Christianity 201

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.

 

September 13, 2015

How You Imagine Heaven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A shorter reading today for Sunday. We invited Debbie McCray to submit a devotional as we liked what she’s doing at the blog Snowdrops for Faith. Debbie is an Engineer by training, a breast-cancer survivor and a stay at home mom. Click the title below to read at source.

What Would You Name Your Little Piece of Heaven?

I enjoy the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan for the slower pace of life, the natural beauty and the friendliness of the people with a Yooper accent. The locals lovingly refer to their U.P. as “God’s Country.”

On the way to our destination in God’s Country, we passed a stretch of road dotted with houses bordering the rugged beauty of Lake Superior. You can’t see the homes, but their locations are marked with signs that identify their little piece of heaven here on earth.

The names have always caught my attention. Names that describe what they expect to do: Rancho Relaxo, No Rest Here II. Names of who they hope to see: Papa’s Camp, TheShores of Maggie Mae, Ruth’s Land. Names of what they look forward to: Foote Rest, Superior Times. Names that make their little piece of heaven feel like home. Superior Hut, End of Track. Names that try to capture the allure: Superior Reflections, Lake Superior Shangri-La. Names for its natural beauty: Thistle Dew, Loon Call Cove.

What would you name your little piece of heaven here on earth? As believers in Jesus Christ, one day we will experience the heaven God has prepared for us. If God were to put up signs marking heaven, I believe that He would name it for what can not be found there: No Sin, No Pain, No Illness, No Death, No Sorrow, No Harm, No Tears and No Evil. A simple description that fulfills the longing of our hearts for eternity. But wait, there is one more name I can think of for heaven: Promise Kept!

Revelation 21:2-4

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 Isaiah 11:9

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

 




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June 30, 2014

Assigned Texts: When You’re Given a Tough One

In preparation for today’s study, read Revelation 8 and chapter 9.

Sometimes the circumstances of preparing a series necessitates navigating through some tough texts. Ian Paul is a writer from the UK who recently discussed the challenges he was facing in some tough chapters of Revelation. You can read more at the blog Psephizo.

I’ve just been writing some Bible-reading notes for Scripture Union (due out next year) on the first half of Revelation. It has been quite a challenge to writing something accessible and devotional on this complex text!

In fact, the first few chapters were not too bad. There is much to say about the opening section, and the vision of Jesus it presents. The messages (not ‘letters’!) to the seven congregations (not ‘churches’!) also have plenty of scope for devotional reflection—perhaps more easily than any other part of the book as a whole (excepting ch 21), which is why I guess there is so much written on them. The visions of worship in chapters 4 and 5 are also relatively easy to engage with, though perhaps not in the way many people think—the blending of imagery from the OT with contemporary images from Emperor ‘worship’ offer a specific challenge to us. The saints under the altar in chapter 6 offer a way into this section, and chapter 7 gives an extended reflection on what it means to be the people of God—disciplined as an army, suffering in combat, but praising God not so much for what God has done or is doing but for what God will do. (Warning: book coming on this one day!).

And then we reach chapters 8 and 9. What do you do, devotionally, with hideous, war-mongering locusts with women’s hair and human teeth, clanking and rattling their iron breastplates? How will these help you to live for Jesus today? (A clue: this is not a futuristic vision of attack helicopters, as some would have you believe.)

I have been helped by going back to a number of commentaries—Caird, Boxall, Beale, Mounce—and I have previously spent quite some time dwelling in some of these passages. But I was particularly helped by what I would call the critically-informed theological reading in Craig Koester’s Revelation and the End of All Things. What is interesting about this book is that it includes some introductory comments, but then goes on to offer a reading of each section of the text—not in a verse-by-verse format you would find in a commentary, but looking at the issues, the flow of the text, and how we might make some sense of it. Koester also has a great style of writing.

The opening observations about the structure of these two chapters caught my eye:

With each successive scene, disaster strikes earth, sea, and sky, until the demonic hordes of locusts and cavalry torment humanity amid clouds of fire, smoke, and sulfur (8.7–9.21). The cycle is all the more ominous because the destruction unfolds in a relentlessly measured way. the effect is something like an orchestral performance in which the strings scrape dissonant chords while woodwinds shriek, trumpets blair, and cymbols crash in what seems to be wild discord—except that all the players move to a steady beat that is set by the conductor’s hand: one, two, three, four… (p 93)

I love this metaphor, and it captures well the theological tension in the text reflection by the juxtaposition of literary structure and symbolic chaos. God is in control—and yet, within this, the chaotic forces of evil appear to be shaping the world.

