Ever wonder what God might have to say to YOU today? Here are things to ponder, and things to receive into your heart. If you have a question, put it in the comments. I respond as much as I can.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Meditation 2

Revelation and you.

Jesus is coming again.  He says so, and so do all the writers of the Bible who address this issue. There is an "end of all things," and it's becoming more apparent than ever that it's upon us. It's imperative to understand what this means, not so that we can "have all the information," but so that we can live our lives in expectation of His return, and not in fear.
The book of Revelation says,
"Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and those also who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him."
That is, "all the tribes of the earth who reject Him" will wail and cry out.  So our experience of His return is one of two:
Either we rejoice and laugh and cry out with happiness,
We hide ourselves in the rocks and caves and mountains, and wail, and cry out to the rocks and mountains, "Fall on us, and hide us from the wrath of Him who sits on the throne [God], and from the Lamb; for the great day of His wrath has come..."
It's really easy to sugar coat this, and say, "That won't happen, because God is a God of love." Yes. He is.  However, He is also a God of justice.  do you really think that someone who has participated in the murder of hundreds of thousands of people won't receive judgment?  Can you tell me that a man or woman who puts on a suicide vest so that multitudes of people will die goes free?
The Bible says,
"God made man in His image," and when we kill another human, we insult God to His face as well as take that person's life.
Same thing is true of the wealthy, who sit in their huge homes, acquired at the misery of thousands of slaves.
God loves people.  He loves you.  But He won't overlook your evil.  Revelation attests to that, with all its judgments and all its commands.
Over and over again, men and women are encouraged to change, to repent, to follow God.

For example, there's actually an angel who flies through midair, calling everyone who now rejects God and Christ to repent:

14: 6 Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth --- to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people ---7 saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water."

Even in a day when there are no more preachers--when they are all dead or in hiding, God seeks men and women and calls them to turn to Him through His angel.  
So what about you?  Do you fear the return of Christ?  If you're evil, you fear His return with good reason. 
If you belong to Him, rejoice.  His return will mean everlasting blessedness to you.

Turn to Him today.  Don't wait.  How many more days and hours we have, we know not.  The days of "normal life" are winding down, and the day of judgment approaches.

NOW is the accepted time.  TODAY  is the day of salvation...

Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  From judgment.  From death. Into eternal life.  

Don't wait. Don't. Wait. 

Hard to believe...

Matthew 13:57 says, "he [Jesus] could not do many works of power there because of their unbelief. "
My thoughts go back to a contrasting statement, made many were ago, outside of church--"if she had faith, she  could be healed."
These words were said to me (pastor) by a new attendee, regarding a lovely quadriplegic lady who attended  our church. I've thought about this a great deal  over the past couple of decades. The lady referred to is gone now, with the Lord. She never recovered from her illness. Though we all prayed for her, and fasted and prayed for her multiple times. I DO believe in God's healing and I've seen Him heal people on numerous occasions, but when I think of the verse quoted above, it hurts, because it's clear to me that my prayers (and  those of our congregation) didn't have the effect we all hoped--but most of all, this member of our congregation died in a hospital bed, unhealed.
Why was this? Was it because I was not qualified to pray for her? Was it because none of us had sufficient faith? Was it something unknown? Why?
These are questions virtually every Christian asks at some time in his life. The longer any of us lives, the more likely they'll ask them, because all of us have lots of unanswered prayers. Some of these are the most important prayers we've ever offered to the Lord. It hurts terribly when they go unanswered. I could list my own unanswered prayers, but you all have your own, and they are probably in the forefront of your mind, so I'll refrain. 
Why doesn't God answer prayers? Why do things sometimes appear to go just the opposite of the way we pray?
First, let me say that I  can only speak generally. I'm not going to "cop out," either, and say "the age of miracles is over." That's a non-answer, and begs the question, since there is no evidence for that in Scripture. Moreover, I've seen my share of miracles, so....  Let me also say that you're not going to be completely satisfied with the answers I give, because what God does is always a mystery, and His ways are undiscoverable. However, I will be honest about what I know. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Risen Lord, The Lion, The Lamb, The Warrior

It's no secret that the book of Revelation uses a lot of symbols; dragons, horsemen, bowls, trumpets, stinging locusts, burning mountains, and so on.
It's also an open question which of these are "for real," in the sense that if you looked at them as they occur, you'd see them as John did in the first century.  I think we'll be surprised to find how many of the symbols are actually John telling us not only what he saw, but also what we'll see.
The next image of Jesus we see in Revelation, after the Risen Lord, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (the coming ruler), the Lamb of God (slain for the sins we've committed, called "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by an earlier John), is The Warrior in Revelation 19.
In Revelation 19, He arrives to take control of the earth, and to end the war that is going on at Armageddon (a place as well as an event) with His own might.
As the story goes, the Antichrist has gathered all the nations of the earth together to fight against Christ (and the Jewish people, See Zechariah 12 and its context)--the ultimate in arrogance and foolishness, because the Lord appears, riding on His white horse, with the armies in heaven following him (unlike generals today, he appears at the head of His armies), and simply speaks.  That's the end for the Antichrist, his armies, the dragon, and all who oppose God.  They are finished with a word. Lots of symbolism here as well.  Jesus is presented as the Warrior with a sharp sword proceeding from His mouth, which is the Word of God, and time stops for a moment, while all the armies of the Dragon / Antichrist are destroyed.  It's the same as a "nuclear moment." Nothing stands in His way, nothing stops Him, nothing even opposes Him.  The entire army opposing Him disappears in a disastrous event of fire and blood. The Antichrist is taken captive, and the False Prophet, and they are cast alive into the lake of fire.
The next event (Revelation 20) is the binding of the Dragon, Satan, who is confined for 1,000 years.
So Jesus' appearance in Revelation 19 conforms with the promise in Revelation 1:7: "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, and they also who pierced Him.  And all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him..." That is, all the people of the earth who reject Him.
He's coming.  Get ready.  He'll arrive whether you're ready or not, in His own time, and it is a good idea to be ready for Him. Otherwise, you'll wail over the lost opportunity, rather than welcome Him as your Lord and King.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Who is Jesus, According to the Book of Revelation, Part 2?

Revelation, as I mentioned in the previous post, presents the Lord Jesus in four ways.  The first is the vision at the beginning of the book (detailed in the last post).
The second and third are highly symbolic; He is known as the "Lion of the Tribe of Judah," and the "Lamb of God."
Both of these occurrences are designed to bring to our minds a particular way in which Jesus Christ interacts with the universe.
First, He's called the "Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5)," the only one worthy to open the seven sealed book and to display its contents.  The point of this statement is to remind us that Jesus, as Lion, does not ask for dominion over the earth. He takes it. Just as a lion takes what he wants for food by whatever means are necessary, so Jesus as King of Kings, the "root and offspring of David" will take control of the earth.  The scroll in Rev. 5 is probably some sort of "granting document," or deed, granting King Jesus the rights over all the earth.  He is the only one worthy to unseal, to open, and to read and execute what is written in this book. In other words, all the kings of the earth, who believe the territory over which they now exercise dominion is theirs, are dead wrong.  It belongs to the Son of God, who will take it for Himself.  If there is resistance, it will be handled much as a lion deals with resistance against his will.
The second statement, interestingly enough, comes right on the heels of the first, and this is what John actually sees when he looks at the Person who is to open the seven-sealed scroll (Rev. 5:6ff)--John sees a freshly killed sacrificial lamb, who's redeemed His people with His life's blood:

And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
7 Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 
Worthy Is the Lamb 
8 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
9 And they sang a new song, saying: " You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth."
So now we have the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who's also the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
The most important thing is that the Lion and the Lamb are one, and that the Lamb is the reason the Lion can take His kingdom. In short, the Lamb gains the Lion's power because of His sacrifice. He bought the rights to everything with that sacrifice, and according to the text, He communicates them freely to us.
Note the statements in the "new song:" & priests...we shall reign. What the Lord has done for His people is to make them heirs of everything that is His, simply because they follow Him. Every time He opens one of the seals, our victory is closer, because His is.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Who is Jesus, according to the book of Revelation?

