a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)

our one safety: in God

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

Psalm 46

One of the most basic fears of humankind is the fear of death. In fact in Eastern Orthodox Christian teaching and liturgy, that fear is at the heart of our sin, the gospel in Christ’s death and resurrection having destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).

I think most all of my lifetime I’ve struggled with the fear of death, and have not always made good decisions in the process. It’s not like we’re to be foolhardy, and careless, so that we live recklessly, thinking God has our backs (and fronts, and every side) not matter what we do. We want to act wisely and prudently, and make the best decisions we can. But in the end our confidence can’t lie in ourselves, or in anyone else, but in God alone.

This presidential election season in the United States has exposed, I think, what could possibly be, though I don’t believe in every case is, an idolatry at play on both sides, exposed well in this article.

Over and over again in my life, I find that the one refuge to whom we should turn is God himself. We turn to God through the gospel, through the word and the sacraments, through the church, through prayer, and through a basic commitment of faith and ongoing repentance. We are not assured in this life that bad things won’t happen, in fact we can be certain that difficulties, including persecutions from living for Christ, troubles from simply living in this world, and at last death, barring our Lord’s return before that, await us in this life. Of course God has not promised to remove us from the trials, but to be with us through them.

It’s not like we will no longer be subject to possible fear in this life, but that through faith in the gospel, worked out through daily being in the word, God will help us to find our one refuge in him. A large part of our life and witness in this life, as we look forward to the life to come when in God through Christ by the Spirit, we will live in an existence in which no fear is possible. A taste of which we receive in this life, brought to perfection and completeness in the life to come, in and through Jesus.

the outcome of going through suffering

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:10-11

It’s pointed out in this passage, that the suffering referred to is the kind many of us in the west, and perhaps particularly in America know little or more likely nothing at all about. Unless one is caught up in the culture wars, which in my way of thinking has little or nothing to do with true Christianity and the faith, perhaps with some exceptions here and there. But every believer, regardless of where they live, is subject to harrassment from the spiritual enemy which often works through other humans; in fact we can all end up on the playing field for good or for ill in that way. If this passage applied only to believers who are threatened and to some extent experience physical persecution, then it would have no application to many of us today. But it does have direct application today to many sisters and brothers throughout the world who are suffering persecution just because they are Christians, including martyrdom.

As followers of Christ and one body in him as the church, we need to arm ourselves with the attitude that we are going to suffer, so that we might as well accept that. In fact this attitude needs to become a part of our psyche in our spiritual development and pilgrimage in this world in Christ. This same letter from Peter tells us that.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

1 Peter 4:1-5

It is good to read what follows this (see link). In fact, better yet to read the entire letter, which actually isn’t long. Reading through it will bring up questions, but read it in mind with the teaching on suffering. We have to remember the context into which the Bible was written. There is inevitably an accomodation which occurred then, and continues to occur now, as we apply the gospel to our culture and world, and see the changes that gospel will inevitably bring over time.

But back to the first reading above. We need to accept and even learn to embrace by faith the hardest of times which we’re going through, refusing to flinch from such, since we know the outcome. Of course doing so with the “means of grace” God provides through scripture and the church, the word and the sacraments. God’s will give us a peace which is not merely some escape from the storm, but an ability to live well through the storm, both in terms of its aftermath, as well as the inevitablity of more such in this life. There does seem to be a closure here. But that closure is not so much in terms of relief from sufferings in this life, in fact arguably not so at all. But more in terms of God’s working in our lives in and through Christ to help us not only survive through them, but actually flourish.

Words can be cheap (and too often  are), and there’s no doubt that this is not anything we would wish for on our own. But it’s reality, and if we’re going to live in the reality in Christ, then we have to accept both that reality, and God’s provision for us through it in Christ. And when we do so, we have God’s promise. A promise which can help us stand firm in the midst of the experience of such sufferings, as we carry on in the existence of the world, the flesh and the devil, with the help that comes from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That God might always and forever be exalted and glorified, even in this life, in and through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

 

unmet expectations

One could make something of a case for the idea that one could measure the quality of their life in terms of just how close life actually meets their expectations. Unfortunately more than one professing Christian has left faith altogether, because their expectations were not met. Which makes me wonder just what kind of expectations they had.