In relation to chapter 9, Koester highlights really well the feature of the ‘macro-structure’ of Revelation: the alternation between the heavenly scenes of peace and order, and the earthly scenes of chaos and destruction. (This is the main reason why the lectionary selection of passages does not work; it picks out mostly one kind of scene, the heavenly, and the significance of this is lost when such scenes are no longer contrasted with their earthly counterpoints.)

Revelation depicts life under two forms of rule. The vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation 4–5 showed a rightly ordered universe, in which creatures offered praise to their Creator and to the Lamb, who are worthy of power. But in Revelation 9, grotesque figures create a demonic parody of the created order, showing what conditions are like under the lordship of the king of the underworld, whose names Abaddon and Apollyon mean Destruction and Destroyer (9:11). Each of the winged creatures that attended the Creator had its own distinct face, one with a human face and another with the face ofa lion, etc.; but the winged beings that accompany the Destroyer have a hideous collage of traits: lions’ teeth protrude from human faces, while in front their chests are plated with iron and in back they have tails like scorpions. Where the elders in the heavenly throne room cast their crowns before God as they raised a harmonious song of praise (4:10-1 1), the demonic locusts continue to wear crowns on their heads as they raise a pounding and clanking roar, like chariots going into battle.

The judgment depicted here is not direct divine punishment, but a revelation of what it would mean for God to hand over the world to other powers…(p 100)

Koester here nicely draws out the way that, in Revelation, literary structure is a key bearer of meaning. And his reading is theological, in the sense that this last phrase helped me make connections with Paul’s language of ‘handing over’ in Romans 1.24 and elsewhere. He also highlights the allusion to OT images (of locusts, plagues and the like), and would want to add in echoes of things in the first-century world, such as the ‘blazing mountain’ reminding readers of the eruption of Vesuvius.

This does not solve all the problems and challenges of Revelation, especially with the violence of its imagery. But it reminded me of the depiction of evil in Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein. Interestingly, Tolkein’s vision was less an indulgence in fantasy as an expression of the reality of evil that he had encountered in the death and destruction of the Western Front in the First World War.

March 14, 2013

Given a New Name

This is from a blog,  Into The Foolishness and appeared earlier this year as A White Stone and a New Name.

One of the things I find beautiful in the book of Revelation is when Jesus says,

“To him who overcomes I will give a white stone and on that stone is a name known only to the person who receives it and to Me” (2:17).

The white stone signifies victory and could very well hint at purity. The significant thing to me is there is a name on that stone that is the name Jesus knows me by. My mother does not know me by that name. My friends don’t know me by that name. No one in this world, including myself, knows who I really am. I think that when we see ourselves in the light of Jesus, which will only happen when we give up ourselves and begin to seek Him wholeheartedly, then we will eventually grow into the person that He meant for us to be. When we see our name on that stone we’ll say, “Wow, thats me! How did You know me when I couldn’t even know myself?” For me, that’s part of the goal of spiritual maturity.”

~Rich Mullins

This verse in Revelation is one of the most intriguing and beautiful passages in all the Bible for me, and one of the most mysterious. A white stone with a new name? One that is uniquely ours that no one understands but God and myself? To think that God knows me in a way I don’t even know myself and will reveal that identity to me one day gives me goosebumps. Whenever I read this passage I think “I want to know what my stone says!” Imagine your most true self summed up in a name and handed to you by Christ Himself. It staggers the imagination.

For the time being, we are citizens of a fallen world, but it doesn’t change who we are. We all have a true self that God created us to be. We strive and work to become better people in many ways, but I think growing into who God actually made us to be is one of the holiest things we can do. It’s not about becoming perfect or working harder – it’s about embracing our weaknesses and faults and handing them all over to a God who knows us better than we know ourselves. What if we stopped trying be so many different people and focused on discovering more about our unique calling?

We have an identity in Christ that is unique. This should be an encouragement to all of us to seek only His will for our lives and let everything else fall to the wayside.

I actually like that no one is able to figure out the exact meaning of this passage. There is an excitement and wonder in it that should make us long for the truth of who we are in Christ. We get a taste of it here on earth and see the fulfillment of it in heaven. For now it is, as CS Lewis once wrote, “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” 

I try and instill in my kids that they need to be who God has made them to be, no more and no less. I need to remember that myself. Find your identity in Christ and you won’t need to find it anywhere else.

“To him who overcomes I will give a white stone…”  What an unbelievable gift!

July 10, 2011

Robin Mark – Lion of Judah

Last night we were blessed to attend a concert with Ireland’s Robin Mark.  He’s a regular visitor to the Pentecostal Campground located just 2km east of our town.  Although he didn’t do this song in the concert, we did this one in our worship set this morning.


