Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Exodus 33-34 - Sinai, two priests

Today I start reading the Bible through for 2012, as requested by Pastor Andersen in response to David Platt's book Radical. Also, Colette is doing a similar reading program and it will give us something else to talk about! I'm cheating a little, picking it up in Exodus 32 - Moses coming down from Sinai, the golden calf, etc. I love Genesis so will probably go back and "pick it up"sometime. Even more than last year I will not be writing for anyone else. I don't know if anyone else will even see this blog. It is between God and I but if someone wants to read it, that's okay, too. We are all one body. Two particular themes I will be paying attention to: the roles, giftings, and temptations of the prophet (speaking God's truth to man), the priest (representing man before God), and the king (ruling man on God's behalf), with an eye to applying it in the context of my life in 21st century Vermont and America; and, God's wisdom about marriage. But I hope I will not let my mini-focus on these compelling themes distract me from the adoration of the Lover of My Soul. May they never be religious idols, but rather angelic messengers giving glory to God.

There is this repeating duality in God's dealing with humanity, the good brother and the bad brother. Cain and Abel. Isaac and Ishmael. Jacob and Esau. Joseph and, well, all the others.

And, Aaron and Moses. Say what you want about Moses and his temper, always hitting God's creation (Egyptians, water-bearing rocks, tablets of the law), he's on God's side. He is God's friend, even when his family, friends and very brother isn't. And he is honest, even when his brother isn't. And he takes responsibility for sin, even when his brother doesn't. And he knows, unlike Aaron, that one thing "will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth" - the presence of God. And so he is able to lead by example and encourage the levites, "you have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers." This day every Levite was Abraham, actually killing their Isaacs and Lots. "Any man who will not hate his brother or sister or mother or father for the sake of the Kingdom".....and Jesus showed us what Kingdom "hatred" is, not a wielding of the sword but a cleaving unto God. Only such a man may lead others in holiness and talk with God face to face.

Lord, may the worldly combination of fear and filial love never lead me to my first love, nor indeed any other covenental love.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Revelation 22: All things end

All things end.

Good marriages end. When one saint dies another is left in grief and loss. And if that person remarries, that marriage too will end one day, and the cycle of grief and loss will resume. It's called the curse of death and it's been that way since the first garden.

Childhood ends. This year my middle child turned 18 and went off to college. This summer my youngest got her license and a "new" car. I filled her gas tank and stood near the gas pumps at the store down the road from my house, returning her wave and seeing her smile in the rear view mirror as she pulled away and headed off to Wolcott and her young man.

This blog ends. Today. In a year of unprecedented loss it has been my constant companion, patient listener to my stories, processor of my grief, and best of all, the place where Jesus has met me on an almost daily basis. His example, his teaching, his comforting Spirit - narrow is the road of godly grief and trial and he has been here with me, pulling me to my feet with a smile and walking ahead on the path. Bless him for his faithfulness.

Human history and the heavens and the earth as we know it will end, as foretold in Revelation 21. Every verse of the Bible since Genesis 1:1 has recounted, discussed or foretold the history of beautiful, agonized Earth and her people. Until Revelation 22, where God reveals a new earth, and a new heaven. The curse of death is gone. Creation - all things - has come full cycle, back to the tree of life, the crystal river, and the sinless bride and bridgegroom.

All things end. Marriages, childhood, blogs, heaven and earth. Knowing this, what will I do? I will rest in Jesus Christ, who alone is not a "thing", who has always been and always will be. To follow in obedience, trust and love - is that not the high and precious calling of the godly bride? He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. From before creation, during creation, in God's promise of a seed of Eve who would crush the dragon, at Bethlehem, Galilee, Golgatha, and the Garden, in the Spirit-filled church, in visions to the suffering faithful, in Diane's new reality after 5:30 pm Feb. 4, 2011, at the last trump, and with his bride in the New Garden - Jesus is. Jesus is. I serve a risen savior, he's in the world today. Christ before me, Christ ahead of me. Even so, come Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Revelation 21: Terranova

In the early months of 2010 as Diane lay in another of a series of comas, I sat at home on a cold winter night and - I forget how or why now - a line of song came into my head, "the great reunion". Pastor Craig Bensen several years ago preached a sermon on how heaven will be like a great family reunion and celebration.

So I flipped open to the book of the Bible that I thought talked most about this occurence - Revelation - and found Revelation 21. During the next hour, I sat down at a computer and wrote the first draft of "The Great Reunion", probably the only song that I have ever written that I would call a good song, and more importantly, it is a tribute to the Bridegroom and to the Bride, specifically my bride and the brothers and sisters of the Jericho Congregational Church who have been such family to me and mine. I've always thought it funny and fitting that after writing our brother Bob Terranova into the song - he's the other amputee dancing with Diane, and a tireless giver of time and godly encouragement to the physically challenged - I realized that his last name means "new earth".

As for the individual references in the song - David Baizley is a godly young man with some learning challenges who absolutely loves to sing for the Lord and does it very well. He is going to love heaven and heaven is going to love him. The couple reunited with their son are Rich and Karen Parker, who lost their only son John to leukemia about five years ago. They were the wonderful leaders of our grief support group, and I hope I am there to see their reunion, depicted in the song as similar to Jesus bonding his disciple John with his own mother. As for the footrace imagery, as I wrote it I thought of Nate Brown, a high school athlete from Westford, and the happy look on his face as he finished the Burlington City Marathon several years ago. At last we cross and stop and rest, thus ends our marathon. 

Mankind has been seeking a New Earth, a utopia where 'neath their vine and fig tree they can live in peace and unafraid, since Adam and Eve left the garden with just their animal skins. There's a popular TV show called "Terra Nova" in which travelers from a dystopian future journey back in time to start over again and do it right.

