Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 15: Too late to come to our spiritual senses

In the end, everyone will know who God is and worship Him in some way.  This may be hard to see now, but eventually everyone will have to acknowledge the truth and respond accordingly. 

Unfortunately, the circumstances when this comes about may not be pleasant.  In the midst of a discussion of seven final plagues, those who survived the rule of the beasts sing a song about how God will conquer. 

My interpretation of this (which I hope is wrong) is that everyone will recognize who God is after it is too late for them to respond in faith.  I don't think the whole world becomes believers.  Rather, it appears that evil gets conquered and people will then realize that they were evil and have no choice but to acknowledge God. 

This makes me think about the importance of reaching out to our lost loved ones now.  God will eventually make it so everyone recognizes Him.  But that may not be the best time to finally come to our spiritual senses.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thought on Revelation 14: You have questions; God has answers

What a contrast between chapters 13 and 14.  In chapter 13 we had two beasts running amuck on the earth, terrorizing the saints.  In chapter 14 we have the picture of heaven of the rejoicing of the saints and God preparing for His final victory.  Many of the questions that may arise out of the previous chapter are answered in this one.  God is waiting for the proper moment to make all things right again.

On a side, and completely irrelevant note, we hear a lot about the 144,000 in religious circles.  Based on this passage, I think most of what I have heard is incorrect.  They are described as blameless virgins.  I don't think any major religious or eschatological position has taken this seriously.  Think about that next time you hear someone spouting off about the 144,000.  Ask yourself if they are ignoring one of the few pieces of information we have about this group.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 13: "Because I said so"

Revelation 13 is somewhat upsetting.  It describes two beasts who God allows to roam the earth and do damage.  God even granted one of the beasts "ruling authority", with which he persecuted the saints.

I cannot give a reason for why God would let this happen.  I really don't know.  I do know that God does allow things like this.  After reading all of Job, I also know that God won't always give us a "good reason" for these things. Often, the only answer God gives us is something like we might have heard from our parents as young children, "Because I said so".  In those circumstances, we just have to take it and trust that God knows what He is doing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 12: Satan loses but keeps fighting

In chapter 12, Satan is pictured as a dragon.  He wages a war against God's heavenly host and is defeated under the leadership of the Arch Angel Michael.  He is forced to the earth where, in vengeance, he seeks to destroy the Church.

I see a couple lessons here:
  1. God can and has defeated Satan.  
  2. Satan will come after the Church and its members.
  3. God will protect his Church.
I think these are things we need to remember when dealing with the spiritual realm.  Many Christians tend to ignore the power and role of Satan.  Or pretend that he doesn't exist. That would be a mistake.

Another mistake would be being so afraid of Satan that you are paralyzed.  We must remember that God will always win.  It doesn't mean things will be easy, but it does mean we can have ultimate confidence.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 11: Their corpses will lie in the street

I am not going to venture a guess about who the two witnesses are.  Suffice it to say that they are God's specially selected servants who demonstrate great power.  Then they are killed and their corpses will rot in the street.

Please note that these are God's faithful servants.  Note that they were not popular in society.  Note that they are killed and God lets it happen.  Note that God lets their bodies lie exposed in the street. 

When you are God's servant, things won't always be great.  The greater your role, the greater the probability that you will suffer greatly.  Just a thought.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 10: Sweet and bitter

In chapter 10 we see something interesting.  The Revelator is instructed to eat a scroll.  He describes it as tasting sweet but leaving a bitter feel in his stomach.  I won't pretend to know the exact meaning of this.  My guess is that it is something that we called out for, but may make us nauseous when we get it. (Again, let me emphasize that this is my guess.)

In the early persecuted Church, I would imagine there were many calls for punishment for their enemies.  This would mimic the message in many of the Psalms.  But I often wonder if we truly appreciate how awful (in the true meaning of the word "awful") God's wrath is.  When we actually see what God does to punish those who cause us pain, how will our stomachs respond?  Will our empathy make observing that wrath unbearable? 

