Christianity 201

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.

 

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.

 




Related:


 

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.

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