Saturday, December 31, 2011

Revelation 5: What's on that scroll??

A cardinal rule of biblical interpretation is to study what the Word says, and not waste time guessing about topics on which it is silent. But in Revelation 5, I find myself standing with John really, really wondering, what does the scroll say? John wants to know so badly that he weeps and weeps because no-one is fit to open it - until along comes the Lamb with the seven horns and the "seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth." word about what the scroll actually says. Will Revelation reveal more about the contents of the sealed-up scroll that only the Lamb who died for the sins of all mankind is deemed worthy to open? I suspect that like 2012, its secrets will be revealed at the proper time. Stay tuned.....

I don't get the reference to the seven spirits of God. Seven angels? A prophetic image for the perfection of the Spirit of God, the Comforter sent in the absence of the slain and risen Lamb?

Yesterday I wondered why the elders wear crowns. V. 10 says: "you have made them (the redeemed) to be a kingtdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." I think that means they will exercise kingly authority on Terra Nova, the "new earth", on which God will dwell with his people.
Poured any incense out of a bowl recently? (How's your prayer life?)
Interesting how Jesus is worthy to receive glory and honor and power in chapter four, but in chapter five he is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise. Aside from the possibly relevant use of three (number for God) and seven (number for perfection), it's as if John is learning more and more of God the longer the vision lasts, or perhaps is developing the vocabulary. In any event his descriptive praise is evolving.
Gotta love that heavenly choir - a SurroundSound of thousands of pure, powerful angelic voices singing in "a loud voice". What an understatement! Imagine you are standing on second base at Yankee Stadium while the best 80,000 singers in the world, all annointed with the Spirit, sing the Hallelujah Chorus. That awesome anthem would sound like a kindergarten choir next to "Worthy Is The Lamb".

And I needn't worry about getting in to see it - the Lord has already bought my ticket. It cost him a lot. But he loves me so much, it was worth it, just so my brothers and sisters and I could all be there with him to enjoy it.

And on that happy thought - Hallelujah, and to my brothers and sisters, Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Revelation 4: the door to heaven

At the close of Chapter 3, Jesus is the traveler knocking on the door of my home. Whether he is an itinerant preacher who honors my home with his presence, or simply a weary traveler, I welcome him as one beloved creature greets another. Here the Kingdom is earthy, familiar: kind welcome to the stranger, the receipt of his blessing and thankfulness, a new friendship, the comforts of our bed and our board. Perhaps angels attend unseen.

As Chapter 4 opens, John says “there before me was a door, standing open in heaven.” Through John’s eyes I see the throne in heaven, the epicenter of the Kingdom of God. The One on the throne – “the Holy Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” – appears almost indescribable: “the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.” Both carnelian and jasper are (usually) reddish.  With light shining through them, they appear as beautiful glowing coals (see photo). Given all of the lightning and blazing lamps in the vision, this word-picture of a glowing being seems more fitting than dull, flat stones.

YAHWEH, whose very name is hidden from us, remains mysterious to John, or at least hard to describe. He seems less so to the living creatures, who are literally “all eyes” as they look at Him and declare both His utter holiness and power, and his relationship with time and, perhaps?, his marvelous acts in universal, earthly, and human  history. It is significant to me that the 24 elders “take their cue” to worship from these heralds.  Even in heaven angels serve mankind to the the glory of God. Whenever these people -12 for each of the Tribes of Israel, and 12 for each of the Apostles of the Church? – hear the angelic proclamations of glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, they “fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘you are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’”

To my fallen mind, transfixed in a drug-like stupor of selfishness and unbelief on a couple threads of the eternal 4-D tapestry, heaven can seem boring. All that proclaiming and falling down can look like a charismatic service that is going on far too long and frankly I’m ready for lunch.  And even as I laugh at my blindness, as the Pevensies laughed at the blindness of the Narnian dwarves who wouldn’t, couldn’t see Aslan, I know that to some degree I will always be like this, before my homecoming. Only afterwards will I be forever eager to gaze into “mysteries so bright” and “crown Him with many crowns” as I discover just why water is so important to life, how the brain works, how Jesus understood himself to be the Christ, what exactly is music and why do I like it so much, and on and on and on and on and on, exponentially into eternity, every revelation not only a pleasing “ah-HA!” morsel of understanding, but also another thread in my own growing understanding of the awesome 4-D tapestry.