One of the most interesting realities in Revelation is the portrayals of Jesus.  He appears in four ways, sometimes on earth, sometimes in heaven, and sometimes in between.
These appearances are all filled with symbolism; they are real, of course, but Jesus presents Himself as He wants to be seen in a given context:
1. The first Appearance: Revelation 1:9-18:
9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,
11 saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."
12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands, One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.
14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;
15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;
16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

Scary, huh?  He appears, not as the man who walked among us, but as a mighty King, as the First and the Last, as the One with all power and authority, who lives forever, who had no beginning and has no end, the one who has the keys, the One whom death could not conquer.
This appearance scared John so much that he fainted, although John was used to seeing amazing things.
This appearance is full of meaning, as well.  Jesus is the Master of the Churches.  He is the one who sees into the darkest of hearts and motives. He is the One whose words are a sharp sword, and He is the One who calls death defeated.
No wonder John collapsed.
Nobody sees a vision like this without it affecting him for life, and John was no exception. This vision was given to prime him for what was to come next--more visions, more information about the end time than anyone else had ever had, more emotional reactions, more...
In some ways, it's the controlling vision for the rest of the book, and we see parts of the vision reappear later (when He comes as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, for example, in Revelation 19).
Why did Jesus do this?  Why not come just as He was when He was on the earth?
To put it simply, because He's no longer "just as He was;" He's who He is NOW, the conquering King who is about to take back the earth for His Kingdom.
For just a moment, use your imagination, and think of Jesus like this.  Fix His appearance in your mind, and then pause and look deep into your own heart.  Are you ready for Him to be the King?  He will be.  Are you glad that He will return and change the world? He will. He seeks our worship now. He seeks people who want to belong the "Now and Future King," and be part of His Kingdom.
Is that you?

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Book of Revelation: Pathway to the Future...Revelation 1:7

I've refrained from making this a commentary about the book of Revelation. There are many of those, and I'd be repeating lots of information--besides, most commentaries on Revelation have to rely a great deal on speculation, which is often presented as assured conclusions.  I have my opinions, of course, but the most benefit for you is in reading Revelation, and thinking about the pathway to the future that it shows you.
Revelation is about the "unveiling of Jesus Christ." The Greek word "apokalupsis" means "unveiling"--so this book is about showing who Jesus is, what He's like right now, and what He will be like when He returns.
Revelation 1:7 says, "Behold, He comes with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn because of Him..."
So the event itself will be massive.  It will be like a volcanic eruption, a giant meteor strike, a hurricane--except this event will engulf the entire earth.  It will be the most significant event in human history since His first coming, and it will be visible to everyone. The text mentions two significant aspects to that event:
1. The people who "pierced Him" will see Him--I think that this means "the Jews and the Gentiles (in this case, Romans)," since the actual folks who murdered Jesus are no longer on the earth. It could mean the actual people who murdered Him.  We shall see.
2. "All the Tribes of the earth shall mourn..." I think that this particular statement means, "The people who never offered Him their allegiance and worship." Why? Because to those of us who believe in Him, His return is the thing that we eagerly await. We will be delighted.  Christians who are older often say, "I want to live until the Lord returns."
The question is, "Why all this mourning?" Well, the simple reason is that Jesus, as always, is going to produce division in the human race.
There will be those who confess Him, no matter what the cost to their eternal joy and delight.
There will be those who reject Him, and worship the Dragon, thinking that the Beast and the Dragon are the future of mankind. They are horribly wrong.  The reign of the Beast, and the final efforts of the Dragon fail in 42 months after they take power, and Jesus Christ becomes visible as the King of the Earth--a position He's always held, but thus far unacknowledged, except by His followers.
THIS produces "mourning" ("wailing" in the old KJV, "beat their breasts" in Greek)--they've bet on the wrong horse, so to speak, and their losses are everlasting and infinite.
The Old and New Testaments both agree on the statements I've just made. I could quote almost endlessly, but that's not necessary.  The book of Revelation is completely clear on this.
The simplest question to ask yourself today is, "Will I be happy to see Him? or will it be a day of everlasting loss and infinite sorrow?"

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Book of Revelation is about the future:

It's no secret that the following verse outlines the book of Revelation in broad strokes:
(Revelation 1:19)
"The things you've seen, the things which are, and the things which are coming after these things"
The lesser known fact is that "The things which are coming..." is the main focus of the book.
Revelation is a roadmap to eternity.  It records how God opens the door into eternity, and brings mankind into His kingdom.
For example, every admonition to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3 ends with, "To him who overcomes..." and everyone who overcomes is promised some special thing in the future. "The now" is difficult.  It's full of trouble, suffering, anguish.  These are the products of the devil's work, of his rule over mankind, and of man's cooperation with him. Eternity is the gift of the Father, brought to us by the Son, and directed by the Holy Spirit.
All of Christianity is essentially about "Later." It's true that Jesus said, "I came that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly," and that He meant life today as well as everlasting life, but the reality is that eternal life is the most important, if for no other reason than that it's the longest.
My Dad died at 92.  He had a "long life." Really!!?? 92 years out of eternity? It's nothing.  However, now he is IN eternity.  He will never die again. He will live without pain. He will live in beauty and happiness that can't even be imagined.
THIS is what the book of Revelation is about--how we get there--Revelation is the pathway into forever.
The road is not easy, that's for sure.  There are seals, horsemen, angels, monsters, demons, dictators, the ancient Serpent who bears our race so much hatred, wars, fire, destruction and more on the path. But at the end, eternity is going to happen. All the stuff in between? Temporary. Eternity? Forever. And ever.
There is a place for you there...
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live, even if he dies; and he who lives and believes in Me shall never die..."
At the end of the book of Revelation (21:3-6), we read:
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
Wouldn't you like to go there? Forever?
Life. Free. Eternal. Unending. No sorrow. No tears. No pain.  All the evil, gone.
It's a path you can take, and you will never regret it.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Another visit with the Grim Reaper, and a segue into Revelation

"Dying thou shalt die;"
"As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"
The Last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
"Death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire."

(Jesus said) "I am the resurrection and the life; He who believes in Me, though He were dead, yet shall he live, and he who lives and believes in Me shall never die."
"Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."

The best thing about death is that it is definitely not the end.  Every Christian believes in everlasting life.  Every Christian knows he will probably have to suffer death. But every Christian who expects to die also knows that he will never cease to exist. The greatest blessings of all time are these: we have a a God who has for no reason loved us, a Lord who has saved us, and a home in heaven,

When Jesus said,
"Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life," He was saying that nothing we suffer for Him is without its full reward.  The folks who lived in Smyrna were in the midst of a firestorm (Smyrna was the 2nd church that Jesus wrote to in Revelation 2)--persecution was raging, and behind the humans who hated the Smyrnan Christians stood that evil personage, the Devil, The Serpent of Old, the Dragon, Satan, who was energizing and directing the persecution of the helpless Smyrnans.

