-o same-o. Then came that first lightning strike—and a cloudburst beyond what anyone could dream or imagine. 

Jesus offered two certainties to His disciples. First, He told them that no one will know the day and hour of His return, except God the Father. The angels wouldn’t know and—at that moment—not even Jesus knew. (Neither do we, by the way.) The second truth He gave them was that the promise of Christ’s second coming in glory is absolutely certain—more certain than the existence of heaven and earth (Matthew 24:35).

Perhaps you’re wondering how I responded to Chuck’s question. I am certain it wasn’t the answer he anticipated—or the answer I would have given 40 years ago. 

Let me illustrate by sharing a hypothetical story.

Imagine that I am preparing for the trip of a lifetime. I’ve dreamed about it—talked about it—for as long as I can remember.  

The destination? Somewhere exotic, but without hordes of tourists. Probably not Australia or New Zealand (Now there’s A to Z.) Someplace much further from home. How about the first commercial flight to the moon or Mars?

I’ve read all the tourism brochures about the destination and the long flight. I’m aware of very strict weight limits on my luggage. I’ve made a reservation. The departure date has been set more than a year in advance, but I’m well aware that it is only tentative. One thing is certain: I must be prepared to depart with very short notice. If I’m not at the gate (launch pad) I don’t fly! It’s as simple as that.

That’s also the way it will be with the return of Christ. The very most important question about His coming is not when, but how. How should I live every moment so that I’m prepared for that instant departure?

Jesus answered that critical “how” question with a series of instructions to His disciples. Each command could be summarized in two words. Words such as, “stay awake!” Don’t be like a homeowner soundly sleeping while a thief breaks into his home. (Matthew 24:42-44; Mark 13:32-36)

Be faithful!” Don’t be caught by surprise like a servant caught messing around when the master unexpectedly returns. (Matthew 24:45-51)

Be prepared!” Don’t be caught sleeping like five potential wedding guests with empty oil lamps when the wedding processional begins. (Matthew 25:1-13)

Invest wisely!” Don’t be like the worthless servant that buried his master’s resources in the dirt. Here I am also reminded of Jesus’ instructions in His first recorded sermon—the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not lay up treasures for yourselves on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:19-25) Jesus added another example of investing in people by serving them unselfishly. It may be as simple as sharing water or food or words of encouragement. (Matthew 25:31-46)

So how did I answer Chuck’s question as I sat there with pen and paper? 

I briefly shared that when it comes to many of the finer details related to Christ’s return, we ought to be careful before speaking dogmatically. It is much better and wiser to say something like, “As I understand Scripture. it appears to me that such and such will occur.” But I also shared with Chuck that there are specific truths we can claim with complete confidence. Like money in the bank.

Jesus will return someday, just as He promised. 

His coming will be literal, physical, visible and glorious. 

And it could happen at any moment—perhaps while Chuck was working on the patio. Perhaps as you are reading these words.

The right response, then, is not to argue and debate the details surrounding these prophetic events. The best plan is to live with the strong conviction that Jesus could appear at any moment. The proof that I believe in the future return of Christ will be in my actions—how I live my life.

The bottom line is that I ought to live in such way that I can truly anticipate Jesus’ arrival. I need to live out my days anticipating the sweetest words we could ever hear: “Well done, faithful servant.” Otherwise, we may find ourselves saying, “I wish I’d been better prepared.” 

If you are yet not a follower of Christ, why not repent of sin and place all your confidence and trust in Him and what He accomplished when He died in your place?

Now is the time!

Don’t ever find yourself exclaiming, “I wish I’d been ready!”