Posts Tagged With: judgment

Revelation 19: A Chorus of Hallelujahs

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Merry Christmas!

I was fortunate that both of my sets of grandparents lived in the same small town, a few hours away from my childhood home.  Every Christmas included a visit with both sides of the family in a grand two- or three-day holiday.  The celebrations with each family couldn’t be more different.  Christmas with my mother’s family was loud with laughter and stories.  There was always an endless game of road hockey, and some of the best cooking you ever would have.  I enjoyed our Christmas visits with my dad’s family just as much but the traditions were very different.  My grandfather would hold court in his living room around a warm fire, where all were invited to solve the world’s problems with appropriately conservative answers.  We children would escape to the basement to shoot pool until we grew old enough to have opinions we could support.  To this day, though, what I remember most was that my grandfather always had classical music playing.  Royal Canadian Brass.  The Boston Pops.  Handel’s “Messiah.”  When my grandfather passed away last year I was given a nut-bowl I had turned him in the seventh grade in woodshop, and a collection of CDs he used to play at Christmas.

George Friedric Handel

George Friedric Handel

Arguably the most popular part of George Friedric Handel’s “Messiah” is the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  Handel set the music in 1741 and his friend Charles Jennens provided the lines of verse.  Interestingly, the three most famous lines of the “Hallelujah Chorus” come from Revelation, and two are found in today’s passage:

Alleluia!  The Lord our God, the Almighty, has become king [reigneth]! (19:6)

On his robe, and on his thigh, is written a name: King of kings, and Lord of lords. (19:16)

Now the kingdom of the world has passed to our Lord and his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever. (11:15)

Amidst the oracles of doom and judgement, the grotesque beast and powerful celestial beings, it is immensely fitting that the fall of Rome ends with the flourish of praise to Christ the Victor we find running throughout this passage.

I enjoyed solving the problems of the world in my grandfather’s living room sipping apple cider and listening to Handel.  I am infinitely more thankful that there is a white rider with a blood-drenched robe who truly can right the world again.  No beast or false prophet can stand against him.  And that is worth a lifetime’s chorus of “Hallelujahs.”

What a great gift for Christmas!

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Revelation 18: A Self-Centered Lament

"The Fall of Babylon, Revelation 18," by Patty Albred (2000)

“The Fall of Babylon, Revelation 18,” by Patty Albred (2000)

Fair weather friends.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  It turns out that’s all Rome’s friends were to her.

A mighty angel comes on to the scene and shouts a death notice for Rome:

Babylon the Great has fallen!  She has fallen! (18:2)

He also makes one last call to God’s people to be a separate people until the end.  We are reminded that holiness is one of the main themes of Revelation:

Come out of here, my people, so that you don’t become embroiled in her sins, and so that you don’t receive any of her plagues. (18:4)

Judgment has come to this wicked woman who thought no harm would come to her, that no one would hold her accountable for her behavior, even the buying and selling of humans (18:13).  But she will be paid back double (18:6).

To be sure, Rome’s fall is lamented.  But not for the reasons we might expect.

The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, because nobody will buy their cargo anymore. (18:11)

“Alas, alas,” they said, “the great city!  Everyone who had ships on the sea could get rich from her wealth, but in a single hour she has become a desert.” (18:19).

The merchants and mariners who cry over Rome’s demise are really crying for themselves.  They care about photo 1only to the degree it affects them.  They are broken up over their loss of business.  Not exactly compassion now, is it?

Power intimidates.  Power can produce great respect.  Power might even engender admiration.  But power is not the recipe for loyalty, sacrificial kinship, or even love.  When power wanes, so too do the alliances that power brought.  Rome only knew how to operate by power.  The kingdom of the Lamb is the dominion of love.

Tonight is Christmas Eve.  My family has made a bunch to trips to Target and Sam’s Club and the grocery store the past few days.  I am thankful those businesses exist.  As much driving as many of us do around the holidays, I am glad the big oil companies exist.  I look forward to sitting down tonight in peace and order and even a reasonable level of affluence, and I know that I have the sacrifices of soldiers and the tireless hours of civil servants to thank.  But when I sit down tonight it will be with my family whom I love.  Maybe my family of faith too at a nearby Christmas Eve service.  Tomorrow my family will enjoy each other’s presence and we will make time to celebrate the birth of the Lamb.  Love breeds love, not power.

