Royal Ambassadors' End Time Diplomacy

By David Benoit

Kerri Strug was on her last event of the evening. She stood 82 feet away from her dream. The vault was to be one of Kerri's strongest events in the Olympics. All she had to do was to complete one vault. On her first try she missed her landing, injuring her leg. Every American watching knew that Kerri seemed to be our last hope. Without her vault, America's Women's Gymnastic Team apparently had no chance of winning a gold medal. We watched as she gingerly walked back to her starting position. The pain in her face was clearly visible. The question in the minds of millions of people was, Could Kerri do on one good leg what she had failed to do on two legs: land and hold her stand?

We who watched by television could hear her coach screaming above the crowd, "You can do it, you can do it!" In a moment her face, once filled with pain, was suddenly filled with determination. She looked at her coach, took a few deep breaths, and ran down the runway. Kerri was launched high into the air by the takeoff board. Her hands hit the vault, causing her body to twist and torque. Now for the test: Would her legs have the strength to hold her? Her landing was good and she helped win the gold medal for America.

It didn't seem that there was a dry eye in the place. The Russians were crying because they came up short of the gold medal, and Americans were crying because Kerri represented America. As the women's gymnastic team stood on the platform, no one knew whether Kerri was crying because of the pain or because she had won the gold. When the national anthem was played, I could not hold back the tears, but I wasn't crying because of her pain. I was crying because I was proud to be American. I counted it a great honor to have someone like Kerri representing our country. She was an outstanding ambassador for the U.S.A.!

Am I an Ambassador?

The thought that goes through my mind is, Am I an outstanding ambassador of my heavenly country? As a Christian, I represent heaven. Paul said, "For which I am an ambassador in bonds, that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:20). The word "ambassador" means "one who represents." Do you realize that you represent heaven? Do you realize that your testimony is important? Yes, you are an ambassador, or representative, of heaven. As never before, it is vital for Christians to maintain a testimony. Without a testimony we have no witness.

Most fundamental Bible students see Lot as an example of God removing His people before He rained down His wrath. Genesis 19:22 says, "Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither." If you do not remember the story, Lot separated himself from Abraham and found himself a citizen of a wicked society. According to the Bible, God could not find even ten righteous people in these twin cities. Sodom and Gomorrah didn't have churches on every corner like we have today. Lot had no Christian radio station to listen to. He had no Christian television to watch. He could not find one Christian bookstore in the Yellow Pages. Lot didn't have Bible studies with his neighbors for fellowship. Basically, sin was abundant. Lot compromised his testimony, and it ultimately cost him his family: "Lot went out and spoke unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place, for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law" (Genesis 19:14).

The devil may purchase your testimony cheaply, but he will not sell it back without making a substantial profit. Lot had bartered his testimony for a financial position.

Jesus, asked by His disciples to describe the events that would lead up to His coming, responded: "Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot, they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all" (Luke 17:28,29).

Notice that Lot and Noah were both removed before God's judgment. If God is consistent, which I believe Him to be, I believe that we too will be taken out before the tribulation period. This is the pretribulation view. Many people in the last few years have changed their view from pretribulation to other views that place Christians here on earth during the tribulation period.

Why should we, as American Christians, believe that we will miss the coming persecution? There is a difference between persecution and tribulation. Christians have always been persecuted by wicked people. The tribulation period will not be primarily a time when evil people will lash out at God's people. It will be a time when God Himself will unleash His judgment on the ungodly. The plague that God sent on the Egyptians in Exodus gives a great biblical example of this. God also prepared a secure place for His people in the land of Goshen (Exodus 8-12).

Dr. Harold Willmington, one of my professors in college and a good friend, explained the rapture as the calling home of God's ambassadors. "The first thing a nation would do before declaring war on another nation was to remove the ambassadors," he would say. I believe that everything is set for us to depart this world. I also believe that most of you reading this book now also believe this doctrine. So the question is not "When is Jesus coming?" but "What should we do until He comes?"

