Wednesday, April 27, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Fourteen

“Oh, a sleeping drunkard up in Central Park
And a lion hunter in the jungle dark
And a Chinese dentist and a British queen
They all fit together in the same machine
Nice, nice, very nice
So many different people in the same device.”

- Kurt Vonnegut – “Cat’s Cradle”

There really is a choice. We can have “devices” like Vonnegut’s “revised” bokononism, NBC’s “Revelations, or the real thing. We can have Vonnegut’s “foma” (lies), NBC’s fiction, or the truth.

Part fourteen of God’s miniseries follows:

Revelation 14 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 14

The Lamb and the 144,000
1 “Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a sound from heaven like the roaring of a great waterfall or the rolling of mighty thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together.
3This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. And no one could learn this song except those 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4For they are spiritually undefiled, pure as virgins,[
a] following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering[b] to God and to the Lamb. 5No falsehood can be charged against them; they are blameless.

The Three Angels
6And I saw another angel flying through the heavens, carrying the everlasting Good News to preach to the people who belong to this world--to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 “Fear God,”he shouted. “Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.”
8Then another angel followed him through the skies, shouting, "Babylon is fallen--that great city is fallen--because she seduced the nations of the world and made them drink the wine of her passionate immorality."
9Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or the hand 10must drink the wine of God's wrath. It is poured out undiluted into God's cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. 11The smoke of their torment rises forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name. 12Let this encourage God's holy people to endure persecution patiently and remain firm to the end, obeying his commands and trusting in Jesus.”
13And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from all their toils and trials; for their good deeds follow them!”

The Harvest of the Earth
14Then I saw the Son of Man[
c] sitting on a white cloud. He had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.
15Then an angel came from the Temple and called out in a loud voice to the one sitting on the cloud, “Use the sickle, for the time has come for you to harvest; the crop is ripe on the earth.” 16So the one sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the whole earth was harvested.
17After that, another angel came from the Temple in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18Then another angel, who has power to destroy the world with fire, shouted to the angel with the sickle, “Use your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are fully ripe for judgment.”19So the angel swung his sickle on the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God's wrath. 20And the grapes were trodden in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles[
d] long and as high as a horse's bridle.”

Revelation 14:4 Greek they are virgins who have not defiled themselves with women.
Revelation 14:4 Greek as firstfruits.
Revelation 14:14 Or one who looked like a man; Greek reads one like a son of man. Revelation 14:20 Greek 1,600 stadia [296 kilometers].

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Conforming to the Standard of Non-Conformity

Romans 12:1-3 (New International Version)

Romans 12

Living Sacrifices
1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual[
a] act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

Romans 12:1 Or reasonable

Romans 8:28-29 (New International Version)

More Than Conquerors
28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[
a] who[b] have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

This past Friday Nancy and I attended a benefit concert for Habitat for Humanity’s local chapter here in Emporia. The event, called “A Lord Built House,” was absolutely wonderful. The participants included the Emporia High School Chorale, the Emporia State University A Capella Choir, The Emporia State University Community Chorus, The Flint Hills Brass Quintet, and a group of gospel singers who called themselves “Solid Rock.”

The music was quite eclectic. In all there were nineteen pieces. It began with a rousing rendition of John Leavitt’s “River in Judea,” followed by a Doobie Brothers number – “Jesus is Just Alright,” There was, of course, some Bach (Contrapunctus X), and a nice arrangement of “Danny Boy.”

In between the choral arrangements I spent some time looking around at the “congregation” gathered to celebrate. It was even more eclectic than the music. There were a few farmers or ranchers in bib overalls and an accountant or two in Brooks Brothers’ suits. And, tuxedos were there ever tuxedos. Why I’d wager that there were more tuxedos in Emporia, Kansas last Friday night than you would find at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Ah, but the thing that really caught my eye was the red hats and purple outfits more than half the women in attendance were wearing. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It was a sea of purple and red, giving the sanctuary the look of an Easter egg. As I scanned over and over again in disbelief, Nancy leaned over and asked me, “What’s with the glazed over look, Slick?” I chuckled a bit. How could she be missing what was going on? “It’s the red hats, Coach. I’ve never seen so many red hats in one place in my life.” I laughed quietly with my hand covering my mouth, making sure that I wouldn’t be noticed, and continued responding. “And these purple outfits…..Have you ever seen anything like that in your life?”
“They’re probably part of the Red Hat Society.”
“The what?”
Now it was Nancy’s turn to laugh. “You’ve never heard of the Red Hat Society?”
“You’re puttin’ me on. I mean I'm beginning to think this is some kind of joke and I’m on Candid Camera looking really stupid right now.”
“No, it’s a real society. Remember that book that Pat Clements gave me when we lived in New Jersey?”
“I think so….. “When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Purple,” right?
“That’s the one. It’s now all spun off and women are joining “red hat” societies all around the country.
“Has anyone told them how ridiculous they look?”
“Be gracious, Slick. They’re just trying to maintain their distinctiveness as they grow old. They just want to separate themselves from the masses.”
“Yeah, but they all look alike, and they look ridiculous. I mean, would you let me out of the house wearing a Buffalo Bills cap and a Minnesota Vikings jersey?”

Nancy’s silence and my experience over the years told me I was right.

There was something very amusing about it all. As I sat, alternately listening to the grand music and scanning the audience, my mind wandered back to an old cliché – conforming to the standards of non-conformity. I drifted back even further, to another time when I was walking through New York’s financial district with my two sons, Jarrod and Michael. There, in the midst of the sea of humanity, was a young man, about twenty five or so, dressed in a really nice pinstripe suit, gliding along the street on roller-blades. Michael, my youngest noticed the haircut first. It was a “Mohawk,” dyed in alternating streaks of blue, red, yellow, and orange. “What is that?” he asked. Without thinking I told him that he was just another guy going to the office.

It’s interesting to me; we spend inordinate amounts of time and money trying to set ourselves apart from the crowd, trying to be distinctive. We try to do something dramatic to regain our individuality in the seas of humanity around us, and at those rare times we succeed a crowd joins us. Hence, the Red Hat Societies and the roller-blading stock broker. The cliché fits. It’s true. We get caught up in the standards of non-conformity and we find ourselves conforming in the end.