And speaking of those 24 people wearing crowns – aren’t crowns for kings? Like James and John, I’ve often wondered who will get to wear those crowns in the Kingdom. I suspect it is people who became First by being Last. They so served and loved through the Spirit that in the midst of hate and apathy, their prayer was a fragrant offering and those around them were immersed in healing love. People like Corrie Ten Boom, Mother Teresa, Brother Damian of Molokai, but not necessarily famous in the world’s eyes. I think that crown will be worn by some long-suffering saint in Appalachia or Africa, afflicted in body but clean in spirit, whose door was always open and who gave sacrificially to the needy and who shared his or her joy of eternal life in such a way that the angels rejoiced and the usurping spirits raged in impotent anger. I know people like that, or at least partly like that. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the persecuted.

But for me that door to heaven is not yet open. And so I ask for grace to open the door daily to the Savior, appearing as Himself and in what Michael Card calls his “distressing disguise” – the wandering, needy travelers to my door. I bless them with prayer and purse, bed and board, the fruit of one mouth and two ears. And they bless me. We are all weary travelers, trudging through the dark and the snow, towards a home that glows with a warm, red light.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Revelation 3: Room Temperature Zombies! Hold On!

SARDIS – I can’t fool God. People, yes. Including myself. A little Bible tapdancing, some earnest tra la la’s, some well-publicized donation, and I am a good Sardinista: a reputable zombie! Yet there is still hope for the “mostly dead” (thank you Billy Crystal in the Princess Bride) church and individual: wake up and realize that “completely dead” is just around the corner and to strengthen what remains of faith, knowledge, holiness, and godly hope – from a mustard seed to a mighty tree, something of a specialty with God, for whom all things are possible. In a word, the angel says to Sardis: repent, it may soon be too late.

PHILADELPHIA - To the church in the OTHER Philly, city of Brotherly Love and site of awful persecution, the angel’s message can be boiled down to two words:

“Hold on.”

Sometimes that is all we can do. Hold on to what we know is true, even when others fail us and hurt us. In perseverance there is victory. As Winston Churchill told the young men of Eton: “Young gentlemen, never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never, never.” Coming from the man most responsible for saving Western Civilization, the words ring true. Others may shut doors in our face and call us losers; the door to God’s presence is always open, let us go into the holy place, and overcome. Never give up.

LAODICEA – how disgusting to be comfortable and self-satisfied, to go to church but not get too carried away with what I hear, to choose my own comfort level of holiness, and above all to keep my eye on what really matters – the accumulation of my own wealth and worldly prestige.

I say disgusting because to God’s taste I would be like spoiled food, once tasty but too-long neglected and left at room temperature to slowly, thoroughly rot. Who can blame him for his reaction?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Revelation 2: God's word to four churches

How wonderful of God to speak directly to specific churches, and individuals. I believe the Greek word for it is the Rhema word, when God's Spirit speaks his Word directly to a person or persons. By faith I believe I have given and received these words. They are precious.

Ephesus - very possibly the "chosen lady" of 2 John - the Spirit praises her rejection of adulterous suitors (false teachers, another theme of 2 John) and her perseverance. Yet like many a one-time bride, she has lost the intensity of her first love with the Bridegroom. To this the Spirit says: "repent and do the things you did at first." He doesn't say what. Presumably she knows. Outreach? Generosity? Devoted prayer and worship? Expressions of love once thrilling and spontaneous have grown stale. Perhaps by grace re-engagement will rekindle love. Diane and I rediscovered love when we just sat and talked, undisturbed, every morning in her hospital and rehab rooms during the winter/spring of 2010. Maybe busy Ephesus just needed to give the Bridegroom her priceless gift of time and attention.

Disobedience will cost Ephesus her lampstand, either the church itself or the Shekinah glory of the Lord, the holy fire of God's presence in the temple, which departed in the face of Israel's continual, obstinant iniquity. When the ark was stolen by the Philistines, and high priest Eli and his faithless son Phineas died, the latter's wife named her son Ichabod, which means "The Glory of the Lord has Departed."

God desires more than anything for me to desire Him. He wants me to eat of the tree of Life. But the bridegroom will not abide adultery. "He who has an ear, let him hear."

Smyrna - Afflicted. Poverty-stricken amid godless riches. Slandered by a "synagogue of Satan." Prison waits for some, persecution for everyone. Think of a godly storefront church in the Bronx, where the brothers and sisters do honest menial work for godless greedy people who cheat and hate them and get wealthy trying to enslave their kids with drugs. But the one who died and came to life again calls these embattled believers one word:


Yeah, that's right. That's what he calls them.


Teach me Lord what it means to be rich in Christ. And to repent when your idea of riches offends me.