It was no accident that I started this chapter with the Olympics. The Bible offers several examples which compare the Christian life to athletic competition. These examples may help to shed light on the goals we want to achieve for Jesus. A very important thing to keep in mind while preparing to meet those goals is the conditions under which you will compete. Athletes must perform in extreme heat and cold. They take into consideration such elements as the elevation of the land and the time zone in which they will be competing. Consideration of these things gives prepared athletes the advantage.

Know the Playing Field

Paul tells Timothy the conditions under which believers will live right before Christ's coming: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come" (2 Timothy 3: 1). We must understand that the field is treacherous.

"For men shall be lovers of their own selves. . . " (2 Timothy 3:2a). Probably one of the most dangerous philosophies today is the one that says to love yourself. It seems that every problem in modem psychology stems from a bad self-image. The Bible tells us to love others as we love ourselves. It is natural for a man or woman to love himself or herself. But it's more difficult to love others. Self-love leads to humanism, and humanism opposes the love of God. Antichrist will be a self-lover: "The king shall do according to his will, and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god... (Daniel 11:36).

It is very easy for a person to turn self-love into self-worship. The devil knows that self-worship is as much idolatry as worshiping pagan gods. In Isaiah 14:12-14 we read:

How art thou fallen from heaven, 0 Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. This tells us that Lucifer had a problem with self-love and self- determination.

The world tells us that the only way to succeed is to exalt yourself. But the Bible tells us that we must decrease and Christ must increase. That is totally opposite of the world's philosophy.

In 2 Timothy 3:2b-3, we find this description: ... covetous (desiring the things of others), boasters (those who boast about things they really don't have), proud (pride goes before a fall), blasphemers (they hate God), disobedient to parents (they hate parents because parents represent authority and the devil will always break the chain of command, causing confusion), unthankful (if a person praises himself for all his accomplishments, why does he need to be thankful to God?), unholy (self-reliance always means the elimination of God, which always leads to the elimination of holiness), without natural affection (having no love for their family), truce- breakers (they are not trustworthy), false accusers (those who try to take the place of God must always blame someone else for their failures), incontinent (without self-control), fierce (no mercy), despisers of those that are good.

Today Christianity is looked upon by many as bad. Because we are against abortion, it is said that we have no compassion on women. Because we stand against homosexuals, we are called homophobic. Because we are not pantheists, we are accused of hating nature. Witchcraft is being accepted as a normal religion, and Christianity is being labeled a cult.

"Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:4). The description Paul gave Timothy nearly 2000 years ago is like reading today's newspapers.

Know the Rules

Can you imagine the chaos of having a sport without rules? Years ago I sat in front of a woman at a football game who became irate when one of the players was tackled. She screamed, "He's pulling hisj Jersey, ref! He's pulling his jersey, ref!" I turned and assured her that tackling was legal. She seemed quite embarrassed by her lack of knowledge of the rules of football.

Rule 1: The contestants are not bound by age. "Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).

I am amazed at the age at which children begin training to become Olympians. Some gymnasts start when they are four or five years old so they can compete when they are 14. Many times Christians underestimate the power of training children to serve God at an early age. If you do not train your children to serve God, the devil's crowd will take it upon themselves to recruit them for his service.

Rule 2: The Bible is our rulebook. "Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:13).

The Word of God must be the ultimate authority. The other evening I appeared on a Christian television talk show. My opening remarks were as follows: "There is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality. There is nothing wrong with abortion." Needless to say, the mouths of the host and cohost fell open. I finished this statement by saying, "There is nothing wrong with homosexuality and abortion outside of the Word of God."

One debate today concerns whether or not the Southern Baptist Convention should boycott Disney because of its alignment with the homosexual movement. There is no debate if both sides believe the Bible. You cannot debate philosophies with the devil. He has a master's degree in philosophy. He talked one-third of the angels out of heaven. How can we debate philosophy with the master? We need to stay close to the rulebook, the Bible, or we will be swept away by all kinds of philosophies in the last day.

Paul knew that if he didn't obey the rules he would be disqualified. "But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:27).

Rule 3: Christians in the latter day must know the course. Paul said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith " (2 Timothy 4:7).

Paul did three things:

1 . He fought a good fight. Paul didn't shadowbox. He fought for keeps: "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air" (1 Corinthians 9:26b). Most Christians today are not fighters. They have been told by the devil's crowd that they are intolerant, so now they tolerate everything.