But beyond the sea of red hats and the chorales, the highlight of the evening for me was a five minute presentation from a “Habitat” homeowner. She was dressed very plainly, the Wal-Mart look I guess you’d call it. There was no red hat; there was no purple outfit. She got right to the point, giving us a glimpse of what a typical recipient here in Emporia looks like. She was a single mother with two children. Until a few years ago she had been married and “making it.” Then her husband just left. She never said why he had, just that he’d left. From that point on it was one misfortune after another. She moved into a trailer. Shortly after that the roof began to leak. A “repairman” came and promised her to repair the damage for a thousand dollars. She gave him the money and he skipped out of town.

Her downward spiral was complete. She had no money, no prospects, and a trailer that was literally falling apart at the seams.

But then Habitat for Humanity stepped in and helped her build a house and also rebuild her life. A group of volunteers (usually grey panthers like me), generous donors, and a single mother contributing sweat equity, made a dream come true.

I like to think of these types of community projects as Gospel sweat equity, ways to conform to a very special standard of non-conformity. It’s a standard that binds us to our communities and our fellow citizens rather than separating us from them. Instead of seeing ourselves as distinct and distant, this standard, the Gospel, causes us to see the things we have in common with others and the needs that need to be met all around us.

It seems to me that the early Church operated this way much more than we do today. In the century just passed there were movements that tried to replicate it. There was communal living and there was Christian Marxism. Like the Red Hat Societies and the roller-blading stock broker, they were built on the premise that we needed to be different than the “world.” The problem with them, though, was that their foundations were laid on the wrong standard of non-conformity.

There are many times I feel like an alien in this world. I think it’s good and healthy. I think it’s Christian. But when I try to separate myself too much from the people and needs around me I realize that I’ve gone too far. I find myself alienated from the world I should be engaged in. I see the example of the Church and I see the example of Jesus. The thing that made Him, and the Church, distinctive, was that they were very active in the world, meeting needs and spreading the “good news.”

There is a way to conform to the real Standard of non-conformity. It’s in allowing ourselves to be conformed to the image of Jesus. There’s no dress code to adhere to. Chinos are acceptable as are bib overalls and tuxedos. Even red hats and purple outfits are fine. All it takes is a willing heart conforming to His image, feet prepared to walk in His ways, and hands ready to lift the burdens of those around us.

God's Miniseries, Part Thirteen

“Then he was afraid, and thought also himself to go back after them, for he thought of nothing but death was before him. But the porter at the lodge, whose name is Watchful, perceiving that Christian made a halt as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying “Is thy strength indeed so small? Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that had none. Keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come to thee.”

- John Bunyan – “The Pilgrim’s Progress”

John Bunyan was a very wise man and his wisdom is timeless. When the lions roar, stay in the middle of the path.

It’s also good to remember in our time, when sensationalism and roaring lions seem to be the order of the day, that God’s miniseries, the real thing, is all about staying in the Middle of God’s path.

Part thirteen follows:

Revelation 13 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 13

1 “And now in my vision I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. 2This beast looked like a leopard, but it had bear's feet and a lion's mouth! And the dragon gave him his own power and throne and great authority.
3I saw that one of the heads of the beast seemed wounded beyond recovery--but the fatal wound was healed! All the world marveled at this miracle and followed the beast in awe. 4They worshiped the dragon for giving the beast such power, and they worshiped the beast. “Is there anyone as great as the beast?" they exclaimed. "Who is able to fight against him?”
5Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do what he wanted for forty-two months. 6And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and all who live in heaven, who are his temple. 7And the beast was allowed to wage war against God's holy people and to overcome them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. 8And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life, which belongs to the Lamb who was killed before the world was made.
9Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand. 10The people who are destined for prison will be arrested and taken away. Those who are destined for death will be killed. But do not be dismayed, for here is your opportunity to have endurance and faith.

The Beast out of the Earth
11Then I saw another beast come up out of the earth. He had two horns like those of a lamb, and he spoke with the voice of a dragon. 12He exercised all the authority of the first beast. And he required all the earth and those who belong to this world to worship the first beast, whose death-wound had been healed. 13He did astounding miracles, such as making fire flash down to earth from heaven while everyone was watching. 14And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people of the world to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. 15He was permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die.
16He required everyone--great and small, rich and poor, slave and free--to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. 17And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. 18Wisdom is needed to understand this. Let the one who has understanding solve the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[
a] His number is 666.”[b]

Revelation 13:18 Or of humanity. Revelation 13:18 Some manuscripts read 616.

Monday, April 25, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Twelve

“But the ultimate problem with spiritual freedom is that it never ends. As Rorty points out, it widens endlessly. Freedom means always keeping your options open, so it means you never settle on truth, you never arrive, you can never rest. The accumulation of spiritual peak experiences can become like the greedy person’s accumulation of money. The more you get, the more you hunger for. The life of perpetual choice is a life of perpetual longing as you are prodded by the inextinguishable desire to try the next new thing. But maybe what the soul hungers for is ultimately not a variety of interesting and moving insights but a single universal truth.”

- David Brooks – “Bobos in Paradise”

You see it’s all very simple. NBC and the sensationalists would have us believe that Revelation is about creepy crawly things. But it’s really about a single, universal truth embodied in a single Person. Once you understand that, the other elements of the saga fall in place.

Part twelve of God’s miniseries follows:

Revelation 12 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 12

The Woman and the Dragon
1 “Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2She was pregnant, and she cried out in the pain of labor as she awaited her delivery.
3Suddenly, I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. 4His tail dragged down one-third of the stars, which he threw to the earth. He stood before the woman as she was about to give birth to her child, ready to devour the baby as soon as it was born.
5She gave birth to a boy who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And the child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. 6And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to give her care for 1,260 days.
7Then there was war in heaven. Michael and the angels under his command fought the dragon and his angels. 8And the dragon lost the battle and was forced out of heaven. 9This great dragon--the ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world--was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
10Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“t has happened at last--the salvation and power and kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ! For the Accuser has been thrown down to earth--the one who accused our brothers and sisters[
a] before our God day and night. 11And they have defeated him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of their testimony. And they were not afraid to die. 12Rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea. For the Devil has come down to you in great anger, and he knows that he has little time.” 13And when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the child. 14But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle. This allowed her to fly to a place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be cared for and protected from the dragon[b] for a time, times, and half a time.
15Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from its mouth. 16But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. 17Then the dragon became angry at the woman, and he declared war against the rest of her children--all who keep God's commandments and confess that they belong to Jesus.

