Left Behind? Rethinking the Rapture

Part IV of “The End of the World as We Know It:” The Book of Revelation

People suddenly disappearing, infrastructure collapsing, wailing people wondering what happened to their loved ones and why they’ve been left behind, apocalyptic signs in the heavens, antichrists running amok. These are just a few of images from the popular “Left Behind” series of books that also sparked a couple of bad movies, the most recent one starring Nicholas Cage—a movie that Variety called “irritatingly sanctimonious and doctrinally vague.”

left behind shoesThat’s an interesting choice of words. The Left Behind series is, of course, all about what has become popularly known as “the Rapture,” or the time when some Christians believe that God will suddenly evacuate true believers from the earth (leaving behind their clothes, apparently, which makes the Rapture quite a sight) and “leave behind” on the earth those who are unbelievers and evildoers to be subject to a “tribulation” of a thousand years of torture under the rule of the antichrist and/or Satan. Of course, other Christians believe that the Rapture happens after the tribulation, and there are lengthy screeds supporting or denouncing one or the other all over the internet.

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The Lion and the Lamb

Part III of the series “The End of the World as We Know It: The Book of Revelation.”

Revelation 4-7

Last-Will-and-TestamentRecently, Jennifer and I have been working on our estate plan—you know, the plan where you generate a legal document that decides where all your assets will go when you die. So, the last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about life without us in it and who, beside our children, gets all the property and finances that may be left over after we’re gone. After all, ten bucks is ten bucks!

We’ve been working with an attorney on this, and it’s really one of the very few times I’ve ever worked with the legal profession. I’ve had to learn a new vocabulary, learn how all the documents work, who gets copies, etc. Emails fly back and forth, documents get signed, all to register what amounts to our last will and testament.

7sealscrollIn 2015, those documents are usually done electronically and you need a password to open them. If you were doing a will in the ancient world, however, it was a much more involved and, in some ways, more elegant process. In the Roman world, for example, a deed or a will was written on papyrus or parchment and rolled up as a scroll. The scroll was then tied with string to close it and then hot wax was dribbled on to it and marked with either a signet ring or another device that put the witness’s symbol or sign on it to seals it and make it official. For really important documents there might be as many as seven seals signifying several witnesses. Only those who were authorized could break the seals and open the document. The reading of a will, then, was a big event and lot more sophisticated than just typing in a password.

A will is usually only opened in a time of crisis, when someone has passed away and it’s time to get on with the future. Old things have to be sorted out and a new reality takes hold. In Revelation 5, John’s vision takes us into the heavenly throne room where the one seated on the throne is holding a document just like this—a scroll with seven seals.

And clearly there is a crisis. Someone or something has reached its end and there in the heavenly throne room an angel cries out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” It’s time to read the will, but who can open it so that it can be read? What’s going on here?

Scholars are all over the map in interpreting this passage, trying to figure out what the scroll is all about. I must’ve read ten different books on this and I got ten different answers. So, this morning I want to give you the one explanation that I think makes the most sense contextually and theologically—what God holds in his right hand, I think, is the last will and testament of the world as we know it—instructions and images from its last days and instructions for a new world, a new creation, a new reality that will take its place.

Indeed, it’s the opening of this scroll that will set in motion the bizarre series of images that constitute Revelation 6-19—images of battles and beasts, images of dragons and lakes of fire, images of martyred saints and wrathful angels, but also images of peace and a brand new world. We look closer at some of these things over the next couple of weeks. Think of it as a will that is written in code—a code that only the rightful heirs can understand.

But before the will can be read, someone has to open it—someone who is authorized and worthy. John wept bitterly because “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it” (v. 3). This is a hard reality that John realizes: despite God creating humans to reflect his image in his creation, despite calling out a people called Israel to be God’s righteous representatives, none of the people God created are worthy to open the scroll. Sin prevents them from doing it. It will take one who is fully human, who is sinless, to open the scroll and reveal God’s plan for a broken world.