In times like these, the Lord points us to the future--not the immediate future, but the future that He has prepared for us.
"Be faithful unto death, and..." the "and" means there is something more, something beyond, something indescribably wonderful, and which compensates for all the pain, the suffering, the horror, of the worst persecutions.
"Our light affliction, which is for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of Glory..."
Interestingly, there will not even be any PTSD in heaven, for the Lord will wipe away all tears from our eyes, and we will be secure in Him forever.
Death is not the end. Death is the beginning of our eternity. We do not seek it as Christians, but we do not fear it, as those who have no hope.
Death is the ultimate doorway. The doorway into eternity. Be ready.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Another brief visit with the Grim Reaper

Died. Dead. Buried. Passed. Departed.  All those words signify a removal of someone from the world as we know it. They are gone.
There are two questions that we always ask when someone we love dies:
Will I see them again?
I've discussed these questions with hundreds of people over the span of my own ministry, and I've witnessed the death of both my parents.
I was there at the moment for Mom.  She just quietly went out into eternity. Stopped breathing, and she was gone.
Dad's I missed by about an hour.  When I left the nursing home, he was barely alive, and when I returned (they called me), he was gone.  My Dad, who had been my best friend for many years, was gone.  Nothing left but a body, a shell. The "shell" was just. So. empty.
I had expected him to die for about two weeks, but Dad had the most amazing life-force I've ever seen. He just wouldn't die. It's as if he held on to life with both hands.
It's not that he wasn't a Christian, a genuine believer.  He was.  It's not he didn't expect to spend eternity in the presence of the Lord. He did. He just had that incredibly strong survival instinct.
So with all this strength and all his life-force, why did he die? Why?
The answer is in the first pages of the Bible, where God tells Adam, "Don't eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die;" the literal translation of  "you will surely die" is "Dying, you will die..." In other words, eating the fruit initiated a process that led to death.  Slow. Inexorable. Universal. Adam died, of course, and so have his descendants. in other words, the fruit of that tree was like a slow-acting poison, or a communicable disease that infected our first parents and was transmitted to us, their heirs, or the communication of a permanent genetic defect, so that our genes were infected by the results of the decision Adam and Eve made.
So we all die.  But it's not like the battery dies and then we just stop. It happens by degrees, as everyone who's reading this knows.  If you're a young person, you run, you play, you stay up late, you get up early, you eat what you want when you want, the hormones rage, you look forward to a  partner, a family, you wish you were in love, you fall into love, you fall out of love, and everything just goes so FAST.
But you are already aging.   I couldn't tell for myself at first.  Until I was about 35, I seemed to be just going along fine, but then I couldn't work out like I once had. I couldn't stay up like before, and I couldn't work as many hours in a week.  It was as if my battery was discharging.
And that's just how it is. Death is both an event and a process.  The process begins at or near birth, and continues until we are "departed." It's a terrible evil, frankly.  As we age, fear of death or resignation about its process informs everything in life, and although we all hide from it, we also acknowledge it. Medical insurance. Tests. Hip replacements. Medicare. Prescriptions. More prescriptions. When Dad died, his prescriptions filled up a small garbage bag when I disposed of them. But no matter what the docs did: surgeries, examinations, medications, Dad still died. And that's the point.  Nobody escapes.
The why? Everyone dies, because of the infection we all carry: The infection of death, that says, "You will surely die."
So we know that death is coming. But what then? Will I see Dad again? What about me? When I go, is it the end?

The answers are "Yes," and "No." I will see Dad. So that's yes. It is not the end. So that's no. Every part of the Bible that addresses the issues of eternity makes it very clear that death is not the end of existence.  Every one of us will continue to exist somewhere, forever.

The thing is, we can choose the place, but we have to do it before we die. otherwise there is no hope for us.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Vacation from Revelation, and a little visit with the Grim Reaper...

I spend quite a bit of time reading health news, health blogs, and medical stuff.  It's an interest, especially since I'm like everyone else--interested in my own health.
What strikes me about all this health information is that there is a hidden message:
"do this, and you won't die."
Fear of death consumes us.
We work so we won't starve.  We go to the doctor, and if there's bad news, we ask the question, "Am I going to die?"

Back when I was a regular (as opposed to internet) minister, I did a lot of funerals.  Seemed like people were always dying.  Even when the dead person was old, even if death was a sort of release for them, even if they had lived a full life, there were always tears.
After these funerals, I often walked the graveyards, looking at the graves of the "departed." I'd go and study the tombstones, stand among them, and remind myself that a grave is where we end.

The statistics on death are pretty dismal, really--100 out of 100 people will die.
I remember one of my first thoughts as a youngster was that I would die.  I was terrified.  I thought the devil was waiting for me at the end (and my family was not particularly religious at the time), to take me down to hell.  I felt I could not get out.  I dreamed this multiple times.

Later, I found myself thinking of life as having an end, and no hope of extension. I'd calculate my probable lifespan, and think things like, "Only 50 more years."
You mustn't think, though, that I thought these things often, just when there was little to occupy my mind. Like when I couldn't sleep.
So I had this interest in life.  More particularly, in when it ended.  When mine would end. I knew it would.  I just didn't want it to do so.  Remember, everyone in my world as a child was young, too. I didn't know any old or infirm people, and the oldest people I knew were some of my teachers, the oldest of whom had to be...well, 50!

When I became a Christian, my fear of death as an event pretty much disappeared.  I "got" the fact that I had eternal life, and that my life would never be over.
However, when I started to do funerals and memorial services, I came to a better understanding of the finality of death for our world here.  Life as we know it (on earth) is over when you die.  It won't come back.  You'll never see the people you know, the people you love, ever again. You'll never smell fresh-cut grass, or revel in the spring sunshine, or go to the beach and see the waves and smell the sea, or laugh with a child, or enjoy a young person's smile.  It's over.
So I began to think again about death and dying, and I came to some conclusions, some based on Scripture, some on experience, some on reading.
Here they are:

  1. A LOT of what we do with ourselves is to mask our fear of death.  We talk about our "health." At its root, the fear of bad health has to do with dying. We "eat right." We get physicals.  We go to the doctor, the dentist, the chiropractor, the (insert health professional here)..., all to keep us from dying. Or to make us enjoy life, since we know that life could be over, and we wouldn't be able to enjoy it any longer.
  2. A LOT of the Bible is about death, set in different frameworks. 
    1. Sometimes life after death is presented as a "pleasant inheritance;"
    2. Other times it's a terrible fate. 
    3. Sometimes the words everlasting life, or eternal life are used to present the life past death.
    4. Other times the words everlasting destruction, or perish, or words like them, are used.
    5. Death is never presented as the end, if the context is observed.
    6. Death is never presented as a "friend."
    7. If the person dying is a believer (in the God of the Bible, in Jesus), death is the major event, but not an event to fear so much as to "get through."
    8. If the person dying is not a believer, then the prospect of death is always presented as a warning, and the present life is an opportunity to believe, to repent, to make amends, to "become rich toward God." If we don't, disaster is at hand.  "Your soul will be required of you."
  3. All of us will die.  Eventually, even death will die (Revelation 20:14, 1 Cor. 15:26), and then "death will be no more." It's written that: Is. 25:7-8 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, Even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken. Therefore, death itself will be destroyed.
We all hate the idea of death and dying (I certainly don't like it) because it is the enemy of the human race, the event that defines us, and the event that came into our collective humanity because of sin.
I am not trapped by death any longer, however.  I have no pleasure in the idea that I will die.  I hate it. I want to live as long as possible--but it's not the end.
It's the beginning of the future.
And that is true for everyone who believes in God, and in Jesus Christ, God's dear Son, because we have been "Translated out of the Kingdom of Darkness, and into the Kingdom of His Dear Son." We are no longer children of darkness and death.  We are the Sons and Daughters of the Light.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Jesus Christ and the Churches of Revelation, part 2

Every time I think of Jesus' words to the churches in the book of Revelation (that is, the seven at the beginning of the book), I think of how He looked to John--Majestic. The King of Kings. The Lord of Lords. The Alpha and the Omega. The Judge. The Almighty. The Lord of the Churches.
This is, of course, a huge contrast with His first appearance as a tiny baby, a child, a man, a corpse, and finally a resurrected Man.
What struck me this morning was the simple question, "Why did He appear this way to John, who knew Him familiarly, respected Him as Lord, and followed Him nearly His whole life?" The answer is found in the rest of the book of Revelation.
Once Jesus entered heaven, His true character was unveiled, and the book of Revelation is just that--it's a revealing of Jesus Christ--first to John, then to the churches, and finally to all the world, including those who reject(ed) Him. He wanted the churches to know who He is now, not what He was like in his humiliation. This vision is calculated, too.  Jesus Christ's appearance changes significantly over the course of the book of Revelation.  In the opening chapters, He's the magnificent Lord.  In Revelation 5, He's the slain Lamb.  In Revelation 19, He's the Rider on the white horse, who conquers all the armies of the earth with a word. The point is, He's ALL these.  He's still the Man who came to earth.  He's the Bright and Morning Star. He's the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He's the Lamb.  He's the Judge.
He intentionally varies His appearance to communicate Himself to us, so that we can see Him in ALL His glory, in ALL His power, in ALL His greatness.  It's almost like a skilled jeweler showing us every facet of a diamond, with the light glinting off it in different ways, yet with the one stone a beautiful, unified whole.
Look for Jesus in the book of Revelation.  That's what the book is about, and the judgments, the plagues, the seals, and the trumpets are ways of bringing Him into full view at the end, so that we may understand Him properly, and to prepare us to spend eternity with this Mighty King, this Glorious Lord, this Mighty One, who sits at the right hand of the Father, and that we may rest secure in the fact that He is indeed the final Ruler of the Universe.
As one of the final few verses of the book of Revelation says:

Rev. 22:14 (NASB)  Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.

