Posts Tagged With: blessing

Revelation 7: The Blessed Life of the New Creation

Six seals down and we are all expecting the seventh seal next.  We know only more woe will come.  Before that seal is broken an angel rushes in to plead that God’s people be marked on their foreheads (a visible place that one sees immediately when meeting a person) lest they be caught up in the judgment to come.  We think of the blood on the door frames of the houses of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt during the Exodus.  One hundred and forty-four thousand people from the twelve Jewish tribes are marked.  As 12 and 1000 are both numbers in ancient numerology that connote completeness, the point is not a literal number but that God’s plan has reached completion.

Lest we think this vision only favors the Jews, next we see a countless number of people from “every nation and tribe and people and language” (7:9) gather before the throne of God dressed in white robes, praising God and waving palm branches.  The New Creation will be a place for all people, not just the chosen people.  Not just people like us.

cityzen of world

Presently, there is once again an anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping through Europe, not unlike what was present in the 1930s and at various points before, though not to that degree and wide acceptance (remember that mass shooting at a summer camp in Norway a year ago?).  Sadly, these same feelings are becoming more and more prevalent in America as well, even in our churches.  Socially, this concerns me for what’s coming.  Spiritually, this cultural enculturation saddens and sickens me.  God’s Kingdom is the place where color, language, citizenship, and customs neither matter nor separate because there is a more important commonality in the blood of the Christ that trumps all of these.  There is no place for racism, suspicion, and cultural superiority in the Body of Christ.

That being said, today’s chapter ends with an incredible encouragement.  Imagine how welcome these words would have been to the original recipients of this letter, those who knew they would have to suffer before this passage came true.  When asked who the countless masses are, one of the elders says:

These are the ones who have come out of the great suffering.  They have washed their clothes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.  That is why they are there in front of God’s throne, serving him day and night in his temple.  The one who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.  They will never be hungry again, or thirsty again.  The sun will not scorch them, nor will any fierce heat.  The lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will be their shepherd.  He will lead them to springs of running water, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. (7:14-17)

There is suffering to come, but then there are blessed days ahead in the New Creation.

What caught your eye today?

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Categories: Revelation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

2 Thessalonians 3: May the Lord Give You Peace!

There is so much to be thankful in a day.  There are days I doubt that, but then something usually happens to remind me of the abundance in which I live and how minor my concerns are compared to so many people around me.

I am blessed to have three families, all of which are precious to me in various ways.  I am blessed with a wonderful wife and two great boys who are gifted in their own ways and who are growing day-by-day into great young men.  What a blessing to have the friendships, teaching, and worship-filled encouragement that I do at the church I attend.  My job at a Christian high school is hardly a job.  It is part ministry, part church, and three parts family.  I am blessed to spend my days alongside my dearest friends and mentors doing God’s work in Memphis.  I have so many other blessings — health, wealth (at least a bit), freedom, comfort, and safety — but all of these pale in comparison to the people who make each day more blessed.  You are some of those people, so today (and most other days as well) I say thanks to God for you.

Paul ended this short, second letter to the Thessalonians with the words that hang outside my classroom door as a greeting and that express my wishes for you today:

Now may the Lord of peace give you peace always and in every way.  The Lord be with you all. (3:16)

What did the Thessalonian letters teach you? 

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2 Corinthians 9: A Vision of Abundance

“There is only so much” or “There is enough to go around” — which do you tend to believe?

“The early bird gets the worm” or “There is enough to share” — which one tends to describe how you see material resources?

“Get your’s while you can” or “It is a blessing to share” — which is it?

The American worldview certainly holds that there is a limited number of resources and we are in competition with each other to get those.  Of course, that belief shapes our perceptions and then we accept it to be unquestionably true.  And if we count our needs in millions and billions of dollars, maybe this view is true.  But when we think realistically, isn’t there more than enough to go around?

Walter Brueggemann, a favorite author of mine, calls this belief the “myth of scarcity.”  Americans seem to believe it, but so did many in Israel in the Old Testament.  That is why the rich got richer and the poor poorer and the prophets railed against social injustice.  The prophetic imagination of seers like Micah dared Israel (and us still today) to believe that we lived in abundance.