The annotation with this video is interesting:

This is a worship video we compiled for RiverCrestChurch.org. The graphics are actual scans of medieval handwritten pages with the lyrics of the song superimposed on the pages for use in worship. The amazing song was written by and performed by Robin Mark in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Revival In Belfast captures the passionate worship of Robin Mark and the Christian Fellowship Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Known for their strong cross community emphasis, it is a place where believers from all walks of faith are welcome and where grace and mercy abound in the midst of the troubles of Northern Ireland. The blend of uilleann pipes, penny-whistle and a multi-national worship band create a powerful backdrop of the intensely honest songs of Robin Mark that have become well known throughout Europe. Featuring “All For Jesus,” “Lion Of Judah,” and “Days of Elijah,” Revival In Belfast delivers unique and singable songs that are destined to revive your heart as you celebrate the Lord of All. 

  Some of the imagery may seem a bit different, but it’s based on end times images from the book of Revelation.

March 14, 2011

Light The Fire Again

Although I’m now a confirmed fan of Brian Doerksen’s worship music, I didn’t immediately gravitate toward the song “Light The Fire Again” when it was first becoming popular.  Only a few days ago, as I was reading the text it is based on in Revelation 3 (the letter to the church at Laodicea) did I really come to appreciate the song.

To craft a song like this you would need several things to be happening

  • At the most basic level, an awareness of the text
  • Second, a familiarity and comfort with the text.  Many times we shy away from poetic images or prophetic images, or even the book of Revelation itself
  • Finally, that familiarity with the text has to extend to an ability to restate the text in words that are immediate and relevant to our modern church experience.

Here’s the text itself:

(NIV) Rev 3:17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Here’s the video and some devotional thoughts on the song that appeared here just a month ago.

Let’s go a different direction with this today:  We’re not all songwriters, but here are some questions to ask ourselves…

  • Are there texts we are unfamiliar with?  A recent study showed that in many churches, despite owning a vast collection of hymnbooks, there were really only 27 hymns that were common to all.  These are the “popular” hymns, the ones that survive even in churches that do modern worship.  It’s the same with Bible texts.  We have our favorites, our “go-to” places in the Bible that we perhaps read at the expense of other places God would have us discover.
  • Are there texts we are uncomfortable with?  Parts of the Bible we avoid?  I’m not talking about obscure genealogies or Levitical laws, but other places that don’t resonate with us, so we tend to skip over them instead of prayerfully reading them, asking God to show us more of His nature and His character in the words He inspired.   They should become part of us.
  • Could we re-state certain passages in ways that would connect with people living 21st Century lives?   Have we captured the “gist” of a passage enough to describe it, paraphrase it, or even put it into a song?  Or do we just skim the words and then close the book?

I’m not there yet.  I just think when we see writers who are able to take these passages and literally make them sing, we need to look into the depth of our own reading and processing of scripture, and if it’s somewhat lacking, take steps to move from a Christianity 101 approach up to the level of Christianity 201.

December 5, 2010

Eschatology as Entertainment

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This is David Wells, General Superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (direct Canadian equivalent of the Assemblies of God) writing this month in the denominational magazine, Testimony.  I believe his writing has broad application to Evangelicals and Christians in general…

An emphasis on the soon return of Christ (“Are you ready?”) has been replaced by a speculation regarding prophecy that tends to thrill more than mobilize.   It has to be said of Pentecostals that “…upward social mobility is clearly affectin gthe apocalyptic fervor and urgency as the world looks a little better to contemporary and more affluent North American Pentecostals.”  Thus in our orthodoxy (doctrine), we believe in the parousia (second coming); but in our ortopraxy (practice), the majority of us are not influenced by its reality.   This has obvious impact on values, lifestyle and ministry priorities.

When Jesus told His followers He would return again, He warned them about slipping into speculation or apathy.  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”  (Matt 24:36).  Then, using three parables, He taught them to focus on watchfulness and fruitfulness while waiting for his return.   Lots of things were going to distract them from kingdom truth and priorities, so their posture had to be to one of watchful prayer (Parable of the Ten Virgins, Matthew 25: 1-13).  In that condition of readiness they were not to go and hide in a cave, but they were to live their lives in Him with productivity (Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30) and selfless service (Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25: 31-46).

While we may not speculate quite as much today as those before us did on issues such as the identity of the Antichrist, we must ask ourselves if we are prepared to take Jesus’ promise of His second coming seriously.

~ David Wells

 

Quotation is from Steven Land, Pentecostal Spirituality (Academic Press, 1994)

October 1, 2010

Two Headlines, Two Choices

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Although today’s post is a little longer, I want to introduce you to Cindy, who lives in the Hawaiian Islands and blogs as Cindy By The Sea.   Romantic, huh?   Her blogs posts feature a mix of politics and current events combined with scripture.    This one was posted last month under the title The Dividing Line.