I really don't know.  These are just some thoughts.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 8: God punishes for reasons

While God is decimating the earth in Revalation 7 and 8, it is important to note that it isn't just for fun.  The people of earth were incredibly wicked.  Verses 20-21 spell out this wickedness.  Even after all this judgment, these people continued in worshipping demons, idolatry, murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, or thievery.  God didn't punish the people for being righteous. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 8: God is the same in the Old and New Testaments

In chapter 8 of Revelation we get the first four trumpets of judgement.  I think the eagle in verse 13 sums up the message well: "Woe, woe, to those who live on the earth..."  In great swaths God sends destruction on the earth. 

This is not a warm, fuzzy thought.  I'm not sure you can read Revelation and think of God as warm and fuzzy.  This is more like the God of wrath that many mistakenly claim is the realm of the Old Testament.  I think what people fail to remember is that the period of most of the New Testament was about 70 years.  How much of God's wrath did one expect to see in a 70 year period.  One didn't see all that much wrath in any given 70 year period in the Old Testament.  Revelation is a prophesy of what was to come (I'm not going to guess as to when).  It takes a longer view over a longer period than the description of current events in the New Testament.  So, in that regard, Revelation is much more like the Old Testament.  This, I believe, indicates that God did not change from the OT to the NT.  Rather, the NT focuses on a brief time period of particular generosity and grace.  We find those in the OT as well, we just get a more complete picture in the OT.  Revelation also provides this more complete picture.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 7: God ultimately protects His people

In the midst of the destruction in the previous chapter, we get an interlude.  Rather than destruction, we see protection.  God protects 144,000 from what is still to come.  We also see a multitude being protected from the "great tribulation". 

Note that all these people did have to go through levels of suffering.  But, at a certain point, God spared them of anything further.  God will not put us through more than we can handle.  It's important to remember that as I go through my relatively minor suffering.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 6: God and Christ brought about the destruction

As I mention often in these posts, I am going to do my best to avoid eschatological interpretations.  When discussing Revelation, that gets very hard, so my habit has been to find a theme rather than trying to understand what each passage means.

In that light, I will not try to explain the seals on the scroll, when they happen, or how literal to take them.  Rather, I want to highlight the picture.  We have a picture of God on a throne and of Christ, in the form of a slaughtered lamb, being declared worthy to break the seals of this scroll.  As most of the seals are broken, some calamity happens on earth.

You can argue about whether God caused the calamity, allowed it, or both all you want.  What I would find hard to dispute is that Christ was the only one found worthy to break the seals on the scroll and the calamities happened as the seals were broken.  Christ played an active role in these calamities coming about.  Surely God knew these things would happen. 

Passages like this do make me wonder about calamities and God's will.  God can prevent anything from happening.  He could have prevented Hurricane Katrina or "Super Storm Sandy". But he didn't.  Was this punishment?  Was there some greater plan we just don't understand?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do believe they are valid questions.  I think shutting down someone who dares to ask them is theologically naive. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 5: Only Christ is worthy

After picturing God in his glory who is worthy of praise, we come to a vision of Christ being the only one who is worthy to open a scroll.  (I'm not going to venture a guess about what the scroll is exactly.)

This is an interesting picture.  It is a slain lamb who is then honored as one who not only sacrificed, but also who is worthy
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and praise!
I don't know about you, but when I look at a lamb, I don't think of these attributes.  I certainly don't think of a killed lamb as having these attributes.  Yet this paradox is who Christ is.  Both the slaughtered innocent and one worthy of praise due to his attributes.  With these conflicting pictures, it is hard to put Christ into a box.  But that is too often what I do, and I imagine I am not alone.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 4: Thinking about who God really is

The fourth chapter or Revelation provides us with what appears to be a physical manifestation of God.  I imagine that if you ask most professing Christians who don't have this passage in mind what God is like, you would get a fluffy picture of a loving deity.  While this is not necessarily wrong, it is certainly incomplete.

