Christianity 201

April 26, 2022

It’s Not a Revelation of End Times, It’s a Revelation of Jesus

A decade ago, on two occasions, we featured the writing of Allan R. Bevere, and it’s always encourage to go back years later and discover the individual is still faithfully posting resources online. You’ll notice two things right away. Allan lists the scriptures from the Lectionary, and he also places the prayer at the beginning of the devotional, which can be a great way of centering our thoughts before we begin reading.

Alan is pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Ashland, Ohio. Clicking the header below will take you the text of today’s devotional at Faith Seeking Understanding.

A Vision Focused on Jesus

Scripture

Psalter: Psalm 122

Old Testament: Esther 7:1-10

Epistle: Revelation 1:9-20

___

Prayer

Mighty God, in whom we know the power of redemption, you stand among us in the shadows of our time. As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life, uphold us with knowledge of the final morning when, in the glorious presence of your risen Son, we will share in his resurrection, redeemed and restored to the fullness of life and forever freed to be your people. Amen.

___

Reflection

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades (Revelation 1:17-18).

“Revelation changes the way we see and respond to the world,” says Joel Green (Reading Scripture as Wesleyans, p. 160). He elaborates, “As much as any book of the Bible, Revelation recognizes how the glasses we wear determine what we see and understand about the world around us” (p. 161).

In Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn says to a young Anakin Skywalker, “Remember, Your focus determines your reality,” or as is stated in C.S. Lewis’ Magician’s Nephew, “[W]hat you see and hear depends a good deal on where you’re standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are” (Green, p. 161).

The truth of the matter is that no one comes to the world from a neutral point of view. There is no objective account of reality. I remember listening to a sermon years ago. Near the end of the message the preacher said to the congregation gathered, “Now, when you leave the church and go out into the real world…” Such a comment is a great theological misstep. It is the conviction of the Bible that the real world is not “out there.” The world “out there” is a distortion of the true reality God has in mind for his creation. It is the church that is to glimpse that real world so the world will know what God expects of it. To be sure, the church so often falls short of reflecting that divine reality, but it is charged with doing so nonetheless. As Stanley Hauerwas states,

My claim, so offensive to some, that the first task of the church is to make the world the world, not to make the world more just, is a correlative of this theological metaphysics. The world simply cannot be narrated—the world cannot have a story— unless a people exist who make the world the world. That is an eschatological claim that presupposes we know there was a beginning only because we have seen the end … [C]reation names God’s continuing action, God’s unrelenting desire for us to want to be loved by that love manifest in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Hannah’s Child, p. 158).

Green reminds us that in his vision the author of Revelation is not located on an island in exile or in the middle of the Roman Empire, but, “[h]e stands in the heavens. He sees things from God’s perspective, so he sees things as they really are” (p. 161)

As we read through the symbolism and the imagery, we are also transported into that realm that is beyond and yet interwoven with human reality that we might see all things earthly from a heavenly “point of view.”—to see things as they really are. This is a most difficult thing, to be sure, but Revelation gives us a glimpse of the divine reality thus determining true reality because of our changed focus.

Joel concludes,

…through his [John’s] narrative, he invites us to accompany him, so that we, too, see things as they really are. To do so, though, we need not only to travel with him to the throne room of God but also to allow our patterns of thinking, feeling, and believing to be dismantled and reassembled through binding ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who is worthy to receive honor, dominion, and power by means of his humiliating death (p. 161).

It must not be forgotten that in the Book of Revelation, John is not offering us a secret road map to discerning the signs of the end time, but rather he offers his vision from the perspective of a pastor who is encouraging his hearers to change the focus of their reality as churches under the thumb of an empire that pretends to offer security and salvation in exchange for complete and total allegiance. Their response to the world should not be focused on the empire’s pretentious claims, but rather on the heavenly reality that is true on earth—Jesus is Lord.


An excellent book on the book of Revelation is Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation. It can be purchased here.

 

January 3, 2022

Delta and Omicron: An Opportunity to Consider Alpha and Omega

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Alec Zacaroli, a former lawyer and former journalist, who was writing at the website Burke Missions, which is now at Burke Community. Often, I tend to dismiss articles which I think will become dated over time, but this one was so good on so many levels I decided to share it. Click through using the heading which follows to read this where we sourced it.

Delta? Omicron? How about Alpha and Omega?

Once again, our world has been thrown into turmoil by a tiny virus.  The emergence of Omicron, the latest variant of the COVID-19 virus, has resulted in renewed fears of illness and death, closed borders, financial turmoil, and new rounds of restrictions intended to curb its spread.

This is the second “variant of concern” on the Center for Disease Control’s list, the first being the Delta variant.  But CDC also is tracking “variants being monitored” by the names of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Mu and Zeta.

Are you thinking what I am thinking?

Right about now, what we really need is the Alpha and Omega!

I am not joking.  The timing of Omicron and Advent is more than a coincidence, at least in my view. It’s an opportunity (likely intended).

The latest iteration of the COVID-19 pandemic, once again, serves as a reminder that the world in which we live is out of our control and can inflict destruction at will, regardless of our human attempts to prevent it. And yet, the latest wave comes at a time when we also are reminded we have nothing to fear if we accept a few truths. Let’s revisit some of those:

“The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains…”– Psalm 24:1

“For by Him all things were created, both in heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. For He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” – Col. 1:16-17.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.”Isaiah 45:6-7

We could proof text God’s power over creation all day long, but I’ll spare you. Except for just this one more:

“‘I am the Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” – Rev. 1:8

Depending on where you stand in relation to God, this truth of this verse is either the absolute greatest comfort you currently have or the greatest terror you may one day experience.  Either way, it renders Omicron yet another temporary minor disturbance. The only question is when you will come to terms with that reality.

Five verses before this one, the apostle John shares this: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near.” – Rev. 1:3.  In other words, blessed is he who believes!

The prophecy, of course, is spelled out in overwhelming detail in the remainder of the book. (It’s a critical prophecy for every Christian to understand – I invite you to view Dr. Marty Baker’s series on Revelation, which you can find HERE.)  Ultimately, however, the prophecy is about one truth – the return of Jesus Christ.

He is coming… again!

He is coming to judge and destroy wickedness in the world (Rev. 17-18). He is coming to bind Satan and his followers, before casting them into an eternity of torment (Rev. 20:1-10). He is coming to judge the living and the dead (Rev. 20:11-15).