The Beast out of the Sea
18Then he stood[
c] waiting on the shore of the sea.

Revelation 12:10 Greek brothers.
Revelation 12:14 Greek the serpent; also in 12:15. See 12:9. Revelation 12:18 Some manuscripts read Then I stood, and some translations put this entire sentence into 13:1.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Eleven

“In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a “historical Jesus” on liberal and humanitarian lines; we are now putting forward a new “historical Jesus” on Marxian, catastrophic lines. The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical. The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new “historical Jesus” has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another, and by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary life, but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleons, new Shakespeares, and new Swifts in every publisher’s autumn list.”

- C.S.Lewis – “The Wisdom of Screwtape on the “Historical Jesus”

I’m sure that NBC is doing a lot of guessing and speculating by now. It’s been a while since Lewis wrote what about Screwtape and the deception of the “historical Jesus.” One iteration has followed another since then, and now the mainstream media is adding an updated version, some twenty first century “historical construct” who has absolutely nothing in common with the real Jesus.

Part eleven of God’s miniseries, the real thing follows:

Revelation 11 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 11

The Two Witnesses
1Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshipers. 2But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months. 3And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will be clothed in sackcloth and will prophesy during those 1,260 days.”
4These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth. 5If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from the mouths of the prophets and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. 6They have power to shut the skies so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to send every kind of plague upon the earth as often as they wish.
7When they complete their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit will declare war against them. He will conquer them and kill them. 8And their bodies will lie in the main street of Jerusalem,[
a] the city which is called “Sodom” and “Egypt,”the city where their Lord was crucified. 9And for three and a half days, all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will come to stare at their bodies. No one will be allowed to bury them. 10All the people who belong to this world will give presents to each other to celebrate the death of the two prophets who had tormented them.
11But after three and a half days, the spirit of life from God entered them, and they stood up! And terror struck all who were staring at them. 12Then a loud voice shouted from heaven, “Come up here!” And they rose to heaven in a cloud as their enemies watched.
13And in the same hour there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed a tenth of the city. Seven thousand people died in that earthquake. And everyone who did not die was terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
14The second terror is past, but look, now the third terror is coming quickly.

The Seventh Trumpet Brings the Third Terror
15Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: “The whole world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.”
16And the twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped him. 17And they said,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the one who is and who always was, for now you have assumed your great power and have begun to reign.
18 The nations were angry with you, but now the time of your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward your servants. You will reward your prophets and your holy people, all who fear your name, from the least to the greatest. And you will destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth.” 19Then, in heaven, the Temple of God was opened and the Ark of his covenant could be seen inside the Temple. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and roared; there was a great hailstorm, and the world was shaken by a mighty earthquake.

Revelation 11:8 Greek the great city.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Ten

“The on/off button remains the first and simplest defense against screen programming that viewers find offensive, exploitative, or simply a waste of time. Some go farther, preferring not to be on the receiving end of any screen images whatsoever.”

- Sissela Bok – Mayhem”

Three good reasons not to watch NBC’s miniseries, wouldn’t you say?. Part ten of the real thing follows:

Revelation 10 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 10

The Angel and the Small Scroll
1Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. 2And in his hand was a small scroll, which he had unrolled. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. 3And he gave a great shout, like the roar of a lion. And when he shouted, the seven thunders answered.
4When the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. But a voice from heaven called to me: "Keep secret what the seven thunders said. Do not write it down."
5Then the mighty angel standing on the sea and on the land lifted his right hand to heaven. 6And he swore an oath in the name of the one who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and everything in it, the earth and everything in it, and the sea and everything in it. He said, “God will wait no longer. 7But when the seventh angel blows his trumpet, God's mysterious plan will be fulfilled. It will happen just as he announced it to his servants the prophets.”
8Then the voice from heaven called to me again: “Go and take the unrolled scroll from the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9So I approached him and asked him to give me the little scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “At first it will taste like honey, but when you swallow it, it will make your stomach sour!” 10So I took the little scroll from the hands of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but it made my stomach sour. 11Then he said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.”

Friday, April 22, 2005

Paths of Service or Paths of Glory - Choices for the Church

John 2:14-17 (New International Version)

14 “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

Do Not Love the World
15 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

I was listening through some of my old Bob Dylan tracks last Friday and came across this:

“Sometimes I fell so low-down and disgusted
Can’t help but wonder what’s happenin’ to my companions,
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they’re gonna’ have to abandon?

- Bob Dylan – “Slow Train Comin’ (1979)

Then, this past Tuesday I read a great essay titled “Get Little” on Michael Gallaugher’s blog, Christian Conservative. It was a summary of message given by Dr. David Gibbs at a conference Michael attended. Three portions of Michael’s essay follow:

"If you really want God to be big, you have to be small “We all know this, but the world’s values permeate into the even the Church. The world — at least those in the world with claims of religiosity — say “No no no!” They want God to be big and SELF to be big also. In fact, some of them believe that in ORDER for God to be big, we need to be big also.”

“Jesus didn’t say “you need to be talented to be the greatest in the Kingdom.” But the world loves talent. When we find talented entertainers we celebrate them, elevate them, give them riches and honor, follow their private love lives, and seek to be like them. God chose Moses, a man of “faulty lips” (Exodus 6:11) and no talent or stage presence to deliver the greatest of words to Israel, the Ten Commandments. God is not a talent scout. He is looking for little children, and passing over the “wise and learned” to find them (Matthew 11:25).”

“He didn’t say “You need to be famous to be the greatest in the Kingdom.” Jesus said “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). John lived as a poor man, a transient separated from the people, a wild man in the wilderness who ate locusts and honey. The greatest in the Kingdom aren’t the high rollers who appear on the cover of Fortune 500, they are the unnoticed little people who think nothing of themselves.”

Upon listening to Dylan’s lyrical view of Christianity trapped in a world of “earthly principles” and Michael’s straightforward view of the state of things I spent some time thinking through the whole issue of bigness and notoriety and their impact on the Church.

It’s seems to me they’re both right. As I observe things here from my perch in the Kansas Flint Hills that Christians, particularly American Christians, have entered the frantic chase for relevance, recognition, and power within our culture.