Pergamum - Faithful in persecution. But wimpy towards false teachers. It's always the attack from within that the church must fear the most, and Pergamum is a great example. Identify the false teachers, and repent of their teachings. The craven, fleshly part of me thinks the Spirit could use a few lessons in Tolerance, and will tactfully ignore Him......

Thyatira - Ditto Pergamum. The Spirit knows her deeds, love, faith, service and perseverance BUT.....

She is WAY too tolerant of "that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess." She misleads into sexual immorality and unclear food/idolatry practices. If I am tempted to just go along to get along, the Spirit has a firm word: "I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will replay each of you according to your deeds."

So on that Great Day, it just won't cut it to say "Lord, everyone ELSE in the church was doing it."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Revelation 1: Seven

Not to sound too much like a tiresome numerologist, but the magic number of Revelation Chapter 1 seems to be “7”. The prologue (vs. 1-3) opens with no less than seven distinct characters involved:

Truth Revealers:

1.      God gives the revelation to
2.      Jesus Christ who sends
3.      His angel to
4.      His servant John to show…..

Truth Receivers:

5.       his servants what must soon take place. Blessed is
6        The one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are
7.      Those who hear it and take to heart.

Our brother Tim Steiner once urged Diane and I to receive the blessing of reading Revelation aloud. And so one Sunday about 15 years ago our adult Sunday school class took turns reading Revelation to each other. It took pretty much the whole hour, but we read it every word, alpha to omega.
What comfort for exiled John and persecuted readers then and now to think of Jesus as the “faithful witness” (5). In a world where the faithful witness rejection, social, financial and physical harm, and even death, Jesus leads the way. I hope my brothers and sisters in the ‘stan countries of today take heart that Jesus has led from the front, enduring all things for the glory of God. For that matter, I hope that faithful witnesses like Bill Ryan of Jericho, laboring today as missionaries to the Moskito Indians of Honduras, take similar encouragement. Today I heard that they are feeling ill and oppressed  as they reach into a new area of Honduras. Lord Jesus, encourage and go before your children Bill and Beth, give them physical and spiritual strength to do their work in victory.
Of the seven characters, the central one of Revelation is Jesus, who is (aptly) described in seven ways in vs. 5-8:
1.      Loves us
2.      Has freed us from our sins by his blood
3.      Has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his Father
4.      Will come on the clouds, where every eye will see him and all peoples will mourn
5.      Is the Alpha and Omega
6.      Who is, and was, and who is to come
7.      The Almighty

Awesome, but even more so is the description of the appearance to John of the Son of Man himself:

 12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
And then the Son of Man delivers a prophetic word for each of the seven lampstands (churches in Asia Minor), which he delivers while holding in his hand seven stars (angels for the specific churches).

The seven churches to be discussed in chapters two and three are:

1.      Ephesus
2.      Smyrna
3.      Pergamum
4.      Thyatira
5.      Sardis
6.      Philadelphia
7.      Laodicea

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jude: contending; strange books; the love affair between truth and love

So who is this Jude fellow? Self-identified as the “brother of James”, he is probably either the apostle Judah or a son of Mary and Joseph and brother of James, the Lord’s brother. 

Jude says he WANTS to talk about the salvation they share – Amazing Grace, isn’t the Lord good? – but he has something even more critical to discuss: false teachers.  He urges all believers “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people”. Down through history, the Christian church has not been lacking for people willing to be contentious. Fortunately many of them have been willing to contend for “the faith that was once for all entrusted” to the best of their understanding in firmness and humility.

Many, perhaps even most of the New Testament warnings of hellfire are aimed at false teachers spreading corruption from within the Body, be it Israel or the church. That would be an interesting study, sometime. As James says, teachers will be held to a higher standard.  These days, how do you get rid of a cancer (good cells turned bad, and growing?). You burn it with radioactive fire.

Jude uses non-canonical religious literature to make a point. That accounts for the (to me) strange references to Enoch and Michael. It’s like me citing “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. I’m not saying Chambers is inspired, but he is blessed, and he has helped many a Christian writer or speaker make a point about scriptural truth. My son Tim likes to quote a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha, about how God calls home some saints to spare them further suffering in this world.  It helps him understand Diane’s death.

Having finished his warning, Jude spends the last six verses talking about his original topic – our great salvation:
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.[f]
 24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

How can I build myself up in my most holy faith? I think of I John 1 – “to knowledge, add…..” that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. There is no a formula, but there is a process, and it most definitely is one of applying revealed truth and staying in close relationship with God, which is why I must pray in the Spirit.