What struck you today?

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Revelation 9: Undeterred Evil and Protected Saints

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With today’s reading we are solidly in the section of Revelation that is both hard to understand in a simple reading and that reveals aspects of God that we neither think a lot about nor welcome.

After running quickly through the first four trumpets, John concentrates his attention on the fifth and sixth.  As the revelation unfolds we see an army of lion-toothed locusts armed like scorpions come up out of the underworld to invade the world bringing torment as they go.  With the sixth trumpet this only intensifies as a numberless horde of long-haired barbarians wreaks havoc on the countryside (bear in mind that the barbarians of northern Europe did in fact bring the end to the Roman Empire in the 400s AD).  More than torment, this army of riders brings death to a wide swath of people.  As a great fan of Tolkien, I can’t help but imagine an army of demented and distorted orcs marching across the land.  Notice the faithful who have been marked on their foreheads by God as His are protected entirely from the effects of the trumpets (9:4).  John now has God unleashing evil forces to punish the wicked.  Maybe we are uncomfortable with this idea of God using evil, but here it is.

Maybe the most amazing point in this chapter is that even after all of this torment, even after a third of the world dies, the people being punished were so bent towards evil that they did not turn from their sinful ways:

All the other people, the ones who had not been killed in these plagues, did not repent of the things they had made.  The did not stop worshipping demons — idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk.  Nor did they repent of their murders, or their magic, or their fornication, or their stealing. (9:20-21)

Sadly, I have to believe that there are people alive today who are every bit as depraved as these.

What do you think?

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Revelation 8: The Power of Prayer

ist2_305172-fluorescent-microscope-lensMy son has one of your typical microscopes that has three lenses that rotate, through which you can view a slide with gradual degrees of magnification.  At first you can look through the 10x lens and see a small insect or piece of a plant or a seed in its entirety.  Then you can switch to the 40x lens and finer features begin to reveal themselves, until with the 100x lens you see the finest of details you did not know even existed.  You are always looking at the same thing, but your ability to see the details grows as the lenses change.

Today we come to the second set of seven objects that deliver judgment on the world.  First it was seven seals.  Now it is seven trumpets, an object used universally in the ancient world to announce battle.  In a few more chapters we will come to seven bowls from which God’s wrath is poured.  Thinking as good westerners for whom all time is linear, we naturally think these three sets of seven are occurring chronologically one after another.  That is twenty-one doses of some bad medicine!

Robert Mounce, a respected commentator on Revelation, argues that it is better to think that these three sets  discuss the same events just with more and more detail as we move through the sets, as happens with my son’s microscope.  The seven seals largely described the woes of the world as socially-occurring events brought on my human selfishness: war, violence, maybe even famine and disease.  Now as the details of the matter come into focus with the trumpets we see that there is a divine hand involved in the judgment.  This way of thinks of the seals, trumpets and bowls is worth considering as we read.

8256_429422x250I also want to point out why God is unleashing divine judgment.  Much like the events of fifth seal in which we were allowed to see the faithful but persecuted Christians crying out for justice, the prayers of the righteous have come up to God in His glorious throne-room like incense and he is aware.

Another angel came and stood before the altar.  He was holding a golden censer, and he was given a large quantity of incense so that he could offer it, along with the prayers of all God’s holy people, on the golden altar, in front of the throne.  The smoke of incense, with the prayer of the saints, rose up from the hand of the angel in front of God. (8:3-4)

The prayers of people precious to God are powerful.  God sees their plight.  He hears their prayers.  He smells the desperate aroma of their lament.  God does not stand by aloof.

What hit you in a new way in this chapter?

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2 Peter 3: The Provocative Patience of God

He had the patience of Job.  At least that is what they said of him.  And I now see why.