It's never worked, and it never will work until God himself, having done away with the edenic spoilers like the spirit of Babylon, the false Christs, and the devil himself, gathers unto Himself those whose hearts cleave only unto Him. Our hearts find no rest, O God, until they find their rest in thee. And then, and only then, will come......

The Great Reunion

I saw a new earth and new heaven
The old had passed away
I saw the holy city
Dressed for her wedding day
Then I heard a loud voice saying
Now God has come to men
They will be his people
And he will be with them, the great reunion

Our old lives were a footrace
Powered by the spirit’s breath
With our eyes fixed on the finish line
Christ purchased with his death
A mighty cloud of witnesses
is cheering us along
At last we cross and stop and rest
Thus ends our marathon, at the Great Reunion

Now the music’s getting started
King David plays the lyre
David Baizley sings along
Filled with the spirit’s fire
A crowd of people clapping
And cheering at the site
Joni Earickson is dancing
On heaven’s holy light, at the great reunion

Now a word about the music
It’s all about the Lord
No posing prima donnas
Not dissonating chords
Just grateful voices lifting
Their song of victory
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me, at the great reunion

As I walked along the streets of gold
Looking far and near
I saw two people dancing
To the music of the spheres
Their lives on earth were painful
But faithful they did stand
Their morning turned to dancing
It’s Bob and my Diane
At the Great Reunion

I saw the Lord embrace a family
His words recalled the time
As he suffered on Golgotha
His loved ones standing by
He said unto the woman,
mother here’s your son
And he said to his beloved friend,
John behold your mom
At the great reunion


There are people here I didn’t know had Jesus in their heart
And tears are shed for those who chose to stay always apart
But past the cross of Jesus, death disappears from view
By God’s good grace by faith I’m saved
I’m asking friend, are you

The cross of cross is God’s one path
from darkness into light
Just trust the Lord and tell him you’ve
not done it all just right
And put your faith in Jesus
and his death on the cross
Receive his love gift for you,
embrace his willing loss
And join the great reunion
I’ll see you there
At the great reunion

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Revelation 20: Honey, I think we just passed the End Times

To the Christian, history matters. Our joy and sorrow began unknown thousands of years ago in a now-hidden garden called Eden, where the loveliest creature performed the deed most foul. And ever since it has walked to and fro the earth, accusing, tempting, corrupting, destroying. But now – in this chapter – the book of time slams shut, sealing Satan within its pages like a loathsome butterfly.

Like a mad dog the devil is bound with a chain and thrown under seal, lock and key into the Abyss. For a thousand years godly men rule as judges over the earth, just as it was in the days of Adam, and as God directed Moses through his father-in-law Jethro. Those who died for King Jesus live and reign with Him on earth.  Whoa – that’s Lord Jim Elliot over there in South America, and with him is the well-named Nate Saint! Dietrich Bonhoeffer is busy making Deutschland uber alles evil, and says to whoever will listen, "now THAT's a thousand year reign!" Over every tongue, tribe and people, Jesus and his 144,000 rule the earth.

….And then……for a moment, the book of time reopens and Satan wriggles back into human history. “Spanning the globe to, one last time seeking the thrill of victory but knowing the agony of defeat... this is Satan’s Wide World of Rebellion.” By comparison, The devil’s final demise makes the falling Wide World of Sports ski jumper look like Elijah ascending into heaven. His army circles the Holy City, it’s looking bad for the hometeam, but then that old bugaboo of satanic armies – fire falling from the sky – consumes them. And the last, benighted thought of many a warped weekend warrior is, “gosh, I wonder where THAT came from?! He told us we would win.” And then finally – finally – yea I say to you verily FINALLY – “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Just and true are your ways, Lord, yay God.

And then –

Earth and sky flee from the presence of God on the throne. Creation has no place for them. From the four corners of earth and sea come the dead, great and small. A bunch of books, including the Book of Life, are opened. A celebrity’s Rolex and 22 movie credits will do him no good here, for it says – twice – “each person was judged according to what he has done.” Taken in context with the rest of Revelation and scripture, this would seem to mean how well believers who were “created for good works in Christ” actually did so. Adam and Eve forfeited the Tree of Life; Jesus hung on a tree of curses to buy it back; and those who are His creations of faith leading to good works are regrafted into that wondrous vine and their names are written in the Book of Life.

And as for the weeds and other counterfeit plant life – “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

For sin, death, and the devil, the story is over. The book of time slams shut, this time forever. The End Times are history. But for my brothers and sisters and I – the real story is just beginning.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Revelation 19 - the bridegroom deals with the wedding crashers

"Someone once said that if you sat a million monkeys at a million typewriters for a million years, one of them would eventually type out all of Hamlet by chance. But when we find the text of Hamlet, we don't wonder whether it came from chance and monkeys. Why then does the atheist use that incredibly improbable explanation for the universe? Clearly, because it is his only chance of remaining an atheist. At this point we need a psychological explanation of the atheist rather than a logical explanation of the universe."

- Peter Kreeft, quote on http://www.proofthatgodexists.org/favourite-quotes.php

No one ever said greed, pride and injustice have to make sense. My son Joe is always asking how racial taboos make sense. I tell him, "they don't, Joe. Sin can be incredibly stupid. It doesn't have to make sense to justify itself."

I mean, how stupid is it to get drunk and ride a seven-headed beast? But as Hosea and Billy the Kid said, "You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind." (John Fusco of Morrisville, who wrote the screenplay for the Sheen-Estevez-Sutherland movie, said William Bonney really said those words.)