There are times nowadays when I survey some of the religious landscape of America when it’s close to impossible for me to tell whether I’m observing Christianity or American Idol. Adulation and superstar status seems to drive too much of the Church’s public face, not servanthood. Power and influence seem to be in. Humility and service are out.

I’ve had this sense for many years now. In that time I’ve hoped that things would get better, that something would shake us up and return us to the Root of our faith. But I have to admit that I haven’t seen much that tells me that we’ve really turned away from this self-destructive path.

I remember, for example, being part of a crusade team that went to Taiwan in 1976. Our mission was to evangelize, and on the surface that seemed to be what was happening. But I got to see things as an insider and what I saw really shook me to the core. On our second night there, after the meeting had concluded, we were on our way back to the hotel. Everyone seemed giddy with the display of power that had just taken place. Souls had been “saved.” Bodies had been healed. As I was reflecting on what I’d just seen a triumphant voice boomed from the back of the bus, “Well, bless God, we are called to preach to THESE people.” The words were greeted with loud cheers and “amens.” But in the midst of all this triumphalism I felt something was wrong. It was the tone of it all that disturbed me. “Who were ‘THESE’ people,” I wondered. It sounded to me like we were describing human beings as objects of our power and profound wisdom, not as people needing love and grace. I’m sure that if I’d said something about what I felt that night I’d have been told how wrong I was. But as much as I tried I couldn’t escape the inner sense that something was amiss with us. We’d been sent to serve, in essence to wash feet, but our mission had somehow evolved into a self-congratulatory power trip.

Two nights later, at dinner, I saw something I could hardly believe. I was sitting at a table with six other believers. At some point during the meal one of my fellow Christians, a woman, asked our waitress for something that she deemed important. The waitress, whose English wasn’t the best, apparently lost what had been said in translation. “Scuse please,” she asked in broken English. It was her way of asking for the woman to repeat herself. This apparently infuriated our “sister.” But she “graciously” moved past her righteous indignation and repeated herself. Somehow the message got across. The waitress left. As soon as she got out of earshot the woman said, dismissively, “Who did she think she was talking to like that. Didn’t she know that I could buy and sell her if I wanted to?” I was stunned at what I was hearing and protested. Then the big surprise came. I was told by all at the table that I just didn’t understand, that this waitress (doesn’t it sound eerily similar to “THESE people”) should have treated people like us with more respect. “But she was only trying to ask a question, trying to understand what you wanted,” I pleaded. But my plea fell on deaf ears. I needed to understand that people like “them” needed to treat people like “us” with the appropriate level of dignity and respect.

And so it went for the next seven days. We’d preach and revel in our power, eat sumptuous meals, and congratulate ourselves after what we’d done. We’d become, in our own eyes, celebrities, symbols of what God can do when He unleashes a Christian American. We were big and the Taiwanese were small and they needed to be grateful to God that we had graciously come to “serve.”

“Kingdom stuff” we called it. We were the hands that were transmitting power. We were God’s mouthpieces, speaking ex-cathedra to “THESE people.”

By all external appearances it was a demonstration of power, but beneath the surface, in the underbelly of our performance, it was nothing more than seething arrogance that masqueraded as power.

That was almost thirty years ago now. But I believe it’s a phenomenon that’s gripping segments of the Church and its para-church organizations (blogs, for example) today as well. Author Michael Horton called it “secularization” and described it this way:

“To become secularized is to become so attached (curved in, bent over) to “this present evil age” that the things of “the age to come” are ignored or pushed off to the side. And yet, this is precisely what is done very week, by liberals and conservatives, sometimes in different ways, but with the same effect: secularization. The subject is us, not God; theology isn’t “practical” – we want “application,” “relevance,” and so forth. When Christians say this, regardless of how warm their piety or affective their zeal, they are saying that the things which belong to this present evil age are the really important matters, and in their secularity they are incapable of understanding the thrust of the New Testament epistles, written as they were to those who, though actively engaged in the common civic, social, and cultural tasks of their unbelieving neighbors, had a profound sense that they were aliens; the confidence in “the things to come” fueled their activity in this world, in this present age.”

We’ve fallen into a trap. In that inimical American way we’ve somehow come to believe that it is our manifest destiny to save the world, to build the Kingdom of God. We’ve forgotten that, as Horton also said:

“Let us trace God’s steps for a moment, as He made it clear to His people that the kingdom belonged to Him, and it was He who would build it by His will and power, for His glory and honor.”

These are words that should shake us to our foundations, but unfortunately they don’t seem to be getting through. The headlong rush to fame and power is underway and far too few want to be left out.

You might think right now that I’m guilty of taking the part for the whole. After all, the Church, by and large, is doing well. We’re growing; we’re being heard. Perhaps you’re right. But there is something that is, or should be, unique about the Church, the Body. We’re supposed to be one; we shouldn’t have to make distinctions between the good and the bad like this. Some things are so obviously out of synch with the character of the Church that the temptation to engage in them should be dismissed out of hand. This grab for notoriety and power simply should not be happening at all.

It all comes down to this. We should be turning away from the path to fame and fortune and finding our way to the narrow path, the path to service, grace, and humility. That, as they say in the corporate world, is the bottom line.

God's Miniseries, Part Nine

“Whenever God gives a vision to a saint, He puts him, as it were, in the shadow of His hand, and the saint’s duty is to be still and listen.”

Oswald Chambers – “Devotions for Morning and Evening”

This, I believe, was John the Revelator’s posture as the vision, God’s miniseries, unfolded before him.

Part nine follows:

Revelation 9 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 9

The Fifth Trumpet Brings the First Terror
1 “Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen to earth from the sky, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2When he opened it, smoke poured out as though from a huge furnace, and the sunlight and air were darkened by the smoke.
3Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions. 4They were told not to hurt the grass or plants or trees but to attack all the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5They were told not to kill them but to torture them for five months with agony like the pain of scorpion stings. 6In those days people will seek death but will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee away!
7The locusts looked like horses armed for battle. They had gold crowns on their heads, and they had human faces. 8Their hair was long like the hair of a woman, and their teeth were like the teeth of a lion. 9They wore armor made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle. 10They had tails that stung like scorpions, with power to torture people. This power was given to them for five months. 11Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon--the Destroyer.
12The first terror is past, but look, two more terrors are coming!”