But He is also coming to redeem the faithful (Rev. 7), and to usher in a new heaven and earth – where He will dwell with His believers in peace, love and joy (Rev. 21).  Take a moment and reflect on the words from heaven that John so faithfully recorded:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’” – Rev. 21:3-4

As I write this, the day is Dec. 1, 2021.  We are just 24 days from the day in which we remember, reflect upon and celebrate the moment Jesus first came into the world to save us.  But if you believe in Him, do you also believe in the totality of His salvific work? Do you believe not only in your personal salvation, but also in the fact that Jesus is “making all things new”, as He Himself told us? (Rev. 21:5)

I truly pray that the sheer joy of that truth will reside deeply in your heart this season, and every day beyond – because that is the true gift we’ve been given.

If you happened upon this post and have not accepted – or even thought about – the fact that Jesus is God, I hope you might.  The gift He offers is to redeem you to Himself and free you from the bondage of sin and the brokenness of this world.  When the Alpha and Omega reigns in your heart, the Delta and Omicron have no lasting consequence. I pray you will accept this gift even this very day…

December 28, 2021

Something New is Coming

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you. Jamie Hicks has eponymous blog which takes its tag line, “Ruminations of a Tennessee Hicks” from his surname. Since beginning in January 2020, each of his devotionals features both an Old Testament and New Testament passage. Clicking the header below will take you to where we sourced this, which you are encouraged to do.

Everything New

CSB.Malachi.1.6 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of me? says the Lord of Armies to you priests, who despise my name.”

Yet you ask, “How have we despised your name?”

“By presenting defiled food on my altar.”

“How have we defiled you?” you ask.

When you say, “The Lord’s table is contemptible.”

“When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Armies. “And now plead for God’s favor. Will he be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will he show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Armies. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would no longer kindle a useless fire on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Armies, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

11 “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense[a] and pure offerings will be presented in my name in every place because my name will be great among the nations,”[b] says the Lord of Armies.

12 “But you are profaning it when you say, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.’ 13 You also say, ‘Look, what a nuisance!’ And you scorn[c] it,”[d] says the Lord of Armies. “You bring stolen,[e] lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord.

14 “The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says the Lord of Armies, “and my name will be feared among the nations.

After returning from their exile in Babylon and rebuilding the temple of God in Jerusalem, the people of Israel drifted away from devotion to God’s word, will and ways. Instead of learning from the mistakes of their ancestors, they allowed themselves to become immoral and careless in their worship of the Lord.

Soon after, Ezra the priest arrived in Israel, and he led a spiritual reform that was later picked up by Nehemiah the Governor. It is highly probable that Malachi prophesied during Nehemiah’s reforms as Governor. Together, Malachi and Nehemiah brought the nation of Israel back to a healthy fear of the Lord that would last hundreds of years and pave the way for the advent of the Messiah.

In chapter 1 of Malachi, the Lord took issue with the priests’ lack of respect for the Lord and their contempt for His prescribed way of worship. Instead of bringing unblemished lambs and goats for sacrifice offerings, they were bringing the lame, blind, sick and weak lambs and goats that would have been killed anyway. Instead of bringing a costly sacrifice, they were bringing God rubbish.

The issue was not that God is unaccepting of the weak, vulnerable and outcasts of life. The issue was that the priests were cutting corners in worship. They were “mailing it in” and not bringing their best. They were keeping the best for themselves and offering God the leftover scraps. They were attempting to deceive God, but were deceiving themselves instead.

If we view the worship of God as drudgery and only care to offer Him the worthless scraps of our lives, then we do not truly honor Him as our Lord… and we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are devoted to His service. Half-hearted worship is not acceptable, and half-hearted worshippers are not the people that God is seeking to be called His own.

CSB.Revelation.21.1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:[a] Look, God’s dwelling[b] is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples,[c] and God himself will be with them and will be their God.[d] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things[e] have passed away.

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words[f] are faithful and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son. But the cowards, faithless,[g] detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

After all has been said and done… after Satan and his hoards are eternally destroyed… after death and hell are cast into the lake of fire… after all that is unrighteous and evil is banished and burned on the rubbish heap for eternity, God will make everything new.

No longer will heaven and earth be separated by a vast sea. The new heaven and the new earth will be united in glorious splendor and God will live forevermore with His people – the people who lived their lives in whole-hearted faith and devotion to Him… the people who were redeemed from their sin and cleansed from their filth through faith in the Lamb of God.

The Lord God, the one ever and always seated on the throne, will make everything new. The ones who conquered the world, the flesh and the devil through faith in God and the Lamb will inherit all things and eternally become children of God. Those who refused God’s gift and rejected The Lamb’s sacrifice will burn eternally separated from the life of God with the rubbish of history in the lake of fire.

We don’t have to wait until the end of the age to experience the hope that we have in Christ.

We don’t have to wait until then to experience God’s newness.

We don’t have to wait until then to experience His rivers of life.

We don’t have to wait until then to be named children of God.

When we come to saving faith in Christ and wholeheartedly offer our lives to Him, though we are still contained in our mortal bodies, we spiritually step into eternity in Christ and begin experiencing the yet-to-come in the here-and-now. Our lives are made new, and we begin the sanctifying process of being made new in the image of Christ.

We are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, which bubbles up from within us as a river of living water. We are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, grafted into the prophetic family tree of God, and adopted as His beloved sons and daughters. All of that is available here and now, and in the life to come, to all who will place their faith in the Lamb and worship Him wholeheartedly as they offer all of their lives – not just the scraps – to be used in His service.

Prayer: Lord, I thank You that You did not withhold Your best from me. You did not give me the scraps of heaven, but gave Your dearly beloved and unblemished Son as a sacrifice for my sin. Therefore, You are forever worthy of my best and my all lifted up and presented as a sacrifice of worship to You. Help me to not take Your gift to me for granted. Help me to not see worship and service as drudgery. Make me new, keep me ever-renewed and help me to stay wholeheartedly devoted to You as I keep my faith firmly rooted in You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.


