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Posts Tagged ‘Church’

As much as Genesis 1 begins the account of God bringing life to a lifeless earth, so Revelation 6 begins the account of God destroying it. In Genesis, God had been “hovering” as He waited for just the right time to begin His creation. But in Revelation He is “hovering” for another reason. At just the right time He will begin His destruction; and here in this 6th chapter, that time has come. In Genesis He is the Creator; but here in Revelation He is a “conqueror bent on conquest”. And specifically here in chapter 6, He has mounted up and is “riding out”.

These judgments come in waves, with each wave getting worse. The beginning may not necessarily be seen as judgments, even by those who are expecting them. In the early stages, “peace will be taken from the world”. There will be food shortages and natural disasters. Are we there yet? We can’t say for sure, but before these waves are over, there will be no doubt.

The first wave is described as seven seal judgments. The seventh seal ushers in a more intense wave referred to as the seven trumpet judgments. Opening a seal does not make a lot of noise; but it’s hard not to hear a trumpet. As the first wave of seal judgments might not be seen as this beginning of God’s judgment, these trumpet blasts seem to be designed to make it a little clearer. It gets so bad during this time that “men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them”.

It’s a little hard to imagine all that is supposed to happen. As many today would scoff at the idea that the things we are seeing are a part of these judgments, still, there will be those, even as things get much worse, who won’t believe it. John tells us that “the rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent”.

There is at least one unmistakable event that takes place during these trumpet judgments. God will raise up 2 witnesses that will prophesy for 3 ½ years. They will have miraculous powers “to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want”. At the end of the 3 ½ years, they will be killed. “Their bodies will lie in the street for 3 ½ days and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts. But after the 3 ½ days, a breath of life from God enters them and they stand to their feet.”

Like I said, it will get to the point that it will be unmistakable. We obviously are not there yet, but it is at least possible that we are on the front end of it all. Over time, it will become clear. We either are or we are not. There are a lot of details in this account of “what must one day take place” that I do not understand. But the more familiar we are with what can be understood, the easier it will be to recognize these waves as they begin to hit.

These first two waves of judgments – the seven seal and the seven trumpets – end in this 11th chapter. As they could be categorized as judgments on the earth, the last trumpet judgment ushers in a new wave that could be categorized as judgment on the inhabitants. John transitions with, “the time has come”. It is time for the next wave where we will see the Woman, the Dragon and the Beast. It is not good.

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In the first 3 chapters of Revelation, John, while he writes the series of letters to the churches, is on the island of Patmos. This 4th chapter begins with John being called up to heaven where he will remain throughout the rest of this book.

The first thing John describes is the throne in heaven. The thing that struck me was his description of the four living creatures around the throne. One was like a lion. One was like an ox. One had a face like a man. One was like a flying eagle. Each of the four creatures “never stopped saying: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

I had a thought I had never considered before. By the lion doing what it is created to do, day after day after day, is it not perpetually declaring, “holy, holy, holy”? The eagle, as it does what God created it to do, is it not also declaring . . . and the ox? All three with different design do what they were designed to do.

And then I thought about the one that had a face like a man. Do we do what we were created to do? Do we all work to provide for the betterment of our families? Do we all choose as a mate, a member of the opposite sex that we might produce a family? Do we honor God in and with our lives? It is the only one of the 4 that chooses.

As a side note, I thought of when God created man. If God had intended for man to be with man and woman to be with woman in addition to man being with woman, He would have created 6 people – 3 men and 3 women – but He didn’t.

There is a verse in chapter 5; “with your blood you purchased men for God”. Funny, He didn’t have to purchase the other creatures; they do what they were made to do. But man . . . man had to be “purchased”. And then, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.”

I’ve wondered more lately than ever if I am doing what I was created to do. I watched Men of Valor a few nights ago. Trained Men of Valor fought against evil to rescue a woman who had been taken hostage and was being tortured. These trained men who rescued her cussed and drank a little, but I couldn’t help but to wonder if maybe they didn’t cause God to stand up and take notice. I wonder if He didn’t stand up and say, “Now that’s what I’m talkin about”.