God is not your grandfather.  God is holy.  That is something we should think about more.  God is holy.  God is set apart.  God is utterly different from us.  God is fully worthy of reverence.  God doesn't need us. God is all-powerful.  God created everything.  Apart from Him, nothing exists.

These are things we should all dwell on more to get a fuller, although still incomplete, picture of God.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thougths on Revelation 3: Ancient churches and modern problems

It's a little harder for me to draw a comparison of the church in Sardis to modern churches because the message to them is somewhat vague.  I don't know if the "deeds" are good works or if they are personal actions.  So, my best parallel is to the modern mega-church.  These churches have a lot of influence and resources.  They are perceived as "alive".  My question is always, what are these churches doing with their resources? What percentage of the congregation is actually living the Christian life?  What is the church doing to improve their community and bring their community to Christ?  I know a lot of mega-church pastors struggle with these issues, but I wish all of them did.

The church in Philadelphia reminds me (somewhat) of very small churches that struggle to remain faithful when surrounded by things that make it difficult.  It is a big challenge for small churches to remain faithful and not get discouraged.  The promises made to the Philadelphia church are what I find most interesting.  He promises to spare them from the coming turmoil and to make their oppressors acknowledge that God loves them.  I'm not sure what to make of these promises, but I do find them interesting.

First a little bit of a geography lesson to help better understand the message.  Laodicea probably was near a medicinal hot spring.  It was also near a cold river.  The river was refreshing for drinking.  The hot spring was good for health.  When the river ran into the hot spring, it turned lukewarm and good for neither refreshment nor health.

With that out of the way, Laodicea reminds me of too many modern suburban churches in the US.  They have great wealth, but they don't do anything with it.  They follow a script designed not to make anyone too uncomfortable in the services.  They host extra programs for different groups in the church to make the members feel more comfortable.  Overall, the churches are very comfortable.  But, what does that actually mean?  Are they refreshing for people in need of refreshment?  Do they heal spiritual wounds?  No.  That would make some people uncomfortable.  You can't make people uncomfortable.  Therefore, you should just remain in your church bubble and spend time with others who are comfortably like you and not do anything to rock the boat.  And God will vomit you out of His mouth.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 2: Ancient churches, modern issues

In these chapters of Revelation where there are mini-letters to the churches, I will treat each separately.  There are many ways to look at these messages to churches.  I'm going to try something that I haven't seen before (although I have no doubt that it's been done).  I'm going to compare the church in the letter to a type of church I see today and see if we can pull out some applications. Note that I am not claiming that the actual recipients of these letters are modern churches.
The church in Ephesus reminds me of a lot of "theological churches" I see today.  These are churches that are so focused on correct theology that they tend to forget other (and frequently more important) aspects of the faith.  One church in particular I think of started essentially as a mission for unwed mothers.  They provided a place to live, shared the Gospel in both words and deeds, and provided other much-needed support for these women.  Fast forward 20 years and the church is best known for its strident theological  adherence.  You can attend this church and get a seminary-level education on the Bible.  That is not a bad thing.  The teaching there is phenomenal.  I also don't need to worry about them being corrupted by false teachers.  But, they have abandoned their love and service to the poor and those in need.  I can see a similar letter being written to them.

The church in Smyrna reminds me of the situation faced by modern Christians in many parts of the world.  Persecuted with the expectation of suffering.  I have been privileged to not experience real persecution.  Sure, I have been ridiculed for my faith, but that is not real persecution.  I have it lucky. 

I find in interesting that God's only expectation for this church is that they endure.  They aren't commanded to do any more than that.  It is a reminder that God will not expect more of us than we can handle.  It is also a reminder that more is expected of us who do not go through this type of suffering.  Finally, it's a reminder to me that I need to do a better job of praying and using my influence to help the persecuted church.

