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Faith Fears No Evil

Often we read the Book of Revelation with either stoic intellectualism or mystical symbolism (literally so steeped in “what does it all mean?”) that we miss an important element in reading the Bible, in that we are often emotionally disconnected with the narrative. This is a story, a narrative of the church, the actual people, flesh, blood, spirit. They were very much like us.

A Hard Rain Falling on the Early Church:

In the letters to Smyrna & Pergamus, both churches were enduring and surviving in hard circumstances. The believers in Pergamus had just seen a dear friend, Antipas, suffer and die for his religious beliefs. The King of the Universe had seen it, knew it, and made note of it while dictating this letter to the apostle John.

Likewise Smyrna lived in similar dynamics. There was a lot of pressure on these churches, the Roman state didn’t care who you worshipped as long as you were obedient to the state and the emperor as your ultimate master. Roman citizens were required at this time to burn incense in honor of the emperor and receive a “certificate” of having done so. The Christians had to chose between compromising their principals- being syncretistic in their beliefs, or they chose to live by their convictions “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Called Out:

Jesus called Pergamus out on this. Even though they’d continued in The Way even after seeing a friend brutally killed, they’d held fast, they’d not denied Jesus… yet they’d also eaten meat sacrificed to idols and participated in the sexual sins of the culture. For this Jesus calle them out.

No Rebuke:

Smyrna is one of two churches not to receive a rebuke. Times were harsh and persecution was coming. Jesus encourages them “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…fear non of those things you are about to suffer: prison, suffering, even death…”

Emotionally Connected to the Scripture:

I once read a story how gunmen and terrorists had stormed a church in Iraq resulting in over 30 people killed… Later that same day this the story had already been taken off the front page and filed somewhere way back. As I read the letter to Smyrna the emotion of what was going on there 2000 years ago hit me hard. If you’ve ever lost someone then you know how quickly it can happen, and you understand the emotional pain accompanied by the loss. I’d become emotionally attached to the story unfolding, the Bible had come to life.

Jesus Promises:

But Jesus made promises to Smyrna & Pergamus. To Pergamus he promised “hidden manna” and a “white stone with a secret new name written thereon”- They were called not to participate in the big banquets dedicated to the gods, but here Jesus uses a term of the day. In these times, when you were invited to a party, servants would deliver to you an invitation; it was a stone with your name written on it, and manna was food provided from heaven, as well as a symbol of Jesus body as food for the church.

Smyrna was promised a crown of life, not a kingly crown but a victors garland like in the ancient Olympics. The most prized crown of all, eternal life.

These two churches no doubt had Psalm 23 written in their hearts “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…”

Faith fears no evil.

Revelation: The Church at Ephesus

Rekindle the Love

Back in Acts chapter 20 we see the Apostle Paul instructing the church at Ephesus and teaching them to look out for those who would creep in to make the church their own little power trip. He encouraged them to keep the flock of God safe from wolves, to keep the teachings of the apostles straight, and to remain true.

The Ephesian church was planted in one of the Empire’s premiere cities, it was greatly self-ruled and on main trade routes.(One of the reasons Paul had chosen to stay and teach there as the Roman highways were the internet of the day, carrying information and new ideas,etc) Ephesus was also quite a religious town with many temples to the Roman gods.

In Revelation Ephesus is applauded for their hard work, perseverance, and for “testing those who call themselves apostles and are not”. They knew people looking for a power trip would try to come in and gather a following by teaching controversies, twisting scripture a little to make it say something else, and draw people away from the purity of scripture and the apostle’s doctrine-Years later we see that they had heeded Paul’s warnings to keep it right, and they had done so.