He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
    and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4)

Hoarding is not necessary, because each can have his own.  Brother does not need to compete with brother because we both can have more than enough.  Jesus feed five thousand and there was still twelve baskets of bread to spare.

It is this same vision that guides Paul in today’s passage.

Someone who sows sparingly will reap sparingly as well.  Someone who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone should do [give] as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” And God is well able to lavish all his grace [gifts, including material resources] upon you, so that in every matter and in every way you will have enough of everything, and may be lavish in all your own good works, Just as the Bible says: “They spread their favors wide, they gave to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies “seed to be sown and bread to eat” will supply and increase your seed and multiply the yield of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way in all single-hearted goodness, which is working through us to produce thanksgiving to God.  The service of this ministry will not only supply what God’s people so badly need, but it will also overflow with many thanksgivings to God. (9:6-12)

As the Corinthians get ready to receive Paul who will be looking for the contribution they had previously promised to give to the famine relief efforts in Jerusalem (9:1-5), Paul exhorts them to view this with a vision of abundance, not the myth of scarcity.  So too for us.  Anytime we are called upon to give to provide for those who are under-resourced at the time (notice that this passage is not talking about giving to meet the budget of the church) we will need the same perspective.  We can be “cheerful givers” because the anxiety of competing for the same dollar does not need to rule our hearts.  God is able to pour down blessings on us in such a lavish way that we will have everything we need (of course, “need” and “want” are two different words).  We can also be cheerful givers when we acknowledge the result of unselfish living: “thanksgiving to God.” The myth of scarcity makes us turn others into competition and weigh the perceived right others have to our money.  A vision of abundance makes it easier to melt our selfish hearts and uncurl our greedy fingers, and that is when praise and thanksgiving are born.  

Today is Labor Day in America, a day we celebrate the worker, the most important cog in the machine of capitalism.  Ironically, we celebrate the day by not working (and I am super cool with that!)  We work to provide for ourselves and for others.  Instead of turning this procurement of resources into a competition, can we dare to trust that God will provide all that is needed and that he might be using us to provide for others for a time?

When have you been surprised by how abundant God’s material blessings truly are?

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Luke 16: Faithful in Little, Faithful in Much

“Rich Man and Lazarus, Part 1,” prettytexasgal (from Flickr)

Someone who is faithful in a small matter will also be faithful in a large one. Someone who is dishonest in a small matter will also be dishonest in a large one. If you haven’t been faithful with that wicked thing called money, who is going to entrust you with true wealth? (16:10-11)

What constitutes “faithfulness” in this passage?

I think I have always answered that question the way Dave Ramsey or Larry Burkett might want me to.  “Faithful” means managing your money in such a way that you do not lose it and maybe you even gain more.  Faithful is financial.

But then I see the word “dishonest”  in verse 10, so maybe faithful is ethical.  Being faithful with money means not cheating your employer or not selling junk bonds or something like that.

Then we keep reading on in the chapter and I am wondering if Luke doesn’t tell us himself what “faithful” means.  Luke gives us a story contrasting the life of a rich man who has “received good things” (16:25) but goes on to an eternal punishment and a poor man named Lazarus who would have settled for “scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” (16:21) but receives a blessed afterlife.  The implication is that the rich man is being punished for how he has treated or, maybe better said, neglected Lazarus.  If Luke intends for us to read these stories together, then “faithful” is social.  To be faithful means to be compassionate, to care for others, and to use the money with which God entrusts us to ensure the people in our life have what they need, not simply to serve our own interests.

Does that understanding make sense with your reading of this chapter?

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Luke 6: Blessings and Woes

Happy Fourth of July!

And now for something completely un-American!

Most of Luke 6 is our author’s version of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7.  Jesus’ sermon is shorter, but it has many of the same teachings and the same sequence of topics minus the “You have heard it was said, but I say to you” commentary on the  Pharisaic reduction of the Law.  I have to admit that Luke’s version of the Beatitudes has me perplexed and filled with questions today.  I understand that Luke’s emphasis on social justice accounts for the differences between his version and Matthew’s, but Luke seems too either-or.  I will restructure Luke 6:20-26 so the couplets come together.