Footnotes; OT passage:

  1. 1:11 Or Burnt offerings
  2. 1:11 Or is great… are presented… is great
  3. 1:13 Lit blow at
  4. 1:13 Alt Hb tradition reads me
  5. 1:13 Or injured

Footnotes; NT passage:

  1. 21:3 Other mss read from heaven
  2. 21:3 Or tent, or tabernacle
  3. 21:3 Other mss read people
  4. 21:3 Other mss omit and will be their God
  5. 21:4 Or the first things
  6. 21:5 Other mss add of God
  7. 21:8 Other mss add the sinful,

 

December 7, 2021

Reconnecting with Friends in Heaven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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More than a dozen times we’ve quoted or re-blogged material by J. Lee Grady who writes at Fire in My Bones. He was editor of Charisma Magazine for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010 and is considered a bridge-builder between Charismatics and non-Pentecostals because of his balanced approach. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression. Click the header below to read this where it was sourced.

Will We Know Our Friends in Heaven?

J. Lee Grady

The year 2021 was a painful year for me personally because I lost three good friends. Robert died of lymphoma in February; Fernando died last week after a heart attack he suffered while on an international flight; and James died suddenly last weekend of heart failure. All three men left grieving wives and families behind.

To cope with my own grief, I’ve been looking at photos and writing down memories. But it’s hard. James and I talked or texted almost every day so it’s surreal to see his number in my phone with no “What’s up, bud?” or “You doin’ OK?” messages from Alabama.

One thing that has helped me so much in the grieving process is meditating on the reality of eternal life. We know the Bible tells us our loved ones go immediately into God’s presence in heaven when they die, if they were believers in Jesus. We love to tell our grieving friends and relatives, “He’s in a better place” or “She’s enjoying heaven now.”

Those words don’t always help me, to be honest. That’s great for them but what about those of us here on earth who are missing them? I know my friend James is in heaven but I can’t text him there. My phone plan with AT&T doesn’t include coverage in glory. (I would pay extra for that!)

What encourages me most is not that my friends are safely in the arms of Jesus but that when this world as we know it ends, I will be with my Christian friends again.

Some Christians have a weird idea that heaven is an ethereal, dreamy place that is more shadow than substance. They imagine that we all show up there as disembodied spirits, floating around in white robes while choirs sing 24 hours a day. Some Christians even believe we will have totally new identities and that our memories of this earth will be totally erased.

We would do well to read the last chapters of the Bible over and over until we understand that God has so much more in store for us than that. The last words of Revelation remind us of these truths:

This world will be reborn. After God judges the wickedness of humanity at the end of time, He will totally remake this earth and bring heaven down to this domain. It will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1, MEV), a paradise like it was at the time of creation. The new earth will have trees, animals, roads and indescribable beauty. And the glorious, heavenly city of Jerusalem, a new and perfect city, will be the capital of the new creation.

We will live and work with each other in a new world. Revelation 21:24 says “the nations” will walk by the perpetual light of the Son of God, who will rule from His eternal throne. There will be nations in the new earth. We will live as citizens of God’s glorious kingdom, in a world where there is no war, violence, tears, pain, pandemics or death (21:4). The Bible is not clear about what kind of work will we do but those who have been faithful to God in this life will be involved in management of the new world.

We will maintain our identities. We will have new bodies (1 Cor. 15:49) but that doesn’t mean we won’t be ourselves. Jesus said when we are in the new earth we will “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Matt. 8:11). These great heroes of faith will not lose their identities—they will still be themselves.

I will be myself, you will be yourself and we will have the opportunity to meet saints who lived in different time periods. I am personally eager to schedule appointments with Paul, Timothy, John, Ruth, Mark, Luke, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene, as well as William Seymour, Corrie Ten Boom, Charles Spurgeon and C.S. Lewis.

We will continue our friendships in the next life. When Jesus shared the Passover meal with His closest friends, “He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will never eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). Jesus was clearly stating that He would reunite with His disciples and they would fellowship together again.

When this world ends, I’m invited to the greatest party ever celebrated. I’m sure the food will be amazing and the music will be off the charts, but the joy will be uncontainable because all of our friends and relatives who loved the Lord will be in the crowd. We will dance, hug, laugh, share our hearts and visit each other’s new homes. And I plan to enjoy coffee—or some new, heavenly beverage—with Robert, Fernando and James.

I might also talk and text with them on some type of superior phones and I’m sure the signal will be perfect—with no spam, dead batteries or dropped calls.


Scripture texts marked MEV are from the Modern English Version.

October 31, 2021

Forever Amen

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.6.9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one

For eight weeks, Ruth Wilkinson shared a worship teaching segment on Sunday mornings based in the Lord’s Prayer. This was week nine, and she knew for some people the series wouldn’t be complete without thinking about the phrase with which we commonly end when reciting the prayer.

In the NIV (above), it’s a footnote:

some late manuscripts: for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

The version in Luke 11 is even shorter. The phrase doesn’t occur in some earlier manuscripts, but in one of the earliest writings we have, the Didache, which we discussed here a few days ago, it does appear. The website Got Questions says the phrase “should not be discarded lightly” as there are “data points” on both sides of the discussion.

We looked at the first part, in a 2014 post entitled, For Thine is the Kingdom, and more recently in 2020, Clarke Dixon studied the phrase in a post titled, For Thine is the Kingdom, where he reminded us of this related scripture:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

Ruth shared that part with the congregation the week prior. Today she continued considering the phrase “forever and ever, Amen.”

Forever

Some of the prayer is for this lifetime. It speaks of having “daily bread” needs met, of forgiveness and forgiving, and of God’s leading in our lives.

Some of the prayer is about things beyond this life: God’s Kingdom, His holiness, His will (plans and purposes), His majesty and power, and His glory.

Having a ‘forever’ perspective reminds me that

►Faith isn’t just rose coloured glasses wear to get through the day; rather it’s more like prescription glasses help me see better.

►Faith isn’t just a template to make the complicated world seem simpler; rather it’s a perspective accept the complications and find my path through them.

►Faith isn’t a crutch help us limp through; rather, healing lets me stand firm, run toward, walk without fainting alongside those in need

Faith makes difference starting now, continuing forever.

Eternity has implications for my everyday: what I say, do, spend money and time on, how I treat people around me, how I interact with the world of which I’m a part.

Faith is therefore a response to what I see in Jesus, how I follow his example and live out his teachings.