But there is good news. One of the elders tells John, “Do not weep, see the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Like with much of this section, the text draws on Old Testament imagery. In Genesis 49:9-10, for example, “the lion of Judah” is a prediction that Israel’s true king will come from the tribe of Judah, which later is revealed as the line of David. This is one of the reasons that the covers for LION AND LAMBTorah scrolls often had lions on them. The “Root of David” is another messianic image. The lion is a symbol used throughout history to signify power and might, often of the military variety, and thus it’s good news to many that it’s the one who comes as a conquering lion that will be the one to open the scroll.

But when John turns to look at the lion what he sees instead is a lamb—the exact opposite of a lion, really. Lambs are quiet, meek, dependent, helpless. It is the animal of sacrifice, not the raging carnivore. And the lamb that John sees is already stained with blood “as if it had been slaughtered” (v. 6). It’s a dramatic contrast—the power and victory of the lion and the helpless, bloodstained sacrifice of the lamb but in John’s vision these two disparate images suddenly become fused together. From this moment on, John and his readers are to understand that the victory won by the lion is accomplished through the sacrifice of the lamb—the lamb with seven horns to signify his own power and with seven eyes that see everything—a lamb that sees everything humans have done and dies for us anyway.

It’s the lamb that can open the will. As heaven proclaims in verse 9: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Broken humanity will be restored through his blood and given a new inheritance and a new future; a new vocation to reign with him on the earth. As I said in the first sermon in this series, Revelation is not about the end of the world but rather about the end of the world as we know it. Right here in Revelation 5 we are reminded that the purpose of God is not to take us away from his world but to come and take over.

It’s important as we move through the rest of Revelation that we hold these two symbols for Jesus, the lion and the lamb, in tension. Over the course of centuries, Christians have either gravitated to one or the other. Some have taken the lion only approach—the political power approach to bringing in God’s future. One of the great Crusader kings was Richard the Lionheart of England, who believed that the kingdom of God would come by force and violence—the symbol of the lion was prevalent in his crusading army. In our own day, some Christians believe that the way to address a broken world is by forcing it to come into line, by picking up arms to fight off the encroachment of evil. Still others would like to take only the lamb approach and not deal with the world at all, but run away from the danger to a spiritualized heaven where they can commune with Jesus. But the message of Revelation is that the lion of Judah and the lamb of God are one-in-the-same – the lion that confronts the specter of evil, sin, and death head on but does so not with might but through his own lamb-like suffering. Power through weakness; life through death; the lion and the lamb together.

And it’s important that we understand this because when the lion-lamb opens the will, we begin to see that the crisis is coming to a head. Usually, the reading of the will is a good thing for family members for it means that they will, hopefully, receive something by which to remember their loved ones. If they don’t receive something good, they contest it, which can be very nasty. What we learn when this will, the last will and testament of evil and the world as we know it, is opened is that the forces of evil will not surrender their claim on the world quietly.

4horsemenThe cracking open of the seven seals all reveal something about the present state of the world as well as its future. In chapter 6 we read about the first four seals, each of which unleashes one of the so-called four horsemen of the apocalypse. Actually, this is an echo back to the Old Testament and the prophet Zechariah where angelic horsemen are sent by God to patrol the earth where they find peace. These four horsemen, whether they are sent by God or unleashed by God (another source of disagreement to interpreters) are released to wreak havoc.

Now, here again, these are symbols taken from the Old Testament. We are not to be looking out the window for these horsemen to ride by one day. Indeed, what they bring is already part of the world as we know it, and that was certainly the case in John’s world. The archer on a white horse would have been a terrifying image in the Roman world because it would have reminded them of the Parthians, their enemy to the east. The Parthians were the descendants of the Persian empire, Arabic peoples who nibbled away at Rome’s borders and sometimes won great victories over Roman legions.