The Sixth Trumpet Brings the Second Terror
13 “Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice speaking from the four horns of the gold altar that stands in the presence of God. 14And the voice spoke to the sixth angel who held the trumpet: "Release the four angels who are bound at the great Euphrates River." 15And the four angels who had been prepared for this hour and day and month and year were turned loose to kill one-third of all the people on earth. 16They led an army of 200 million mounted troops--I heard an announcement of how many there were.
17And in my vision, I saw the horses and the riders sitting on them. The riders wore armor that was fiery red and sky blue and yellow. The horses' heads were like the heads of lions, and fire and smoke and burning sulfur billowed from their mouths. 18One-third of all the people on earth were killed by these three plagues--by the fire and the smoke and burning sulfur that came from the mouths of the horses. 19Their power was in their mouths, but also in their tails. For their tails had heads like snakes, with the power to injure people. 20But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to turn from their evil deeds. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood--idols that neither see nor hear nor walk! 21And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their immorality or their thefts.”

Thursday, April 21, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Eight

“It is this willful suppression of truth in an assault upon the sacred in the pursuit of the profane. Think with me for a moment on this issue. Of all the possibilities to which we have recourse in entertainment, why are sensuality and violence the two most often used to titillate? Why not healthy laughter? Why not more moral impetus? Why not more normative illustrations of what a home could be and should be? Why not more creative and legitimate entertainment rather than that which is destructive and offensive?”

Ravi Zacharias – “Can Man Live Without God?”

Good questions! But I doubt that the mainstream media has any real interest in answering them.

God’s miniseries, part eight, follows:

Revelation 8 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 8

The Lamb Breaks the Seventh Seal
1 “When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour. 2And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and they were given seven trumpets.
3Then another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great quantity of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God's people, to be offered on the gold altar before the throne. 4The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of the saints, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out. 5Then the angel filled the incense burner with fire from the altar and threw it down upon the earth; and thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and there was a terrible earthquake.”

The First Four Trumpets
6 “Then the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared to blow their mighty blasts.
7The first angel blew his trumpet, and hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down upon the earth, and one-third of the earth was set on fire. One-third of the trees were burned, and all the grass was burned.
8Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and a great mountain of fire was thrown into the sea. And one-third of the water in the sea became blood. 9And one-third of all things living in the sea died. And one-third of all the ships on the sea were destroyed.
10Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a great flaming star fell out of the sky, burning like a torch. It fell upon one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11The name of the star was Bitterness.[
a] It made one-third of the water bitter, and many people died because the water was so bitter.
12Then the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and one-third of the sun was struck, and one-third of the moon, and one-third of the stars, and they became dark. And one-third of the day was dark and one-third of the night also.
13Then I looked up. And I heard a single eagle crying loudly as it flew through the air, “Terror, terror, terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets.”

Revelation 8:11 Greek Wormwood.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Seven

“Well, the last thing I remember before I stripped and kneeled
Was that trainload of fools bogged down in a magnetic field
A gypsy with a broken flag and a flashing ring
Said, “Son, this ain’t a dream no more, it’s the real thing.”

Bob Dylan – “Senor (Tales of Yanqui Power)”

NBC’s bogged down and will be for the next six weeks or so.

Part seven of God’s miniseries follows:

Revelation 7 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 7

Gods People Will Be Preserved
1 “Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds from blowing upon the earth. Not a leaf rustled in the trees, and the sea became as smooth as glass. 2And I saw another angel coming from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted out to those four angels who had been given power to injure land and sea, 3"Wait! Don't hurt the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants."
4And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God. There were 144,000 who were sealed from all the tribes of Israel:
5 from Judah . . . . . . . . . 12,000
from Reuben . . . . . . . . 12,000
from Gad . . . . . . . . . . . 12,000
6 from Asher . . . . . . . . . 12,000
from Naphtali . . . . . . . 12,000
from Manasseh . . . . . . 12,000
7 from Simeon . . . . . . . 12,000
from Levi . . . . . . . . . . . 12,000
from Issachar . . . . . . . . 12,000
8 from Zebulun . . . . . . . 12,000
from Joseph . . . . . . . . . 12,000
from Benjamin . . . . . . 12,000

Praise from the Great Multitude
9After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands. 10And they were shouting with a mighty shout, "Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the Lamb!"
11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell face down before the throne and worshiped God. 12They said,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and forever. Amen!” 13Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where do they come from?"
14And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. 15That is why they are standing in front of the throne of God, serving him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will live among them and shelter them. 16They will never again be hungry or thirsty, and they will be fully protected from the scorching noontime heat. 17For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ordinary Lives, Extraodrinary Encounters

Mark 12:35-40 (King James Version)

35 “And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David?
36For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.
37David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.
38And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,
39And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:
40Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.”

I get together on Tuesdays to have breakfast with a small group of guys from church. This morning’s group was a bit more eclectic than usual. There were the usuals, Mike Blake, Danny Horst, and myself. But this morning we had two additions and one occasional interloper. The interloper was Mike Stubbs, our pastor. He’s not a breakfast person, which is why I call him an interloper. Mike can be found working late into the night. I’ll sometimes see e-mails from him about prayer needs within our church or the Emporia community that have time stamps like 1:32 a.m. or 2:47 a.m. Hence, breakfast is not usually on his agenda, unless, of course, breakfast is a bit later than 6:00 a.m. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see him. The two new folks were Cliff and James. I’ve gotten to know Cliff a bit in the last month or so. He’s been attending our men’s meetings on Wednesday nights. James is a fella’ I’ve seen around church, but have never met formally.

The thing that seemed very special to me this morning was the unity and commonality we can all share because of our Christian faith, or, more appropriately, because of what God has done through Jesus to make this so. In one sense we all have different professions. Mike Blake sells and services cellular phones. Danny farms and tinkers with some family owned oil wells. Cliff owns a small business working on all sorts of doors. James unloads the daily provisions at all the McDonalds in the area from Sixth Avenue near the center of town to Matfield Green, which is about thirty miles south of Emporia on the turnpike. Mike Stubbs is our pastor. And me, I’m retired, a man of leisure.