Amen

The final word we recite is also a name give to Jesus.

NRSV.Rev.3.14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation…

The more common use of Amen occurs in our worship as affirmation of something just stated, confirming that “this is truth” or “this will be.” We say it here for the prayers about this life and the things that are prayers beyond this life.

Amen.


Here is a very short look at the prayer which Ruth shared 10 years earlier while serving at a different church. Check out, Before You Say, “Our Father.”

September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

July 23, 2021

Christ’s Ultimate Authority at the End of Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Once again we’re back at the website of The Superior Word Community Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida and pastor Charlie Garrett. Last time, they were studying 3 John, and today, a year later, they are heading to the final two chapters of Revelation. It’s hard to jump into the middle of this, but hopefully it whets your appetite and if you want to get into deep detail on the New Testament’s last book, this is a great website to check out. Clicking the header which follows gets you to today’s piece.

Revelation 20:1

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. Revelation 20:1

With the introduction of Chapter 20, a new vision is also introduced. John begins it by saying, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven.” There is no reason to assume that this is not the Lord. He is coming down from heaven with a set purpose. As such, it is another aspect of the many roles of what Christ has come to do. Just as heaven opened and He came riding on a white horse in verse 19:11 in order to fulfill His role as the returning Lord and the conquering King, here, (assuming it is the Lord) He is coming down from heaven “having the key to the bottomless pit.”

The Lord is the One who has final authority over the bottomless pit. In Revelation 9:1, it said John saw “a star fallen from heaven to earth.” He then noted that “to him was given the key to the bottomless pit.” Being given a key means another gave him the key. Nothing is said about that now. Thus, the key is already in the possession of this angel. Along with the key, it says, “and a great chain in his hand.”

The Greek reads “upon his hand.” It signifies that in His hand rests the authority of binding with this chain. What will be done with it demonstrates that this is most probably Christ Jesus who bears it. Without taking the symbolism too far, one can almost imagine it is as if the chain is held upon His hand and, without words, hinting, “Here is the implement of your confinement, and it is I who have the authority to use it to bind you.”

Life application: So far, the bottomless pit has been mentioned in Chapter 9 in connection with locusts which were sent to harm men and who had over them the destroyer – Abaddon (Apollyon). It was also noted in Chapter 11 when speaking of the beast that would come from it and kill the two witnesses. Finally, the bottomless pit was mentioned in 17:8, again referring to the beast that would come out of it.

This pit, or abyss, then is not the place of final destruction, but a place which is under God’s control to which, or from which, these evil beings are directed to meet God’s sovereign plans for humanity. As He directs, these beings follow that direction. This is a good lesson for readers of the Bible to understand, and it is one that is also understood from the book of Job.

There is no wickedness, evil, or producer of evil that can thwart God’s plan. Anything which occurs does so to meet God’s overall good purposes and He is in control of all things. If we can truly grasp this and believe it, then no matter what happens, we know that it is being worked out for our good and for God’s glory. This should be an immensely comforting thought for us as we walk in a world that often contains difficulties, trials, and sadness. God is in control, and He has His great hand upon you – even when it doesn’t seem so.

Be of good cheer, God has your back. He has proved it through the redemptive narrative, and it is summed up in the incarnation. Everything ultimately points to what God is doing through His Son, JESUS!

Prayer: What a great comfort it is to know that You truly are in control. Despite the evil that surrounds us, the troubles that come our way, the terrible choices our leaders make, and also in the forces of evil that constantly try to mislead us, You are still there taking care of us and tending to us. You are working it all out for our good. You are great, O God! Amen.

January 25, 2021

The Tree of Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Ron McKenzie‘s website Blessed Economist is somewhat unique as he writes from a perspective intersecting the worlds of politics and economics, and the worlds of scripture and faith. He is the author of at least seven books, has another teaching blog Kingdom Watcher (KW), and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. We shared an article by him here in June, 2014 and then I’m not sure what happened after that! Earlier today I reconnected with his online work. May I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows and read this article, which appeared just two days ago, at his site.

Thoughts on the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life was at the centre of the garden of Eden. God was present in the garden. The God Yahweh caused to grow trees that would give humans everything that they needed for life. The Tree of Life was in the middle of the garden because it was the source of wisdom for life. Humans had access to this tree as long as they lived by the wisdom of God.

According to Proverbs, the tree of life is the wisdom of God (Prov 13:12; Prov 11:30).

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her (Prov 3:18).

The tree of life is the centre of the garden, because it was the source of the wisdom of God for life.

Adam and Eve had a choice between two trees. They could choose between knowing good and evil (human wisdom) and wisdom for life (God’s wisdom). Prior to the fall, they had access to the tree of life, ie God’s wisdom. They could hear God speak whenever they listened to him.

Adam and Eve chose to be autonomous and have their own wisdom, rather than continuing to rely on the wisdom of God. Once they chose to rely on their own wisdom, they unwittingly placed themselves under the control of the spiritual powers of evil. This blocked their access to the wisdom of God, because their shame prevented them from staying close to God.

God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, so they would experience the consequence of their choice. It would be in this world, that God would eventually rescue them (see God’s Big Strategy).

Humans were already mortal, before they fell from blessing, but they were able to live long lives (up to a thousand years). They gave them immense opportunity to advance themselves.

When God expressed concern that humans would reach out and eat from the tree of life and live forever, the Hebrew word can mean forever, but it can also mean for the full extent of an age/season. God was not concerned about them having eternal life. Rather, he was saying that without his presence and wisdom, they would not be able to live their full lifespan. The consequence of living in a hostile world, vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil would significantly shorten term their lives.

That is what happened. Since then most humans have lived less than one hundred years.

Restoration of the Tree of Life
According to the book of Revelation, the tree of life was not destroyed when the Garden of Eden was lost. It was transferred into Paradise.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7).

I presume that the tree of life in the Garden of Eden was not the original one. It would have been a copy of the true tree of life in the spiritual realms. Paradise is the place where the people of God live while waiting for the Parousia. The tree of life is waiting there ready for people who put their trust in Jesus. We will have full access to this tree when the spiritual realms are fully opened to us following the parousia of Jesus.

To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life (Rev 21:6).

In the final vision of Revelation, the source of life is a river flowing from the throne of God.

The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the peoples. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him (Rev 3:1-3).