Blessings on the poor: God’s kingdom belongs to you! . . . But woe betide you rich: you’ve had your comfort!

Blessings on those who are hungry today: you’ll have a feast! . . . Woe betide you if you’re full today: you’ll go hungry!

Blessings on those who weep today: you’ll be laughing! . . . Woe betide you if you’re laughing today: you’ll be mourning and weeping!

Blessings on you, when people hate you, and shut you out, when they slander you and reject your name as if it was evil, because of the son of man.  Celebrate on that day!  Jump for joy!  Don’t you see: in heaven there is a great reward for you!  That’s what their ancestors did to the prophets. . . . Woe betide you when everyone speaks well of you: that’s what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Are these very situational verses?  Was Jesus speaking into situations where people were rich or poor because of injustice and oppression?  Is it inherently wrong to be rich, comfortable, and happy?  Must one suffer in order to enter fully the kingdom of God?  Sure, there will be a reversal in the hereafter that punishes those who got rich by exploiting the poor, but what about those who were rich through acceptable avenues?  Can a Christian not be well-received in society and be devoted to God?

What do you think about these verses?

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Luke 5: What A Catch!

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deeper part, and let down your nets for a catch.” . . . When they did so, they caught such a huge number of fish that their nets began to break.  They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  So they came, and filled both the boats, and they began to sink. (5:4, 6-7)

What a great reminder that the blessings of God can be that immense!  Oh, to experience that in the areas of our lives that seem so vacant of goodness and provision!

At the same time, Luke shows us that this blessing of abundant fish had an illustrative purpose: to show the new disciples that just as he can bless the work they are used to doing, likewise Jesus could bless the new “fishing” business he is calling them to that may seem foreign and daunting.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Jesus to Simon.  “From now on you’ll be catching people.” (5:10b)

It’s all about trust.

How could a recent blessing be evidence that we can trust God for something new and different in the future? 

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Ephesians 3: Ministry Is A Gift!

As I said yesterday, Paul always contextualizes the gospel to fit the audience he is addressing.  Think of it like jazz.  There is a main harmony that is constant throughout a song, but from what little I understand about jazz music a good musician takes that harmony and riffs off in new variations of the same constant harmony.  (Feel free to correct me if I apparently don’t understand anything about jazz!)

Sometimes Paul calls each of these variations a “mystery,” or “secret” as Wright translates it.  These are unique, audience-specific versions of the gospel or the consequences of the gospel.  In Ephesians 3, Paul gives the Ephesian Christians theirs:

When you read this you’ll be able to understand the special insight I have into the king’s secret. . . . Now it’s been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  The secret is this: that, through the gospel, the Gentiles are to share Israel’s inheritance.  They are to become fellow members of the body, along with them, and fellow sharers of the promise in King Jesus. . . . My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is. (3:4b-6, 9a)

Paul has a ministry to share this wonderful new message far and wide, with Jews and Gentiles alike.  All are welcome.  This Jesus thing isn’t just for Jews.  Gentiles are welcome too.  And the revolutionary idea that Paul hasn’t really fleshed out in this book as much as he did in Galatians, for instance, is that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to become Christians.

This was not as easy a message to preach as we might think.  Sure, the Gentiles would be down with it.  But the Jewish gatekeepers were not as enthusiastic.  The first century Church spent the better part of that first century ironing out all of the details of that “secret.”  It got Paul beaten up more than a few times.  It caused churches to split.  It caused more than a little fuss.  Jewish Christians were content to come behind Paul and slander his ministry, lying about him and painting his ministry as an opportunistic grab at money and power.  I just have to imagine there were days Paul had to have second thoughts and desires to jump the next ship to anywhere.

That is why I am so struck by this line that comes in the middle of this discussion of his ministry:

. . . he gave me this task as a gift . . . (3:8)

Wow!  There was much about Paul’s ministry that I would not see as a “gift.”  I am afraid I am weak enough that there are days I would want to return that gift for another one.  Yet, not Paul.  Oh, to have that perspective!

What stood out to you today? 