2. He finished his course. "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly" (1 Corinthians 9:26). The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 12 to run with patience the race that is set before us. This means that the race is not a sprint but a marathon. There is a totally different method of training for a marathon runner. It takes endurance, strength, and courage. Christians who look at this race as a sprint come out of the blocks with fury, only to fall short of the finish line.

3. He kept the faith. Paul was accused of a lot of things, but never of compromise. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).

Rule 4: Christians must look toward the long term rewards and not the temporal benefits. We cannot do anything of eternal value unless we do it with eternity in mind. An old saying goes like this: "He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good." But I do not see that today. What I see is that Christians have become so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good. It is very easy for Christians to take their eyes off the Lord and put them on the world. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us to keep our eyes on the Lord: "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2a).

Thousands of distractions could cause Christians to quit. How ironic that this morning as I came downstairs to write this chapter, my wife called to me and said someone had exploded a pipe bomb at the Olympic Games. The reporters all asked the athletes the same question: "Do you feel the games should go on?" The reply was always the same: "Yes, they should!" One athlete said that when the athletes reach the level of the Olympics, they must be able to put away all distractions. We as Christians could learn something from this statement. We must be able to perform even in a hostile environment.

We need to understand that even while the Olympic Games are going on, the fighting continues. The Olympic athletes are not excluded from terrorism. Every precautionary measure is taken to ensure their safety because these athletes are so focused that they don't consider the danger all around them. They see only the games at hand. For many of these athletes, while they prepare for the games, the battles at home seem a million miles away. They must stay focused on the games even though they know that the battle still rages.

Likewise, we as Christians need to be protected from the spiritual danger that is all around us. We need to put on the whole armor of God, found in Ephesians 6, which has been provided for us, because even though we are in the game to win crowns, we are also in a very real battle-a spiritual baffle for the souls of men and women.

God has given me many opportunities to speak to professional athletes. The text I generally use is Hebrews 12:1,2: "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses Professionals understand that having the home court advantage is important. Something about the cheering crowds inspires the home team to dig a little deeper when they are at home.

After reading the Scripture that tells us we have a great cloud of witnesses, I always ask the athletes, "When are the greatest number of people cheering for you: when you are at home, or when you are away?" Their answer is always the same: "When we are at home." Technically, that is not always the right answer. Let me give you an example. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Charlotte Hornets play. When the team is in town, games are usually blocked out to local viewers. So the only people in the area who can see them are the 26,000 or so fans present at the coliseum. This excludes millions of possible viewers. Yet when the players are on the road, there are potentially millions of fans via television who are cheering for them. The problem is the players cannot see or hear the cheers from the fans at home. Our cheers are drowned out by the crowds that are in the opponent's coliseum.

This is true in the spiritual realm also. Many times the only voices we can hear are those that surround us. We listen to the secular media telling us we are a minority, and that we are outnumbered by the ungodly. You might say that we are playing on the devil's home court. If athletes could only understand that there are millions of fans back home cheering for them, they too could dig a little deeper. In the very same way, if we as Christians could grasp Hebrews 12: 1, which tells us that there are those we cannot see who are cheering for us, then we would be able to understand that our home court advantage is in heaven.

"Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us." I was speaking one night to the Atlanta Hawks, and a player named Spud Web attended my chapel service. Now Spud is quite a ballplayer, yet to look at his stature you would never believe that he was an NBA player, since Spud stands only 5 foot 6 inches tall. I asked him, "Spud, how would you like to play basketball with ankle weights on? Just one pound on each leg. Surely one pound on each leg is not a lot." He replied that he could never keep up with the other players on the court with ankle weights on. To that I responded, "The Bible tells us to lay aside every weight that hinders us from running the good race." The weight might be ungodly music for teenagers. Sex, drugs, alcohol, lying, stealing, hatred, and an unforgiving spirit are just a few of the sins that hinder our performance for God.

"Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12: lb,2a). Let me illustrate: Peewee coaches work hard at teaching their children to run toward the first base coach because it's only natural for children to pay more attention to where the ball is going than to where they should be going. Many times, we watch our own accomplishments, which takes our eyes off Jesus. We can't look at the stands to see if our mother is looking, to wave at our father, or anything else. We must run with all our energy toward our Coach, who is Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Rule 5: Christians must understand the award system. It is amazing to see how the Olympic judges keep score. They are so well-trained that they can score a gymnastic routine or a diver's performance with near-perfect accuracy. To the untrained person the performance of all these athletes is great. Yet the judges are trained to spot the minute subtleties of movement and action, things that you and I cannot see.

The awards for the Olympics athletes are gold, silver, and bronze. The awards for Christians will be gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble.

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.... If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire (I Corinthians 3:11-15).

Christians will not lose their souls at this judgment seat, but they will lose their temporal rewards of wood, hay, and stubble that could not withstand the fire.

Lehman Strauss explains it this way: In the large Olympic arenas there was an elevated seat on which the judge of the contest sat. After the contests were over, the successful competitors would assemble before the bema to receive their rewards or crowns. The bema was not a judicial bench where someone was condemned; it was a reward seat. Likewise, the Judgment Seat of Christ is not a judicial bench. The Christian life is a race, and the divine umpire is watching every contestant. After the church has run her course, He will gather every member before the bema seat for the purpose of examining each one and giving the proper reward to each.'

The Five Events

In the modern-day Olympics, athletes can participate in hundreds of events. Yet in the Christian faith there are only five events whereby Christians can receive awards. These awards are called crowns. Sad to say, most Christians could not even name the events for which they are capable of receiving awards. Here are the events:

1. The incorruptible crown. This is given to those who overcome the old nature and finish the course. "Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight 1, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:25-27).

2. The soul-winner's crown. "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise" (Proverbs 11:30). "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:2,3). "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy" (I Thessalonians 2:19,20).

3. The crown of life. This crown is given to those who die for the cause of Christ. This is called the martyr's crown. "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

4. The expectancy crown, or the crown of righteousness. This crown is given to those who look forward to Christ's coming by living righteously. "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8). This is one of the reasons I hold to the pretribulation view. I believe Jesus could come back at any minute, so I want to live in expectancy.

5. The crown of glory: the shepherd's crown. This is the crown given to faithful ministers called of God to instruct His people. "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (I Peter 5:2-4).

Paul shows us that he wanted this crown as much as any athlete could desire a gold medal: "Wherefore I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:26-28).

The Power of Your Testimony

Don't ever underestimate the power of your testimony. The Bible tells us just how powerful the Christian testimony will be in the latter days: "They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death" (Revelation 12: 11).

The faithfulness of God's people is the one defense that Satan's army cannot penetrate. Corrie ten Boom was a tremendous testimony of God's grace. When she was young she feared that she wouldn't have the strength to die for Jesus. This concerned her so much that she asked her father if it was wrong of her to think that she couldn't die for Jesus. Her father looked at her and said, "Corrie, when your father puts you on the train, when does he give you your ticket-before you get on the train, or when he puts you on the train?" She said, "You always give me the ticket when I get on the train." He said, "That's the way it is with Jesus. Jesus will not give you the strength to die for Him until He puts you in that position." Corrie ultimately had to live her life on the edge of death because of her commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bible says, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1: 7).

The greatest enemy of faith is fear. As I speak at prophecy conferences around the country, people come up to me and ask what I think they should do to prepare for whatever the future might hold for them, Sometimes their voices reflect their anxiety, but feeling anxious about the future is totally contrary to what Scripture tells us. The same God who warned us what would happen in the latter days is the same God who said, "Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have, for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Hebrews 13:5,6).

This same thought is reiterated when Jesus talked with His disciples, and His counsel to them is still applicable to us today: "Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

All that man can do is destroy the body. One time a young man asked me what I thought about someone who wanted to kill someone. I knew the name of that someone he was talking about. It was me! I looked at the young man and said, "You can't touch me unless God gives you permission." The late john R. Rice once told a man who threatened to kill him, "Don't threaten me with eternal life." This is the kind of courage, love, and compassion that will touch the hearts of the cold and cruel when the time of Jesus is at hand. May the Lord find us faithful till He comes.