Christianity 201

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:21 pm
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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

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:36 pm
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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
© 2004 Gateway Create Publishing (Admin. by Integrity’s Praise! Music)

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