My brain directs my heart. My heart cleanses and revives my brain. They are never disconnected. Likewise divine knowledge and love are constant soulmates, withering away in each other’s absence.

I close with this prayer, which among other things helps me take the “long view” despite some painful moments during this first Christmas Without:

“O Lord, you are my only God, you are the only God. You are my savior. To you be glory, majesty, power and authority, since before time began and in time and when time will be no more. Thank you for the Word of God, in all of its manifestations the light unto my feet that keeps me from stumbling in the darkness. What a klutz I would be without it. And to know that you are able and willing by grace to present me now and forevermore before You, without fault and with great joy – glory and love to you, my God.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

3 John - Church "Sheriffs"

My head hurts just reading about Diotrephes, the Church Sheriff who "loves to be first" and kicks out people who don't agree with him. A few years ago I was standing quietly in the back of the church during a service. My back hurt too much to sit. A Church Sheriff ambled over and informed me that I would have to either sit, or leave, because it was Against the Rules to Stand (for everyone except the Sheriff, apparently). There wasn't room for both of us, podner. So I left. I hung out with another exile, a lady with a too-rambunctious kid. Played with the kid on the front lawn. We had a good time. I guess I learned my lesson. I never went back to that church again.

There is a time and place for church discipline. John himself gives an example of it in 2 John: believers must withhold hospitality (the first century equivalent of missions support) from false teachers. May I never be, in my work, family or church, a tinhorn dictator with delusions of grandeur like Diotrephes.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Who is the Lady of 2 John?

2 John reads like I John in Cliff Notes: love one another, to love God is to obey Him, Jesus has come in the flesh, beware anti-christs who "run ahead" of the word of God and would lead others astray. The letter's brevity is explained: some things are better said in person than in writing, I hope to visit soon.

The most intriguing part of John's second canon letter is his greeting, "to the chosen lady and her children," and his closing salutation, "the children of your chosen sister send their greetings."

Who is this mystery woman?

She is NOT the "whore of Babylon", the adulterous femme fatale of the Book of Revelation. She is a chosen lady, held in high esteem.

The most obvious answer is that "she" is a local church, a local expression of the Bride of Christ. Other thoughts and possibilities:

She is a particular but unnamed woman, a Christian of note, like Dorcas and Priscilla and other faithful servants of the Master mentioned in the Book of Acts.

She is Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know that even as he died in agony, Jesus charged John with Mary's welfare: "son, behold your mother." Strong early tradition associates both Mary and John with the church of Ephesus.

Returning to the first idea - a specific local church - one might ask "which one?" Again my wild hypothetical guess would be Ephesus, and not only because of John's presumed association with that major Roman city.  Ephesus already had a strong goddess cult ("Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" the mob chanted as they nearly killed Paul). It is possible that the Christians, in counterpoint to this well-funded, entrenched, aggressive cult, publicly assumed their legitimate identity of the Bride of Christ. "We do not worship a false goddess; rather we are the bride of the risen, living Bridegroom."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I John 5: real faith for real folks

This is love for God: to keep his commands.

Back in John's day, some self-proclaimed "believers" called gnostics valued hidden knowledge ("I know more about God than YOU do") more than obeying the gospel truth revealed to every shepherd and oxcart mechanic. Their descendents are New Age mystics like my old college roommate from Long Island who said that one day he was skiing and he fell and his face was planted in the snow and he got up and wiped the snow off his face and said, "ah, so this is God."

I remember thinking at the time, "no, this is snow. Lots of it here in Vermont. Knowledge of God, not so much."

And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. 

When I am alive to Jesus and in love with him, what's so hard about wanting to be like him? All else is detail.

 6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the[a] Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9

Puzzling references...... I am thinking that blood refers to Jesus coming to earth in the flesh, i.e. Davidic bloodlines and the messiness of actual childbirth. Water refers, maybe, to the divine selection of baptism? And the Spirit confirming Sonship in the form of a dove at baptism, and many times afterwards? In sum, Jesus met the conditions of Messiah predicted in the prophets and recorded in the gospels: the bloodlines of King David, the acknowledgement of the Baptist, and the witness of the Spirit, both then and in our hearts to this day.

 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14

So simple this verse. Too simple for the gnostics but just right for the rest of us. This week I had a chance encounter with a sister in Christ whose father had died the week previous. This man, let's call him Frank, spent all 82 years of his life in the same Bible-believing church. Came to faith early in life and served his Lord and family well and faithfully, knowing everyone and holding every "service" position in the church over his lifetime. Fixed cars for a living. Served his country in uniform, a fact recognized by an honor guard of friends from the local National Guard. In the last hours of his life, half conscious in a hospice bed, he was surrounded by his children and their children. His wife of more than 50 years, bad hip and all, lay next to him to share their final moments together side by side. 

