Friday, November 28, 2008

Romans 15: 7-13

One of my favorite possessions is broken, but I still love it. It represents so much to me; loyalty and friendship, and the bonds between coworkers who have to spend hours in each others company and help each other make the burden of work lighter.

The object is laying in pieces on my nightstand, ready to be re-glued yet again. It’s a glass pelican.

In one of my moves, I was leaving a Florida town (hence the pelican). Two coworkers took me out to lunch and presented me with the pelican. I had gone through a lot that year and what they offered meant so much to me; love and support, now symbolized many years later by the little statue.

Paul, the writer of Romans can’t get enough of reminding us of the many blessings bestowed on us by Christ. “Welcome each other” Paul says, just as Christ has welcomed you.” Yesterday we had a day to reflect on our blessings. This Advent season, I hope to do as Paul says and, in remembering how Christ welcomed me, welcome others and bless them. We had a little start yesterday, as many families from St. Matthew’s made and served a Thanksgiving meal to needy families. It was a good time of gathering together.

We have all been needy or vulnerable at some point in our lives, like I was on that day when my coworkers blessed me with a pelican. May we remember and follow Christ’s example and welcome the vulnerable in many kinds of gestures.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ephesians 1:15-23

Obviously, today is Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving clearly implies that there are both things to be thankful for and someone to be thankful to. Eat all the turkey and pumpkin pie that you want, watch football or parades all day long, visit with family and friends—but if we don’t take time to stop and say “thanks”, we haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving.

So who do we thank? Well, Paul is quite clear about that. He thanks God. And that is where we need to start as well, giving thanks to God for his goodness and love. Will you make time today, not just to say a quick prayer before eating, but to sit quietly and express your thankfulness to God? Or maybe you’ll want to make saying thanks to God a part of your Thanksgiving meal, going around the table and having everyone tell at least one thing for which they are thankful.

And what are we thankful for? Paul is thankful for people. That’s a good place to start. Who in your life are you thankful for? How will you tell them?

He is also thankful for the faith and love of these people—for the way they act to bring about good in the world. Maybe that’s something else we can be thankful for—goodness. Are you looking for goodness in the world and the people around you? It is there, and it too is something well worth being thankful for.

I am sure there are many other things we can think of for which are thankful. Let us not be selfish and silent. Let us give hearty expression to our thanks, and use this Thanksgiving day not just as a onetime occurrence, but as a pattern for how the whole of our lives should be lived.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ephesians 1:3-14

Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with the following statement, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." (v. 3) This opening intrigues me. Has God really given us "every spiritual blessing"? I do not know about you, but I do not always feel that I am particularly blessed. What are these spiritual blessings to which Paul is speaking? To make sure we do not misunderstand what Paul means, he spells out the three spiritual blessings in the subsequent verses. As there are three spiritual blessings it makes sense that one comes from each of the Trinity.

The first spiritual blessing is being seen by God as "holy and blameless". We are seen this way because we believe in Jesus and accept Him as our savior. Of course we are not without sin, but we are seen by God as holy and blameless because of what Jesus did for us.

The second spiritual blessing is given to us through Jesus Christ. In Christ we are redeemed, forgiven, enlightened, and enriched. Redemption means we are freed from sin. Hand-in-hand with redemption is forgiveness - forgiveness of our sins. Enlightenment comes from the knowledge we have that at the end Christ will be the ruler of all. Enrichment signifies the eternal life we will inherit.

The third spiritual blessing is being made spiritually secure. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit indicating we are His and under His protection. To be marked in this way indicates authority, authenticity, and security.

Three spiritual blessings that sometimes are easy to forget in this hectic world in which we live. But these blessings are so important. When life gets us down, think about these blessings and realize how great it is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

The people of the church of Corinth were arguing. The church there was founded by Paul but due to it’s seaport bringing in people from all over the world and being in the center of Mediterranean life, there were all kinds of various influences and several leaders were raised up in the church and were in competition with local Greek mythological religions. Thus in this passage Paul addresses the people of the church and refocuses them on their true foundation – not teachings by the various leaders, not what the world around them would tell them is important, but their faith founded upon Jesus Christ out savior.