The church in Pergamum reminds me of some churches in certain cities.  They are trying to remain faithful in the midst of rampant and open sin.  In the fight to stay strong and relevant, they sacrifice some of their integrity.  They tolerate very sketchy teachings that sound good and attract people to the church, but that do not fit with the Gospel of grace.  Lots of open sin is also tolerated, or, to put it more properly, ignored.  Such things, I believe, actually weaken the power of the church.  It becomes more of a social club than a beacon of light in a very dark world.

The church in Thyatira reminds me of some "social gospel" churches.  These are churches that focus almost exclusively on doing good works.  As long as the church is doing good in the community, then anything else goes.  "False teaching? Fine.  Sexual immorality?  God loves us anyway.  And, after all, we are doing God's work in the world.  Why would He care about anything else?"  But in most of these churches there are individuals who seek to have a proper personal relationship with God.  They appreciate (rightly) the good works of the church, and try to ignore the other problems.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts on Revelation 1: Christ in His glory

I'm going to be honest.  I don't understand most of Revelation and I don't try that hard to do so.  I've seen too many false teachers base their theology on a certain interpretation of this book and it becomes the lens through which they look at the rest of the Bible.  If you are looking for an exposition of Revelation, you will need to look elsewhere.

What I will try to provide are some thoughts on overall themes as we read.  Some posts will probably be sparse.  I'll do what I can, but these are just some thoughts.  Now to the first chapter.
We have in these verses a very unique look at the resurrected Christ in his glory.  It is not a meek picture.  The figure described is powerful.  The figure is in control.  The figure is a ruler.

This is on the Christ on the cross.  It is the Christ in his natural state.  It is a Christ who Roman and Jewish authorities would not mess with.  It is a Christ who Judas wouldn't even consider betraying.  It is a Christ who people couldn't help but bow down to worship.

Perhaps we need to take a second look at this Christ, since this Christ is the one who intercedes on our behalf with the Father.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thoughts on Jude: Reminding us who God is

As is fairly obvious to anyone who reads both books, Jude and II Peter have a lot of common themes (and sometimes common words).

To me, the thing that most distinguishes Jude, is arguably the most beautiful benediction ever, anywhere.  It reminds me, not only of who God is, but of what He has done for us.  I will let the words speak for themselves.

Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thoughts on II Peter 3: Patience and holding firm

II Peter is not the easiest book for me to read.  There's a lot I just don't get.  I find it ironic that Peter sort of apologizes for how confusing Paul is, but he writes this masterpiece...

One of the lessons I do get from this chapter is that we should be patient because we don't always understand God's timing or His ways.  Given our misunderstandings, we must be patient and careful.  It is easy to be misled, especially if we assume we know the mind of God and are disappointed when we realize we were wrong.  This is one of many reasons I am skeptical of most eschatological views.  If you expect Christ to return at a certain date, and He doesn't, we are likely to be disillusioned or to fall for something even more sketchy.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thoughts on II Peter 2: Things I don't understand

I'm going to be honest.  The second chapter of II Peter contains a lot that I don't understand, either intellectually or in my gut.

Intellectually, for example, I don't understand the nature of the false teachers that Peter rails against.  I don't understand the slanderous judgement.  What is "the way of righteousness" that these teachers knew and abandoned?

My gut doesn't understand how Lot, who gave up his daughters to be raped, could be considered a "righteous man". 

With all I don't understand from this chapter, what do I get?  False teachers are very bad and we should take this problem far more seriously than we do.  In the name of Christian unity we tolerate far more than we should.  Peter would say that tolerating such false teachers is not a matter of Christian unity because these teachers are not Christians.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thoughts on II Peter 1: Make your election sure

First of all, let me emphasize that this post will not take a position on whether a Christian can lose her/his salvation.  I do have thoughts on the matter, but I don't know that my thoughts would promote a useful discussion.  Additionally, they are so nuanced (or complicated), I'm not sure I could adequately explain them in a brief time.