He was my high school PE teacher and basketball coach.  I can’t remember a time I ever saw him genuinely angry, quite a thing to say about a coach.  I gave him many reasons to be angry.  He probably should have benched me most games for the tirades I was unfortunately prone to when playing basketball.  During game, he found me exasperating, and he showed his displeasure with grimaces and hands thrown in the air. But he never raised his voice with me or made me run extra.  In fact, no one knew of a time when he had done that with students, even though teenagers are notorious for their unreasonable behavior.

Why would he do that?  I have to wonder if it wasn’t for the same reason that God does the same with people.

Now that I am a teacher, I would imagine people said of him that he was a pushover.  Other teachers who ruled with an iron fist probably looked down on him as lax and irresponsible.  Maybe there were even students and athletes who doubted that he would ever lower the boom and took advantage of it.

It seems there were people in the background of Peter’s second epistle who were thinking the same about God.

This is what they will say: “Where is the promise of his [Jesus] royal arrival?  Ever since the previous generation died, everything has continued just as it has from the beginning of creation.” (3:4)

Where is this promised re-creation?  Judgment?  I don’t see that happening.  People get away with wrongdoing today just like they did yesterday and the same will happen tomorrow.  I would like to believe that there is a better day coming, but all I see is the same darkness.  Some days it seems to be getting darker.  So goes the thinking that some addressed by Peter were thinking.

But there was a reason for God’s patience with wrongdoers:

The Lord is not delaying his promise, in the way that some reckon delay, but he is very patient toward you.  He does not want anyone to be destroyed.  Rather, he wants everyone to arrive at repentance. (3:9)

And when our Lord waits patiently to act, see that for what it is — salvation! (3:15)

I had many great teachers, coaches, administrators, and mentors in high school, but few were as influential as my teacher and coach mentioned above.  I often see that I have unconsciously gravitated towards his way of teaching and mentoring.  The way he was willing to laugh with his students.  The way he would grab your arm for emphasis.  The gentleness with which he said and did everything, even though he was six and a half feet tall and had the body of a former college athlete.  I realize now that he saw what we — what I — could become, not just what we were at the moment.  I know he was longing for the day I learned the lessons he passionate taught.  I know he was being patient with my learning curve.  Had he done it for us, we never would have learned.  Had he (and others) given up on me, I am not sure I ever would have come around.  He was patient for a reason.

God is also patient for a reason.  Likewise, God wants all to “get it.”  He is being patient with our learning curve.  He is even being patient those who do us wrong (though we might wish otherwise) hoping that all will come around to his way of love and goodness.

What a provocative patience!

What did you learn from 2 Peter?  

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2 Thessalonians 2: Beware the Man of Lawlessness!

There can be no doubt that today’s passage raises lots of questions, most of which you are not about to get an answer to.  Paul discusses the mysterious “man of lawlessness” (2:3), and lots of ink has been spilled on who or what this is or was.  The opinions are myriad and no consensus has arisen; it would take far more time and space than I have to explore this topic completely (one needs only google “man of lawlessness” to see the ridiculous diversity of opinion).  Interpretations of prophecies like these tend to be shaped by the interpreter’s biases and philosophical presuppositions, so I will reveal mine by saying that I imagine Paul was talking about something and someone that made sense in a first century context, likely connected to politics given the cryptic nature of the prophecy.  At the same time, when has there not been someone who “fits the bill” in many ways?  My desire today is only to deconstruct one concern that people some times have when they come to this passage.

Paul describes the man of lawlessness as a deceiver who leads people astray with his lies.  Some grow concerned then that they will be pulled away from God, almost against their better judgment, by the wiles of this man and his trickery.  Let’s unpack this in good sermonic fashion with a nice dose of alliteration:

The presence of the lawless one will be accompanied by the activity of the satan, with full power, with signs, and spurious wonders, with every kind of wicked deceit over those on the way to ruin, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For that reason God sends upon them a strong delusion, leading them to believe the lie, so that judgment may come upon all who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness. (2:9-12)

Long before a person falls victim of the man of lawlessness’s lies, he has put himself in a place to be open to that deceit.  The lawless man only leads those who have decided to follow his leading.  Notice how this passage ends: those who believe the lies of this man had already chosen to take “pleasure in wickedness.”  Their love of debauchery had set them up to be led astray; those who like the dark have many reasons for why it is the best way to live.  From this love of wickedness then came denial and an unwillingness to “believe the truth.”  Only then are they hit with the one-two punch of deceit from the satanic man of lawlessness and delusion from God.  As much as it may not line up with the sensibilities that some of us with high, high views of human freedom, yes, it does seem that God will “harden the hearts” of those who have already chosen by their own choice not to respond to his love and grace.  Only then does judgment and destruction come.