Like the Corinthians, we so often need to be refocused on what’s important. Are we following leaders – religious or political? Are we focused on what the world around us is telling us is important and what we should believe or is our faith firmly on our true foundation, Jesus Christ?? Where are our priorities and who is our foundation – and do our lives reflect that??

As we approach Thanksgiving, let us all take the time this week to really give thanks for what matters, family, friends and the grace we have been given through faith in Jesus our Savior – our one, true foundation.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Galatians 6:1-10

Sometimes people claim the Bible is full of contradictions. If you asked them to show you one, most of the time they aren’t able to do so. But if they could, maybe they’d use this passage. Bear one another’s burdens, it says. But then it goes on to say, For all must carry their own loads. Huh?

Actually, like most alleged Biblical contradictions, when we give this a little be of thought, it resolves itself rather nicely.

When we are commanded to bear one another’s burdens, the idea is that we would support one another in our life in faith. Specifically, the burden referred to here seems to be the burden of our temptations. At least part of the point seems to be that we all have temptations—whether it’s the temptation to gossip and negativity, or envy and discontent, or selfishness and greed. And if we are ever going to get beyond these things and live the life to which God calls us, it is going to take the love, prayers, and encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It does not happen alone.

At the same time, however, we have to take responsibility for our faith. In the end, we have to say that the problems we are facing in our spiritual lives are not caused by anyone other than ourselves (and if we are honest in pursuing our spiritual lives on a level that goes beyond the superficial, we will face problems in doing so). Ultimately, therefore, we are the only ones who can solve them.

That doesn’t mean we don’t ask for help. We do, and that is part of what it means to take responsibility for doing life differently. It doesn’t mean we don’t need God’s power; we surely do, but we must come to the place where we realize that and so take the responsibility to ask for it and avail ourselves of it.

I need to take responsibility for my own stuff, and not blame others for it. But when I do that—when I admit my sin, my desire to change, and my commitment to work through the problems such sinfulness in the past has already created—boy do I ever need help. I absolutely need you to help me bear my burdens. I won’t make it through without you.

Bear one another’s burdens, Paul says. It is so desperately important that we do so. Are you bearing someone's burdens? Get specific. Whose burdens are you bearing right now? How are you bearing them? If you can’t answer those questions, what are you going to do about it—today?

All must carry their own load. It is, in fact, the only way ahead. Will you do it? Is there something you’ve been blaming someone else for, that you want to see as their problem when it is in fact your own? Will you admit it, confess it, and ask for help? Again, be specific. Who will you ask help? When? Where?

These are not verses to be approached intellectually simply as a problem to be solved. They are to be lived, in your life and in mine. Please, dear God—may it be so.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

James 5:13-20

Picture it: faithful people gathered, laying hands on one who is hurting, lifting that person up in prayer. This is the church, the local community of believers, as it ought to be, and if we agree with God, what it truly becomes in practice. Those who suffer in body, mind, or soul, are ministered to, and they experience healing. Those who have cause to rejoice sing it from the wellsprings of their exultation, and inspire those whose spirits drag. Those who are mired in the guilt and shame of sin unburden their load on those who receive them without condemnation, and they are reunited with them. Those who have wandered for years in a dry desert find their oasis, the place of cooling, relieving, growth-yielding rain.

May we be patient when we wait for the Lord, but impatient when we see people that God has called us to love.
May we persevere as Elijah did, with the constant expectation of the coming Anointed One.
May we become the congregation that James encourages us to become.

Friday, November 21, 2008

James 5:7-12

The first thing I think of when I read today’s verses are the first two words – “Be patient”. I don’t know about you, but patience is in short supply in my house. And from what I see on the highways around Northern Virginia, it’s in short supply in a lot of places.

Patience is one of James’ themes throughout this epistle. One of my favorite passages from James is “Be slow to anger”. His point is a good one – in today’s vernacular, if you stop and count to ten, chances are you will rethink your reaction.