Such a rich life of love and blessing and community. And best of all, these five words his daughter said to me: "we know he's in heaven."

The knowledge of eternal life is not hidden for some gnostic to discover, it is laid right out there for real folks like me and a no-nonsense Midwestern car mechanic named Frank. We know. They know. Oh Hallelujah.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I John 4: our exclusive Spirit of Love

Pastor Bob Walton of Crossroads Christian Church in East Montpelier preached this morning on Romans 15:4:

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. Imagine reading the “Old Testament” through this prism, finding hope and encouragement during our “light and momentary troubles” by seeing the faithfulness of the LORD to his enduring people. And if ever a word described the Hebrews/Jews, it is “enduring”. I can think of no other people group (from western civilization, anyway) that has kept faith, scriptures, identity and history intact for over three millennia! Blessed by a faithful God with an enduring spirit, the Chosen persevere in their Chosen-ness. May it lead them to grace and redemption.  

Sadly, this same perseverance has led most (but not all) Jews to steadfastly reject Messiah. In some ways one can hardly blame them, as early church Christian love was soon replaced by centuries of religious hatred and exclusion, including stonings, Easter Week beatings, pogroms (the Russian word for “thunder”), and the torture killings of the Inquisition.

I John 4 gives me two words about the Jews and for that matter any other “group” that confess Christ as God’s son, come to earth in the flesh:

First, they are not of the same Spirit as me: Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.

Second: the same Spirit in me (but not them) causes me to love. If I do not love, I may doubt whether the Spirit is in me. In fact “I” may really be one of “them”: Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

So – the next time I find myself in a group of Christians (on Facebook, maybe?) ripping the Jews or the Palestinians or bashing the LGBTs or condemning any generally non-confessing “group”  – I will try to remind myself: the Spirit in me (but not them) hates all sin (including my smug apathy about their rebellion) and loves me, and them, with a love so pure as to humbly wash dirty feet, clean up after people in AIDS dementia, and build cultural bridges across which the beautiful feet of those bearing the Good News may walk.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I John 3: This is who I am

 1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
I love this passage because it reminds who I am. And whose I am. Let the world and the flesh scream and warp, I know who I am: a loved child of God. The Father has adopted me. When I was young I didn't really know what adulthood would "look like", but now I do. In this flesh I do not know what eternal maturity will look like, but then I will. And I know this much: I will see Jesus, and I will be like him, in his love and purity and courage and knowledge and....human awesomeness. What a hope! What a motivator for purity!
  16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
I love this passage because it is the second best John 3:16 in the Bible, and that is plenty good. Where, oh where, would this wretched, selfish, sinsoaked world be without the millions of redeemed souls who have taken this verse to heart and set about freeing the prisoners, healing the sick, and helping the lame to walk? The Patricks, the Moravians willing to sell themselves into slavery, the Amy Carmichaels in the world but not of it?
 19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

I love this passage because it leads me safely past the sucking whirlpool of my deceitful, adulterous heart's praise and condemnation, and into the still waters of "thus saith the Lord". And what he saith is: believe in Jesus, love as he loved, walk in the Spirit he gave me to enjoy until he returns, and I see him, face to face. Maranatha!

P.S. - our brother Tim Steiner wrote this thoughtful reflection on yesterday's posting about prophecy:

I confess the nature of prophecy does still leave me breathless with enthusiasm at times.  The nature of being invited into a time machine by the Uncreated One and being shown the Future from its Past which is, right now, the Present is pretty amazing.

Going on from the shocking beginning revelations of prophecy by the power of God at a believer's conversion, people take several paths.  The worst is the apostasy of simply rejecting it or choosing to ignore the prophetic for the sake of the mundane:  "Where is the promise of his coming?..."  A better way, I hope, is a maturity which maintains its watchfulness while learning to go on about the business of daily life.  Apostasy, of course, also likes to present itself as Maturity, so we must always be careful and look not to fall off either side of the high way...neither misdirected zeal nor shrugging cynicism.