In both the 4th and 5th chapters, John refers to “the seven spirits of God”. Could these spirits be like facets of a diamond? Isn’t there a part of God that both loves and hates? Is He not both full of mercy and yet He will eventually judge? Is He not both gracious and jealous? Is He not also a God of vengeance?

We are at a critical point in our nation’s history. A couple of states just voted to accept gay marriage. Our government is leaning toward raising taxes so that it does not have to cut its out of control spending. Both financially and morally we are bankrupt. Business as usual is as much out of line for our government as it is for us. Personally I am searching for a better way “to serve our God” in these trying times. I believe the question we should all be asking is, what will we, who have “with blood” been “purchased for God”, do to serve Him? And will it be enough to bring Him to His feet?

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In this letter to Sardis I saw a difference in what he wrote to Pergamum. The people of Pergamum, for the most part, “remained true”, but there were some among them “who held to the teaching of Balam”. But with the church of Sardis, they, for the most part, “were dead”, and yet had some who were very much alive. One was a batch of good apples with a few bad ones and the other a batch of bad apples with a few good ones.

How is He described and what are the words He has to say to this predominately bad batch of Christians? First, He is described as the One who is “holding” them. He specifically is “holding” the leaders. He who could have written them off and let them go; instead, He “holds” them.

His word to them . . . “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die. Remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.” In the same way that we might hold in our hands an apple with some bad spots in it, deciding whether to pitch it or cut the bad spots out and keep it, similarly He, with this church is in effect holding it and choosing to keep it. He is willing to cut the bad spots out; the question is . . . will they let Him? And His final words: “He who has an ear, let him hear.” We who have the spots . . . will we see it?

To the church of Philadelphia, He is described as, “holy and true”. It is a similar description as to the church of Laodicea – the last of the seven churches. To them He is the “faithful and true witness”.

What’s interesting is that the church of Philadelphia is “holy and true” right along with Him, while the church of Laodicea is not the same “faithful and true witness”. To church of Philadelphia, though they had “little strength, yet they had kept his word and had not denied his name”. While others advanced, they on the other hand remained in relative obscurity. To the so called religious who had looked down on them . . . and worse, “I will make them acknowledge that I have loved you”.

To this group of “holy and true” believers – who probably struggled with whether or not He was even mindful of them – He lets them know that their day is coming. He is encouraging them to “hold on” and to “overcome” – to remain “holy and true”.

To the church of Laodicea though, the “faithful and true witness” has a bone to pick with this group who has not been. They are lukewarm; they have no passion. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.”

To this church in particular – but I think really to all – He has these life changing words. And for any “who have an ear to hear them” – for any who will “overcome, just as He overcame, he will give the right to sit with him in heaven”.

It is popular today to think that we are covered by grace regardless of how we live. But when you are really familiar with His words to us, there is a bit of a different picture painted. Jude refers to “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality”. That is not a popular message today. “Who do you think you are to tell us how to live?” But these are His words . . . not ours.

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I have to keep reminding myself . . . write what you see. Part of me, when I decided to read through Revelation again, wanted to figure it all out. But the other part reminds me . . . just write what you see.

First of all, when John addresses each of these letters to “the angel of the church”, it makes sense to me that he is referring to the human leader. I don’t see that there would be any reason for him to write to a literal angel.

Too, I see a clear continuity in each letter. For example, in this first letter to the church of Ephesus, “the words of him who walks among them” and “they have forsaken their first love”. To me, I see the clear image of a couple just enjoying walking together – being together. I see the image of the passion that a young couple has for one another.

In spite of the fact that they were doing some things right – working hard and enduring hardships together – they had lost this passion they had at first. His words to them, shows a side of Himself that longs for us to have that. A couple can get so mechanical – so taking care of business – and yet ending up losing the passion they once had. We can get that way with Him.

Contrast that with His words to the church of Smyrna. To them, He was the one “who is the First and Last, who died and came to life again”. This church was facing persecution – persecution “even to the point of death”. His words to them were assuring words. From His words to them, they could have the assurance, if indeed they did face death, that they had a “crown of life” on the other side of it. They could have firmly fixed in their minds that the One who died for and before them, came to life again. They could know that they would do the same.