I truly believe that the majority of people would like to practice patience. After all, who deliberately wants to start the day cursing at traffic? But the fact of the matter is that it is plain hard to be “slow to anger”. It is hard to remember to count to 10. But imagine what a great place this would be if everyone did just that. Imagine going grocery shopping at Wegman’s on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving where there are a kajillion people in the aisles and everyone has a smile on their face and are not only civil, but outright nice to each other.

The tension in the air these days is palpable. The news of doom and gloom is everywhere. Everyone is on edge. Our personal rope that each of us holds on to before we blow is shorter and shorter. Yet we are still called to be patient. Patient with ourselves, patient with each other and patient on the Lord. All of us can do our part. We can practice throughout this holiday season. Don’t be the one at Wegman’s who snaps. Instead be the one who plans to take more time and can therefore take the time to be patient and kind. I guarantee that when you leave the store, you will have made your day – and the Lord’s too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

James 4:13-5:6

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not come. We have only today. Let us begin.” Those words are attributed to Mother Theresa, but they might also have been spoken by James.

Rich people tend to be pretty confident about tomorrow. Their riches are a way to get things done, make people notice, create a safety net that protects them from the things that trouble so many people in the world today. They are pretty sure they'll do what they want when they want how they want and nobody is going to stop them.

Rich people in some way generally need to cut themselves off from their humanity. How else can we explain the willingness of the rich to enjoy luxury while other humans die from lack? They do not see these inequities as a manifestation of their selfishness, but as their right and privilege based either on their station in life or on their hard work.

James will have none of this. Riches for him create an illusion that will be dispelled on the day of judgment. What for a brief time seemed like a source of pleasure will now become “evidence against them”, “eating their flesh like fire.”

Boy, I’m glad I’m not rich. Stick it to them, James!

Because if I were rich… if I happened to be living in the top 5% (and most likely, top 1%) of the wealthiest people who ever lived… if I happened to have a home with more space than I need, multiple cars, enough food to be overweight, gadgets and conveniences most the world doesn’t even dream of…

Wow, would this be scary. This would shake me to my very core. If I took this at all seriously, I’d have to change the way I live.

Yeah, I’m so glad I’m not rich. Aren’t you?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

James 3:13-4:12

I love the book of James. I love the fact that it is forthright - direct to the point and does not hold anything back. Whenever I read it, it helps me refocus on the way I should act and the way I want to live.

In today's reading I would to focus on two passages. The first passage are the verses in chapter 13. These verses tell us about false wisdom and true wisdom. The result of false wisdom is found in verse 16, "For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." False wisdom promotes self-assertion and independence. It destroys a spirit of mutual concern.

True wisdom is free from self-interest and strife. It leads to peace and goodness. It results in being "... peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy ..." True wisdom avoids petty quarreling. It promotes peace and righteousness. It does not escalate a conflict, pass on gossip, or fan the fire of discord.

I like to think of myself as a wise person, but after reading these verses I wonder if I'm as wise as I think I am. How about you?

The second passage is found at the end of today's reading - verses 11 and 12 of chapter 4. These two verses remind us that we are not to judge others or to speak bad of them. These verses call out the following question. Do we build people up with our words or do we tear others down? Are we constructive or destructive?

The verses of James clearly tell us that we should use our words to express love and concern for others. It is our human nature to be critical. However, James calls us to resist this urge and to consciously use positive words.

Human pride leads to criticism of others. In other words, by cutting someone else down we automatically elevate ourselves. This may be true in our human world, but it is certainly not true in the heavenly world.

Join me in trying to live a life that follows James' teachings. It will not be easy, and we will not be able to carry it out flawlessly, but let's commit to trying. If we are only partially successful, what a better world this would be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

James 3: 1-12

You may be familiar with the statement “A mature Christian is one who would not hesitate to sell his talking parrot to the town gossip”. Today’s reading is really an admonishment for all of us to be aware of what we say, how we say it and to whom. If we are aware of ourselves and are genuinely in love and charity with our neighbors and not just superficially it is easy to not gossip or to not disparage others. When we have strife in our lives, it isn’t so easy. But we need to remember that words are powerful.