The rider on a red horse is sent to “take peace from the earth” and may signify the bloodshed that had taken place in John’s day, particularly the year of the four emperors in 68-69AD when four claimants to the Roman throne were each slaughtered in turn by rivals. Red was the color most associate with war and bloodshed. The black horse and the rider carrying scales is a reminder of famine and the fact that the rich tend to get richer while the poor get poorer. And lastly, of course, the most famous of the four horsemen—the one bringing death and hell with him. They reminded John’s readers that the events of their own day were a sign that evil wouldn’t go quietly—indeed, in some sense, God was allowing evil to do its worst, to expose itself fully so that it could be dealt with once and for all. Not exactly a joyous inheritance, at least initially.

Which is why when the fifth seal is opened we see a different scene—the altar in the divine throne room under which were all those saints who had been killed by persecution and calamity on the earth. The cry out, “How long will it be, God, before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” In other words, God, what is taking you so long to deal with this evil? Why can’t your kingdom come now? Where is the victory of the lion of Judah? But in 6:11 we see God’s response – they are each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer until more of the saints would suffer under the same conditions in which they themselves were killed. Again, not exactly the kind of inheritance one hopes for!

But here is the key principle if we are to be people of the lion and the lamb: that the way God’s people deal with evil is not through violence but through suffering. The victory of the lion is achieved through the suffering of the lamb. Evil did its worst to Jesus and it will attempt to do the same with us. What is our response? Neither fighting nor fleeing—it is following the example of the lamb, the one who tells us to lay aside the sword and pick up the cross instead.

o-HEADLINES-COLLAGE-facebookWe see the four horsemen already roaming around our world, as they have been in every generation. Terrorism grows more menacing. We regularly see bloodshed on our own streets and in the newspaper. We see and experience economic injustice and we fear the threat of economic collapse. And death stalks every one of us. We cry out with the saints under the altar, “How long, O Lord?” And we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. Indeed, we may even fear that the wrath of God may fall on us, like those who hide in response to the opening of the sixth seal. We want victory now, but despite our best efforts we cannot achieve it on our own.

The vision of victory God offers us isn’t one that we can accomplish by the sword or by trying to make ourselves ever more secure—we can do our best to hold evil at bay, and we should, but ultimately we can never eradicate it on our own despite the promise of presidents and politicians. Indeed, and this is the paradox, the victory has already been won by the lion who is a lamb, and it is only by following him that we find our true inheritance. We “conquer” by suffering with him, for it is through his suffering that ultimate victory will come.

At the end of Revelation 7 we see it is those who have washed their robes in blood—not the blood of their enemies but the blood of the lamb—that live into God’s ultimate future. “For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We might imagine that those seven churches who received John’s letter with this vivid vision received it with a mixture of fear and hope. There will be more visions to come, visions of trumpets and bowls, of battles and even more visions of heaven and hell themselves. Like them, we might be confused or even angered at the fact that, at least in our opinion, God isn’t doing enough to stem the tide of evil around us right now, so we’d better try and take care of it on our own. We may be disheartened to hear that things will probably get worse before they get better. But Revelation calls us to something better, a greater inheritance—and that is the inheritance of hope. The one of the throne has not abandoned us, indeed he is already at work. His justice will prevail. The suffering lamb does not suffer in vain and neither do his people.

One of the things I learned as we were preparing to meet with the attorney is that more than half of people in the US do not have a will. Some think it’s too expensive, some think they don’t have enough assets to worry about, but you know the most prevalent reason is that people don’t want to even think about their own mortality. The exercise of putting your will together forces you to think about life without you in it. We procrastinate about that which we fear.

Those who are in Christ, however, have no need to fear. The ultimate will has already been opened—and we know that our future has already been secured by the lion who is a lamb. Death comes to us all, but we know that our ultimate destiny is resurrection and new life in God’s new creation. And because of that good news we can take on the vocation of being good stewards of the resources of God’s creation in the time that we have.

Suffering will come. Evil will still have its way for awhile longer. But victory belongs to the one who is on the throne and to the lamb.

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Spirit is Saying to the Churches

Part II of the series “The End of the World as We Know It: The Book of Revelation.”

Revelation 2:1-3:22

Theater

The Theater in Ephesus today, taken during my trip there in 2009.