As to the Antichrist, I certainly take the Scriptures literally that a final Man of Sin will come, but time and, hopefully, maturity have also led me to look carefully at "the spirit of antichrist which is already in the world."  I think John's timing and thinking on this refers to that spirit taking form AFTER the revelation of Jesus Christ, but evil has been around since the Fall in Eden, and so in some very real senses, the spirit of antichrist is the spirit of the god of this world.  In that sense, the Battle of Armageddon began when Cain slew Abel, and every heinous act, and war, and battle since then have been collective skirmishes toward the final one.  So, the spirit of antichrist took form and name upon the arrival of the Christ, or upon the completion of his earthly mission, but it took this specific shape out of the spirit of evil and the spirit of the god of this world which were already here.  (Even the Devil did not understand the revelation of Christ before it came: "Which none of the princes of this world [antichrists, fallen angels, and Satan himself] knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.")

Thinking this way, the whole world system stands in a permanent apocalyptic tension against God, against his ways, and against his Church and his People.  This is what I am learning to assess as the initial breathlessness has to be walked out over the course of my life in the Lord.  As such, I have come to see that "many antichrists have gone out into the world (I Jn, 2:18-22 and II Jn 7).  As such, certainly Adolph Hitler was a major antichrist of the modern era as Nero was of the ancient era.  And many others have come and gone throughout history:  Napolean, Mao Tse Tung, Marx ("See this Sword. The Prince of Darkness sold it to me."), Lenin, the Ottomans, Alexander (tho' pre-Christ), etc., etc., etc.  Each of them, by his nature, share prophetic marks and schedules of evil with the final antichrist, even if each falls short of the fullness of the final pattern. 

Smaller leaders, right down to the local political levels and religious levels are also often models of antichrist.  The New Testament is overflowing with warnings about "false apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers...etc." and finally, simply "false brethren."  As Christ is the great Leader, one thinks of antichrists as always leaders, leading astray, but even the followers who allow themselves to be deceived are equal in sin according to II Timothy 3:14, "deceiving and being deceived," so that "antichristians" (the whole of the followers and leaders) are a part of the whole mass under the delusion of the spirit of antichrist too.  And, remember, not all antichristians are directly and openly opposed to Christ, but the true subtlety and worst danger is brought on by those who claim to be of him while redefining/replacing who he is and what it means to follow him and obey him...even while keeping his name:  "many false christs will come..." and even his first name will be usurped:  "If any man comes preaching another Jesus..."

For this cause, I try to quickly define that it is Jesus of Nazareth alone, and the set of instructions committed to his apostles, the Canon, alone that I will follow.  And that any dogma (interpretation) must be speedily compared with the weight of their testimony and accepted or rejected accordingly.  So, time and trials teach me to view the whole of the world system as an Engine fueled by iniquity--the shifting imbalances of inequalities and power struggles of this world--as antichrist, and the purveyors of it at every level as "the spirit of antichrist," and that the duty of the true and spiritual church is to be always the maintaining of an apocalyptic tension with it---"Contra Mundum"--until the Age ends and the final Man of Sin is revealed to shortly after be thrown into the Lake of Fire.

Thank goodness!

Karl Marx wrote:
“The hellish vapours rise and fill the brain, till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed. See this sword? The prince of darkness sold it to me.”
Much stuff in the Cloud about Hitler's occult reich: one:


Friday, December 9, 2011

I John 2: Hitler an anti-christ?

I am no kind of student of prophecy. Like St. Francis of Assisi, I tend my garden as well as I can, occasionally gazing up at the heavens, knowing that the Lord of the Harvest may return today to bless or anyway assess my co-laboring with Him. So it was a surprise to me when our brother Tim Steiner pointed out the other day that the actual term “anti-Christ” appears only in the letters of John. A quick Google search shows this to be true.

John notes that there will be many anti-christs. Well, he was right, huh? History both BC and AD is full of them, including some we students of history (I am one of those) at least half-heartedly celebrate and “give the devil his due” as it were.

A brother has prepared a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at figures considered at one time or another to be anti-Christs. I know more about Hitler than I do about the anti-christ(s), but I see some similarities. Hates the Jews. Despises Christianity and the cross. Great military leader. Evil charisma. Proponent of false religion (weird teutonic Norse stuff that Himmler and SS really took seriously). And then there is the seven year cycle in Daniel (?) in which he will have his way the first half, and get pounded by the nations the second half. If one construes the beginning of his war to be the annexing of Austria in April, 1938, and the end when he died by self-inflicted gunshot (probably to the head?) on April 30, 1945, that’s seven years. At the mid-way point in October/November 1941, the Germans were conquering Russian territory and the Americans were not yet “in the game”. During October, 1941, Hitler met with Palestinian Islamic leaders to plan the eventual extermination of all Jews in Palestine.