As James points out with the same tongue we praise God and “curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” Words can praise God, make friendships, show love and caring and at the same time words are also powerful to end relationships, hurt others and even go so far as to curse God our Redeemer. Remember, God spoke the world into existence – he created all things by saying such things in Genesis as “God said let there be light, and there was light” God spoke and things happened, the world was created. We learn in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the Logos or Word of God – this is how He participated in creation – in some way he was those same words that God spoke and created all that is. By God giving us intellect and conversation, He has given us a powerful tool that can also create or destroy. Therefore we must be aware of what we say, how and to whom we say them.

Monday, November 17, 2008

James 2:14-26

What is a Christian? Am I one?

Do you ever find yourself asking these questions? I do.

Clearly, faith is more than just cognitive assent or intellectual acquiescence. Faith involves the whole persons. It involves our emotions in the form of trust. It involves our will in the form choice. It involves our bodies in the form of action.

For these reasons, faith cannot but help shape our life. If faith is present, there must be “hard copy” or concrete evidence that exists. Where is that evidence in our lives?

Another way of asking this might be is, “How is the church different from the world?” Or more specifically, “How is my life different from the life of the many, many good people who live exemplary lives but make no claim to faith?”

It can be a hard question to answer. But until we do… are we really following Jesus?

Friday, November 14, 2008

James 1:16-27

Our family shed some tears this week as we buried a small pet. He was, in fact very small; a praying mantis who lived in an aquarium in the guestroom. We had gotten attached to him as we do to all the little creatures who are part of our lives (part of the wonder of having a garden is the parade of creatures we get to observe) and we felt bad as his lifespan ended. We buried him in the garden as the leaves fell and I reflected how life, like nature, can be full of changes. We can count on things or people sometimes for years but change is part of life.

One of the phrases in today’s reading has run through my mind for as long as I have pondered life; God does not change (v. 17). Everything else changes but God does not. God does not change himself. He does not change His mind (Numbers 23:19). He does not change in how He loves everyone. The psalmist notes how nature may change but God will not (Ps. 102:27). I have always found comfort in these words in James 1- God doesn’t change.

James then gives some very practical advice on how to life our faith . Verse 19 says be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Again James says in verse 26; control your tongue. If you consider yourself religious, take care of the physical needs of others such as the poor (widows and orphans) in their distress (v. 27). I can remember times when I was in distress and how others were a comfort to me. I know God would want us all to remember those who are in many kinds of distress and to have compassion on them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

James 1:1-15

Ahhh, the book of James! Now here is a book that is practical and easy to understand. The hard part is to put in practice the clear truths it teaches.

James is a book that has often been seen as promoting “works" instead of “faith”. But in these opening verses James gives us the context in which we are to read the rest of the book, and that context is the importance of faith.

We are encouraged to have faith in God’s ability to work even in the midst of our most difficult times; to have faith that God really will give us the wisdom we need for living through these times; to have faith that any sacrifices we make in this life are well worth the cost; and to have faith that it is better to resist temptation than give into it.

In each of these situations, our faith is the vehicle by which we are able to continue to confidently hope for the best, even when what life actually brings us is trials and tribulations. It’s what keeps us connected to God so that we are willing to pay the price necessary to live the kind of Christian life described in the verses to come. And let us make no mistake: there is a price to be paid in living the kind of life that follows in Jesus’ footsteps.

Take verse 12-15 for instance. Desire is, of course, desirable. But sometimes our desires are inappropriate, destructive, or hurtful. To say “no” to our desires is to say no to what we want, and that is painful. Is it really worth it?Faith answers, “Yes, it is.”

For example, I often desire to use my credit card. The problem is, my credit card makes spending too easy. I buy things I don’t really need, and then come to the end of the month and the bill takes more of my income than it should. So at least until the end of the year (we started in October), my wife and I have decided to say “no” to our credit cards for everything but gas (yes, we do realize that this includes what are typically known as the “shopping days” before Christmas).

Saying “no” to our credit cards is sometimes painful. There are things I want, like books or fishing tackle or maybe some additional bulbs for a fall planting in the garden. But although saying “no” in the moment is painful, by faith we believe in the long run it will bring far greater rewards than a moment’s simple passing pleasure .