Live forever. With Him. Live undisturbed in the light of His glory for all the days of eternity.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Jesus Christ and the Churches of Revelation

Churches involved in Immorality. Drugs. Sorcery. Troubles. Persecutions. Legalism. Weakness. Overbearing priesthood. Total deadness. False teachings.

Sounds like today, right?  Actually, it's not.  It's the churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century. Human problems always play out in the church, because Christians, after all, are human, and sometimes people who are not Christians get involved in leadership. If your church is full of problems, it's like every other church that's ever existed on the planet.  People bring problems, because people have problems.
Jesus has lots to say to these folks, but it interests me more today that it only took a few years for all this trouble to develop. We are about 60 years away from the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus in these chapters, and here is all this trouble. In addition, these issues developed in a supercharged religious atmosphere, because all seven of these churches were influenced (if not pastored) by the Apostle John, and the other great leaders of the early church.
This one fact--all the troubles in the early church--tells us several things that we must consider in our own life with the Lord:

  1.  It's very hard to stay "on course." There's always someone or something pulling us away.  All but two of these churches had that sort of problem. Satan is always ready to derail our lives, or to sidetrack them into something useless.
  2. It doesn't matter how great your Pastor is.  It's about you, and your own personal life with God. Your minister can help some, but your spiritual life is up to you. Each of the people in these churches was responsible to the Lord, not to their ministers.
  3. It's very easy to consider secondary issues as the main thing when you're living and working in church. Jesus ends each of His admonitions to the churches with the little phrase, "To him who overcomes..." and, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." The single most important matter in your life right now is what's not right now. In other words, the future. God is preparing you for life with Him forever.  Be sure that YOU "overcome," so that you are ready to meet Him and give account of yourself to God. You will give account. You can be certain of that. Listen when He speaks.  What He says is always important, and He has your best interests at heart.
  4. Staying on track involves a number of different things, depending on your situation:
    1. Focus on Jesus, and love Him more than any other thing. Rev. 2:4. When duty becomes your main focus, Jesus is out of focus.  Don't get sidetracked from Him.
    2. Stay true to Jesus' teachings, and don't believe teachings He hates Rev. 2;6, "Nicolaitans".
    3. Expect trouble sometimes, and if you really get into trouble, look to the future, where you'll live forever 2:9-10
    4. Don't get involved with false prophets who want your money 2:14-15.
    5. There are lots of false prophets around (and prophetesses). Stay true to Jesus' words. Don't worship other gods, don't give in to evil.
    6. Don't die.  Dying spiritually is a choice. Some people have only "a name that they are alive;" don't be one of them. 3:1-6.
    7. Even if you're weak, Jesus has your back--and your front.  He'll strengthen you and stabilize you. He'll also protect you from the troubles He's bringing on the earth if you've kept His Word. 3:7-13
    8. Lukewarm people are in trouble with the Lord--but invite Him into your life, and you'll have the best of Him, and the best He has to offer. 3:8-22.
As you can easily see, people had problems "way back then," and the problems are very much like we see today.
Don't despair if you have problems, issues, and sins. You're just like everyone else.  The only failure is the one who gives up.
"The righteous man falls seven times and gets up again..."
So get up, don't give up.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Revelation is not so hard, part 2

Any time we look at the structure of a Bible book, we have to first identify what that book is--in other words, what kind of book it is. Some of the Bible is narrative.  Some is argumentative (logical); some is revelatory, as in the prophets; some is worship; other parts of the Bible are "Wisdom literature"--a book that tells us how to live.  Finally, there is the kind of material that is composed of visions, things that the prophets saw, and which they try to tell us.  One of the most famous, and most difficult, is Ezekiel's vision of the throne of God, with its Cherubim and wheels, and so forth.  The book of Revelation is a series of connected visions--connected by one major purpose--to show us how God will defeat Satan and all evil, establish His Kingdom on earth, and eventually unite earth and heaven. These are the things that John saw. He's not making these things up.  God took him to the future and showed him.  How did that work? We don't know. We DO know that John saw lots of details that he could only describe as "it was like this;" for example, locusts that have the faces of lions and have scorpions' tails; unclean spirits like frogs.  A giant dragon. A star that falls to the earth.  A burning mountain.  Rivers of blood. The sun disappearing.
It's quite clear that this time in the future is unique.  Nothing like this has happened before, and it will not happen again.

However, this is not what makes Revelation appear difficult to understand.  What makes it seem tough to understand is that we feel compelled to explain things that haven't happened yet, and to speculate when we simply don't know. Since nobody will ever completely agree about these things until they happen, Revelation seems like a locked book, with entire cults built on "their" interpretation of it.
So the first thing to do is to see where Revelation starts, and then where it ends.
Revelation starts at the end of the first century.
It ends with the "new heavens and new earth" that God will establish.  That's where this is all headed. Lots of questions remain about what happens in between.
However, the structure of the book is really pretty transparent, so the next thing to do is find the major outline points.
Revelation centers around the opening of a seven sealed scroll, with the "opener" being the "Lamb of God" (one of John's names for Jesus). If you're a Bible marker, I'd suggest that you go through the book of Revelation and place a mark at each place where the Lamb opens a seal.  That will give you the basic structure.  There's lots more--but the seals, and what happens when He opens them,  are the superstructure of the book.  In the coming posts, I'll help you ferret out the rest of the structure, and see what's happening throughout the book.
Remember, a great deal of the mischief that's been done in the interpretation of this book has been done because the people who study it have attempted to do one of two things:

  1. Impose their own views on the book, so that it says what they want it to say.  Usually, this imposition has taken the form of, "Who gets to go into heaven?" (Paradise), and the answer is always, "Only people who follow ME..." (or, MY church or cult). Recent history is rife with people deciding that their leader has "the special knowledge" that enables him to interpret Revelation, and lead only his followers to heaven. Sometimes this issues in a relatively harmless delusion, other times it results in a disaster where people die in some spectacular fashion, and sometimes it comes about that people are convinced of the day of Jesus' return, sell everything, go to a mountain and wait, and get terribly disappointed when God doesn't follow their directions.
  2. Try to understand more than we can understand right now.  These things will become apparent when they happen, and when God wants us to understand them, and not before.  
Having said that, we can know quite a bit about Revelation by looking at some other passages, and comparing them with the structure of Revelation to see how everything fits.  We just have to be careful that we don't use our hammers to drive the square pegs of everything else in the Bible into the round holes of Revelation.