American neutrality to Hitler was already disappearing by November, 1941. Then of course everything shifted for good on Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day. America signed up to fight Hitler fulltime and in a big way. Perhaps in a fulfillment of prophecy, English Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it “perhaps not the beginning of the end, but at any rate the end of the beginning.” After that it was pretty much one long slow retreat for Hitler, thank God, and I mean that literally.

I have always been intrigued by any possible numerological connection with the anti-Christ and the time and date of the first wave of the D-Day invasion: shortly after 6 am, on June 6. 6/6/6. Probably nothing.

If these thoughts lack the breathless certainty of many an essay on prophecy, I would say that is probably a good, and anyway honest, thing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I John 1 - from the mouth of babes

So many years ago as a teenager I helped run a "Five Day Club" at North Avenue Alliance Church. I will never forget the lisping, gap-toothed, tow-headed little girl who earned a gold star or a cookie or something by proudly repeating from memory, with a big smile, 1 John 1:9:

"If we confesth our thins, he isth faithful and justh to forgive usth our thins, and to cwenth usth fwum all unwighthusnesth."

Which is how I remember that verse, even today! That girl is probably in her mid-40's by now, maybe a young grandmother, or a mom dealing with a teenager. Whoever you were, and wherever you are, thanks for helping me memorize forever one of the great verses about our Father's faithfulness and forgiveness.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

II Peter 3: Yeah, right!

One dinosaur to another: “You say a rock will come through the clouds and kill us all, and million years later the tiny milk-drinking bipeds will burn our remains for fuel? Yeah, right!”

Scoffer to Noah: “You say a million little drops of water called “rain” will come through the clouds and drown everyone except your family and your petting zoo riding in that big, funny-looking boat? Yeah, right!”

Scoffer to Peter: “You say Jesus will come through the clouds, as suddenly as a thief in the night, and the heavens and the earth will pass away? Yeah, right!”

Peter to scoffers: “Do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise , as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Well.....yeah! Right!

Monday, December 5, 2011

II Peter 2: False teachers

A believer I know is the only Christian in the family. Despite a common Christian heritage, genuine faith is mocked. The mockers were infected with false teaching, and now they are spiritually dead. It is heartbreaking.

It is with sorrowing love of people like this that Peter condemns false teachers in the strongest possible language: unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish....These people are blots and blemishes, springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. Those who once seemed to believe and teach truth but turned to error, Peter likens to unclean animals: "A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

Peter does not tell Christians to send false teachers into the blackest darkness of death. Their judgment is in better hands: "the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment." Above all we sheep of God's flock are told to stay away from the wolves. May they feel the sting of the Good Shepherd's rod and staff, if possible unto repentance.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

II Peter 1: making every effort to add

Many years have passed since Peter wrote his first letter. He is probably old, as evidenced by his belief he will die soon and his insistence to a skeptical audience that with his own two eyes he saw Jesus transfigured. I can hear a creaky voice ringing with conviction: “you young people, you weren’t there but I TELL you I SAW him – I saw Jesus, shining like the sun, standing next to Moses and Elijah! I heard the voice of God say ‘this is my Son, pay attention to him’!

Peter knows the journey starts with belief in the life, death and resurrection of his beloved Master. But the proud, swaggering fisherman turned humble Fisher of Men also knows the real Kingdom harvest lies waiting in the deep, hidden waters of relationship with God.  He tells me to move out from the shallows of mere belief into the deep waters of precious faith (1), grace and peace (2), divine power that has given us everything we need for life (3), his very great and precious promises through which we participate in the divine nature (1:4). And like any good teacher he doesn’t just leave me hanging with lofty abstracts (I really hate when that happens!), but tells me in seven steps how to participate in the divine nature by making every effort to add to my faith:

1.       “Goodness. I must seek daily life opportunities to be both useful – a good tool in the Carpenter’s toolbox – and morally upright. As my newly-minted Eagle Scout nephew Matias Page would say, “Be Prepared” to “Do A Good Turn Daily.” This will become easier as I acquire –

2.       Knowledge. If I listen to the Spirit, learn humbly from others, and above all inhale God’s Word, priceless wisdom will be mine. The more I see, the less I stumble, the less I am prey for that roaring lion, who really hates it when I use biblical knowledge about my identity in Christ and spiritual warfare to practice spirit-led….