The two Mikes and Danny are Kansas natives, as are Cliff and James. I’m the transplant in the group, having been born and raised in the inner city of Boston and the housing projects of Cambridge.

But beyond our more mundane professions, there is one profession that binds us together. It’s our individual professions of faith in Jesus Christ. In His line of work, His fraternity or profession, the professional and personal distinctions we all so often make don’t matter at all. Our backgrounds and histories are diverse, our gifts and abilities vary. But this fraternity centers on faith and how it works its way out in our lives.

It wasn’t what you’d call a profound morning, just a bite of breakfast and casual conversation. Mike Blake talked about his contrary lawn mower and Cliff shared a bit about what’s going on in his world, about family and doors. Danny contemplated some planting. James, who is a “special needs” person, spoke with great pride about unloading the provisions at all the McDonalds in the area. And so it went.

It ended with Pastor Mike praying for God to bless us in our daily endeavors. With that prayerful launch we were all on our separate ways, Danny to plant something, Mike Blake to sell, Cliff to fix or hang doors, James to unload a truck, Mike Stubbs to pastor, and me, the man of leisure in this group, to sit in front of my PC or engage in some sort of “honey do” project that’s on Nancy’s long, long list.

Just common, ordinary stuff, isn’t it? And that, I think, is what makes it all so special. I believe that folks doing ordinary, common things are very attracted to Jesus. He has this absolutely wonderful gift of making each one of us believe we are really important, and cared for.

I got back home and spent some time with Nancy fiddling around in our gardens admiring the peas and lettuce that are beginning to sprout. I’m now upstairs giving thought to the wonder of the day, to the wonder of simple things and seemingly ordinary men.

I was going to use the word common to describe the start to our respective days, but the more I think about it the less common it seems. In one sense our morning wasn’t important at all. We didn’t do anything that seems on the surface to be earth shattering. There were no public policy debates. There were no great decisions made. But in a more important sense this was vital stuff, the stuff that makes Christian community vibrant, and real.

As I think more about it all it’s hard for me to understand why the name of Jesus brings such terror in the public arena. I’ve been publishing my little one man protest about NBC’s miniseries “Revelations” for about a week now. What got my attention was the fact that the writers felt that in actually using the words Jesus and Christ together in a sentence they were doing something controversial. I don’t fault them; they’re probably right. We live in a crazy culture in which up is down and right is wrong and left is right.

“What is it about Jesus?” I wonder, “That makes the high and lofty cringe at the mere mention of His name.” It’s really a rhetorical question as far as I’m concerned. I think I understand why Jesus is so dangerous. It’s because He elevates the common and breaks bondages. It’s because He can miraculously balance diversity and unity. And, more than anything else, it’s because He is there and He cares. You see, we didn’t sit down to have breakfast with a senator or a college professor or a public policy guru. For that matter, we didn’t have breakfast with the Queen of England. It was Someone far more important than that; it was Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.

That’s dangerous stuff and the mighty and powerful fear that. I believe they fear the comparison that common folks make between the powerful and the really powerful like Jesus. We had breakfast with Him this morning. He was there with us at the start of an ordinary day. The powerful would only come to us if they need our votes or acclamation. The stuff that Jesus does, when compared with that, is dangerous stuff indeed.

I’ve read a couple of interesting things in the past two days. Yesterday there was this from a piece in the Wall Street Journal by John Fund:

“As welfare expert Marvin Olasky has observed, "the major flaw of the modern welfare state is not that it's extravagant with money, but that it's stingy with the help that only a person can give: love, time, care and hope.”

Olsaky’s absolutely right. I’m a qualified expert myself. I grew up as a recipient of the welfare state; I know how it works. And I can say, as an expert, there’s not an ounce of compassion in the system. Fixing it all would take someone who really cared, someone like Jesus. Based on what I see in the current culture, that’s not going to be happening any time soon. The powerful don’t want Him.

I’m sure there are some who will contest what I’m saying, but it really doesn’t matter. I’ve lived in the belly of the beast. I know what it’s like and I know what I’m talking about.

This morning I read this from Mike Gecan:

“On the most basic level, the contempt of the progressive elite for ordinary people—for their faiths, their speech patterns, their clothes, their hobbies, their hopes, and their aspirations—has driven scores of millions of Americans out of the Democratic Party and into either the Republican Party or a no man’s land between the two.”

And then there was this:

“The Democrats have failed to realize that multiplying programs or policies designed to meet people’s needs is doomed to fail unless and until those people sense a fundamental level of recognition of who they are, not just what they need. The medium may not be the message. But a medium of respect and recognition is what makes the reception of the message possible.”

Gecan’s piece was about the “religion gap” into which the Democratic Party has fallen. He’s right about that. But in the piece he also offers that the Republicans have come in and filled that gap.

While there may be some truth in what he’s saying about the Republicans I think he’s missing a larger point, and it’s this. Most of us who have abandoned “the Party” haven’t done so because we’ve embraced Republican politics. We’ve done so because we’ve embraced Jesus. We walk with Him and we talk with Him along life’s narrow way. He’s with us in our triumphs and our tragedies. He shares those things in common with us. While, in one sense, He’s above us, He’s also with us, in our midst.

The powerful, the earth shakers in our society, can’t compete with that. The politicians can’t devise a plank or a platform that will reduce Him to their size. He’s far too big for all that. He’s far too busy eating breakfast at cafés, plowing fields, driving buses, meeting production quotas alongside some assembly line worker, or weeding a Flint Hills garden. Oh, the politicians and the powerful may stop by occasionally to see what’s going on with us little people. But they’re almost always transactional visits. The aim is invariably a vote to get or some sort of agenda. But, Jesus is different; He’s dangerous. He’s with us because He wants to be. He’s with us all the time. And, while He really is too good for us, He’s also so humble that He comes to us.

Jesus is really dangerous. He’s dangerous because He does the things the powerful would rarely think of doing. He cares, He listens, He walks us through days filled with common, ordinary, events. It’s no wonder they want little or nothing to do with Him. It’s no wonder that even the mention of His name is controversial. It’s no wonder that they’re now losing their grip on power. They just can’t compete.

God's Miniseries, Part Six

“Television is perhaps an even worse offender. Malcolm Muggeridge has commented on this. He points out that people think they see reality when they see those television pictures, but what they do not realize is that they are looking at pure fantasy. They are looking at an edited situation that does not present what is, but what the man at the console wants you to think is. You feel you know everything because you have actually seen the picture with your own eyes, but in every situation you have been given the edited version.”