In the early morning hours of September 4, a powerful earthquake shook residents awake in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. At an estimated 7.1, it was the most powerful earthquake to strike the region in many years.  I find it interesting that the epicenter for this earthquake should be a city called Christchurch on the day following two very significant headlines making news on September 2.

On the day prior to the New Zealand quake, two headlines (among others) competed for attention.  One was the Mid-East peace talks taking place in Washington DC and the other was the announcement by world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking that the universe was not created by God, but, was rather a spontaneous event related to the law of gravity.  For these two headlines to share space on the same day can hardly be called coincidence.

The Bible tells us of course, that the heavens declare the glory of God and the reality of his existence. It doesn’t take the mind of a Stephen Hawking, a powerful telescope or a degree in physics to tell us this. All it takes is a look in to the night skies for the simplest of people to understand.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands, Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”   Psalm 19: 1-3

Through the heavens God has made himself known; through Israel, God has made himself knowable.

Chosen for a purpose

In Isaiah 43:10, speaking of Israel, God says:

“You are my witnesses saith the Lord, my servant whom I have chosen that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”

In other words, it is Israel who bears witness to a knowable God.  A God who has made himself known, a God who loves us so much that he sent his only Son, a God who has a plan for our future and knows the beginning from the end. A God who chose Israel to be his instrument of grace (specifically fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah). I believe the headlines of Sept 2 clearly outline the choices we face today, whether people realize it or not.

Do we choose a Stephen Hawking world and the humanistic philosophy which naturally follows or do we stand with the God of the Bible in support of Israel?

Choose this day whom you will serve!

Lines are being drawn now and in the not too distant future, it will become increasingly difficult to have a foot in each camp – in fact, it will become impossible.

I thought it was interesting that the James Lee, Discovery Channel hostage situation occurred the same day as the Hocking announcement.  A clear indication to anyone paying attention of the natural outcome (tragedy and death) of a humanistic, self-centered, ”no-God” society.  Mr. Lee, a deranged individual (or perhaps just a strong proponent of the earth first propaganda that has been force-fed to us by the humanistic environmentalists) who believed with such fervor that humans and the birth of new babies are the scourge of the earth; so much so, that he was willing to take up arms to prove his point.

When the walls crumbled in Christchurch, it may have been a warning for the church of Laodicea, that you can only straddle the fence so long before you will fall.  Like the house built on the sand, without the firm foundation of Christ; collapse is certain.  Sadly, the humanistic philosophy of the culture has infiltrated the teachings of the church which bears his name.  And, among the many heresies which have crept into the body, none is more insidious and sinister than that of doubting the truth and infallibility of his word. Evidenced by a number of things such as – the acceptance of the gay agenda, support of abortion rights, denial of creation as outlined in Genesis, denial of the miracles of the Bible, denial of Jesus as the only way and denial of God’s calling and purpose for Israel, among a whole host of other things.

In these last days, God has brought Israel to the forefront and what happens with Israel is instrumental to the return of Jesus.  In Matthew 25:31-46, we read of the judgment of the sheep and goats -in this passage, the sheep and goats are separated.  And, the basis on which they are separated is this: how the brethern of Christ (Israel – the Jews) have been treated.  Take note Quartet and all others who doubt God’s word and who seek the division and destruction of Jerusalem, this is the dividing line for nations and it is on this basis, by which you shall be judged.

~ cindybythesea

September 26, 2010

The Seven Letters in Revelation

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.   Maybe, as the pastor at the church we visited this morning suggested, the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church.

Zoom back in.   Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras.

Zoom in again.   Churches like the seven so-described exist today.   If you’ve been around you could 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. 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!   (But it’s actually a good summary, too.)

Click the image for original source site.

August 11, 2010

Revelation Song

Holy, Holy, Holy isn’t just a repeated lyric.   It represents a special poetic significance that occurs in scripture when something is deserving of special emphasis.

I can’t believe that anybody reading this right now doesn’t already know this song, but if you haven’t prepare for a 7-minute worship experience.  Besides, I wanted it to be part of the worship collection on this blog.   Everyone else:  You already know what awaits you…

Worthy is the Lamb
Who was slain
Holy holy is He
Sing a new song
To Him Who sits on
Heaven’s mercy seat

Holy holy holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was and is
And is to come
With all creation I sing
Praise to the King of kings
You are my everything
And I will adore You

Clothed in rainbows of living color
Flashes of lightning, rolls of thunder
Blessing and honor
Strength and glory
And power be to You
The only wise King

Filled with wonder
Awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your name
Jesus Your name is power
Breath and living water
Such a marvelous mystery yeah

by Jennie Lee Riddle
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