3.       Self-control. As the Word cuts deep and exposes spiritual infection, I identify and repent of my ungodly appetites for (among other things) food, sex, prosperity, harmful speech and man’s acclaim. God has provided so many complementary, effective tools – my conscience, the indwelling divine nature, the overcoming word of my testimony, iron-sharpening accountability to brothers (and sisters), the written precious promises – that if progress is too slow I can only conclude that the workman (me) is not “making every effort” to use them. But I recognize it is a lifelong task, so I will need…..

4.        Perseverance. If, as our SEAL-trained friend and brother Larry Staab says, “pain is weakness leaving the body,” then perhaps the real-time discomfort of saying no to temptation and participating in the divine nature is the power of sin leaving the spirit. But beware because any success will make me want to take religious victory laps, and that’s when I REALLY need to cling like a shipwrecked swabbie to the life ring of truth that “from him and through him and to him are all things” – which is an expression of……

5.       Godliness. Peter at the Last Supper, boasting he would never abandon Jesus? Religious victory lap. Jesus, abandoned in the Garden, submitting to God’s painful will? Godliness. All of the above elements of Christian growth thrive best in the soil of ......

6.       Brotherly kindness. Religious superstars don’t want to share the spotlight, but the kind brother and sister – and I have known so many – come along side me in my weakness and sadness and loneliness and do a pretty fair imitation of the High Priest who understands and sorrows with us all. Some of them read this blog – bless you all for bathing me in…..

7.       Love. It is the compass that always points me back to the cross.

Sometimes this growth process is corporate. For example, this morning at JCC, we affirmed historic faith by saying the Apostle’s Creed and receiving the Lord’s Supper. We made every effort to add to our faith through repentance, worship, and hearing and applying God’s Word. We practiced goodness and brotherly kindness by giving financial and musical gifts (Chuck Griffin and his dulcimer!), and giving  attention to people who were needy in that way.

For me this past year, and for all saints for all time, Peter says of the teachings of God: “you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Peter 5: Humble yourselves under God's mighty hand

"All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

I have been thinking about why I love the music of Fernando Ortega so much. It isn't that he sings almost as well as Andreas Bocelli (although he does). Or that his melodies and chords are as moving and original as James Taylor's (although they are). I love his songs because the man is humble. I've heard him being interviewed on Christian radio. There's no faking it. In person and in song he sounds like a man who understands with his heart that "from Him and through Him and to Him are all things" and that to selfishly yearn for human glory and praise is in the fallen spirit of the archangel who said "I will exalt myself over the Most High".

I doubt Brother Fernando was just born that way. I'm sure he has been humbled under God's mighty hands many times. The firm hand on the shoulder of a father saying, "hold on there, son." Myself, I'm trying to learn how to hear the voice and not squirm away from that hand, which is usually trying to keep me from pursuing my urgent agenda of running off a cliff.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I Peter 4: Battle Scars

This chapter probably makes more sense to saints who have suffered persecution than it does to me. Peter is kind of like the grizzled Marine Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway (played by Clint Eastwood) of the fabulous movie "Heartbreak Ridge", giving his untested Marines on-the-battlefield training about how to fight the enemy and stay alive.

"Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin."

This makes no sense - getting slapped around by some nasty pagans means I will sin no more? I doubt it. Here is what I DO see - the active, imperative verb - "arm yourselves." Sgt. Peter is telling the new fish, "you're in the war, ladies. Your enemy is strong. He wants to kill you! Listen to me and you'll stay alive to fight the good fight. First lesson - either in training or in combat, you're going to hurt sooner or later. You're in the war now!"

Amy Carmichael, the early 20th century missionary to India who saved hundreds of orphan girls from child prostitution, wrote this once-famous poem, "Hast Thou No Scar?":

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierc├Ęd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

I think Peter means that someone given grace to suffer for Christ as a victim of sinful behavior is blessed with increased revulsion for all sin. What once seemed empowering and gratifying now seems treasonous and self-hating. Having seen the elephant of rebellious persecution up close, the soldier's hatred for its fomenter and loyalty to the Lord of Hosts are intensified.   

What former partier turned saint can't relate to Peter's description of rejection by former "friends": "they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you."

But God replaces frenemies with a loving band of brothers skilled and committed to keeping each other alive. "Above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins. Be each one has received a gift, minister to one another....if anyone speaks, let his speak the oracles of God....that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever."

I can hear the Sarge saying, "Hear that, jarheads? Remember your training, watch your buddy's back, and pretty soon we'll be marching down the golden streets on V-S Day singin' the Hallelujah Chorus!"

"What's V-S stand for, Sarge?" a new fish sings out. 

"Victory Over Sin!" he calls out. "Now follow me - forward together!"