- Francis A Schaeffer – “The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century"

The saga continues. God’s miniseries, part six, the real thing, follows:

Revelation 6 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 6

The Lamb Breaks the First Six Seals
1 “As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll. Then one of the four living beings called out with a voice that sounded like thunder, "Come!" 2I looked up and saw a white horse. Its rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on his head. He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.
3When the Lamb broke the second seal, I heard the second living being say, "Come!" 4And another horse appeared, a red one. Its rider was given a mighty sword and the authority to remove peace from the earth. And there was war and slaughter everywhere.
5When the Lamb broke the third seal, I heard the third living being say, "Come!" And I looked up and saw a black horse, and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6And a voice from among the four living beings said, "A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley for a day's pay.[
a] And don't waste[b] the olive oil and wine."
7And when the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living being say, "Come!" 8And I looked up and saw a horse whose color was pale green like a corpse. And Death was the name of its rider, who was followed around by the Grave.[
c] They were given authority over one-fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and famine and disease[d] and wild animals.
9And when the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their witness. 10They called loudly to the Lord and said, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge the people who belong to this world for what they have done to us? When will you avenge our blood against these people?" 11Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters[
e]--their fellow servants of Jesus--had been martyred.
12I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood. 13Then the stars of the sky fell to the earth like green figs falling from trees shaken by mighty winds. 14And the sky was rolled up like a scroll and taken away. And all of the mountains and all of the islands disappeared. 15Then the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy people, the people with great power, and every slave and every free person--all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. 17For the great day of their wrath has come, and who will be able to survive?”

Revelation 6:6 Greek A choinix of wheat for a denarius, and 3 choinix of barley for a denarius.
Revelation 6:6 Or hurt.
Revelation 6:8 Greek by Hades.
Revelation 6:8 Greek death. Revelation 6:11 Greek their brothers.

Monday, April 18, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Five

“The airwaves as you leave the shop are jammed with a choice of what can generally be summed up as rubbish, ready to clog your television and radio set with “Christian” programming.”

“In fact, without making the list endless, one could sum it up by saying that the modern Christian world and what is known as evangelicalism in general is marked, in the area of the arts and cultural endeavor, by one outstanding feature, and that is its addiction to mediocrity.”

Franky Schaeffer – “Addicted to Mediocrity”

My one man protest against NBC continues. God’s miniseries, part five, follows:

Revelation 5 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 5

The Lamb Opens the Scroll
1And I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: "Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and unroll it?" 3But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.
4Then I wept because no one could be found who was worthy to open the scroll and read it. 5But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, "Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David's throne,[
a] has conquered. He is worthy to open the scroll and break its seven seals."
6I looked and I saw a Lamb that had been killed but was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[
b] of God that are sent out into every part of the earth. 7He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. 8And as he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense--the prayers of God's people!
9And they sang a new song with these words:
"You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were killed, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 And you have caused them to become God's Kingdom and his priests. And they will reign[
c] on the earth." 11Then I looked again, and I heard the singing of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and the living beings and the elders. 12And they sang in a mighty chorus:
"The Lamb is worthy--the Lamb who was killed. He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing." 13And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They also sang:
"Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever." 14And the four living beings said, "Amen!" And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped God and the Lamb.

Revelation 5:5 Greek the root of David.
Revelation 5:6 See note on 4:5. Revelation 5:10 Some manuscripts read they are reigning.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Four

“We must realize that things can easily be presented on television so that the perception of a thing may be quite different from fact itself.”

“In the midst of all this Christians must not uncritically accept what they read, and especially what they see on television, as objective.”

Francis A. Schaeffer – “A Christian Manifesto”

I doubt that you will see or hear anything at all about worship, which is at the heart of the book of Revelation, in NBC’s “epic.”

Part four of God’s miniseries follows, and as you’ll see, it’s all about worship. This is all quite appropriate for a beautiful Sunday morning:

Revelation 4 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 4

Worship in Heaven
1 “Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me with the sound of a mighty trumpet blast. The voice said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after these things." 2And instantly I was in the Spirit,[
a] and I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it! 3The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones--jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow. 4Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. 5And from the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven lampstands with burning flames. They are the seven spirits[b] of God. 6In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal.
In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. 7The first of these living beings had the form of a lion; the second looked like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth had the form of an eagle with wings spread out as though in flight. 8Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty-- the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come."
9Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne, the one who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one who lives forever and ever. And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

11 “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.”

Revelation 4:2 Or in spirit.
Revelation 4:5 See 1:4 and 3:1, where the same expression is translated the sevenfold Spirit
Author’s note on Revelation 1:4, 3:1, and 4:5 (the sevenfold Spirit)– see also Isaiah 11:2

Saturday, April 16, 2005

God's Miniseries, Part Three

“Any story that conveys this basic world-view seems to fit Stone’s definition of “mystic” truth – even if it fudges on the historical facts.”

“This is a strange, divided notion of truth. But it’s nothing new; it’s the same idea that’s been laying waste our schools and universities.”

“There it goes by the name of “deconstructionism,” and it means there is no objective interpretation to history. History means whatever the individual takes it to mean.”

- Charles Colson commenting on the work of Oliver Stone in “
A Dance With Deception

I’m sure that NBC has some deconstructing in mind for their knockoff of the real thing again next week. It may be Jesus. It may be Christians. It may be Christian theology. It may be history. But whoever or whatever the object is, rest assured that the sub-plot will be deconstruction. It will have great production value; it will be slick. But once you pass all the slickness and “quality,” it will be deconstruction at its best.

God’s miniseries, the real thing, sans the slickness and deconstruction, continues, uncut. Revelation, chapter three follows:

Revelation 3 (New Living Translation)

Revelation 3

The Message to the Church in Sardis
1"Write this letter to the angel of[
a] the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit[b] of God and the seven stars:

"I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive--but you are dead. 2Now wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is at the point of death. Your deeds are far from right in the sight of God. 3Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly and turn to me again. Unless you do, I will come upon you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.