His words to us are fitting. He knows what we need to hear. To the church at Pergamum, who had among them those “who held to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality”, to them He was “the sharp, double edged sword”. His word to them . . . “Repent”.

Similarly with Thyatira, they “tolerated that woman Jezebel”. “By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality”. His word to them was the same, “Repent”. And how is He described for them? Very similar to the way He was for the church of Pergamum. He was “the Son of God, whose eyes were like blazing fire”. Isn’t this the perfect image for a group of believers, many of whom had been enticed and misled. No matter how distant from Him we get, He is still able to pierce into our distracted hearts and minds and whisper steadily the words we desperately need to hear; “Repent . . . before it is too late”.

This call to repentance is in spite of the good. To Pergamum He acknowledged that “they remained true to his name”. And, when someone close to them had been killed for not renouncing their faith, “they did not renounce theirs”. They took their Christianity seriously. Nevertheless . . . He had these things against them and they needed to hear it. Similarly with Thyatira, “I know your deeds, that you are now doing more than you did at first”. Nevertheless . . .

I believe it is time we take a fresh look at the words He has for us today. It is time that we take inventory and realize that “He has a few things against us”. “We’re not as good as we once were.” But if we will hear His words, I believe “we can be as good again as we ever were.”

“He who has an ear, let him hear” the words He has for us today.

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One of Webster’s definitions of the word ‘welfare’ is the ‘organized efforts to improve the living conditions of needy persons’. 2000 years ago there was one such effort. Matthew, in the 11th chapter and 36th verse of his gospel, records this about Jesus: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.

Jesus didn’t just have compassion on them; He did something to make their living conditions better. When a person finds themselves in a helpless state, assistance can give them hope that they will see better days. And so this is what He did; He offered assistance.

In the movie, ‘Cinderella Man’, much of which takes place during the depression, we see, maybe for the first time, government assistance. People who lived through that period of our nation’s history, were definitely a needy people. They were used to working, but work ran out. And when work ran out, food ran out. Heat ran out. The organized efforts of our government to improve the living conditions of our people, was much needed.

But what began as a much needed effort to temporarily assist a needy people, has now grown to an ever expanding group of people who believe it is our governments duty to provide assistance perpetually. What began as the organized temporary assistance to help a needy people through to better days, and to a people who gratefully, yet with reluctance accepted it, has now spread to a much larger group who insists they are entitled.

Have we as Christians, to some extent, done the same thing? Have we who were provided the much needed assistance of forgiveness – given to help us through to better days – settled instead for the assistance?

Are we as stuck in a Christian welfare state as many today are with our government? Some undoubtedly are. It is really no different today than it was in the days when the disciples and apostles were preaching and writing to the believers of their day. The writer of the letter which we know today as ‘Hebrews’, was making this same point when he said the following:

“Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.” The writers point is that we should not become dependent on the assistance of forgiveness. Instead we are expected in time to move on to maturity, able to ‘distinguish’ and choose ‘between good and evil’.

It was never intended for us to be stuck there. It was intended that after this initial assistance that we should go on to maturity. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gives a clue as to how this is to happen. The same power that God used to raise Jesus from His physical death, he said God will use to ‘transform our lowly bodies’.

I especially like the way Peter puts it in his second letter. ‘He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires.’

Like with people today who receive government assistance, some really need it. But some just choose it. Some have the ability to work their way into better days but instead they choose the easier path of assistance. Likewise with some Christians, some really need the assistance of forgiveness. But some who have received it continue to choose its easier path. They have not taken advantage of what the assistance was intended to do for them.

It is at least a little like the nation of Israel when God brought them out of Egypt. He gave them assistance to help them on to better days. It would require that they believe and follow as He led into battle. Instead they doubted and followed as He led them through 40 years of wandering.

He didn’t lead them into something they could do themselves; He led them into something they couldn’t do without Him. Similarly today, He did not offer us something that we could do for ourselves; He offered us something that we could not do – that we could not have – without Him and His help

There’s some fighting that has to be done. After 40 years of wandering, Israel was ready to do some fighting. They had had enough wandering. I was a lot smarter than they were; I only wandered for 30 years. For any today who have had enough – who are ready to do a little spiritual fighting – there are some improved living conditions to be gained.