A final word to consider:
The purpose  of Revelation is to show you the things which must shortly come to pass, but the overriding purpose of all the Bible is to bring you into real contact with God.  God's greatest desire is for you to meet Him as your Friend and Lord.  The message of Revelation is that God controls the future.  You should be in that future, with Him forever. You can be.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Book of Revelation: It's really not so hard

Revelation has been considered the most difficult book in the Bible for centuries, but it really is easy to read and understand, as far as its structure goes.  The hard part comes in the interpretation of "what's in the middle," from the Four Horsemen in Chapter 6 to the final battle of Armageddon in Chapter 19.
However, if you look at it in outline, it's really pretty simple.
Revelation is a series of connected visions, which begin where John was (about 95 AD), and end with a "New Heaven and a New Earth;" it's really a prophecy of how we get to the end, and what happens then.  The problems come with the chapters I mentioned, because everyone is determined to interpret them as if his own generation is the final one.  Maybe so, maybe not.  We certainly will see.
The structure of Revelation is pretty much as follows (I'm going easy on the details, and more to follow in the next post):
1. Alternating scenes between Earth and Heaven:

  • down here, where (unfortunately) Satan and his demons have tremendous influence, and everything seems uncertain and confusing, whether in the churches (Rev. 2-3), or with the events taking place (4-18), or with the final battle (19)


  • Heaven, where God rules without challenge, and everything is settled ahead of time.
When you think about it, and look at the plan God has for His world, it's unlikely that anyone could come up with a better plan to do the following:
  1. Put an end to rebellion against God
  2. Institute true worship.
  3. Replace the rulers of "this world" with a Divine (I. E., God-Man) King
  4. Make certain that nothing EVER disturbs the good things God has planned.
One of the things that Revelation emphasizes is worship. God is exceedingly interested in our connection to Him in all ways, but particularly in worship.  While mankind thinks almost nothing about worship, it really is the key to the Kingdom of God.  Merely considering the many worship scenes in the book of Revelation tells us that. Worship is probably one of the least considered things in our religious life, yet it comprises ALL of the religious life in heaven.  God is very interested in your worship, and in your connection to Him in that worship. I could multiply passages, but for right now, take a brief overview of Revelation yourself and see what I mean.
Chapter 1...
Chapter 4...
Chapter 5...
and so on.  Just look for the acts and attitudes of worship, and how important this is in the Divine scheme of things.  Then look into your heart, and examine yourself.  How important is worshipping God to YOU? It is the most important thing to God, and not just because He deserves it.  It's because YOU need it to maintain your connection to Him. 
Worship is not...reading your Bible, or a religious book (although God can certainly lead us to Himself that way);
Worship is not...prayer (prayer is when you ask God for something, or call on Him);
Worship is not...good deeds.
Worship is putting Him at the center of your heart, of your thoughts, and connecting--then doing what comes most naturally to you once that connection is fully made.  It's one of the most difficult things people do, because it's so unfamiliar.  You might spend the majority of your worship time just making the connection, and then allowing the experience of worship to fill your heart and life.  Look at what happened to John, in Revelation 1: "I was in the Spirit...I heard...I saw...I fell...I was touched." It's from that point you can truly enjoy His presence, and Him. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

John sends his greetings...(Revelation 1:4)

Now we find who the book of Revelation was written to, and what the substance of the book will be:
"John to the seven churches in Asia..."
"Grace and peace from the One who is, who was, and who is coming; from the seven Spirits before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the firstborn from the dead..."
and finally,
"To Him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in His own blood..." (words of praise to Jesus Christ);
So the book comes from God, and John is an amanuensis, which means that he wrote what he was told to write.
Most of the other books of the Bible are compiled like a storybook, or they consist of teachings, Psalms and sermons.
Revelation is unusual (though not unique) in that it is a series of connected visions, which God gave John through Jesus Christ His Son.
The Greeters in the book are also the Authors of the book--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Which all leads me to an observation and a question:
John received this book as a fresh contact from God--from all three Persons of the Trinity.
When was the last time God actually spoke to you?  Many people I know say that God has never spoken to them (I'm talking about Christians, now); however, I believe God speaks if we shut up and listen.
God put John on a (mostly) deserted island.  John had nothing else to do. No pastoral duties, no counseling, no evangelism, no friendships to maintain.
Sometimes, the quietness of a special place and time is what we need, like John, to really hear from God.
I believe that God desires to speak to you.  However, it's not so easy to listen.  So perhaps it's time for you to follow the "John principle," and get to a quiet place where you have some real time, and listen. John had no choice.  The message God gave him was extensive and complex.  You and I usually can choose to listen, and move ourselves to a place of quiet, with sufficient time to hear from Him.
I'm convinced that when you want to listen, God will speak.  To you.  To me. To whoever seeks Him.
Isn't it time for you to take yourself away to a place, with time, where you can hear from Him, and give Him the time He deserves?
A great deal of the time it takes to hear from God comes from the necessity of releasing all the competing things that prevent us hearing Him when He does speak. Why not start releasing those things today, and listen for His voice? He wants to speak to you. You have to want to hear.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

John and the book of Revelation:

John tells us that he was on an island called Patmos, "for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." Patmos was well-known in the Roman world as a prison island, where Rome exiled offenders that they never wanted to see again.  It's here that he pens the remarkable book of Revelation.
John is called (in various King James Versions), "St. John the Divine;" when I first became a Christian, I thought that meant he was "godlike;" if you have one of those KJV's, you may wonder as well.  However, the word "divine" was an old word (1600's and shortly thereafter) for a man who studied divine things--a theologian.  He's someone who speaks about God, who He is, what He's like. In fact, that was John's nickname in the early church: "O Theologos," "The Theologian." He's called this because he spoke about God, about who He is, His character, and man's relation to it.  Many folks think that Paul should have been called "The Theologian," because of his tremendous influence on the teachings about salvation and the Christian life, but the early church recognized something very powerful in John--a special connection with the character of God, so that it became the basis and substance of his writing.  This is especially true in the book of Revelation, where the entire book is an "unveiling" of Jesus Christ--where He's revealed for who He is, not as the humble carpenter who came to minister in 30 AD or so--but as the mighty King of Kings, who will set up a kingdom that will last forever, As Daniel says, (Dan. 2:44),
"the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all [other] kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever."
The book of Revelation is about the days in which the God of Heaven sets up HIS kingdom, over which Jesus Christ is the King.
What does it all mean to you?
Firstly, if you are Christian, you'll participate. That's worth everything.
Secondly, if you're not Christian now, you'll have multiple opportunities to make your decision to follow Christ, in the midst of the most difficult days the world has seen.
Thirdly, John's experiences are a parallel to what yours will be.  The world has never been kind to Christians, except for the last couple centuries, and then only in limited locations and at limited times. Today, persecution rages everywhere but a few countries in the world, even though Christians make up the largest religious identifying group. It's not good, nor is it easy, to be Christian in a Muslim country, for example.  Your life is at stake.
John experienced long life, but all of his colleagues and fellow apostles were murdered by governments or incensed people.
Christians have decisions to make.  You have decisions to make, and the outcome of those decisions involves not only your own faith, but what happens to the people around you. Your decisions will determine the course of your life, and its final end.
The most important decision relates to the question, "What's most important? The temporary, or the eternal?"  If the temporary is most important, then your decision will be to NOT follow Christ.  If the most important thing is your eternal destiny, then your decision is already made.  You'll follow Christ, even if it means exile (like John), or death (like his fellow apostles).
The reason?  Today is temporary.  As Paul said, "The fashion of this world (what makes it up) is passing away." Eternity is really the only game in town.  Be a part of forever.  You can.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Revelation of Jesus Christ...