Ephesus is one of the most amazing places in the world and is on my top ten of places I’ve enjoyed visiting. In terms of archaeological sites, Ephesus is a treasure trove of Greco-Roman culture, with buildings dating all the way back to the first century and beyond. This city in western Turkey was a major cultural center in the first century with a population of about a quarter million. The massive Temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and virginity (an interesting combination), was one of the wonders of ancient world. The Hall of Tyrannus was a place for philosophical debate and, later in the second century, the Library of Celsus would hold some of the intellectual wonders of the ancient world within its walls. Of course, Ephesus was also thoroughly Roman with the usual Roman entertainments, evidenced by the gladiator graveyard that is there and the presence of signs in the pavement pointing the way to the brothels in the city.

Christians, however, tend to remember Ephesus as figuring prominently in the New Testament. One of Paul’s most famous letters, Ephesians, was written to the church there. In Acts 19 we read about Paul getting into trouble in Ephesus because his preaching was turning people away from the mythological Artemis and toward Christ, which resulted in a riot. Paul and his companions were dragged into the massive 24,000 seat theater where the crowd shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” over and over again. You can stand in that theater today and walk on the very same stones that Paul traversed. The apostle John likely settled in Ephesus as well where, according to tradition, he wrote his gospel and the three epistles attributed to him. Despite some early opposition, the Christian church in Ephesus grew to the point that in the early second century Christian writers were holding it up as an example of faithful Christian life and witness. In the fifth century, one of the great church councils was held there and archaeologists have found a building in the city where this council may have taken place. In other words, Ephesus was a Christian success story—a shining example of what could happen with the gospel of Jesus Christ began transforming a culture.

But in just a few centuries, a very brief time historically speaking, Ephesus was no more. A seventh century earthquake destroyed part of the city, including the Temple of Artemis, and the harbor began silting up, causing the city to be abandoned. Where there was once a strong Christian presence there are now virtually no Christians in Ephesus and surrounding environs. What was once a bright shining example of the transforming power of the gospel is now a place where there are no active churches.

That would have been unthinkable in John’s day, just like it’s unthinkable that our large churches in America today could be abandoned with no new Christian fellowships rising up to take their places. But this sense of devastation, where there was once a thriving Christian witness but where there is no more, is precisely what Jesus warns the Ephesian church about through John’s pen in Revelation 2. “Repent and do the works you did at first,” Jesus warns the Ephesian church. “If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.” Today there is no significant church in Ephesus- the lamp has gone out.

In fact, that’s the same with all seven of the churches to whom John writes in Revelation 2 and 3. All of those towns are now ruins, some still buried and largely unexcavated. The area of Western Turkey in which the churches once thrived now has a population that is less than .02% Christian. What was once an area from which Christianity spread to the Roman empire is now a place with virtually no Christian memory.

A lot of people skip over this part of Revelation to get to the “good stuff”—the prophecy stuff with all the visions of beasts and dragons and heavenly worship. Actually, however, I would argue that these two chapters of Revelation represent the most important things that the Christian church needs to focus on today, just like they were key issues in John’s day. In a culture that is increasingly secular, where Christianity is in decline, those of us with a Christian memory find it unthinkable that in a country ostensibly founded on Christian principles there might be very few of churches left one day. If we do not learn the lessons and heed the warnings of Christ to these churches, we may find ourselves like them—our lamps snuffed out, our witness nothing more than an archaeological curiosity.

“If we do not learn the lessons and heed the warnings of Christ to these churches, we may find ourselves like them…”

SevenChurchesThe seven letters are sharp and pointed messages to the churches in question. We get no sense from reading them that Jesus is going to be meek and mild with them, but rather offer equal parts of encouragement and judgment. This introduces one of the major themes of the whole book—that God’s judgment is the other side of the coin of God’s grace. Revelation disavows us of the notion that God will forever put up with things and people who run counter to his character and will for his creation, including the churches. The warnings to the churches, then, is a warning to the church in every age. Looking over the shoulders of the elders in these seven churches, we have a chance to learn from them and change our course.