It is not easy breaking out of a pattern that has developed over years; what takes years to do, takes a little while to undo. His forgiveness doesn’t wipe away all that our bad choices have caused, it is an invitation to follow Him out of all they have caused. There may be a fair amount to undo, but if we engage in the following He will lead us to the better living He intended for us to have. No matter how bad the pattern or how deep the hole, He knows how to lead us out. He wants to lead us out.

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A friend of ours owns a nursing home. Her main job is finding workers to fill the schedule that is necessary to meet the needs of the facility. To begin with, there is an overall shortage of qualified workers. So from the beginning, her work is cut out for her. From a limited number of workers, she must fill the shifts.

It would be one thing if the arranged schedule could be reliable; but it really isn’t even expected to be. For an endless number of reasons workers will call in to say they can’t make it. With an already short list of available workers, you can imagine the logistical strain this creates.

You would think that with the economy being the way it is that there would be more workers than necessary for the available work. But for some reason, it is just the opposite. There is much work but few who want to do it.

Sometime in the night last night – during one of my awake times – I made the connection. Isn’t that exactly the strain that Jesus must be under? There is much work and many are actually on an arranged schedule. But for an endless number of reasons, many who are scheduled call in to say they can’t make it.

In relation to these thoughts, I thought of a verse that many are familiar with. “The harvest is indeed plentiful but the workers are few”. There was a time when I questioned that. “Everybody has heard”, I thought. “There is no need of me telling them again”. So that became my excuse for not working – the reason I gave for not being able to make it.

But the truth is there is a need of telling them again. We all will get distracted from what we know to be true if we are not reminded of what is true. A patient in a nursing home doesn’t receive care once; they receive it on a regular basis. They must receive it on a regular basis. And so it is with people and their believing. They must be reminded on a regular basis of what they are supposed to be believing; otherwise they will get sidetracked in their believing.

I like the other part of that verse; “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest”. I think it is good for us to ask God to show us what we can do. Not just once or twice, but to ask until He shows us. We’re already on the schedule. He wants to show us where we fit in. But at the same time He wants us to be dependable.

I know the owner is thankful for a few who are very dependable. They have settled the issue. They know there is work that needs to be done. They understand their role. And I think that is part of it. We need to understand our role. We need to know the work He has called us to. And then we simply need to become faithful in doing it.

So ask and don’t quit asking. If you ask and don’t quit asking, you prove your determination to work; and why, when ‘the harvest is indeed plentiful’, would He not be all over you to show you where He has you scheduled.

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Have you ever wondered if there was another reason that God had to forsake Jesus during His final hours?  I’ve wondered lately if He simply couldn’t bear to watch what was happening to His Son.  If it had been my son, I couldn’t have watched.   

 

I wondered at what point God had to ‘forsake’ Him; at what point He could no longer bear to watch.  Was it while Jesus was being beaten?  Was it while He was carrying His cross?  While He fell beneath the weight of it?  Was it when they laid Him out on it?  Did He make it all the way to the nails? 

 

I’ve heard preachers over the years say the reason God had to ‘forsake’ Jesus, was that He could not look on the sin that Jesus had taken on Himself.  Maybe that was part of it, but I also believe God might have had to ‘forsake’ Him for the same reason I would have; He just simply could not bear to watch.

 

Sin effects people in varying degrees; some slip now and then while others are consumed, driven and destroyed by it.  Jesus could have stopped everything after a few lashes of the whip.  That would have been good enough for those who slip up now and then, but He went all the way to the nails.  He made sure He covered those who were destroyed by it.

 

Jesus knows how destructive sin can be – how it can beat on you till you can’t take it any more.  He knows what it’s like to be laid out by it . . . just laying there waiting on the nails to finish you off.  God didn’t bring Jesus back to life after a few lashes of the whip; He brought Him back from the worst.  By going all the way to the nails, He proved that no matter how far down sin has beat you, He can bring you back to life.

 

There was a point when Jesus was hanging on the cross that He said, “Enough! It is finished.”  I think part of what He was saying was that the price has been paid, but I also think He was saying, “I have covered the worst”. 