In short, the man of lawlessness, as crafty as he may have been (or will be, given your view on latter-day prophecy), is not capable of turning the devoted against God.  To argue such is to claim there is one who can frustrate the plans of God for our salvation with his superior, evil power.  Surely we do not want to claim such a fallacy!  Christians — especially young ones like the Thessalonians — should always be on guard against influences that can corrupt their hearts and turn them against God.  Notice that sound teaching and traditions help one stand firm against the lawless one’s lies (2:15).  But we need not fret that this will happen against our will nor that of a good and powerful God.

What do you think?

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1 Thessalonians 5: Children of the Light

You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a midnight robber. . . . But as for you, my dear family — you are not in darkness.  That day won’t surprise you like a robber.  (5:2, 4)

In the first part of chapter five, Paul lays out a series of contrasts:

There is a great day coming.  The new creation will soon be upon us.  When, you ask?  We do not know exactly.  Later today.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe long after we are gone, in the days of our children’s  children.  But we don’t need to worry about it.  Nobody in Christ needs to worry about it.

We are the wide-awake people.  We live in the light where robbers are less inclined to come.  We are not numbed to what goes on around us.  We are protected by faith, hope and love (5:8).  Though we do not know the hour, it is okay because we will have peace in that day.  We are destined for salvation, not fury.  So we can echo confidently the second last sentence of the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Does this describe the mindset you have?  Why or why not?

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2 Corinthians 5: Ministers of Reconciliation

In every one of his letters we have read thus far, we have seen Paul state the gospel in some form or fashion, usually in a way that fits the context of the people he is addressing.  2 Corinthians 5 is the “gospel chapter” in this book.

If anyone is in the Messiah, there is a new creation!  Old things have gone, and look — everything has become new! . . . God was reconciling the world to himself in the Messiah, not counting their transgressions against them. . . . The Messiah did not know sin, but God made him to be sin on our behalf, so that in him we might embody God’s faithfulness to the covenant. (5:17,  19, 21)

Personally, I love this version of the gospel message.

Now, it is our job, given by God, to be God’s “ambassadors, speaking on behalf of the Messiah, as though God were making his appeal through us” (5:20).  We have been given this “ministry of reconciliation” (5:18).

What motivates us to do this?  Paul mentions two things in this chapter:

So we know the fear of the Lord: and that’s why we are persuading people. (5:11)

For the Messiah’s love makes us press on. (5:14)

If we choose to believe the words of the Bible, the reality is that there are people who do not know Jesus, yet will come before God in judgment (5:10).  We share the gospel out of fear of what will happen to people if we do not.  We are also “beside ourselves” (5:13) with gratitude and honor because of the reality that the Messiah loved with such a depth that he died in our place so that we would be reunited with God.  That is an astounding message that needs to be shared.

What is your favorite verse in this chapter?

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1 Corinthians 5: Grace of a Different Sort

I hope those who know me best would say I am all about grace.  I love to talk about it, teach it, and read about it.  I am painfully aware of my need for grace.  Any chance I get to speak publicly I am increasingly inclined to bring the message of grace.  More and more in my life, by the help of the Spirit, I am learning to practice it in my relationships, and of course that is most important.

The challenge comes when grace meets sin, in particular sin in the life of people who are representing Christ in this world.  Grace must cover over sin, or it is not grace.  Grace teaches us that we are all in a place of need because we all fall short.  Grace knows that our brothers and sisters will fail.

But is there a limit to grace?  When is the right response discipline and judgment, not mercy and unconditional acceptance?