So much was good… conduct, teaching, holiness… yet there is no stronger a rebuke than the one the church at Ephesus received “You have forsaken your first love…repent, and do those first things again …if you do not then I will come and remove your lampstand…”

Without love all you are left with is religion:

They needed to both live holy with sound teaching, and to be an example of love. Without God’s love all they were left with in Ephesus was religion. And religion without love is an ugly thing that is apathetic to the lost, criticizes those who eat and drink with “the wrong group”, stones sinners in the street, or cuts off the hand of one who steals. The Ephesian church had fallen from such an example to something Christ would have to do away with because they’d lost the one thing that made them the church- LOVE.

“Love God…love others…”, “They will know you are my followers by your love…”, “For God so loved the world…”

In verse 6 Jesus returns to encouraging Ephesus, they are a good church who have not compromised their faith in a culture that was promiscuous in many ways. Jesus closes with a promise to “eat from the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God.” The last book of the Bible connecting here with the first. A promise of restoration and relationship with Father-God.

How do we find the love of God again?

“The love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which God has given to us” -Romans 5:5

  • So pray to be filled with God’s love and God’s Spirit (you can’t have one without the other & if you truly have one -you have both)
  • Seek ways to love others in real and genuine ways-“they will know we are his followers by our love…”

When He Returns

Though not exhaustive- here’s some straightforward thoughts on Revelation Chapter 1:

Christ Victorious

Even in the first chapter you see this “strength” come out in the picture of Jesus. Even as he came humble, as the suffering servant, our substitution and atonement, being born to a virgin in His first coming- at His second coming we see “Christ Victorious” the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the king of all kings on earth (v 5)

C. Missler says of Revelation “It’s the only book in the bible that has the audacity to say ‘Read me-I’m special’ “. And indeed, as John opens the writing he says ” Blessed is he who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are they who hear and keep these words, because the time is near.

John salutes Jesus in verses 5-7, again showing this strong vision of Christ Victorious as he says:

“Look- He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be.” In addition to the celestial “coming in the clouds” you also have the image of warriors and chariots from the Roman world. when a commander and his army would ride into battle they would kick up the dust so they literally would come “in the clouds” of dust as they rode into battle.

Another allusion to the Roman world was the two-edged sword. In addition to Paul’s reference of the word of God being sharper than a two-edged sword, and John in verse 16 describing Christ as having a “double-edged sword coming out of his mouth”- the double edged blade was a Roman invention. Beforehand people only had a one-edged blade with which they hacked their enemies to death with like chopping firewood, the double edged sword cut both ways and was a much more lethal weapon, hence the dominance of Rome.

John, seeing this vision of Christ, fell down before the one walking among the lamp stands. The one with snow white hair, in stately robes, eyes like blazing fire, and a voice like a waterfall, it all overwhelmed John and he fell down…

Then the one revealed in all this power and glory, the one the kings of this earth fear, gently places His right hand on John & says “Do not be afraid”. Why? Because this was Jesus speaking to John the beloved…

John who’d stood at the foot of the cross with Mary and the other women (all the other disciples had run off)-John had stood there unable to help his friend, only able to watch as he died- now encounters the risen Christ powerful and victorious and overwhelming yet Jesus, his dear friend says to John “Do not be afraid…”.

“I am the First and the Last…I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades…” There is nothing more powerful than this.

Not to jest, but thoughts of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood riding into town come to mind. Look out!

When He returns-

Nothing can stand before Christ Victorious. As the Christmas carol O Holy Night says “All oppression shall cease”. Those who have the most to fear are those who wrongly wield their authority over others, who abuse their position or power on this earth for they will be answerable to This Christ- the one coming in clouds.

The Book of Revelation is very much an unveiling of the battle between good and evil, and as Bob Dylan says in his song When He Returns “The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a Mighty God”.

Michaelmas

Today is the remembrance of Michael and the archangels, or Michaelmas.

According to the Bible Angels are created beings similar to man in many ways, yet different too. They often bring messages to God’s people. In the old testament Angels often carried messages to the prophets,in the new testament they bring news to both Mary & Joseph about Jesus’ birth. Angels ministered to Jesus after the temptation in the wilderness, and again before he went to the cross.