What I do want to focus on is the idea the true Christianity cannot be about "easy believism".  It cannot be an issue of praying a prayer and being done for the rest of your life.  In my youth I used to present that position in my ministry to children.  Then I started actually studying the Bible and realized that it couldn't be the case.

Christianity is more than a one-time decision.  It is a continual decision that guides ones life. 

Please don't confuse this with salvation by works.  Rather, salvation is going to transform us in such a way that we become conscious of living for God.  If we do not have that conscientiousness, then that is perhaps the time to seek to make our calling and election sure.  We should examine ourselves.  The good news is that if we are worried about these issues, then we are probably fine, or at least on the path to being fine.

How does one travel on this path?  Although I can't give a guideline for every individual circumstance, Peter does highlight a general route for us.  Start with faith, without which you won't have salvation.  Add to that "excellence".  (I don't have my Greek handy, but I think the Greek word here is dikaiosune, which roughly means "flourishing".  In Greek and Hebrew thought, this probably means living a life of moral virtue, as is commonly found in the philosophers at the time.) After excellence, you go to knowledge--knowledge of God and His word.  This chain continues, ending in versions of love.  I need to make my wife lunch now, so I have to go, but I encourage you to think through vv 5-7 yourself.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 5: God will exalt you in due time

I grew up hearing I Peter 5:6 repeatedly.  We even sang a song at church that was taken from this verse.  I have read the verse countless times.  It is therefore embarrassing for me to admit that only now have I figured out the context.

Peter, after giving instructions to elders, gave instructions to the young.  They were to subject themselves to the elders and not give into pride.  Then, if they humbled themselves, they would be exalted in due time.  It was about the young not jumping the gun into church leadership.

Perhaps I only noticed this now, as I am getting older, because I didn't want to hear the message.  Perhaps it is simply evidence that I definitely was not ready to be an elder.  But I think the message is important.  Too often the young (myself included when I was young), are impatient for change and want to push issues before the appropriate time.  The youthful enthusiasm is good, and an important part of the church.  The wise elder will listen attentively to the issues of the young.  But, that enthusiasm also frequently leads to the young not really thinking things through in their decision-making.  Also, unfortunately, it is the more "confident" young people who make the biggest splashes.  It is also the most "confident" who are the most prideful.  Assuming church leadership is selected well, these are not the individuals who will become elders, unless they also humble themselves under the mighty hand of God so that He will exalt them in due time.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 4: Suffer for the right reasons

For Christians, not all suffering is created equal.  I used to be involved with prison ministry and I was always surprised when I heard some prison ministers, and more often the prisoners themselves, argue that they were suffering for Jesus.  I suppose it is possible that they were put in prison for serving God, but I sort of doubt it.  In chapter four, Peter clarifies, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or criminal, or troublemaker." Suffering is only rewarded by God when it is done for being Godly.  And when you are suffering for being Godly, you can trust God to reward you when the time comes.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thoughts on I Peter 3: It is better to suffer for doing good

People don't like suffering.  That's quite understandable.  But the reality is that suffering is going to happen.  If we live godly lives, we are going to suffer.  It's unavoidable as long as we live in the world.

A lot of Christians try to avoid suffering by creating a small enclave of like-minded Christians in which to hide.  But, as Peter points out, how are you going to do that and still "be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you"?  A lot of people take that verse out of context and provide it as justification for starting arguments.  That is not what Peter is saying.  He is saying that if you live a godly life, other will see it and challenge you on it.  If you look at verse 16, your answer is to be given with "courtesy and respect" so that others will not be turned off by your message.

Too often I see Christians, when they feel uncomfortable, going out of their way to make a spectacle of their faith.  They are obnoxious and in their obnoxiousness they think they are following God's command.  They aren't.  The purpose of the command is to provide an explanation for why you allow yourself to suffer due to your godly lifestyle.  It isn't to force others to make it so you don't suffer anymore.  God uses our suffering.  We shouldn't be so eager to remove the suffering from our lives.