4"Yet even in Sardis there are some who have not soiled their garments with evil deeds. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. 6Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

The Message to the Church in Philadelphia
7"Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the one who is holy and true. He is the one who has the key of David. He opens doors, and no one can shut them; he shuts doors, and no one can open them.

8"I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can shut. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. 9Look! I will force those who belong to Satan--those liars who say they are Jews but are not--to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.

10"Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. 11Look, I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 12All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write my God's name on them, and they will be citizens in the city of my God--the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And they will have my new name inscribed upon them. 13Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

The Message to the Church in Laodicea
14"Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen--the faithful and true witness, the ruler[
c] of God's creation:

15"I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! 16But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17You say, `I am rich. I have everything I want. I don't need a thing!' And you don't realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18I advise you to buy gold from me--gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. And also buy white garments so you will not be shamed by your nakedness. And buy ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19I am the one who corrects and disciplines everyone I love. Be diligent and turn from your indifference.

20"Look! Here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends. 21I will invite everyone who is victorious to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. 22Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches."

Revelation 3:1 Or the messenger for; also in 3:7, 14.
Revelation 3:1 Greek the seven spirits. Revelation 3:14 Or the source.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Corina, Corina

1 Timothy 4:12 (New Living Translation)

12 “Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you teach, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

It hardly seems that it’s been almost a year now since Corina left for home after a year living with us as an exchange student from the Republic of Moldova.

Before I go any further, I’m going to add a couple of hyperlinks to give you some flavor of what life is like in this grand little republic. There’s this one from Geocities. There’s this from InfoTut. And there’s this site that has not only historical and cultural information, but also a photo gallery.

Browse them when you get a chance.

Now back to where I started. About a month or so prior to Corina’s arrival in Emporia, Nancy and I had just returned from a trip to Chicago. One of the first things Nancy did was to get caught up on local news. There was a story in the Emporia Gazette about the need for a family to host an international student. A quick e-mail, a subsequent call to Glen Strickland, the local coordinator for American Councils, a home visit, a bit of red tape, and it was all confirmed.

One of the things that fascinated me most about this young flower of Moldova was that compared to most American teenagers I knew she was fully engaged in the art of becoming an adult. Her biographical sketch was absolutely intriguing. She quoted from Thomas Paine about liberty and her dream of a world without borders. How many American teenagers do you know who think like this? The more I read the more fascinated I became. I’d occasionally look up from my reading and tell Nancy, “This is a really interesting young person. I mean, Thomas Paine…..How many kids do we know who have read him at her age? And look at the language skills, will you…..And she loves to debate. Maybe if she comes I can debate with her about the merits of Paine’s liberalism versus Burke’s conservatism.”

Another remarkable thing about this young woman was her family. The love that sustained them became very evident as I read her story. I could see that they were all, her father and mother Victor and Rita, her brother Radu, her grandmother and grandfather, her other relatives, all a family unit sustained by love.

The more I read the more I saw that Corina and the Family Nour were very special people.

Nancy and I have vivid memories of those wonderful days. I can still see Corina as we met her at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport in August, 2003. She’d endured a long trip across the sea to New York City, then another two or three stuck there when the east coast was hit by a massive power blackout. She’d left the love, nurture, and stability of family in Moldova to come to America, the epicenter of world power and enlightenment, and wouldn’t you know it, the lights went out. The look on her face said it all – confusion, fatigue, loneliness, they were all etched into her beautiful countenance. Nancy saw her first, and ran over to give her a hug. This, for Nancy, was very uncharacteristic. She’s generally much more reserved upon meeting people for the first time, but just felt that Corina needed a hug after such an ordeal.

There was a bout with lost luggage that followed, but then life settled into a fairly normal mode.

For the next year, until June of 2004, Corina was a vital part of our family. It was a very special year, seeing a young woman blossom and grow. We were, and are, especially grateful to her family and the Republic of Moldova for allowing us to have a role in her nurture.

To say that she thrived while she was here is an understatement. Corina Nour took Emporia by storm. She was one of the top rated students in her class. Her language skills were so good that she even tutored other students who were lagging behind. She was a skilled debater who took more than a few medals home with her. Her ACT results were much higher than the national, and Kansas averages, opening the door of possibility for a college education in America. But more than anything else, it was her gentle ways that won hearts and a circle of real friends.

She applied herself with a high level of youthful energy to everything she did. One of the great joys for me was in not having to wonder whether or not her schoolwork was getting done. I never once had to ask her if assignments due were done. She just did it without adult intervention. That, I say, is remarkable.

While she was here we took several trips to see the country. She got to browse the “Miracle Mile” and the great museums of Chicago and tour the Native American pueblos of New Mexico. There was also a trip to Orlando and Epcot Center. I’ll never forget our ride on “Mission Space,” a five minute or so simulated trip into outer space. Simulated, they said. It was so real that part of my stomach is still living in Orlando. I think I did everything but plant a flag on the moon. Corina, whose stomach was in much better shape than mine, probably did that.

We did a few Kansas day trips as well. There was a day at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. There was a day to a Scottish festival in McPherson. And so it went.

The hardest day of that year for Nancy and me was the day Corina went back home. The year had gone so fast; it had been filled with adventures, quiet evenings and meals together, a year with Corina learning more about America and Americans and Nancy and me learning more about Moldova and its people. It was all done in a representative way, with Corina acting as an ambassador for her wonderful family and Moldova and Nancy and me representing America and our family. It was, as I said, one of the most rewarding years of our lives. Letting her go back home was very difficult indeed.

In the months since she left we somehow lost contact. We were trying on our side of the world to contact her, and unbeknownst to us, Corina was also trying to contact us. Apparently something was happening along the airwaves. We’re not sure whether it was a problem with the firewalls or spam blockers, but everything was being lost somewhere out in the internet. Then a couple of days ago we had a breakthrough. Corina got a message through to us. There had been, apparently, some sort of e-mail problem. But the good news is that we did get through and the lines of communication are once again open.

We’re in the process of getting caught up right now. This all seems to be happening at a very interesting time. Nancy and I are in the process of renovating the last upstairs bedroom. We’re both retired now and we have an open life ahead of us. We want it to be full and rich, and the possibility of Corina coming once again to America to study at our university would add the richness of the days ahead. Perhaps this will be another case of serendipity in our lives. This gentle flower of Moldova has graced our lives before. Perhaps, by God’s grace, she will grace it once more.