James tells us it is that way with all our “sinful” desires. It may well mean choosing pain instead of pleasure now. But faith answers resolutely, “It will be worth it in the end”.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Revelation 19:11-21

Today's reading tells us of the second coming of Christ. In the Nicene Creed a sentence right before the last paragraph says, "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end." Today's reading describes the first part of that sentence - coming again in glory as a judge.

As we examine today's reading I want to point out a couple of things that I find of interest.

When Jesus first came to the earth, some 2,000 years ago, he came as a sacrificial lamb. Jesus' first coming brought forgiveness. As today's reading tells us, in the second coming of Jesus we will see him as a conqueror and as a king. His second coming will bring judgment to those left on the earth after the rapture. This judgment will be final and result in the total destruction of evil (the beast, the false prophet, and all of those that worship the beast).

The second item I want to discuss may not be as obvious as the first. The second item I find interesting is the four names used for Christ in today's reading.

The name Jesus Christ is not used in today's reading, but I think it is clear that the rider of the white horse is Jesus. This rider is identified as "Faithful and True." I think this refers to Jesus as the faithful and true witness to God's glory.

The second name is unknown to us, known only to him. I think this implies that no name can do Jesus justice. Just like heaven will have a peace beyond our understanding, Jesus is greater than any human description can devise.

The third name is the "Word of God." What strikes me about this name is the use of "Word." In his Gospel, John called Jesus "the Word". Jesus speaks God's words, acts according to the word of God, and is the word of God.

The fourth name is actually two titles listed together, "King of kings and Lord of lords." This properly allows the reader to know the true position of Jesus in the hierarchy of man.

Yes, Jesus did die, Jesus was resurrected, and Jesus will come again. From today's reading it will be a glorious return that triumphs over evil.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Revelation 18: 15-24

For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!

Such is the twice repeated refrain of today’s passage. It is one that we can perhaps appreciate now more than ever. Watching historic drops in the stock market occur and trillions of dollars of wealth disappear in mere moments, this verse becomes an eerie description not just of the fall of an ancient empire, but of the events of our day.

One of the things these verses drive home is how insecure all the things of this world are. To look to any them—even to the most powerful nation the world has ever known—for security is ultimately to have a false hope. It is the very nature of this world, and of the things of this world, to pass away. No human being, and no human invention or institution can keep that from occurring.

In years past, if people had extra money many would just reinvest it with the expectation they would reap greater returns and enhance their financial security (which many people most directly relate with their personal security as well). Right now, that doesn’t look like a particularly attractive option. Wouldn’t it be far better to invest in something more secure?

That something is, of course, the Kingdom of God. It is the work of God in this world.

And it is not just money, of course. It is time. It is energy. It is our skills and our best thoughts. Will we invest these things in a world that doesn’t last, in pursuing a security that can be gone in the blink of an eye and is so is not secure at all?

Or will we invest in something lasting, something eternal, something that even all the forces of hell cannot stand against. Will you… will I… invest ourselves, all that we are, all that we have, in serving God and doing his will here on earth even as it is done in heaven?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Revelation 18:1-14

Babylon. What a city it must have been! Its walls towered as high as 300 feet, and were wide enough at the top for two carriages to pass side-by-side. And within the city was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a "not-to-be-missed-marvel", the Hanging Gardens of King Nebuchadnezzar, built, it was said, for his queen. Perhaps better termed the "overhanging" gardens, for their lofty-reaching branches and vines. No one really has a precise idea of what they looked like, for they were long gone, as the city was, by the time of Christ. Nonetheless, many have imagined the garden towers reaching to heaven, and spilling over with lushness, suffused with ingenious irrigated moistness in the midst of the desert, a cross between greenhouse and penthouse. And yet for all their splendors and beauty, beyond them and with a notoriety that lingered long after them, was a corrupt-- and then a fallen-- kingdom. The ziggurats of Babylon arched high, but the sins of Babylon were piled higher.