In this vision, the tree of life draws from the river of life and provides healing for the people of the nations. God will be present with his people, so pain and sickness will disappear.

 

 

January 11, 2021

Why Won’t They Listen?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s thoughts are more personal, perhaps more pastoral.

My day began with an email from a friend. I’ve changed some of the wording just slightly.

Whenever I thought about the book of Revelation and end times things, I always thought that when the predicted events started to happen, people would turn to God in droves. Yet here we are, I sit in a bullpen of construction workers and they are ready to believe the most far out conspiracies, but wouldn’t consider for a moment that God is real. The enemy is blinding them. It’s sad.

I sent him two replies. One was from my phone and I don’t have the text of it nearby, but I simply suggested that his contribution to the discussion — his gift to his co-workers if you like — might not be statements or declarations, but some well-placed, well-considered questions.

Using this strategy might re-direct the conversation, and even if it is not well-received by everyone in the group, there’s always the possibility that there’s one person who the question or questions might continue to haunt them until they decide they need to pursue the subject — or pursue God — further.

I consider my friend wise enough to know how to navigate my advice.

An hour later though, I thought of some scriptures I could send him. One he already alluded to in his remarks.

First I looked at I Corinthians 1 in The Voice Bible:

17 The mission given to me by the Anointed One is… about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed.

18 For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, it is nothing short of God’s power.

Verse 17 is interesting because if anyone could frame an intellectual argument, it would be the Apostle Paul. But we need to avoid jumping to the conclusion that if the world is “going to hell in a handbasket” we should just stop sharing the good news message altogether. Paul certainly doesn’t do that.

The next passage I shared was from II Timothy 3; this time from The Message. (I know the person to whom I was sending these well-enough that I thought he would benefit more from these more contemporary translations.)

1-5 Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

14-17 But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

Peterson’s phrase “They’ll make a show of God;” is better know to many readers here as “Having a form of Godliness, but denying its power.” Is this a summation statement? Is Paul saying that all of the characteristics listed in the previous two verses apply to the outwardly religious, or is this just another category?

(You can do a translation comparison on the verse itself, but this question is more context-driven. Does the em-dash between verses 4 and 5 used by the NIV fit or does it imply something other translations don’t? A compromise solution might be that as the world goes so goes the church. We know that, for example, divorce rates among evangelicals are no longer significantly different than the general population.)

I didn’t send this to my friend, but I consider II Timothy 3 in parallel. (I’ll revert to NIV for this one.)

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Finally, I sent my friend I Corinthians 2 again using The Voice:

12 You must know that we have not received the spirit of this rebellious and broken world but the Spirit that comes from God, so that we may experience and comprehend the gifts that come from God. 13 We do not speak of these gifts of God in words shaped by human wisdom; we speak in words crafted by the Spirit because our collective judgment on spiritual matters is accessible to those who have the Spirit. 14 But a person who denies spiritual realities will not accept the things that come through the Spirit of God; they all sound like foolishness to him. He is incapable of grasping them because they are disseminated, discerned, and valued by the Spirit.

That doesn’t leave us room for much discussion here, but I think what my friend was expressing today was simply all these non-Revelation prophetic words playing out in front of him in real time.

I can only conclude as he did: “It’s sad.”

But again, we can work to make a difference even in those situations. I believe that a few well-placed questions could make the difference in someone’s life.

September 14, 2020

When Those Who Oppose Jesus Fall Down

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Revelation.7.9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

Today we are back again with Stanley J. Groothof who blogs at The 4th Point.  Why is his blog called that?

I’m a husband, dad, friend, and pastor. In connection with that last role, you may know that traditionally sermons often have 3 points. When I research and reflect on Sunday’s messages, often I find more material than can fit in my message for the day. Here is a place for some “fourth points” that, while not showing up in a message, I feel still should see the light of day.

As usual click the header below to read this at source. Scriptures referenced in today’s devotional are included in full after today’s reading.

Falling down with my enemies

To the church in Philadelphia, Jesus gives the encouragement to keep holding on. They have little strength left from enduring rejection and persecution from the leaders of the local synagogue who deny Jesus is Lord. But they can indeed hold on knowing their current situation will not last forever. Jesus promises He is coming soon, giving the church hope that the time is coming when wrongs will be righted.

More than that, Jesus tells the Philadelphian church they can look forward to the day when those who hurt them will “come and fall down at [their] feet.” Those opposed to God and His people will one day experience the return and victory of King Jesus. At that time they will hear Him say He is on the side of His people and He loves them.

But as Lou Lotz once noted, this talk of enemies groveling at one’s feet smacks of triumphalism and vengeance, and seems to be out of character with Christ’s command to love our enemies. True, but the picture of poor souls who have always resisted Jesus and harmed the church bowing down to Jesus’ followers helps me in two ways:

1. I’m given hope: Ungodliness will not endure forever. One day, to quote Pastor Lotz, “the tables will be turned, and God’s people will be vindicated.”

2. This picture also offers inspiration: Christians desire to love their enemies, to love their enemies to Christ. The more Christ’s reconciling grace is in me, the more I want no one being punished at my feet. I’m not saying there won’t be anyone; I’m just saying Christians love their enemies and the church’s enemies with the dream that all of them will change and love Jesus today and in eternity.

I’m fascinated by the actual words used in Jesus’ letter to Philadelphia, that those who oppose Jesus and His church will one day “fall down.” This is the same language used elsewhere in the Bible (in Revelation 4, as one example) for falling down in worship! I think I’m supposed to love my enemies, praying that they’ll fall down in worship with me and all God’s people.

LOVE
YOUR ENEMIES
DO GOOD
TO THOSE WHO HATE YOU
BLESS
THOSE WHO CURSE YOU
PRAY FOR
THOSE WHO MISTREAT YOU

~ Jesus


Scriptures in today’s devotional:

Revelation.7.9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

Matthew.5.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Revelation.4.9-11 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

September 15, 2019

Worship Moments in Creation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today I went back for a third visit with a writer we’ve used here before only to find the blog no longer active. I decided to pursue it further however, and came up with one of the original posts from 2012 that I felt would fit well here. Jonathan Parrish wrote for six years at Walking With Christ Daily; click the header below to visit the site. The same creation which inspires our worship is part of the general revelation of God that leaves the unrepentant without excuse.