Anyway. It's all over for Babylon. Finally. The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever. Amen, Hallelujah! Now with the proud old sorceress stewing out of the picture forever, what's next? It's a familiar, universally true story line: having vanquished the forces of evil, the hero gets the girl: "for the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb."

But before the actual wedding, it's time to get rid of the would-be wedding crashers. Faithful and true, judging with justice, eyes afire and crowned with many crowns, names of mystery known only to Himself (except "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS) written on his body and clothing, dressed in a robe dipped in blood - Jesus, as He always has and always will, LEADS THE WAY in the battle against the forces of darkness. No intermediaries here, no warmups, this is the main event. It's Jesus and his army vs. the Beast and the False Prophet and theirs'. The armies of heaven riding white horses and dressed in clean linen (their righteous acts) follow close behind. From his mouth comes a sharp sword, he strikes down nations. In his hand is an iron sceptor, with which he will rule. And he (and presumably his army) just tromp on the opposition. The two fiends are thrown alive into a lake of sulfur, and everyone else dies by the rider's sword. Birds feast on the dead.

Oh, have I forgotten the big Kahuna himself, Satan? Jesus hasn't......more on that in Chapter 20. The eagles are coming, the eagles are coming. Long live the Return of the King.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Revelation 18 - who is Babylon?

Sometimes someone else just says it better. I thought I would use this post to delve into just who or what is Babylon, that dark, dense, demonopolis that seems forever drunk on pride, greed and injustice until finally destroyed, as described in Revelation 18. This essay by Paul Kroll of Grace Communion Ministries (never heard of either) provides a concise, thoughtful overview. The only thing I would add: if as he says Babylon is everywhere, then it certainly was in places like Charlestown, South Carolina, whose merchants made fortunes buying and selling people. And God used a Christian pastor, who was the son of a Christian pastor, MLK Jr., to drive a stake of compassion into that particular heart of darkness. 

Who Is "Babylon"?

harlotWho is the "great harlot" and Babylon the Great? The "great prostitute," as the Greek is sometimes translated, is discussed in several chapters of Revelation under the figure of Babylon (17:1-19:3).
To understand how to interpret the identity of the "great harlot" and Babylon, we need to read the entire passage. The account begins in the first four verses of Revelation 17 by introducing us to this "great prostitute." She is pictured as having committed adultery with the rulers of all nations. The people throughout the world have become awe-struck by her power.

This fallen woman sits on a scarlet or red beast with seven heads and ten horns. She is adorned with extravagant jewelry and holds a golden cup in her hand, the contents of which depict her political and social adultery. This brings us to the end of verse 4. At this point in the text, we do not know who this "great harlot" is. But we already know that the Bible uses the symbol of prostitution and harlotry to depict idolatry and worldliness. That is, sexual perversion is symbolic of anything spiritually evil and against God.

When we read verse 5, we are given a kind of identity of the "great harlot." It is: "Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abomination of the earth." So the "great harlot" is Babylon the Great. From verse 5, the harlot is described under the symbol of Babylon, and this continues into the beginning of chapter 19.

Babylon – symbolic name for Rome

This Babylon the Great could be seen in John’s time as Rome or the Roman Empire, as a type. (The Christians who first read Revelation almost certainly understood it in that way.)

Most commentators believe that Revelation uses "Babylon" as a code word that can refer to the Rome of John's day. "Like Babylon of old," says Robert H. Mounce, Rome "had gained a worldwide reputation for luxury, corruption, and power" (The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 310). Mounce then quotes Tacitus, who describes Rome as the place "where all the horrible and shameful things in the world congregate and find a home" (Tacitus, Annals. xv.44).

The Jewish apocalyptic writings of the time also use Babylon as a symbolic name for Rome. The Sibylline Oracles say that a star "will burn the deep sea and Babylon itself and the land of Italy, because of which many holy faithful Hebrews and a true people perished" (5.159-161). It calls Babylon the "city of the Latin land, unclean in all things" (5.168).

There is a good reason why the connection was made between the Babylonian and Roman Empires. Says Norman Perrin, "Rome is called Babylon because her forces, like those of Babylon at an earlier time, destroyed the temple and Jerusalem" (Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom, p. 58). The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in the 580s B.C. and sent its people into captivity (2 Kings 25; Jeremiah 52). The Roman Empire did essentially the same thing in A.D. 66-70. Thus, Rome was Babylon all over again.

More than Rome

Babylon the Great, however, stands for a world system more universal than that of the old Roman Empire. In the words of biblical scholar Robert W. Wall, she is: "The ‘global village’ of godless power, which determines daily life for every person at any time in human history" (Revelation, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 202).

"The great city is every city and no city," said Leon Morris of this Babylon the Great. "It is civilized man, mankind organized apart from God. It has its embodiment in every age" (Revelation, revised edition, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 203).

What does Babylon the Great represent? It is a symbol that stands for all the ungodly religious-political-social-economic systems that humans have created. As John might put it in his letters, Babylon is simply "the world" (1 John 2:15). The world system depicted under this symbol would be that one that does not reflect God’s nature of love, and which in turn enslaves mankind.

Babylon the Great may have represented the mother goddess of the ancient Near East, Athena, or the goddess Roma, or the power structure of Assyria – to mention three ancient examples. She may be state-sponsored religion or ideology in the service of worship of the state at any time in human history. If we extend the metaphor to its limits, Babylon can also be found wherever men and women use religion, ideology or political-economic power to further their ungodly aims in opposition to the things of God. But these are all just types or precursors.

In Old Testament Scripture the ancient city of Babylon stood for the power structure of evil that opposed God. That image is carried over into the book of Revelation. One commentator summarizes the book as "A Tale of Two Cities." It is Babylon the Great versus the New Jerusalem. Just as the New Jerusalem personifies the perfection and eternal state of the kingdom of God, Babylon the Great personifies the kingdom of humanity, which is to be destroyed.