Jesus made it clear that anyone who would follow him would have to do so completely, withour reservation or some contingency “plan B.” We either are committed to following Jesus all the way, or we end up not following him at all. Of course along the way there’s going to be “fits and starts,” times when we feel completely lost and have no clue. There can be great pain, suffering, tragedy: change of life which shakes us to the core. Christians are certainly not immune to the same trouble which befalls all of humanity (Job 14:1).

But the promises we have from God in and through Jesus for this life are many. God does fulfill God’s word, invariably keeping his promises, but in God’s way in Jesus, not in our own way, or according to our own plans or thoughts. That is where faith comes in. Faith is simply letting God be God in and through Jesus, and seeking to align ourselves with that, a big part of which is for us simply to get out of the way, and quit trying to control anything. It has been well said that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but that control is. Doubt can be bad if it’s more or less an excuse not to engage in faith, or perhaps to abandon faith altogether. But often doubt is a wrestling in faith, which is necessary for our faith to become both established and strong.

The life in Christ through the gospel and in the communion of the church is not easy. Even though along the way we keep finding that Jesus’ yoke is easy and burden is light. It ordinarily is full of trouble, day to day problems, and sometimes big problems which seem threatening, even to undo us. And for a good share of Christians, true persecution, which we in the west know nothing about. But that’s when we can find God’s promise in Jesus to be all the more true and real, meeting us where we live. So that just as Jesus lived in our world in complete identity to us, being human, so we too can live in the same world as others. As we testify to the one who makes all the difference for us, the one for whom indeed we live, the one who died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

what if persecution comes?

In the United States and in a number of other countries, we are indeed blessed in enjoying religious liberty, freedom to worship or not to worship, as well as to witness of our faith in Christ. We realize that in other societies this is starkly not the case. Other faiths, and it seems especially Christians are persecuted simply for holding to their faith. We do well to pray for them, as well as speak out on their behalf.

A thought that a professor/pastor/scholar shared on Facebook has been making me think and wonder a bit: “How could the church fail so badly to mount a resistance to the Nazi state?” Of course that question deserves much study and conversation. And we won’t necessarily agree concerning all the factors involved. But this has made me think of a related question: What if persecution comes to the United States, or where we live? It is known that when persecution has come to any area, the number of Christians, or followers of Jesus who remain has been significantly pared down in number. Many, in fact a majority leave the church during that time. Forced to become whatever, willing to renounce their faith or simply become anonymous in regard to it.

I wish I had a special insight on what the difference is between those who continue as followers of Jesus in the face of persecution as opposed to those who do not. There is actually much that could be said here from scripture. We are told that it has been given to us on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. And it seems that the way of the cross in suffering is God’s way of resurrection in the sense of bringing more into the fold. It is well known in China that after the missionaries were expelled and the church began to be decimated through the persecution imposed by the Maoist regime and the “cultural revolution,” in time the church grew by leaps and bounds. Was it easy? No, of course not. No one would choose suffering and death. But Tertullian’s words: “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” helps us understand that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross which we are not only to proclaim, but to live out. Our lives are to be marked as those who follow the Lamb.

If we are not ready to continue on as followers of Jesus in the face of persecution, then surely we are not living well now, in the freedoms we have. Of course we don’t look for persecution, and if any comes, hopefully it is only because of our witness in Jesus both for him and for righteousness, and not because of something offensive about us. If we think we would stand, then we best take heed lest we fall. True now, as it would be then. Our dependence is completely on God through Christ by the Spirit in the one body, the church. If those days come, all of this would likely become more precious to us. But we need to pray that this would become the case now. That we might be Jesus’ followers through and through, together in him for the world.

faith- continuing on no matter what

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfected of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”      -Hebrews 12:1-3

There are times when our faith may seem weak and failing. Those are especially the times when we need to look to Jesus. There is no stopping of the race marked out for us. To not keep running is inviting failure, or I would rather put it: stumbling or being slowed down maybe even to a standstill.

But running the race is not enough. There is only one way we can continue on this race and do well. And that’s by looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfected of faith. Living as he did by first of all considering as in paying close attention to his way of life, the way of the cross. Of course we can live in this “way” only in and through Jesus, in relationship and communion with him by the Spirit.

By this we can have not only the needed “shot in the arm,” but we can learn to endure and persevere come what may. This is our calling individually and together in Jesus for the world.