The Israelites were conquered and were carried off as slaves to Babylon in the 6th century before the time of Jesus. "By the rivers of Babylon", says Psalm 137, "we lay down and wept when we remembered Zion." How could they sing the Lord's song in a strange and an alien land? Yet the exiled people remembered the home where they worshipped the one true God, they sang, they wrote the words that became Scripture.

Within two generations after the Exile the Babylonians had themselves fallen to the Persians. But the memory of that captivity in Babylon persisted down to John's day. John himself was an exile on the island of Patmos, on account of his preaching the Gospel, and now spending his days far from his roots in Jerusalem. In John's vision, Babylon, though physically in ruins 700 years after its fabulous peak, would in some (allegoric?) form rise again with its riches and its dominance of the world.

Would it rise again as the expression of a 21st century dictator who fancied himself as Nebuchadnezzar II? Saddam Hussein developed plans to restore Babylon to a new glory, to suit his own empire-forming agenda. Presumably Saddam's dream will never be realized, but the hold that wondrous Babylon has exerted and will continue to exert on human imagination means that dreams of human-built temples and mega-cities remain to be pursued again by egos yet unborn. The Fertile Crescent in which Babylon rose was the cradle of human-kind's first civilization. We as humans naturally seek out our roots. We will inevitably seek them in Babylon again. But if our constructed towers, like Babel, are built only through physical striving and with worldly wealth, they will fall again, and fall hard, and remain as relics of a lost city.

Global crises of this Third Millennia have brought humankind to another hinge-point of history. We are not today who we were 8 years, or 8 months, or 8 weeks, or even 8 days ago. Where we shall go from here is in God's hands, if we will trust Him and not false gods. Else our descent to ruin shall be our legacy for those who follow us.

Probable Hanging Gardens Site today

Lord, help us to know that you alone are the source of richness in life.
May we long for the fruit that flowers in your gardens alone.
May we see the splendor that is reached only by walking through your gates.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Revelation 17:1-18

I am re-reading a book I have really enjoyed – “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat” – by John Ortberg. One of the points he makes in the book is how Jesus is the Lord of the Gift. He gives each of us special gifts to be used to further His Kingdom. The book talks about Jesus’ parable of the wealthy lord who gave three of his servants incredible amounts of money to invest while the lord was away. Two of the servants did as he told them and, when he finally returned, the lord had made a great profit, which he shared with the two servants who did as they were told. The third servant buried his money and only returned what he had been given. This angered the lord and the servant was harshly dealt with.

The servant who buried the money played it safe. Fear caused him to bury the gift. John Ortberg calls this the “Tragedy of the Unopened Gift”. The Bible is full of stories of people who risked so much and used their God-given gifts and were rewarded abundantly - Abraham, Noah, Moses, Ruth, Jacob, Mary (Jesus’ mother), Mary (Martha’s sister) and on and on.

In today’s reading, we are told the continuing story of what some call the Rapture. I believe today’s reading exposes several gifts from God to us. First, we have the gift of the Book of Revelation. He is giving us ample warning in great detail so that we will have time to get on the right side of this battle. Second, he gives us the gift of choice. We can choose to be on the right side, with Jesus. Third, he gives us our special gift to use while we are here on earth. By opening this gift and using it, we are moving to the right side of the battle.

But, in living in fear, and not opening the gift that God has given you, you are choosing to be on the wrong side of the battle described in today’s reading. And that side goes directly to Hell.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Revelation 16: 12-21

Today’s passage continues a section in the book of Revelation that speaks of judgment.

As we’ve come to expect, the images we find there—things like the drying up of water, the plague of frogs, peals of lightning and thunder coupled with the shaking of the very foundations of the earth, and the coming of massive hail—all call up numerous stories from the Old Testaments. And the stories in turn call to mind God’s decisive action on behalf of His people. God would have His people be free, and so stands against all that would keep them from such freedom.

In the midst of all this, we hear a voice, and it is speaking directly to us: “See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, the voice says, “not going about naked and exposed to shame.” We recognize the voice, of course. It is the voice of Jesus.

God would have his people be free. He does stand against all that would keep us in bondage. His judgments against such powers are fierce. But what if we give up our freedom ourselves? What if we “fall asleep”, losing consciousness of what God is doing in the world and what He wishes to do through us? What then?