It seems from this chapter that the Corinthians were a deeply graceful people.  In fact they were so gracious they took pride in what they had forgiven and accepted, even in their midst.  This is likely what they were “boasting” about in verses 2 and 6.  Apparently, a man’s father died and some time after (maybe soon after?) this man took his father’s second wife (surely not his own mother or the text would have said as much) as his own wife.  More to the point, this was deemed scandalous, immoral, and undignified even in their permissive Corinthian society (5:1).  The Corinthian Christians surely saw this as wrong as well, but they had chosen to respond with acceptance instead of judgment and exclusion.  How noble and mature, right?  In a world of judgmental Christians better known for picketing funerals and petitioning politicians and excluding “dirty” people from their social circles, it is very easy still today to want to be the ultra-accepting ones.

Except Paul didn’t feel this way.  In fact, he was beside himself with the Corinthians (“Well I never!,” 5:1b).  This is grace run amok.  Grace is supposed to attract people to God, and this “grace” was a turn off even for the pagans.  And that right there is the key point for Paul:

Everybody’s talking about the sex scandal that’s going on in your community, not least because it’s a kind of immorality that even pagans don’t practice! (5:1)

Grace is not intended to enable sin, rather to move us past our sin in gratitude for such a gift.  We are a re-created people; “depravity and wickedness” have been taken from us (5:6-7).  Why would we allow our sin to remain and fester within us?  Dealing with sin with kid gloves thinking it will go away is a dangerous naiveté.

Paul proposes a different tack.  There is a place for judgment within the church.

Let me tell you what I’ve already done.  I may be away from you physically, but I’m present in the spirit; and I’ve already passed judgment, as though I was there with you, on the person who has behaved this way. . . . You must hand over such a person to the satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus. (5:3, 5)

Note, Paul is talking about how Christians deal with other Christians, not non-Christians (5:9-13).  It is fine to show one’s support for a restaurant because of their stance on gay marriage amongst predominantly non-Christian people, but do we deal with the greed and gluttony and bigotry in our own midst as vigilantly?

Judgment, exclusion, discipline, handing over to Satan, not associating with — well, that doesn’t sound very gracious now, does it?  Certainly all of those response can be done with entirely wrong, depraved motives.  But that is not what Paul is intending here.  Notice what the purpose of this sort of discipline is: “the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved” (5:5).  Put distance between you and the offender so as to get him back again but as a spiritually-stronger, morally-cleansed brother.  Produce a situation where the immoral one feels a loss of love that causes repentance.  The goal is salvation.  The desire is to draw that person closer to God again.  That is an act of grace, albeit a different sort.  That grace says you deserve for us to write you off and have nothing to do with you ever again, but instead we will pray for you, keep you on our radar, and welcome you back with open arms when you decide to turn around.  This is the grace of the father of the prodigal son who never went looking for the son, yet welcomed him home as a dearly loved son not just the slave he was willing to be.

Yes, even discipline can be an act of grace.  Grace motivates change, so the approach Paul was taking fits.  Ironically, what doesn’t fit is the “grace” of the Corinthians.  Nothing would change in unqualified, principle-less acceptance of a perversion even non-Christians find offensive.  In fact, the only thing that changes is the reputation of the Church and the Christ who we serve.  And for the worse.

What do you think?

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James 5: But God Does Redemption

I am intrigued how James ends this letter that has focused so much on what we are to do in our faith.

So be patient, my brothers and sisters, for the appearing of the Lord. . . . the appearing of the Lord is near at hand. (5:7-8)

Three more times in four verses James uses the words “patient” or “patience.”

All letter long James has focused on our actions — all the while avoiding the legalism and self-reliance of the Judaizers — and at the end he closes by drawing the readers’ attention back to Jesus.  And not just Jesus, but the return of Jesus to this world to set it right with judgment and re-creation.

Waiting for Jesus

Lest we turn the book of James into justification for salvation by works, he reminds us that the most important work of all comes solely from God, not us. All we can do is be patient as we wait for God through Christ to restore this world to the just, loving, and faithful kingdom it was meant to be.  As we do faith and do love and do wisdom, James reminds us it is God’s role to do the redemption of this world and our very souls.

James has many, diverse messages, but did one overall point really hit home with you this week?

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