Each of the letters follows a similar pattern. They begin with a reminder of the images that describe Jesus in chapter one—the one who was and is and is to come, the one with the sharp two-edged sword in his mouth, the one with eyes like a flame of fire, the one who holds the seven spirits of God and seven stars in his hand; the one who holds the keys to death and Hades. The Jesus who speaks is the one who is worthy of worship and who is Lord of heaven and earth. The letters continue by congratulating each church on what it has done well (except in the last letter to Laodicea, where there is apparently nothing to praise), which then follows with a warning about what is wrong with each church (except in Smyrna and Philadelphia, where things seemed to be going well at the time). Each letter ends with a warning and promise—the Spirit is speaking to the churches and calling them to “conquer”—to overcome their present situation, be it persecution from without or turmoil from within. Failure to conquer, to overcome and remain faithful, will result in their light and witness fading out.

There’s a lot of detail in these letters that are both fascinating historically and challenging theologically and in a series like this it’s difficult to get into the details. There are, however, seven things that I think Jesus wants to teach us to focus on in these letters—seven criteria by which the church in every age should be judging itself if our lamp is to continue to shine:

Maintain your first love.

A single column is all that is left of the Temple of Artemis

A single column is all that is left of the Temple of Artemis

Jesus laments that the church in Ephesus has lost its first love. This being the message of the first letter somehow lends itself to giving us the first principle and perhaps the most important of all—everything the church is and does must emanate from a white hot love for Christ; a love that in turn finds its way outward in love for people. “Repent and do the works you did at first,” Jesus commands them. For Jesus, love is not merely an emotion, a personal inward devotion, but rather love is always active—it seeks out opportunities to love. The church is to be known first as a people who love God and love others. Without that passionate love as a foundation, a church will quickly turn inward and ineffective.

One of the images we use to describe this kind of love is the triangle of Up, In, and Out. Our love for God is the up, our love for those in the body of Christ is the in, and our love for others that we are called to reach is the out. These were three key dimensions in the life of Jesus—his relationship with his Father, his relationship with the disciples, and his relationship with others whom he loved and healed. We maintain our first love and follow Christ’s example when we pay close attention to each of these dimensions, undergirded by the love God has for us. Most churches will emphasize one of these dimensions more than the others, which can lead to either spiritual superiority, insular relationships, or trying to reach people with a love that you yourself haven’t experienced. Maintaining the Up, In, and Out together, however, is the way of Christ. How are you doing in each of these areas? How are we doing as a church?

Overcome fear.

 

The ruins of Smyrna

The ruins of Smyrna

The church in Smyrna was facing a serious threat from some fellow Jews who hated them for proclaiming Christ as the Messiah. They were facing prison and possible death at the hands of the authorities. “Do not fear what you are about to suffer,” says Jesus. “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” Fear is often the thing that keeps the church and its members from truly following Christ. We fear offending someone with the truth of the gospel, we fear being ostracized by our neighbors and coworkers, we fear death and we are tempted to follow the culture into an “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” way of life. Jesus says to not be afraid. He’s the one “who was dead and came to life.” We can conquer our fear because the second death, eternal death, has been defeated in him. Those who overcome their fear receive the crown of life. In a culture where death seems to hang over everything, we proclaim resurrection, hope, and renewal. The church that focuses on this will be the church that conquers, even as Christ has conquered death itself!

Hold fast to the truth.

The remains of ancient Pergamum

The remains of ancient Pergamum

The church in Pergamum was dealing with false prophets in their midst. Some in the church were led astray like the Israelites were led astray by Balaam, who compromised the prophetic message for his own personal gain. Balaam was promised a reward by an enemy king if the prophet cursed Israel, but while Balaam refused to do that, he did encourage the enemy king to send Moabite women to entice the Israelite men into sexual relationships where they then drawn into worshipping their Moabite idols as well.

The false teachers in Pergamum were using a similar tactic—inviting the church to compromise its faith in the gospel by subtle degrees. The same is happening today as some in the church become more and more willing to compromise God’s design for sexuality and hold up sexuality itself as an idol to be worshipped. The problem in Pergamum is that the church lost its cutting edge, its ability to say “no” to the culture around them, and it is the same falsehood that is destroying the church today by degrees.