Revelation.  Unveiling.  Apocalypse.  What does it have to do with you?  Literally everything.  If you're not a Christian, and these events begin to happen, they are a gigantic warning of what's about to take place much sooner than you thought.  If you are a Christian, and these things begin to happen, the warning is that a time of unprecedented trouble and martyrdom is here, but that the "end of days" has arrived, which will issue in the winding up of this present age, and a completely new kingdom--the Kingdom of God.
All Christians look forward to the final result.
Almost everyone on earth is looking for "something to happen."  There are upheavals everywhere.  Problems in the Middle East (the focal point of the "end times"); economic problems so severe that it's tough to understand how to deal with them; moral and personal problems abound, and it's almost as if the ground is shifting under our feet.
The book of Revelation doesn't really provide a "guide to the end times." It does say what GOD is about to do to restore the world, and the world order to a place where ordinary people have a good life.  It's not an easy time, because the devil, who has had the kingdoms of the earth under his control for so long will not give them up easily.  In fact, he has one final play, one desperate effort, left to him, and he will make every effort to see that people follow his plan and not God's.  There will be mass murder of Christians and Jews.  There will be horrible things happen to ordinary people. There will be a huge dictatorship formed with a loose association of kings and kingdoms, which will reign with unprecedented cruelty.  While we have broad outlines (Matthew 24, Daniel 2-12, Revelation), we have few specifics, except dark intimations of terrible times.  People have speculated as to what these events will be like for generations. We don't know a great deal, but there are a couple of things we do know:

  1. There will be an end to the "end times," which will be much different than many expect.
  2. The days that lead up to that end will be terrible beyond our imagination.
  3. After the "end of the end," God will bring a true utopia, which will never end.
Many people have wondered why the book of Revelation even exists because of the difficulty of interpreting it accurately, but John tells us the reason in the first verse: It's about "things which must shortly take place;" these events will affect us. Even if they do not occur in our lifetimes, the reverberations from these future events can now be felt in the difficulties that we experience in our daily lives.  
The events will happen to us, if we're here.  The book of Revelation is about YOU, whoever you are, because however they happen, the events will shape your life for decades to come, whether they are future to you or present.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Before We Proceed: Revelation and the "When."

In Revelation 1:1, John tells us that the events of Revelation must "shortly come to pass;" in the third verse, he says, "The season [for all these things] is near."
Many people have accused the book of Revelation (and the Bible) of a false statement. "It's been nearly 2,000 years since the Crucifixion," they say, "and nothing's happened."
These are often the same people who believe that the earth is 4 billion years old.  By any measure, if we consider the fact that man has been around for a million or more years (or even 100,000 years), the events in Revelation would be happening "soon" if they were to happen 1,000 years from now.
However, that's not really John's point, nor was it Jesus' meaning in the three Gospels when He spoke of the days that are coming.  John's point is that we need to be ready for the events he will describe later.
Just as Jesus said, "What I say to you [the Twelve Apostles], I say to all: WATCH!" which means, "be ready."
When these events occur, they will come as a surprise to many. Those who are surprised by them run the risk of disaster for themselves.
The message all of us need to take from the beginning words of the Book of Revelation is that the events catalogued in the book ARE coming.  We must watch and be ready for them, and be strong.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Revelation--The "Who."

The book of Revelation, of course, is about Jesus Christ.  The writer (John the Apostle, who also wrote John's Gospel and the letters of 1st, 2nd and 3rd John) tells us he is more or less an amanuensis--someone who primarily takes dictation.
He does, however, introduce himself, and the introduction gives us a few things to consider for ourselves:
John tells us that God gave the revelation to His Son Jesus, who in turn gave it to John to publish through the guidance of an angel (Rev. 1:1); John also tells us that he "saw" the book unfold.  This is a reference to the fact that almost the entire book is a vision, sort of like "God's television," except this one was interactive.

For those who see visions and dream dreams in the manner of Joel 2:28-32, this is one of the most extensive visions in the Bible. It's the story of the future. Some theologians are fond of looking at prophecies that contain these sorts of visions and either dismissing them, or calling them "apocalyptic literature," meaning that they contain all sorts of visions and dreams, as if "apocalyptic literature" was human imagination, or something different than God speaking to His servants as He chooses. God speaks as He wills, and here we have an extended vision of God's great plan for the world, the consummation of all.

We do well, when embarking on the study of a book like this, to dismiss our prejudices and presuppositions. The visions are real.  If you don't believe them, just wait. They will happen.

Here's an old man (95+, we think), who sees the future because the understanding is given to him. He communicates with The Son and with the angels. He writes this because God tells him to do so. The message is given him so that he can write it down for the churches he served on the West Coast of Asia Minor and for those of us who are the descendants of those early Christians.

The book of Revelation is the holiest of books.  It is the place where the true "end of all things" is revealed, where all evil in the world comes to a head like a giant boil, and where it is vanquished, and good rules forever.  The good is not angels playing harps in heaven, though. It's mankind in a new life that never ends, never suffers again, never grows old. It's all the hopes and dreams of the best of us coalesced into one final chapter that has no end, for although "the end of all things" is here, we find that it is instead the doorway into eternity--an eternity forever with God, an eternity of joy and peace, an eternity that makes us heirs of the stars, and even of God Himself.  The eternity God has planned for us, as we shall see, is not static.  It's not just us worshipping in an endless time of singing and praying.  It is, instead, the fulfillment of every hope and dream men and women have had since Eve held her first baby in her arms, since Moses received the Law, since Jesus Christ came to the earth the first time, since the first Christians followed Jesus as their Lord, and even now, as we dream of that "better place."
This marvelous book comes from the hand of God Himself, through His aged servant John, and I think, as John beheld the wonders which are written here, and the violence and evil raging hopelessly against the might of God and His plan, with its final outcome, he must have thought,

Monday, August 3, 2015

Thinking about the book of Revelation, 1

I've been giving quite a bit of thought to the book of Revelation lately, since one of the TV/Radio pastors I listen to quite a bit has been doing a series.
It's grown to be the broadcast I love to hate.  It's not because the teaching is necessarily wrong, but it seems to have no present value for those of us who worship the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is true that we need this knowledge, but I'm tired of it, frankly, after decades of prophecy conferences, reading limitless books on prophecy (an exaggeration, of course), and lots of my own teaching devoted to Bible prophecy in general, and the book of Revelation specifically.
So now I'm going to give you all an opportunity to hate ME, and study the book of Revelation with you (briefly), and attempt to make it apply to you so that you feel "in tune" with what's next.  So the first thing about the book is this:
It's an "unveiling of Jesus Christ;" that's the meaning of the word "revelation," and of its parent in Greek, "apokalupsis."  The word used literally means to lift off the covering, the veil, that hides this information from us.
Since it's the last book in the New Testament, it has meaning.  Our goal is to discover that.
It's the "unveiling of Jesus Christ;" much as the four Gospels unveil Him to the world at his first arrival, this book unveils the process by which His return takes place. The majority of the book is occupied with what happens before He returns--a huge amount of drama, incredible events, dictators, persecution of Christians, Jews, God, Angels, Satan, and of course, "The End." Which is not really an end, but the doorway into forever, where He is, and where we shall be.
So it's important to know and understand, so far as we can.  I maintain that there is much here that we can only fully know when it happens, and people here at that time will say, "OH, Yeah!! I get it now!" A great deal of teaching on Revelation is speculation.  I will do that as well, because I have to if I want to make the story consistent, but I'll try to identify when I'm doing it.
Hope you all like it.
God Bless all of my readers.

Friday, July 24, 2015

"He went out, not knowing where he was going."

The quote above is from Hebrews 11:8, and it's about Abram (later Abraham); Abram was called by God to go to a distant land (600 miles or so away)--to move his household, his fortunes, his entire life to a place he did not know.
The unknown country is probably the scariest thing we face.  Waiting for the test results from your doctor. Waiting for the exam results. Waiting for approval of your dissertation. Waiting for the results of an oral exam. Waiting for the results of a trial.
Sometimes the fear is so great you can all but cut it with a knife.  So what makes it possible to "go to the unknown country," taking each step in order, and minimize your fears?

  1. Take action.  This is perhaps the greatest thing.  Abram didn't wait (I doubt waiting was even in his nature--see Genesis 22, where it says "He arose early..."), didn't procrastinate.  He got things ready, and moved on. Sometimes you cannot take action.  You have to wait, because waiting is what's called for, but you can still move. Paralysis (as I've found) doesn't contribute to your life, especially if it's linked to some problem you're facing. So instead of waiting, sitting in your room and worrying, do something. Anything.  Action often drains us of fear, and makes us able to cope with what is happening, even if it has no relation to the issues at hand. Sometimes you need to go camping. Or to take a hike. Or go ride your bike. Or have a nice dinner. Anything that moves you away from focusing only on the one thing you fear.
  2. Focus on the future.  This is also of great importance.  In Hebrews 11:10, we read the following:  10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  There was no "city of God" in the Canaan of Abram's day--it was in the far future--but that's where Abram's focus was.  In the future. Many times the present is pretty bad. We fail the exam.  We're permanently injured at work. The doctor's tests on our child give us no hope. And so on. The key thing to remember is that the future that's yours is in the "city of God (the real one)," not tomorrow or the next day.  It's where God makes things right, and "wipes away every tear," and we live with Him forever.
Remember that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning"--and morning always comes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What would you do?