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Ephesians 1: Jesus the King

Over in England, it was the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation this past weekend.  Unless you have just been away from a media outlet of some sort you have seen the celebrations — flotilla, horse races, Sir Elton John, and all.  Now imagine walking into the middle of the crowds outside Buckingham Palace and shouting, “There is another queen, one better and more powerful than Elizabeth!”  Yeah.  I am thinking that wouldn’t go over well, even as fair-weather as the British people are about their royals.

But that is essentially what Paul does as he starts Ephesians.  This is where N. T. Wright’s choice to translate “Christ” as “king” really makes the point.  Eleven times in twenty-three verses Paul calls Jesus the “king.”  But there already was a king in Ephesus: Caesar.  And if that wasn’t enough to fill their hearts they had the blessings of the local goddess Artemis.  This was not a people in need of another king, another power, and more blessing.  Yet, that is exactly how Paul starts.  How confrontational!  Notice how in-your-face these verses sound when you remember where they are being read:

His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king — yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him. (1:10)

This was the power at work in the king when God raised him from the dead and sat him at his right hand in the heavenly places, above all rule and authority and power and lordship, and above every name that is invoked , both in the present age and also in the age to come.  Yes: God has “put all things under his feet.” (1:20-22a)

Artemis (Diana)

Artemis was usually depicted with many breasts from which her worshipers were nourished.  Her blessings sustained life.  Yet, Paul packs blessing after blessing into Ephesians 1 as he reminds the Ephesian Christians what they have received from God, not Artemis (1:3):

  • Being holy and irreproachable in God’s sight (1:4)
  • Adoption as God’s sons and daughters (1:5)
  • Deliverance by the forgiveness of sins (1:7)
  • Making known the secret of God’s purposes to us (1:9)
  • Marked by the Spirit as an inheritance (1:11, 13)
  • Being made wise, understanding things others do not (1:17)
  • Enlightenment to the “eyes of your inmost self” (1:18)
  • Knowledge of the amazing power of God towards us (1:19)

Paul also sneaks the real issue into the chapter three times:

To the holy ones in Ephesus who are also loyal believers in King Jesus. (1:1)

I’d heard that you are loyal and faithful to Jesus the master (1:15)

You will know the outstanding greatness of his power toward us who are loyal to him in faith (1:19)

The real question that the Ephesians had to grapple with first was to which king they would be loyal.  To whom would they go for blessing?

What did you notice in this significant chapter?

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BONUS: An Introduction to Ephesians

Though some have doubted it because of the lack of personal greetings so common in his letters, the apostle Paul is stated twice as the author of Ephesians (1:1; 3:1), a letter likely written while the apostle was under house arrest in Rome (3:1; 4:1; 6:20) around AD 60.  The other Prison Epistles — Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon — would have been written at this same time, and we will be reading all four together in the next month.

The Temple of Artemis

Ephesus was an important city in the ancient world and in the life of Paul.  Situated at the nexus of sea and land trading routes, Ephesus became both a commercial and cultural center, by far the most important in Asia Minor and one of the top five most important cities on the Mediterranean.  Home to the Temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, Ephesus also became a religious center as pilgrims flocked to the temple seeking a blessing from the many-breasted fertility goddess.  You may recall it was Ephesus where the silversmiths rallied a large part of the city to chant “Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians” for two straight hours (Acts 19:23-34).  Paul spent almost three years here (Acts 19:10) growing very close to the leaders in the church and using the Ephesian church as a home base for his evangelism of western Turkey.  This Ephesian church is the one to whom Paul sent Timothy in 1 and 2 Timothy towards the end of the apostle’s life in an effort to set them straight when they apparently went off track.  John would warn the Ephesian church to regain their “first love” in Revelation 2.

Ephesians may be the most general of Paul’s letters.  Whereas Paul usually addressed a problem or threat to the church, he only seems to be encouraging the Christians in Ephesus to know how blessed they are and to stand firm in those blessings appreciating the high calling of the Church.  In a unique way, Ephesians talks about how the work of God on behalf of Christians impacts all areas of life — spiritual, religious, ethnic, and social.  The general nature of this letter makes some theorize Ephesians was really a circular letter sent to many churches in western Turkey.

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