Jesus response to this compromise is to wield the sword from his mouth. We see here an echo of a passage in Hebrews where the writer reminds us that the word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” The word of Christ will cut through the junk and expose the truth if we are willing to hear it. Jesus challenges the church to reengage his word, his truth; to exchange the false intimacy of sexual license with the true intimacy of union with himself; to hold fast to the truth about who we are and who God is. Our identity is not ultimately found in our sexuality or in the idols we create for ourselves—our identity is found in Christ.

Do not compromise.

Thyatira-ruins

Thyatira

 The church in Thyatira was dealing with a similar issue. Here Jesus uses another Old Testament image, that of the pagan queen Jezebel who goaded the King of Israel into compromising worship of God for the idolatrous worship of Baal, to describe the sexual licentiousness that has crept into the church. Jesus tells the church not to tolerate this sort of thing in their midst but instead they must repent. After all, he is the one who “searches minds and hearts and will give to each what their works deserve.”

“Tolerance” is a big value in our culture, but it isn’t really a biblical value. Tolerance in our world means that every choice we might make is of equal value and that every way of living is equally valid. To insist that there is such a thing as the right way and the wrong way is considered to be the cardinal sin in our culture. To suggest that there are some things that are out of bounds is to be labeled as “exclusive” and “intolerant.” But if you read the Scriptures carefully you begin to realize that Jesus isn’t very tolerant, especially when it comes to sin. While we are not called to ultimately judge, Jesus has no such restriction. In the end it will be him who judges the world and each of us and he will judge the life of the church as Revelation 2 and 3 makes clear.

The clear message, then, is that the church is to live its life in light of Christ’s judgment as well as his grace. The church must lovingly refuse to compromise with the culture, otherwise it will become unrecognizable as belonging to Christ. The biggest threat to Christianity in our time is not outright, violent persecution but rather the slow fade into oblivion as the church compromises by degrees, and the more the church begins to look like the culture, the more the culture will continue to ignore it and the more Jesus will ignore it, too.

Wake up! 

Ancient Sardis

Ancient Sardis

So, what’s the solution? Well, Jesus tells the church in Sardis to Wake up! An interesting historical fact here—Sardis was a powerful, prosperous city in the sixth century BC, believing it was invulnerable to attack, when one day the Persians snuck in and conquered it. Jesus urges the church in Sardis to not be so asleep at the switch when he comes. “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you,” says Jesus. The call is to be vigilant, always being a work in preparing for the coming of the Lord. One of my favorite bumper stickers says, “Jesus is coming. Look busy!” Actually, that’s prophetic. The way that the church avoids compromise and stays faithful is by living every day as though Jesus were about to return. When he returns, what will he find us doing? Will we be sleepily in bed with the culture or will we be up and about, spreading the gospel and living out our first love?

Look for open doors.

Ancient Philadelphia

Ancient Philadelphia

Indeed, Jesus tells the church of Philadelphia, “Look for the open door.” Jesus is the one with the “key of David” who opens the door that enables the church to take the good news about him to the places in the world where it has not yet reached. One of the ways that the church stays faithful to Christ is by always looking at ways to share him with others. A church that has staying power, a church that conquers, is one that is always looking at the world outside its walls as a place for the gospel of Jesus to run loose. When the people of a church catch that vision, even more doors are opened.

We have an open door right in front of us, church. 80% of the people within ten miles of us right now have no connection to Christ. One of the questions I want us to wrestle with this year is, how will we reach them? We also have an open door opportunity to impact people in another part of the world by helping them receive God’s Word through our new Adopt-a-Verse project, which you’ll be hearing about in a few minutes. There are lots of open doors for the church that is truly following Christ.

Don’t be lukewarm.