Revelation’s image of Babylon the Great is a timeless one. While it can be seen in every civilization – no human empire to date has been the Babylon. Its final emergence must be reserved for the close of history. The picture of Babylon the Great’s destruction is seen to occur at the close of history, when God judges the world in Jesus Christ the returning Word of God on the white horse (19:11-13). See Revelation 18-19 for the full story of the "end of the world" and the return of Jesus Christ.

When we see these great universal themes that attach themselves to the symbol of Babylon the Great, it is clearly unscriptural to equate Babylon with any Christian church, including the Catholic Church. The "Catholic" church did not become an organized body with political power until the early 300s A.D. long after Revelation was written. If Babylon was a reference to the Catholic Church, then the book of Revelation would not have been understood by its first readers.

The message of Revelation was sent to real Christians living around A.D. 100, and they must surely have understood its contents. We also know from the apocalyptic literature of the period that people knew the meaning of the symbols used in the book of Revelation. This would have included the metaphor Babylon the Great, which would have been understood as the Roman Empire.

We could probably apply this metaphor by extension to, for example, the corrupt corporate church of the Middle Ages. It did have some characteristics that are described under the "Babylon the Great" symbol. But there is no biblical evidence to back up the 19th century Protestant claim that vilified the Catholic Church as the harlot of Revelation, chapter 17.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Revelation 17: the adulterous woman and the beast

A women wearing beautiful jewels and drinking from a golden cup rides a seven headed beast. Sounds – strange. Different. Exciting. Sounds….well, like adultery.

The woman rides the beast, so drunk on the blood of the saints that she believes she is “in control”, is leading the beast, and can climb off whenever she wants. The beast leaves her to her fantasy because it knows that at the appointed time it will seduce, dominate, and destroy her.

It’s selfish, short-term, Midnight Rendez-vous thinking. And of course it is a counterfeit for the real thing, the eternal love affair between the bridegroom and the bride, in which both give up their rights, their comforts, their very lives for love of each other.  

Who “is” this woman, allegorically speaking? An angel explains she sits on “the seven hills”, an obvious reference to Rome, as are her scarlet and purple clothes. Like Herodias this Jezebel adultress responds to prophetic warning by killing the prophet.

Some think she represents church leaders who whored after the Spirit of the World and persecuted God’s saints.  This view is, or at least used to be, popular among some anti-Catholic Protestants. If true then in fairness it must be said that whenever church leaders of any creed have loved power more than Truth or people, they have drunk of the maddening adulteries from this woman’s cup. And that while some titular Bishops of Rome were acting more like Roman Emperors, their co-religionists were healing the sick, teaching the unlettered, feeding the hungry and preserving the Gospels in countless monasteries and mission outposts scattered across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the mid-East. Lovers of the “Redwall” series by Brian Jacques can understand their importance.

Let me be blunt – as an inheritor of the Reformation, I consider the Roman Catholic Church my “mother” with whom many of my brothers and sisters still reside. I do not always agree with her.Yet  I honor the sacrifices she made before I was even born. And even if she has sometimes been controlling in her zeal and I have been a self-righteous adolescent, I would like to think that our relationship has matured into one of respect and love despite our agreement to disagree on some matters of truth that we both find important. Insofar as she is of the Bride, we are family.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Revelation 16: his judgements really ARE true and just

Yesterday I noted that one day compassion for my neighbors will be superseded by praise for God's justice. And indeed as the seven bowls of judgement are poured out, even I can see that God's judgements really are true and just.

Plague 1 - those who took the Mark of the Beast get painful sores on their body. Self-imposed, rebellious affliction of the body/spirit in the pursuit of short-term gratification leads to, well, more affliction. Isn't that what we tell our kids about drinking and drugs? As my daughter would say, "no duh."

Plagues 2 & 3: waters turn to blood. The angels explains succinctly and fairly: "for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve." You want blood? Here - there's plenty and to spare.

Plague 4: Sunburn. Bigtime. Yes, and for how many millenia have sun, etc. worshippers (Ba al, Molech, etc. etc.) been burning innocent people, including children, in their ritual fires? And to this day support the saline abortion "burning" of children in the womb? For years scientists have been predicting a killer solar flare. Beware exchanging the worship of the creator for the worship of created things, which without his restraining hand eventually will mindlessly lash out and destroy. Francis of Assissi, one of those real saints I mentioned a day or two ago, referred to Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Indeed they are fellow creations - not our Creators, as pagans and secular scientists so happily assume, because it solves their "problem" of a non-Darwinian, sentient, moral Creator and Judge.

Plague 5: Darkness. Oops. Something happened to that sun we used to worship. The old days of moderation of light, darkness, warmth and cold are over - it's all or nothing now. Call on Ba-al now, he can't hear you - perhaps he is traveling, or in the bathroom?

Plague 6: Dried up rivers and Community Organizing Demons. What did Jeremiah say metaphorically, Israel has done an awful thing, exchanging the rivers of life for dried up cisterns that hold no water? Well, here is humanity, all gathered and organized at Armegeddon. There may be no water, but they have plenty of false gods and teachings and hopes to suck on. (By the way many of those same scientists have also been predicting catastrophic human upheaval and population decimation due to global water shortages.)

Plague 7: With all of the peoples of the earth so conveniently gathered by their "demon organizers" (a term once actually used in the mid-1980's by the Chair of the Vermont Democratic Party to describe the party faithful), a killer earthquake of unprecedented size destroys their city and gathering place, Babylon. Presumably many die. 1/20th-ton hailstones rain down on men. They curse "what the hail!?" in their rage, but they do not repent.