Blessed is the one who stays awake. Blessed is the person who is well aware that he or she is free to say “NO!” to the powers of this world, and deliberately, intentionally, follows Jesus.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Revelation 16:1-11

In today’s reading we begin the bowl judgments. You might ask what are the bowl judgments? Didn’t we discuss judgments earlier in Revelation? What were those judgments? All good questions.

The bowl judgments are God’s final and complete judgments on the earth. The earlier judgments in Revelation are called the trumpet judgments. To me, there are three main distinctions between the bowl judgments and the trumpet judgments.

(1) The bowl judgments are complete and final. The trumpet judgments only affected a part of the earth and heavens.
(2) Because of (1), the trumpet judgments still give unbelievers the opportunity to repent. The bowl judgments do not – that is what is meant by a final judgment.
(3) The trumpet judgments indirectly affects mankind. All of the bowl judgments directly affect mankind.

In today’s reading we know the people receiving these bowl judgments know they are coming from God. We know this because in the reading mankind curses God for sending these judgments upon the earth. Now this is very important as I think this is the key, or at least one key, message in today’s reading.

I know each of us has met people that have a very hard heart towards Christianity and perhaps religion in general. Some of these people may even be hostile towards the subject. When the trumpet judgments come, and God’s power is revealed, I am amazed that all people do not repent. I mean what other proof does one need? However, from the reading today we know some will refuse to repent – some will have such a hardened heart that they will not repent. The message is, if you, or I, find ourselves ignoring God on a particular issue, we should turn back to Him now before our heart becomes too hard to repent. If we ignore God for an extended period of time, today’s reading tells us that at some point a human heart will become unable to receive His word and then it will be too late to turn back to Him.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Revelation 14:14 - 15:8

This passage of Revelation calls to mind 2 images. The first is the parable of the Wheat and the Tares which is told in Matthew 13:24 – 30. Where the farmer has weeds and wheat but has to let them grow together because he cannot differentiate between them until harvest time. At the time of harvest he reaps the good and the bad is thrown into the fire. This sounds very much like the judgment story told in Revelation. The second image that I’m reminded of is when we read about the wine press in the vineyard, Jesus called himself the true vine in John 15: 1-8. This really shows that Revelation is the culmination of the judgment that Jesus told us would come and it would come just as He said. The question is, where do we fit? Are we the wheat? Or a weed? Do we live our lives faithfully as members of the kingdom even though all around us we are pulled in other directions by the weeds? Do we succumb to the pressures of living in the world or do we stay strong in the face of temptation? Are we the grapes that have ripened on the vine that IS Jesus Christ? Or not? When Jesus comes to reap what he has sown and comes with the sickle, where will we be? Our hope is in Christ as our vine and as the farmer who cares for us and loves us and cultivates us and helps us grow. We just need to stay focused on him, and not be suffocated by the weeds growing all around us.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Revelation 14: 1-13

While some of the details of these verses are perhaps a bit puzzling, the overall message is not. Today’s passage compares and contrasts two very different groups of people: those who worship the lamb, and those who worship the beast.

And it’s particularly interesting (to me, at least!) that the comparison concludes with this line: “…for their deeds will follow them.”

It seems to me Christians use the word “worship” in two different ways. When we talk about Christians worshiping God, we think of something people do in church, singing songs and generally proclaiming God’s praise. But when we talk about people worshipping, say, money, it seems to me we mean something very different.

We are not saying that the person who worships money sings songs to dollar bills. He doesn’t kneel before his money and say, “Money you are so great! You are worthy, money, worthy of glory and honor and power!” He doesn’t have a special altar set up to his money or a separate time of day that he devotes strictly to telling money how great it is.

No, what we are saying is that the person who worship money orients his everyday life to money’s service.

And though it seems to me that worship in the traditional sense of the word is important, it also seems to me that unless we orient the whole of our lives towards God’s service (if we do not “follow the lamb wherever he goes”), then we are guilty of a double standard.

Because the truth is this: If we are not orienting our lives towards God’s service, then we are not really worshipping God at all.