Creation Proclaims: Psalms 19:1-6

Before you read this, I want you to take a moment to think of a place you’ve been where you were just awe-inspired by Creation. That place for me is the Grand Canyon. All I used to say about it was that it was just a giant hole in the ground, but when I stood there on the edge looking over the expanse of this creation, I saw God. God had created this giant, amazing, beautiful hole in the middle of the desert. I was humbled in my heart by the idea of God’s majesty and power and how He had spoken it into existence as stated in the first chapter of Genesis.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
(Psalm 19:1-6 ESV)

Of all the books of the Old Testament, the book of Psalms represents the faith of the Lord’s followers. The psalms are Holy Spirit-inspired responses of the human heart to God’s will and revelation. David becomes inspired and proclaims that the heavens declare the glory of God. David goes on to say that Creation is always proclaiming the existence of God and that He rules over it. Though it isn’t audibly heard, its message extends to all the ends of the earth, to every nation and people, proclaiming the Glory of God.

As Christians, we see the night sky full of stars, the sunrise over the horizon, and the sunset in the west, but do we really think of God when witnessing such beauty? Do we praise God for His creation and glorify His name? Are we humbled in our hearts by such an awesome God or do we just snap a photo and walk away?

Believers know the truth in these vast arrays of God’s creation. However, for non-believers, “they are without excuse” as Romans 1:18 explains:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
(Romans 1:18-20 ESV)

Paul exclaims here that God is revealed in Creation and that humanity suppresses the truth because of our unrighteousness. Because of this, we have no excuse not to recognize the truth in Creation. So when a non-believer stands before God and says he never heard the truth, he will have no excuse because everything had been already revealed to him.

In Psalms 19, David talks about the sun and how it rises and sets each day. It’s seen by all creation and is yet another instrument aiding in the glorification of God. Did you know if the earth was closer to the sun, we would not be able to survive because the planet would burn. If we were back farther from the sun the planet would be too cold to support life? God placed us perfectly in space so we could survive and live to glorify Him..

When you as a Christian think of Creation, do you think of God, or is it just some cool thing? Do you feel humbled by the awesomeness of God who created the universe in six days? Do you realize that God created all this knowing He would have to send His Son into the world to die on a cross for our sins?

 

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Are Heaven and Hell Consistent with a Good and Loving God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for the future? It would be odd if you were considering the compelling reasons to trust in Jesus, but then upon asking about the afterlife you are told that you enter an endless cycle of being reincarnated as a bird if you receive Christ, and as a worm, if not. That should strike you as utter nonsense. Now what about Christian teaching? The idea that upon death we either sprout wings and play a harp while sitting in the clouds, or burn in an eternal fire, is for many people, too much to believe. Is the Biblical Christian vision for the future consistent with a good and loving God? Or is it nonsensical? When we hear what the Bible teaches about eternal destination, do we say ‘of course that is what a good God would do”?

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Here we have, not a hope of going up into heaven when I die, to spend eternity there, but something much grander. This is a vision of God’s re-creation of all creation. All of creation was negatively impacted by the sin of humanity (see Romans 8:18-23). All of creation will be positively impacted by God’s rescue of humanity.

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Here we are told of a city, not in the sense of roads and buildings, but in the sense of people. The holy city is the “bride,” that is, the people of God. Just as people are the focus in the creation account of Genesis, people are the focus of the re-creation account. God created humanity, the only creature we are told he created in his image, for a special relationship. That relationship is what is truly important.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

There is much in the Bible about separation from God being a huge problem for humanity. It begins with Genesis chapter three and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It becomes apparent at Mount Sinai when the people cannot approach the mountain on which God’s presence was made palpable. It is emphasized in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with the establishment of both the tabernacle and priesthood. While God was willing to dwell among his people, as symbolized through the pitching of his “tent” among them, God needed to remain separated from the people, for their sake. An unholy people cannot approach a holy God without becoming holy first. The sacrificial rigmarole of the priesthood was a constant reminder of separation from God and the need for atonement. The priesthood and the sacrifices pointed forward to something greater; God the Son making people holy through his sacrifice. In Christ the future of God’s people is wrapped up with being at home with God. There is no more separation from God.

The problems of this world, which separation from God creates, also are dealt with;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

The consequence of sin and separation from God is death. The consequence of being reconciled to God is eternal life. In Christ death is no longer part of the human condition. However the consequence of God’s grace is not just eternal life, but as we have already seen, eternal life with God.

In sum, the Biblical vision of the future is one of transformation, for all creation, for our bodies, and for our very selves. The transformation within us begins now through the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian is to look to God to fix everything in the future is compelling. The fact that the Christian need not wait for Christ’s return to fix everything in us is also compelling. The hope of meaningful change, not into brilliant cloud-sitting harpists, but into good people who dwell with a good God in a good creation, is consistent with a good and loving God.

However, is the future of those who reject God consistent with a good and loving God? The idea of being on fire forever does not seem consistent to many of us. In answering this we must first appreciate that the people of the Bible often speak in poetic ways, just as we do today. We sometimes pick apart the Bible as if we are in math class working out equations. Let us remember our English literature lessons and have an appreciation for the poetic and literary nuances which often escape the math whizzes. We will not dig into this too deeply, but it is best to take the language about hell, with the everlasting fire and torment, as poetic. The least poetic, the most matter-of-fact, the most precise and concise description of hell we have in the Bible is this;

9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NRSV)

What is hell? It is separation from God. What is it like to be separated from God? Thankfully, no one alive can truly tell, for to be alive at all is to experience a measure of God’s grace. However, we do well to remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). As you read through the Bible, watch out for how often salvation is spoken of as a matter of eternal life versus death. This is consistent with the Genesis account and the promise that death would occur if the forbidden fruit were eaten. What we can say with certainty is that to experience hell is to experience everlasting separation from God.

If hell is separation from God, then is separation from God consistent with a good and loving God? Consider first, the holiness and justice of God. That unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God is made clear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; at Mount Sinai, and through the establishment of the tabernacle and priesthood. God did not teach about His holiness and our sinfulness in the Old Testament then come to us in the New Testament and say “it doesn’t matter anymore.” It does matter, but God offers to make us holy in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. If you reject that offer of being made holy, then separation from God is a very natural consequence. The experience of death is a natural consequence of refusing the offer of eternal life. Therefore, the future of those who reject God is consistent with a good and loving God who respects the wishes of those who want nothing to do with him. Of course that is what a good God would do.