I should not joke. God takes no pleasure in the death of the godless. Yet He executes - good term, that - justice all the same. And the altar responds: "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgements."

But until that great and terrible day of wrath - Lord use me to spread your truth and by any and all means to save some.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Revelation 15: Just & True are Your Ways

Seven shining angels are about to unleash seven deadly plagues. It's Exodus, the Sequel, and this time the whole unbelieving world is Egypt. You will recognize the story: despite affliction after affliction the unrighteous curse God and do not (perhaps because they cannot) repent. And once more the faithful stand by the sea and sing a song of victory.

It seems the time for mankind's redemption is past. As that time has not yet come, to my ears and heart the song of Moses and the Lamb at first hearing seems grotesque. "Great and marvelous are your deeds"? Plague and torment upon my neighbors? The divine rejoinder is heard in the next line:

"Just and true are your ways, King of the ages."

As a Christian, what is my goal? As David Platt notes in his book "Radical", in the final analysis it is not the benevolent welfare of all mankind. It is justice, and truth, and the glory of God. Even the most passionate public defender lawyer knows at some point he must fall silent and accept the verdict of Justice. Refusal to do so will make him a mocking outlaw as well. Mercy provides relief, Truth proclaims it to every tongue and tribe, but those who refuse will know true, terrible, everlasting justice.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Revelation 14 – those who follow the Lamb

A select choir, these 144,000 redeemed souls with the Father’s name – the Father’s name! – written on their heads. No one else can learn their song. Purchased from among men and a firstfruit (that means Grade A Fancy to this Vermonter) offering to God and the Lamb. On earth blameless, sexually pure, never lying. In heaven they follow the Lamb wherever He goes – remember Jesus saying “my sheep know my name”? – and sing this awesome, hidden new song.

Who are they? Not me. I don’t meet the criteria. Oh, I’ll be redeemed and in heaven. But these folks are in the Heavenly Hall of Fame. The pick of the litter. I think they are the real Saints. Not the New Orleans Saints – although maybe Tim Tebow? Not necessarily the Roman Catholic saints, although probably some of them will be there too. I think they are the Saints of the Catholic (all-embracing) Church.

Three angels…..maybe the same three angelic visitors to Abraham among the great oaks of Mamre, at least two of whom then visited Sodom and Gomorrah. Alas their welcome is just as inhospitable. For one last time the gospel goes forth – from the mouth of an angel! – proclaiming from mid-air to every nation, tribe, language and people in a loud voice, “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of judgment has come! Worship Him!” John predicts no 11th hour mass conversion, just two more angels warning against judgment and WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T TAKE THE MARK OF THE BEAST! Because just as the saints with the Father’s name on their heads are eternally blessed, those with the beast’s mark will burn in sulfur forever in the presence of the angels and the Lamb.

Clearly refusing the mark will be a struggle for some. Once again John says: “this calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they will rest from their labor, and their deeds (the good ones) will follow them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Revelation 13 – the unholy trinity

The dragon gives authority to the beast from the sea. Men worship both the beast from the sea – miraculously healed of a head wound – and the dragon. Then along comes the beast from the earth who is like a religious cheerleader for the beast from the sea, doing miracles on his behalf.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The devil wants to be God, so he makes a fake trinity, right down to the resurrected beast with authority on the earth, and the other beast doing miraculous signs on his behalf. He looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon – sounds like a false religious leader to me! Funny how authoritarian government needs religion for legitimacy, and religion needs government for protection.

Their “believers” even have a false “mark” like the one on the foreheads of the 144,000. As C.S. Lewis said of the White Witch, “beware of the thing that seems to be human, but isn’t.”

Life at this time will really, really stink for those who believe. John warns: “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.”

Not exactly the prosperity gospel, is it? But it will be worse for those who take the mark.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Revelation 12 - What a Story!

I include the entire text of the 12th chapter of the Revelation of John because it really needs to be read and re-read as a single narrative to be appreciated. It is a vivid, exciting story. As an allegory it is clear enough in its broad meeting, but, pardon the pun, the devil is in the details.

The Woman and the Dragon
 1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”[a] And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
 7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
   “Now have come the salvation and the power
   and the kingdom of our God,
   and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
   who accuses them before our God day and night,
   has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him
   by the blood of the Lamb
   and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
   as to shrink from death.
12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens
   and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
   because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
   because he knows that his time is short.”
 13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.


I see it this way: Satan, a powerful, evil dragon, tries unsuccessfully to kill the infant Messiah. (On earth as it is in heaven: King Herod tries to kill Baby Jesus, but Joseph, acting on angelic intel, brings Mary and Jesus to Egypt, beyond Herod’s reach.) In defense of the child, God’s warrior angels drive Satan from heaven to earth. Lucky heaven, but woe to the earth! The enraged dragon then turns on Messiah’s brothers and sisters, falsely accusing and killing them. Yet they too triumph over him by staying true in heart and word to Christ their savior, even unto death.

Sometimes – you gotta wonder about Satan’s smarts. Rebelling against God? Am reminded of one of my favorite Loony Tunes lines, by Yosemite Sam: “Dragons is sooooo stupid.” But then when I read about post-modern philosophers declaring that they have “learned” that reality cannot exist and it is impossible to actually know anything……

Who is the woman? The most literal answer: Mary. Also/or Israel (12 crowns/tribes/apostles under her feet). I’m not trying to be a political compromiser here but I think the answer is “both”. Mary in her flesh represents Israel, the mother of the church. Israel is our mother, and therefore holds a special place of respect and kinship in our heart, and God’s. She is still Chosen, even if many of her children reject Messiah.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Still faithful after all these years

About 3200 years ago Moses, angry at the unbelief of Israel and perhaps at the Rock of Israel Himself, struck a rock in anger with his staff. Although water flowed from the rock that day, Moses was not permitted to cross the flowing waters of Jordan. He never entered the Promised Land.