Angels freed disciples from prisons, appeared with directions for people and apostles… An angel goes to Saint John on the Isle of Patmos with the message of the Book of Revelation.

Jesus taught on the reality of angels, as did the old testament prophets, and the new testament apostles and writers.

So today we remember maybe there’s mystery still left in the world. Maybe there’s more than what we see. The Book of Hebrews says we may have encountered angels and have been unaware of it… So today, on Michaelmas, we remember Michael, the archangels, and all angels as a part of God’s world and our allies in the fight for what’s good.

“Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth…”

Available And Out Of Gas

Oswald Chambers said-

“Ministering in everyday opportunities means being God’s special choice to be available for use in the seemingly random surroundings He has engineered for us.”
~My Utmost for His Highest

This quote actually played out in my life a while back-

A few years ago, Josh Stump from Nashville & I were in Joplin MO launching a new church plant. On the way back to the Tulsa Airport we ran out of gas in a sparse area of the country. Ultimately my AAA membership provided 4 gallons for us, Josh walked back with a 1 gallon container of gas which we didn’t immediately need. But we were on the road less than 5 minutes, and saw another car pulled to the side, it was a mom and child out of gas with their blinker lights on. We stopped, poured in the gallon of gas, enough to get her to the next exit. what seemed to be such an inconvenience for us (running out of gas) may have served another purpose. Were we there at the right place, at the right time, just for this mom & kid?

Poor examples we may be, but God had engineered, through seemingly random events, this coincidence and connection… simply because we’d made ourselves available.

Make this your prayer this week:
“Father-I am yours to use without having to ask my permission.”

Today I Believe

Lord, You have always given bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor, today I believe.

Lord, You have always given strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak, today I believe.

Lord, You have always given peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart, today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am, today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden, today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here, today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now, today I believe.
– Northumbria Community

New Seasons: Life, Change and Opportunity

There are times, seasons, for stability, maintaining, even plodding forward, step by step, further, onward, steadily.

There are other moments in time, we anticipate, that are the changing of a season. For some the anticipation and enjoyment of summer is the highlight of their year. for others it may be signaled by the falling leaves and colder weather. Some of us simply enjoy change, whatever season the changes bring!

There are other seasons in life as well.  Ecclesiastes chapter 3 reminds us:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them…

Like our calendar year, we experience the coming, going, and returning of many of these seasons while also moving through the overarching seasons of youth, prime, and maturity.

Lately I have been praying about a new season in life. New seasons bring changes, changes bring new opportunities if we can recognize them for what they are. I have seen seasons come, go, and come again, similar but different, new, even if familiar.

Surprise Me, Lord

“Surprise me, Lord.”
My imagination can be finite, He is infinite. I need to practice relinquishing (the idea that I have any) control, live more by faith, and learn to receive today as it is, not as I think I would have it…So, I pray “Surprise me, Lord.”

Thine is the Kingdom and the Power

During the Temptations in the desert one of the the temptations was the offer for all the kingdoms of this world to become Jesus’ if only he would bow down and worship Satan, But at The Great Commission Jesus says “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. All authority is now Christ’s. As the Apostle Paul writes:

He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness
& brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves
– Colossians 1:13

So, here’s a real clarification; Satan has a dominion, and Jesus truly has a kingdom. The words used here are totally different. A dominion is a power or authority, but a kingdom is something altogether different. A kingdom is The Power and The Authority. Satan has a dominion, but no “kingdom”. He has authority only because man allowed it to happen, but he is not The Authority.

Saint Augustine explains Jesus’ authority this way:

“The devil found Christ innocent, but none the less smote Him; he shed innocent blood, and took what he had no right to take. Therefore it is fitting he be dethroned and forced to give up those who were under his power” – Saint Augustine

The idea is that God Our Father by Jesus Christ is a liberator. He is rescuing people from the dominion of darkness and bringing them into His Kingdom and His Lordship.