Suppose that you and your family moved 700 miles from home, settled there, and made a new home. Then your father dies, and you are left with your wife and your nephew, who is married and has no children.
What do you do? Stay where you are? Move back home? Go somewhere else?  What would make you move?
These were precisely the questions Abram faced in Genesis 12.  "What to do?"
Sometimes the answer is not the "easiest thing;" it's a decision that comes from deep within your soul, based on the purposes of God for your life.
Abram's Dad has died.  He's facing the future without the rest of his family, whom they left in Ur, about 700 miles to the North, and he's living now in Haran (modern day Turkey).  There are no computers, no Skype, no telephones, and no regular postal service.  Abram is about 75, still a young man (for those days), and he is seeking...seeking a homeland, a place to be, a place that "fits him;" discontent is often the soul of direction from God, and moving is sometimes the way to accomplish what you really are supposed to do in life.
This is Abram's situation, and in the midst of his dilemma and discontent, God speaks to him (heavily paraphrased):
"Go. Leave here, and let Me show you where to live. When you go at My direction, I'll bless you, make you into a great nation, and make your name great.  I'll also make you a blessing to all the nations of the earth."
This is really pretty vague, although it's astounding in its scope,  but it was enough for Abram.  He left,  took Sarai and Lot and began his journey with everything he had.

This kind of direction has been enough for people who are seeking God since the beginning of time. We don't know where we're going, but we know He has told us to go. So we go, because we believe that God has a plan for us elsewhere or doing something else with our lives.
Where are you today?  Is God calling you to somewhere else? Something else?
The Scriptures tell us, "He went out, not knowing where He was going."
In other words, Abram, having tested in his mind and heart that God was moving in his life, obeyed without actually knowing his destination. All he had was the promise of God.
How could he?  he had never been there, and God didn't even tell him exactly where.  Most of his life had been spent either in Iraq or Turkey, and now he's being told to go on foot "to a land which I will show you. (about 600 miles, as the crow flies).
So he goes out, "Not knowing where..."
And the question the text asks us is, "How about you?"
Do you have a sense that you're through where you are?? Are you willing to go where God sends you?
Abram was, and did, changed himself and his destiny, and genuinely changed the world forever.
You never know what a step into the will of God can bring, unless you take that step.  God generally couches His promises of this sort in vague terms, because he wants you to believe before you see.
Can you do that? Listen to God with your whole heart? Change the direction of your life forever, just to satisfy Him?
If you're smart, you can and will, because God never calls like that unless He intends to bless you, and because the collateral benefits are indescribable.  Right now, all the promises God has for you are bound up in  a package, and tied with string, so to speak.
To open the package, you have to take the first step.
Take that step now.  You'll never see inside unless you open the package.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Giving up Control

Giving up control is not something I do very well.  I like to control my environment, my life, my diet, and a host of other things.
So I was reading Matthew 26 a day or two ago, and it occurred to me how completely Jesus gave up control of His own life at His arrest.
Most every Christian knows the story: Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and after His prayer, Judas arrives, leading a group of people who are going to arrest Jesus, and if possible, His disciples.
Jesus just stands there, and lets them arrest Him.  Now if you are not a Christian, that makes sense. What could he do? There are so many, and He is one man.  However, if you are a Christian, you know that Jesus has options. He doesn't have to tolerate being arrested.  He can simply say, NO! and the world changes immediately, His arrest doesn't take place, and lots of other things happen.  We see a tiny foreshadowing of this in John's Gospel, with the same scene--the troops have arrived to arrest Him.  Everyone is standing there, tense and ready to attack, run or defend.
Here's what happens (John 18:1-9, NASB):
2 Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples.
3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, *came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and *said to them, "Whom do you seek?"
5 They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene." He *said to them, "I am He." And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.
6 So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground.
7 Therefore He again asked them, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus the Nazarene."
8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,"
9 to fulfill the word which He spoke, "Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one."
When He says, "I am He," the entire group goes backwards, and falls to the ground.  So He asks a second time, and they answer, with their faces in the dirt, "Jesus..." So much for the arresting officers. Then He gives a command: "Let these [disciples] go their way..."
Now they all get up, dust themselves off, and in the ensuing confusion, Judas points Jesus out with a kiss, Peter cuts of Malchus' ear, and the disciples run for their lives.
The point is, Jesus relinquished control. It was never taken from Him.  He decided to go through with His own arrest and murder.
This is very clear in the Gospels.
In Matthew, He makes clear that both He and His Father are fully in control, and things are occurring this way in order to fulfill the Scriptures.
In John, His response, "I am He," petrifies them, and they fall down before Him. In Luke, He heals Malchus' ruined ear.
In every Gospel, the writers assume that Jesus is actually in control, up to the point of His arrest. Then He lets go. Events take Him.  Although everything that occurs is in some way or another a fulfillment of Scripture, He is no longer in control. He tells us so, when He says, "This is your [the Jewish leaders'] hour, and the power of darkness."
When He reviews all this, after His resurrection, He says (Luke 24:15-16, NASB),
25 And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 
26 "Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?"
In other words, even though Jesus gave up control, God's plan prevailed, and God took over. What's more, God's plan was superior to Jesus taking control and ending His own arrest--look at what happened.  The resurrection.  The Ascension into heaven.  Satan conquered at Jesus' death.  A way into heaven opened for us.  The church. The gifts and ministry of the Spirit. Eternal life. A new home in heaven, with God. And much more.
All of these were dependent on Jesus allowing His life to be bounded by the Scriptures, giving up control, and following the Plan that His Father and He had made in the ages past.
This is true of you and me.  At times when it seems we are not in control of our own lives, nothing is going right, we are sick, in pain, troubled, hurting, broke, stuck in situations we hate, depressed, broken in spirit, all seems wrong, and all seems lost, it's well to remember the words of David
(Ps 139:14-16, NASB):
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book they were all written, The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.
God does have a plan for you, and for me.  Sometimes in the midst of difficulty, it seems as if He does not--but just as Jesus gave up control and followed the direction God led Him, so we should also, allowing Him to set our days and nights in order, and letting Him fill our lives with His presence and power.
I am not advocating for a decisionless life.  That's impossible.  God meant for us to decide if He gives us no clear direction, but there are things that mold our lives and make them what they are, and the results of allowing Him to take control in those things are always good. Remember, too, that the final words have not been scripted in your life, even when the life you have on this earth is over.  If you are a Christian, your life is only beginning when you pass from this earth. All of life is directed at the future when you believe in Christ, and you have no real home here.  We are like the Old Testament Saints, who "died in faith, not having received the promises, but believed in them," and who "seek a heavenly country;" God has prepared a place for them, and for us, who are "strangers and pilgrims on this earth." Your life is never over if you are a Christian.  God has planned a future for you, and it lasts forever.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Judgment day. It's not what you think.

I've been reading through Matthew lately, and I'm at Matthew 25.  The final verses in Matthew 25 describe the scenes of judgment: All nations are gathered before the Lord, and He puts the sheep on one hand, and the goats on the other. This is a final judgment. There is no appeal.  So He judges the sheep first: (Matthew 25:31-40, NASB)
31 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?
38 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
39 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
40 "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

The righteous (the sheep) are surprised by the Lord's words:  "we don't remember ever helping You," was their response.  The Lord looked back on the course of their life, and looked for what proved them to be sheep. He didn't look for "special occasions." He looked at what they did by nature, and as a common course of action. And the criterion was how they treated "His brothers." In the context, that has to mean "each other," and "other Christians," and also, "People." (as in the second of the two great commandments: "Love your neighbor as yourself")

Similarly, He says to the goats,
41 "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'
44 "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'
45 "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'

46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
This is final.  There is no appeal from it. Eternity is now fixed--graven in stone--for each group. 