About 2800 years ago Elijah, depressed, bitter, alienated from God and man, cowered in a cave and complained bitterly to God, "All the other prophets are dead, I only am left, and they seek my life! It is enough!"

But God, but God.....Moses' Law becomes the guiding light for Jews, the guiding light of western civilization, and the primer of the Messiah. Elijah leaves no book, but instead is transported bodily into heaven.

About 30 AD, these two men appear side by side Jesus. The three talk about the death of Jesus, just days away. Moses is finally in the Holy Land! Elijah's companions are not some motley prophets, but the Lawgiver and the Messiah.

Fast-forward to some unknown but certain date in the future. Two witnesses - one who calls down fire and the other who calls down plagues - now who might THEY be - are doing what they have always done, with a passion. They are speaking God's truth and fighting the devil! And for as long as God wills it, they are winning. They are untouchable. They are Tim Tebow against the Beast Roethlisberger. And then - death, mutilation of their corpses, and the demonic rejoicing of the deluded fans of the Abyss who are so happy that their team "won" that they give each other presents!

I don't know if these two witnesses are really Elijah and Moses, or just two godly Jews empowered by the Spirit like unto these two mighty men of God. But I wonder, I wonder.....as their bodies are miraculously knit together, and they start to rise to heaven, their successes and struggles bearing witness to the glory of God across the millenia, will Elijah turn to Moses and say, "oooh, you'll LOVE this part of the ride!"

And of course, the best part of the ride is yet to come........for the angel blows the seventh trumpet, and proclaims "the Kingdom of this World is become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ!"

Just as Time expires - touchdown! We win!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Revelation 10 - Big angel, little scroll

Whew, haven't written for a while. Too busy with all my New Year's Resolutions! At this rate I won't finish my "one year bible blog" until early February. Oh well - that's as good a time as any to end one season and begin another, I guess.

So. Revelation 10. There's a big angel who stands (sort of) like the Colossus of Rhodes with one foot on land and the other in the ocean. There's a voice of seven thunders who speaks "off the record" as far as John is concerned - don't write it down, don't print it; or rather the information it shares is "embargoed until a later date" when "the mystery of God is about to be accomplished" as the seventh angel is about to blow his trumpet. I think this voice is the judgement voice of God majestic, mysterious, the One who glows like jasper and carnelion on the throne. He is the One who "lives for ever and ever who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it" (vs. 6).

As for the little scroll - John is told to swallow it, and is warned that it will taste like honey going down but will then turn his stomach sour. John obeys and bears witness to the truth of the warning. And then he is told he must prophesy about nations, peoples, etc. Best guess is that this refers to the mountaintop-valley experience of hearing from God (honey) and then having to tell it to scoffers (sour), or to the two Gandalf-like witnesses of Rev. 11 doing God's miraculous will (honey) before being killed by the Balrog (sour). Or both.

Death can quickly turn what was the sweetness of life into stomach-knotting sourness. Death of a person, death of a false self-image or image of another. Not to get too carried away with Tolkien, but when Gandalf died, the mantle of leading the Fellowship fell to Aragorn, whose Elven name is Estel: "hope". Amid all death, my hope is Jesus. Now, as I die daily to self through his teaching, example and power, and in eternity, before the eternal carnelian throne as the worthy Lamb that was slain for my sins.

And what's with these angels, anyway? To quote the Sundance Kid: "who ARE those guys?" No wonder the psalmist sometimes refers to them as "gods", in the sense of having some of the superhuman characteristics of pantheon of non-Jewish antiquity. Unlike these false gods - themselves perhaps fallen angels longing to exalt themselves over the Most High - they refuse adoration. C.S. Lewis in "Out of the Silent Planet" posited that angels are beings from unfallen planets, come to serve God in the Great Work of Souls on earth. I think of Mars and other inhabitable planets whose atmospheres have been torn away like a scroll and are subject to raging winds from the four corners of the planet, and wonder: are they post-Judgement planets? Are the angels the faithful beings from those places, now serving us at His command? And - will I someday be an "angel" (for that is what Gandalf was if you look hard enough in the Tolkien cosmology) sent to minister on one of the "billyuns and billyuns" planets throughout the universe - part of the Great Work of the Redemption of All Creation for which my everyday "yes" to God is preparing me, even now?

I don't know. Perhaps I will, when the mystery of God is accomplished and the seventh trumpet is blown,. This I DO know - Father God cherishes my every free gift of obedience and love.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Revelation 9: locusts, killer angels - where have I heard this story before?

Darkness. Locusts. Plagues. Angels of death. And still the people do not repent.

The Exodus of the Hebrews foreshadows this final exodus of God's people being delivered from bondage by their loving God. So much of history is foreshadowing. No accident (I think) that Hitler and his Jew-hating, occult-loving, seven-year reign of terror resembles the anti-Christ; that Israel is restored as a nation geographically; and that in 1986 a water-poisoning disaster named Wormwood occurs. None of these are the final events prophesied in scripture, but they encourage those with ears to hear that at all times God has not forgotten his promises. Though the world may seemingly spin out of control, a loving hand protects faithful so that like the Philadelphia church they may "hold on".

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Revelation 8: Does Chernobyl really mean Wormwood? Well…..yeah, kind of

In response to the prayers of the saints – perhaps the plaintive “How long, O Lord” of the martyrs under the altar in Chapter 6 – the Redeemer and Judge completes the ingathering of the faithful and then sends fire, wrack and ruin upon the world. In what may be a glimmering of divine knowledge in the minds of mankind at large, there is widespread concern today about asteroids and comets striking the earth and ending “life as we know it”.