The Bible presents a compelling and beautiful vision for the future of those who receive Christ and accept God’s offer of relationship. While we might not use the word beautiful, the Bible provides a vision of the future of those who do not want a relationship with God that is consistent with His goodness and love. The consistency of the Christian vision of the future is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

October 20, 2016

Non-Stop Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today I messed with Clarke Dixon’s original title! It appears along with the link below…

Pray Always, and . . .

by Clarke Dixon

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and . . . Luke 18:1

We might get thus far into this parable of Jesus and already be off to a false start. We could read “their need to pray always” and jump to the conclusion that this parable is about being persistent in prayer. We might then find ourselves persistent in what I call amazon.com prayers. What are those? Well with Amazon, you pay for something and it shows up. We may expect something similar with God. We pray for something and it shows up. Therefore we may think from this parable that if it does not arrive, be persistent and keep praying and it will eventually show up. However, there is something far deeper going on here. Let us turn to the parable, and as you read, watch for a certain theme that shows up a lot. I have used underlining to help you spot it:

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8

Spotting the word “justice” is crucial in understanding this parable. Knowing that Jesus has promised opposition for his followers also helps. This is not, “Why hasn’t God given me what I want yet,” but “Why are God’s loved ones, if God loves them, facing opposition and injustice?” Christians have faced opposition and injustice from the get-go. We still do, in fact we are said to be the most oppressed people group around the world today. This sounds hard to believe in the West where we are conditioned to believe that Christians are the worst oppressors ever known. This conditioning is also part of the opposition that we face. We sometimes face opposition in the form of ridicule and contempt which is far milder, of course, than the threats and death faced elsewhere. This opposition is why Jesus calls us to “pray always and not to lose heart.”

When I tell my boys about all the hard work and homework that is required to be successful at school, they may be tempted to drop out. A temptation to drop out in the face of opposition is reflected by Jesus when he asks at the end of the parable if “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  So why not drop out? With school, my boys ought not drop out because all that hard work and homework turns out to be worth it in the end. Here is another key to understanding this parable of Jesus. Look to the end. Jesus gives us a better option to dropping out, namely keep praying and do not lose heart! We will find justice in the end.

The gist of the parable is this: if at the end of the day an unjust judge will grant justice for someone he does not care about, then how much more can we expect to see God deliver justice for people he loves deeply?! So keep praying and do not lose heart, hang on and look forward to the day God brings justice.

We find these same themes reflected throughout scripture. Consider, for example, this example from 2nd Thessalonians:

4 Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10

The Christians at Thessalonica were facing persecution. Facing injustice as they were, they might begin to question if they should drop out. But the Lord will put things right and the persecutors, if they do not repent, will be facing separation from God. Justice is coming, so keep praying and do not lose heart!

Likewise consider this from the book of Revelation, a book written originally for people facing persecution for their faith in, and loyalty to, Jesus:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11 They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. Revelation 6:9-11

Later on in Revelation we learn about the Millennium:

4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Revelation 20:4

There is great discussion as to whether these particular scenes should be taken literally or symbolically. Either way, this scene points to a great reversal. Justice will come to the oppressor and for the the oppressed. So keep praying and do not lose heart.

Another thought; we may assume this parable is thinking of prayer as a shopping list of wants. However, it is perhaps better to see prayer here as a means of remaining solid in our relationship with Christ in the face of troubles. Prayer is part of what we do to “abide” in Christ which we are instructed by Jesus to do in John 15. It is interesting to note that immediately following the instruction to abide, or “remain” in Him, Jesus goes on to talk about the world hating His disciples. Prayer is an important part of a relationship with Christ and a relationship with Christ is an important part of facing opposition.

This parable of Jesus is not for those who may be tempted to quit praying when their ‘letters to Santa Claus’ are not answered by God. Rather this parable is for God’s children who may be tempted to drop out or sell out under opposition. Hang on, keep praying and do not lose heart. How will your life be an answer to Jesus’ question?

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Luke 18:8

 All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

December 23, 2015

When Christmas Goes Off the Rails

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christmas always seems so picture perfect in the cards we give and receive, yet Christmas can go off the rails so quickly becoming more like Christmess. What are we to do when it seems the devil has his horrid hands in our lives during this most wonderful time of the year? Perhaps your Christmas is not shaping up to be the picture perfect scene worthy of a Christmas card.

Christmas is found in the book of Revelation and it has something to teach us about Christmas in the midst of a mess:

1 A great portent appeared in heaven:a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven:a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days (Revelation 12:1-6 emphasis mine)

Granted it is only one verse, but there it is, the birth of Jesus, Christmas in Revelation. Did you notice anything about this Christmas? Looking at the verses before and after, this first Christmas is a messy one, with the evil one lurking and looking to destroy.

It will help us to consider what is happening in these verses and we can begin by considering the identity of the woman about to give birth. Notice that within a few verses we have a) a woman, b) agony in childbirth, and c) a serpent. Do you remember the last time we found these three things together in scripture? Yes, in Genesis 3 at the Fall. The Serpent tempts Eve and comes under a curse including this prophecy:

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15)

Eve succumbs to the temptation and also is cursed:

16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, . . .” (Genesis 3:16)

What we have in Genesis 12:1-4 is the history of the world from Eve great with potential to Mary great with child. In fact in chapter 12 of Revelation we have a snapshot of the history of the world from Eve to the situation today with a break to consider the victory of Jesus in verses 7-12. But how would this history lesson help the original readers of the book of Revelation who were facing great persecution in their day? And how can this history lesson help us today? It helped them, and helps us now, by taking us out from our troubles to see the big picture. And in looking at the big picture there are certain things we can learn:

First, the devil and his schemes are real, so expect a mess. According to Revelation 12 we should expect evil to be alive and well and we should expect to suffer the effects:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, . . . . Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:12,17)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? Do not be surprised, this is normal in a Fallen world.

Second, the devil’s nasty work is temporary. Thanks to the baby mentioned in verse 5, the evil one’s days are numbered. He has a “best before date,” or in this case a “worst before date”:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12 emphasis mine)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? This too shall pass.