The point Jesus is making is that our true beliefs are exhibited in how we treat people. We always worry about correct doctrine (and we should); we hear about tithing (and that's important, too), and prayer, and Bible study and church organization and communion services and church and...but none of it means anything if our faith is empty, and our faith shows its truth or falsehood in the way we treat people. 
This is why, I think, that Jesus gave us the "New Commandment," to codify His demands: (John 13:34, NASB)
34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
He wanted us to know that the way we treat people is the main basis for judgment day. Yes, it's true that God looks for our name in His Book, the Book of Life, but the evidence that we are IN the book of life is found here. 

So my question to you is, How are you doing at this?
Do you care for people, or use them?  Do you cheat people? Do you harm them so that you (or your company) can have more money? Do you pay the people who work for you enough to live? Do you worship God with your mouth, but hate Him in your heart? Do the words you speak about loving God mean anything? In other words, do you "love your neighbor as yourself?"
Jesus does not care about your success, your acquisitions, your lifestyle, your power, your religious status, your importance.
He wants to know how you treat people.
He is the Judge. To Him you are like anyone else--either a sheep or a goat.
Which? Take your time to think about this, but don't wait around too long.  Your choice will be set in concrete before you know it.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The minister's REAL job...

Although I spent many years as a pastor, I don't usually write about "pastor stuff" in this blog.  I typically write general material, applicable to everyone.  However, this IS applicable to everyone.
(Matthew 24:44-51, NASB)
44 " also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
45 "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?
46 "Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.
47 "Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
48 "But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,'
49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards;
50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know,
51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is an amazing set of verses, and especially so since the translations seem to miss one of the major points:
We (ministers, and everyone else who is responsible for the care of other people) will be judged by how we took care of our "fellow slaves." This is an immense responsibility.
On the one hand, Jesus discusses the "faithful and sensible slave" (sensible is "phronimos," someone who uses his head), and notes that the Master puts him in charge of his "household."  The meaning is, "household servants." So the real point of the parable is not just how we "did the Master's business," but how we cared for our fellow-householders, the people committed to our care.
This has a strong bearing on both the minister and his people.  If you are in a church, house ministry, Bible study, or whatever, where there is love and care, and that love and care flows from the leader, then you are truly blessed.
On the other hand, if you are in a ministry where the minister uses you and abuses his office, that minister is cursed. He is a "bad guy,"  no matter what his station or prominence is.
This puts the concept of ministry in a completely new light.  Essentially, there are always two kinds of ministers:
One who cares for the people,
One who uses the people.
So there are really two kinds of questions here:
1. Who am I? (If I'm in the ministry)
2. What are the people who minister to me like? How do they treat me as a parishioner, attendee, member of a small group, etc?
If you are in the ministry, you need to digest these words with care, whatever the size of your ministry.
If you are a parishioner, member of a small group, member of a larger group, whatever, Jesus has given you an effective way to see through phony people.
Does he care for you?
Does he use you?
What does he do with the money? Does he use his position with the ministry to do good, or to do evil? Does he abuse his fellow slaves (note how Jesus categorizes ministers--a slave temporarily given charge of other slaves).
And if you are in the ministry, beware. When Jesus does return, you definitely don't want to be found "eating and drinking with the drunken," and treating your fellow servants badly. Terrible things will happen to you.
Jesus said, "What I say to you, I say to all: WATCH." Be ready. Do I know when Jesus is returning? Of course not.  Neither do you.  So the wisest course of action is to be ready. Always.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sin is crouching at the door...

In one of the most famous Old Testament passages of all time, the LORD says to Cain, "...Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it..." (Genesis 4:7, NASB). The picture is stark.  Sin is like a wolf, or a tiger, or a huge bear, waiting to pounce, waiting to destroy.  You have to go outside.  There will be a battle.  It will be to the death.  Who will win?
That's how sin is represented--as a powerful top predator (note also 1 Peter: "[the devil] roams about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour."
We are just men and women, with no huge jaws and teeth, no giant paws and claws. How can we win?
The message is simple.  We have powers that no spiritual predator has:
First, assuming that we're watchful, there's always warning.  Cain had warning.  the LORD Himself warned Cain. In doing that, He set in stone for all time the fact that sin is always "crouching at the door," waiting... And so He warns us.  Sin waits.  But if you are watchful, you'll be in time to resist.
Second,  RESIST.  You cannot win if you do not fight.  you may wind up bloodied and hurt from the battle, but that's the nature of war.  You get hurt. However, it's like the man in the old myth, who grew stronger each time his adversary threw him to the ground. Every time you fight, you get stronger.  Every time you resist, you win.  Satan will say to you, "You cannot win, I am too powerful for you." And so it is. He is the mightiest of the fallen angels, and certainly mightier than you.  But he's wrong about not winning, because...
Third, you have the Lord.  "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world..." When you resist, you win.  When you fight back, you are the victor,  because even though you feel weak, you are mighty in Him. When you fail, there's another opportunity, because forgiveness is yours, and because your life is in Him. Satan is stronger than you, but he's not stronger than the Almighty, who is with you and in you.
Resist. Fight. Don't give up.
You may lose a battle, but as it is written, the righteous falls seven times, and arises again.  It's in getting back up, in resisting, in fighting UNTIL you win, that victory comes.
Never give up. Always resist. Always get up if you're defeated. Always.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Forget the Past. The Future is coming.

It's funny how sometimes passages of Scripture ball up their fists and hit you right in the face...
Today, I turned to Isaiah 43-44, where the LORD is discussing Israel's past, and her future.  This passage is a microcosm of the nation's failings and future--but it also applies to you and (thank God!) me.

  1. There's so much here that it's impossible to look at all of it, but here are some significant thoughts: But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!  "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. God says this to His people AFTER the final words of Isaiah 42, which go something like this--"You messed up so badly that you didn't even understand your punishment; you didn't listen, and you haven't listened, and you are just so miserably obstinate..." Can you imagine?  Not just forgiveness, but protection.
  2. But wait! there's more: "You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. "I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. "It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And I am God. Now the status of "witness" is usually reserved for someone who is faithful, who does what God says, who lives a godly life (see Acts 1:5,8; Jesus says this about the apostles--men much better than you and I); yet here He says of disobedient, obstinate, rejecting Israel (and by extension you and me), "you are My witnesses...My servants...My people. I can't quite get my mind around this.  The mercy is too great to measure.  The Israelites (i. e., those also of the land of Judah, all the 12 tribes) were disgusting, and intentionally evil.  Some of the minor prophets talk about the people of Israel selling the children of their neighbors "for a pair of shoes;" about them "roasting their own children in the fire" (of Moloch, an idol of the Canaanites), and many other similar things.  These were not nice people. 
  3. Finally (and certainly there is more than this), there's the promise of renewal, the forgiveness of all their sins, and a transformation that can only be called "the hand of God:" "I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins. (from Isaiah 44): "Remember these things, O Jacob, And Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant, O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me. "I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud And your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you." Shout for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done it! Shout joyfully, you lower parts of the earth; Break forth into a shout of joy, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it; For the LORD has redeemed Jacob And in Israel He shows forth His glory."
If He's going to all that for them, why wouldn't he do it for you? That's why Paul said that he "forgets the past, and reaches out to the future, so that he might win the prize of his personal calling in Christ Jesus," and why John says that even though God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and why Jesus said "All kinds of sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven..." 
When you turn to Him, He makes it all new.  Regrets? yes. Pain? yes. But all that is really gone, and you have a new life, whenever you decide to turn to Him.  Even if you turned to Him before, and then messed up again. 
How do I know that?  It's right there in Isaiah.