As my daughter Imani would say, “no duh!” When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, one planet killer after another will wipe out huge chunks of human and animal life. And there is that tantalizing reference to Wormwood, a word found nine times in eight verses of Scripture, according to scholar Dr. Gerardus Bow. The first is Deuteronomy 29:18, where Moses warns the nation that by joining itself with pagan nations “…there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.” Wormwood always occurs in connection with judgment and the result of sin.The Hebrew translated wormwood is la-anah (H3939 in Strong’s Concordance). It refers to any bitter, poisonous plant such as hemlock (Amos 6:12) and wormwood. The Hebrew word stems from a root meaning to curse. The Greek word for wormwood, used twice inRevelation 8:11 is apsinthos, that is, absinthe wormwood (see picture). Other references: Prov. 5:4; Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:15, 19.

There is a story going around that Chernobyl in Russian means “Wormwood.” If so, this would seem to be a startling prophetic warning about the kind of fire that will kill people and poison waters, both of which occurred (although in decidedly unbiblical proportions) after the Russians foolishly, recklessly turned off the safety systems of their uncontained nuclear reactor and then stepped back to “to see what would happen”. Sometimes I think their behavior is a metaphor for modern society: release all controls and restraints, observe the carnage, run around with your hair on fire (literally, in this case), and then blame the science or Someone Else. Ah, well – anyway below is the actual text, and an explanation about the Wormwood/Chernobyl connection by a non-Christian journalist who wrote a first-person account in 2005 about the flourishing ecosystem in post-accident Chernobyl.

10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood.[a] A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl, by Mary Mycio, Sept. 9, 2005, - from the chapter is entitled “Biblical Botany”:

“…. Rimma crouched down to a short bush that had grown out of a crack between the road and the curb. It was about a foot tall, with small cottony flowers growing directly from purplish stems.
She pulled off one of the leaves and crushed it between her fingers for me to sniff the unpleasant, varnishy aroma, reminiscent of shoe polish.
“What is it?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.
Chernobyl,” she said, using the common—but incorrect—pronunciation. In fact, chernobyl with an “e” is the Russianized version of the Ukrainian word chornobyl. You won't find chernobyl or chornobyl in most Russian dictionaries, except in reference to the disaster, although the word chernobyl'nyk is used in some Russian regions in reference to the herb. But because the first version has become the commonly accepted spelling for the disaster and the nuclear station, I will use Chernobyl, with an “e,” to refer to them. I will use Chornobyl, with an “o,” to refer to the herb and the town.
“That's wormwood, right?” I asked, hoping to finally clarify the botanical question at the heart of the Chernobyl disaster's putative biblical symbolism. It is often said that the meaning of the Ukrainian word chornobyl is “wormwood,” and the suggestion that the disaster fulfilled the biblical prophecy of the Wormwood star that augured Armageddon resonated deeply with the fear of nuclear apocalypse. But the botany was actually more complex.
Svitlana took a closer look at the plant and shook her head. “No, ‘chornobyl' is Artemisia vulgaris. ‘Wormwood' is Artemisia absinthium. The Ukrainian common name is polyn,” she said, handing me a leaf from a different plant that looked much like A. vulgaris, except it was covered with fine silky hairs that gave it a whitish tinge. As I looked around, I noticed that the plants were everywhere.
I crushed it to release the volatile oil, much more pungent than the first plant.
Botanically and chemically, Absinthium vulgaris is so similar to A. absinthium that A. vulgaris is also sometimes called “wormwood,” though “mugwort” is a more common English name. In Ukrainian, as well, polyn and chornobyl are sometimes used synonymously. Both plants are hardy perennials, tolerant of poor soil and thus plentiful in the sandy lands of the Polissia region—where the twelfth-century town of Chornobyl took its name from the plant and, in turn, gave it to the twentieth-century nuclear station seven miles away. Both are bitter medicinal herbs and natural pest repellants, ridding fleas from the home, slugs from the garden, and worms from the body. And both get their pungent fragrance from thujone, an organic toxin thought to be the psychoactive agent in absinthe, the infamous wormwood liqueur banned by most Western countries a century ago. Absinthe was said to produce an unusual intoxication and was highly addictive, although modern skeptics contend that the “high” and the habit most probably came from drinking the 75 percent alcohol absinthe required to dissolve the thujone and prevent it from clouding the emerald solution.
But if the thujone in Artemisia vulgaris is dilute, it is concentrated in A. absinthium. A crushed leaf of polyn-wormwood is much more pungent than a crushed leaf of chornobyl-mugwort. It is also more bitter and much more toxic, which is why animals happily nibble mugwort but leave wormwood alone. Even other plants avoid it. A. absinthium's extremely bitter chemicals wash off the leaves and into the soil, poisoning it for other plants.
Given its natural repellant properties, many folk believed wormwood to have supernatural banishing powers. Mugwort, too, has magical properties, though none so potent. In Ukrainian folklore, both plants ward off the seductive and dangerous water nymphs called rusalkas, who lured victims with beautiful songs and then tickled them to death in crystal underwater lairs.
In Christian legend, when the biblical serpent was expelled from Eden, wormwood sprang in its trail to prevent its return. Indeed, the herb is a frequent biblical symbol for bitterness, calamity, and sorrow; its use to name the third sign of the apocalypse that opened this chapter conjured the desolation that would follow the apocalypse.
In the wake of the Chernobyl explosion, few people in the officially atheist Soviet Union had Ukrainian-language Bibles. But some of those who did noted that the word “wormwood” in the Wormwood star of the book of Revelation was translated as polyn—and was a very close botanical cousin to chornobyl. Suddenly, the biblical prophecy seemed to acquire new meaning: wormwood was radiation, and it presaged the nuclear apocalypse that would end the world. The story spread like wildfire through the notorious Soviet rumor mill and as far as Washington, D.C., where President Ronald Reagan was said to have believed it, too.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Revelation 7 – the four winds, the 144,000, and songs of praise