 

You have to reach the point where you say ‘enough’.  Whether you have just felt the sting of sin’s whip, or it has beat you down, or laid you out.  Maybe you’ve even seen the nails coming to finish you off and you’re just laying there waiting.  At any point you can say, ‘Enough!  It is finished.  That is all I will let sin do to me’.  Say it and He will forgive you.  Mean it and He will bring you back to life.   

 

  

 

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When Tina sang that, she was saying she could do without it. I wonder how many people, influenced by the words of this song, have come to the same conclusion – have hardened themselves with this same belief. It’s easier to just quit trying than to work until you find it.

And that really is what we do, if we haven’t quit. We work ourselves to the bone to love and win the love of others. It’s disappointing when it doesn’t work, but because of the value we place on it, we try and try and try. It’s cool when it pays off, when the motives are right and the labor is rewarded. It makes it all worth it.

I wonder how many times God, tried and tried and tried with me. What’s love got to do with it . . . I’d hate to think of where I’d be if it weren’t for it. I think of all the things I tried to do to win it and all the miserable failures along the way when my enemy convinced me that I didn’t have it. Mark Hall (Casting Crowns) has a line in one of his songs that says, “I feel I am just one mistake away from seeing You walk away”. If it weren’t for love, wouldn’t He have?

I know when Paul wrote this line that he wrote it as a statement of something that had literally just happened. But think of it in relation to you right now – I did this morning. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us”. “God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners (while we were on miserable failure number ____), Christ died for us.” At just the right time, while we were still powerless, God demonstrated His love for us.

If we quit and walk away, we miss what could’ve been. I could have quit and walked away. God could have quit and walked away. But love, because it has everything to do with it, endures all things. God, the perfect example of love, endured all things with me; and at just the right time, when I was still powerless, He demonstrated it. That kind of love transforms. What does that kind of love not have to do with it?

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I read where Paul referred to himself as the least of all the apostles and didn’t even deserve to be called an apostle because . . . He had a good reason, and I will get to it, but what really struck me is when I reworded the verse. I am the least of all Christians and do not even deserve to be called a Christian because . . .

Like Paul, I didn’t have trouble coming up with my ‘because’. For Paul, “I persecuted the church of God.” For me, my problem was not that blatant. I was just inconsistent. For 30 years I was up and down – hot and cold.

I recently read a book that closed with this quote:
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth,
not going all the way, and not starting.”

Paul hadn’t started; but me, I stopped short of going all the way. Both miss the mark. But in 30 years I never quit trying. I might have fell 100 times, but I got up 101. God could have justly walked away. He could’ve with Paul. I like the line Paul adds after saying why he didn’t deserved to be called an apostle.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” God could have left Paul in his lostness. He could have left me to hobble the rest of my Christian life. But He didn’t. He allowed me to get up that 101st time and that gracious gesture was not without effect.

The effect on Paul was that he worked as hard for God as he had worked against Him. “What he learned he preached”. In an effort to persuade others to believe the same truth he had come to believe, he worked. Seven years later, I am working. That is the effect. What I’ve learned, I use to persuade others.

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Are there any wordpress bloggers out there that attended this years Summit; either from Willow Creek or from one of the many satelite locations around the world. This was my first year. My son and I went.

There’s a lot to process, but the Lord has me thinking about the man, the message, the faith of Stephen Furtick, and a comment that was made about him by one of the other speakers. If you heard Furtick’s message, you know about digging trenches.

The other speaker who commented had been digging trenches for 35 years to alleviate hunger around the world. His comment about Furtick was the assurance that his (Furtick’s) generation, because of their great faith in God to do the impossible, would eradicate it.

When I started my latest series, A Journey of Faith, I didn’t have it all laid out. It is litterally a journey. As I learn, I write. As the Lord shows me things I wrestle them out and then I write.

Is it possible that while we want to see miracles, God is wanting to see the hungry fed? Has God just brought me to a major intersection in my journey, giving me the opportunity to get on the same road He is on? I would expect that I’ll be wrestling this out over the next little while.

Anyway, GLS attendees, if your out there I would especially like to hear from you. But also to any, if this strikes a chord with you, I would like to know your thoughts.

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