A water pipe in Laodicea, where the water was always lukewarm

A water pipe in Laodicea, where the water was always lukewarm

And lastly, Jesus is looking for a church that isn’t lukewarm. The Laodiceans lived in a place where the water was always lukewarm no matter what direction it flowed from. Nobody likes to drink lukewarm water, and nobody wants to be part of a lukewarm church. There are plenty of them out there, mind you. Jesus will ultimately spit them out as having no use. The Laodiceans were prosperous and often it’s the wealthy and secure who are the least zealous in following Christ. The best churches are those in which everyone, regardless of their economic status, recognizes their poverty of spirit and invests their lives in the mission of God. The church is not an occasional hobby for those who want the American dream with a little Jesus overlay, it is a hot or cold, in or out, all or nothing proposition.

Knocking at the DoorJesus ends this section by knocking on the door—like the master returning to his home at an unexpected hour. What will he find us doing? Will we open the door and join him in the feast? That is, after all, what we reenact at the table each week. Those who share this meal with the risen Christ are thereby strengthened to “conquer,” to go forth and be the church in the world the rest of the week. It’s a sharing in the “royal priesthood,” the vocation for which Christ called us.

Jesus has John write to individual churches, but these principles apply to them all even as they still apply to us. The seven churches of Revelation no longer exist, but this one does and reading these letters is a chance to evaluate ourselves. How are we doing, individually and collectively, at being the church? How are we investing in the mission of God? These are questions I want to invite us to consider this year here at TLUMC—to be the kind of church that isn’t so much relevant to the culture as it is relevant to God’s coming kingdom—a church full of people who are maintaining their first love, overcoming fear, holding fast to the truth, not compromising, fully awake, looking for open doors for ministry, and anything but lukewarm.

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church!

Source: 

Wright, N.T. Revelation for Everyone. Westminster/John Knox, 2011. Pp. 10-40.

 

 

 

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Part I of  the series “The End of the World as We Know It: The Book of Revelation”

World-War-Z-header_0Well, it’s the beginning of a new year. If you’ve been paying attention over the last week or so to the myriad “year in review” shows and articles that always come out this time of year, it would be easy to look back at 2014 and wonder how we made it through. In Time magazine, for example, the person of the year was actually the whole group of doctors and researchers who are fighting the deadly disease of Ebola, which is devastating a few countries in Africa and touched our own shores, sparking no small amount of panic in some places. The rise of ISIS in the Middle East and terrorism at home and abroad continues to concern us with the prospect of rogue states or terror cells getting nuclear weapons that could wipe out millions. Violence and protests over racial issues and policing make the front page news every day.

Australian troops passing through Chateau Wood during the battle of PasschendaelePeople are prone to wonder in times like these whether the end of the world as we know it is coming soon. Hollywood certainly thinks that way. Have you noticed the myriad movies and shows out there now with apocalyptic themes? From the zombie apocalypse of The Walking Dead and World War Z to the dystopian future of the Hunger Games to the rapturous evacuation found in the Left Behind movie, it seems that many people in our culture are walking around like that old man wearing a sandwich board declaring that “The End is Near.”

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The Wish Book – A Message for Christmas

Luke 2:21-38

1970 Sears Wish Book 001When I was a kid, back in the late 60s and early 70s, there was one event that was the highlight of every fall—when the Sears Wishbook arrived in the mail. For you kids out there, this was before the days of the internet when shopping was actually done in stores and catalogs were made of paper (and no, we did not have to fight dinosaurs to get to the mailbox). The Sears Wishbook was a 600-page catalog that had everything a kid could possibly desire, and every year we waited for it so that we could take a Flair Pen and circle all the stuff we wanted for Christmas.

I treated that Wish Book like it was holy scripture. It had an Old Testament, which was the first half of the catalog that consisted mostly of clothes, household gadgets, and tools—a section that had to be endured and flipped through quickly in order to get to the good stuff in the New Testament, which was where the toys appeared. It was a wonderland of possibility and I remember analyzing every potential toy by parsing the meaning of each description, it’s potential cost weighed against Santa Claus’s budget (an economic reality of which my mom always reminded me), and it’s probable fun factor. I cross-referenced the ads in the Wish Book with the commercials I watched every Saturday morning during Scooby Doo and the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour, and in a few months I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted and what to expect when I got it.

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