Fascinating reference to the angels withholding the four winds of destruction to land, sea, or tree.  People have often wondered if Mars was once life-bearing, but now it has no atmosphere and winds of hundreds of miles an hour. A connection? Quite rightly John links bad weather with God’s plan. In their own stumbling way that is what Al Gore etc. are doing, seeing Global Warming as some sort of Gaia punishment for man’s greed and selfishness. Two weeks ago I heard Gov. Shumlin refer to renewable energy development as a “moral imperative” in part because of all of the storm damage we have suffered, and will suffer, as a result of global warming. It’s as if he and Gore are prophesying without knowing it and are missing the most important details. Repent ye therefore! C.S. Lewis says that fallen mankind cannot help but understand some of God’s plan, as in a glimmering reflection of the pure light of divine revelation, but neither do we ever get it right without reference to God’s word.  

The devil can only counterfeit. It seems that the Mark of the Beast (more on that in later chapters) is just a knockoff for the seal on the foreheads of the 144,000 servants of God, all Israelites. And because Christ rose from the dead, the anti-Christ will appear to do so as well. A roving copycat, seeking to destroy.

Revelation is one terrific book for personal and corporate Praise and Worship! We could do worse than just read the praise portions of Revelation as our own:

Multitude of the Redeemed:

Salvation belongs to our God
Who sits on the throne
And to the lamb


Amen! Praise and glory
And wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength
Be  to our God for ever and ever. Amen!

See how they agree with each other – “Amen”  – but the redeemed sing of salvation (well, they would, wouldn’t they?) while the unchanging and holy angels sing of God’s unchanging and holy attributes. They do not “sing together” though – the text seems to have them separate, one after the other, and for what it’s worth the English translation of the Redeemed song is roughly 4:4 time, while the angels (translated in the NIV, anyway!) are in 6:8, more or less.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Revelation 6 – Conquest, war, famine, and death

Before the secrets of the Scroll of the Lamb can be revealed, first it must be unsealed. One by one the lamb breaks the seals – and John sees wars, and rumors of wars. And famine and death. It’s enough to make you weep and ask “how long, how long?”

 1 I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
 3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.
 5 When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds[a] of wheat for a day’s wages,[b] and six pounds[c] of barley for a day’s wages,[d] and do not damage the oil and the wine!”
 7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
I don’t know if this century and the last are indeed the “last days.” I do know that Revelation 6 describes the last 100 years, and that the century's real Fab  Four aren't named John, Paul, George and Ringo, they are Conquest, War, Famine and Death.

At two minutes after midnight this morning, I heard “Auld Lang Syne” played at a Barre home fellowship by a woman who is 103 years old. Not until this woman was two years old did anyone drop a bomb from an airplane during wartime. Between WWI and Vietnam, 11 million tons of bombs were dropped – by the U.S. and our allies alone. Bombs are the 20th century equivalent of arrows fired from horseback - projecting deadly force from a distance from a fast, elusive platform. We humans – we’re good at conquering. At making war. At building kingdoms. The “Christian kingdoms” of Europe, most of whose royal families were inter-related, went to war  in 1914 for four years when the kingly lust for conquering (white horse) and for settling old scores with the sword (red horse) took peace from the earth. 35 million soldiers and civilians died. Then everyone supposedly beat their swords into plowshares, but in 1939, the kingdoms – the aggressors by now having dropped any Christian pretensions - did it all over again. This time it took six years and even more people (50 million) died.

And those are just the Century of Man’s two “biggest” wars. According to scholar and diplomat Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Lives deliberately extinguished by politically motivated carnage" totaled 167 – 175 million people. (Interesting counterpoint: three years after WWII ended, the State of Israel was formed with scarcely a shot fired by the Zionists.)
The Institute of Development Studies estimates that during the 20th century, 70 million people died of famine (black horse). (Interesting counterpoint: the number one New Year’s Resolution in America is to lose weight.)
Add up the butcher bill of death and the grave (pale horse) and you get 240 million from war and famine in the 20th century alone. I do not know exactly where I am going with this but that something inside me cries with the martyrs under the altar, where the blood of the sacrifices was collected:
“How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true?! How long!?”
Only twice in my life have I known awful, unrelenting torturous pain. One was as a result of handcuffs, the other from a burst gallbladder. In both cases my thoughts ping-ponged back and forth: “how long will this last…..I can’t take it. How long will this last?....I can’t take it.” And I know that these pains are NOTHING compared to the chorus of agony produced by famine and conquest and war. With the dimmest of sympathetic understands I ask on behalf of the godly who suffer even today in Africa, China, in oppressive Islamic countries, and in U.S. prisons and in homes down the street “ruled” by conquest, sword and famine – “how long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true?!”
He answers:
“Wait a little longer” until the number of martyrs is complete. When “wait” is replaced by “now”, the stars will fall like ripe figs shaken loose by a gale, the sky will be rolled back as a scroll, for the Great Day of Wrath against all conquest, war and famine will, at last, have come.
And in the meantime, Lord? How shall we then live? We sang in church this morning the words from Lamentations 3: “Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord…..thy mercies are new every morning.” Lamentations is not a happy book. The awfulness of conquest, war and famine are on full display. And yet….
“Wait a little longer,” He says.
And may I who have never suffered more than handcuffs always say, “Yes, Lord – for great is thy faithfulness.”