Third, the devil’s schemes cannot ruin the purposes and plans of God. In Revelation 12 we see an allusion to Herod’s plan to destroy the infant Jesus. We know that did not happen and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all happened according to plan. Additionally, many verses in chapter 12 point to God’s protection of His people:

. . . and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished (Revelation 12:6) . . .the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished (Revelation 12:14) . . . the earth came to the help of the woman (Revelation 12:16). . .

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? God has a plan. We ought not assume His plan does not include our own death at some point. God’s plans go way bigger than that.

Fourth, the devil is already defeated. The devil is a deceiver, but he is also known in the Bible as an accuser. Indeed this is what the very term Satan means. Satan is spoken of in the Old Testament as standing in the court of God, ready to accuse. We might think of the first chapter of Job where Satan accuses Job of loving God only because life was good. Satan is portrayed as the one who can stand before God and say “look at this guy, or look at that woman, they are deserving of destruction.” And Satan could stand before God and say of you and I, “look what they did, look how undeserving they are.” And we give him plenty to talk about don’t we? Except he cannot do that, for he is not there. He has been thrown down:

7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:7-10)

Far from winning a hearing in the presence of God, Satan has been conquered. While the passage speaks of the angel Michael leading the fight, it is really speaking about Jesus and trust in Him:

11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. (Revelation 12:11)

Keeping all this in mind let us think of the Apostle Paul’s words:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? There is good news of great joy, for God has made possible a rescue from the greatest misery possible, eternal separation from God. In Jesus we have eternal life ahead with no dragons.

When the Christmas train goes off the rails, when it seems Satan has his evil hands all over your life, look at the big picture and remember that the final destination is Christ and His arms of love. Need a hug this Christmas? You are already in His embrace.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

 

December 2, 2015

Christmas is On the Way. So is Jesus.

by Clarke Dixon

•••click here to read today’s article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

Christmas is on the way, but what kind of Christmas celebrations will there be for many Christians who have experienced persecution this year? Consider the outright violence and threats of violence. Consider the desperate times as ISIS spread across Iraq and Syria. Convert, pay a tax, or die. Christians in the Middle East are now among the most persecuted people groups in the world. We may trip over the words of Revelation 1:6 that speak of how God “made us to be a kingdom.” It can feel like a pretty weak kingdom.

It must have felt like a pretty weak kingdom to the first readers of the letter we now call Revelation. Those early Christians were facing greater amounts of persecution from a persistently powerful Rome. Though confessing “Jesus is Lord,” it must have seemed sometimes like Caesar was the more powerful lord, or at least the king of the winning team.

Having tripped over verse six, we fall headlong into verse 7:

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen
(Revelation 1:7)

Here are some things to notice:

“He is coming with the clouds.” Clouds often signify the presence of God and so we have the assurance of the presence of God drawing near here. But there is more; “Coming with the clouds” makes us think of Daniel 7:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 NIV)

In Daniel 7 there is a vision of four terrible beasts that come up out of the water, each one representing a kingdom. That these kingdoms are described as beasts points us to their inherent inhumanity. But these kingdoms each meet their end, and so begins a new era under a new king, one like a “son of man.” In other words one who rules in a truly human, or at least human as God originally intended, rather than beastly fashion. Revelation 1:7 therefore is not a new idea, but rather a confirmation that God’s Kingdom is coming, and it is Jesus who is the Son of Man, and so the true coming King. All the horrors that Christians might face at this time, no matter how beastly, will be swept away. Just wait.

“Every eye will see him.” Some people think that advances in technology will be what makes this possible at the return of Jesus as everyone will be able to see Him on their smartphones. I’m sure this is not a reassuring thought to technophobes! This actually describes a much more significant kind of event than a simple appearance of Jesus to be captured on an iPhone and shared through Twitter. The second coming of Jesus will be heralded with much more than a tweet. This is not like Christmas where we think of only the shepherds and magi having the opportunity to get close to him. While the conception of Jesus was supernatural, his birth was natural. You might even call it ordinary, except that every birth is extraordinary. The first appearing of Jesus was natural, the next time it will be supernatural. “Every eye will see him.” This includes even those currently without sight. This includes . . .

“Even those who pierced him.” Those responsible for the conviction and murder of the most innocent person in the history of the world will see Jesus. Noting that such people are currently dead, you will notice that a resurrection of the dead is therefore in view here. Again, “every eye will see him.”

As we think of those who were responsible for the murder of Jesus, we can think of High Priest following the arrest of Jesus: “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’” (Mark 14:61) Note how Jesus answers:

Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven. ’”
(Mark 14:62)

Here again is that reference to the prophecy from Daniel 7. On the lips of Jesus we now realize it is not just the Roman rulers, but even the religious rulers of Jerusalem who are implicated as being beastly powers. And in referring to Daniel 7 Jesus is basically saying “you stand over me in judgement now, but just wait, someday I will stand in judgement over you.” That those who perpetrated the greatest injustice of all time will see justice is a great encouragement for the Christian who experiences the injustice of beastly powers. Just wait and see.

“And on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” Why will there be wailing? Because those who dish out injustice do not like being at the receiving end of justice. The next time Jesus comes it will not be the stuff of cutesy Christmas cards. Some people find the concept of Jesus being just in His judgement as being distasteful. It can sound rather “unChristian” and “unaccepting.” Yet we fail to recognize that we naturally celebrate when good triumphs over evil. The original Star Wars trilogy would have ended horribly had the emperor not met his doom. Spoiler alert! The Hunger Games trilogy would have ended horribly had good not finally triumphed over evil. The return of Jesus will be the final triumph of good over evil. The cross of Jesus is the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

This is the season of Advent, a time of waiting and expectation. Many people are looking forward to Christmas who are not not looking forward to the return of Jesus. Many people are looking forward to Christmas who really ought to fearful of the return of Jesus. This is a shame, because Christmas points us to the cross where Jesus died in our place. It was at the cross that the greatest triumph of good over evil occurred. And it is because of His love that we can look forward, not with fear, but with hopeful expectation to the return of Jesus. His judgement of sin has already taken place for those who turn to him in trust and repentance.

So what kind of a kingdom do Christians comprise when we seem to be so weak in the world? One with the greatest King ever, awaiting the final triumph of good over evil. If you have trouble believing that, then just wait and see.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.

 

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