Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A New Season - Fall Announcement

For the last four months, our eldership team has been reflecting on our journey and vision as a church and seeking God's input in shaping us as we move forward.  During this period of discernment, God clarified our church's vision - to help each other live like Jesus in our church, our city, and beyond.

We will be speaking and talking more about what this vision looks like on upcoming Sundays and at an all church prayer meeting on Monday, September 14.  I hope you can join us for these gatherings.

Each member of our team believes that learning to live like Jesus requires involvement in a small group of people who will intentionally seek to live like Him among a specific community or neighborhood. Just like Jesus did. Given this belief, we feel we need to invest more time, gifting, and prayer to strengthen and start community groups.

With this need in mind and in assessing the current season and size of our church, the elders and the Fenway site team made a decision to not re-open our Fenway site this fall.  Our church will continue to meet together at the Brighton Music Hall.  We plan to redirect the energy that was put into hosting the afternoon service to reaching out more strategically in the Fenway with our Fenway community groups.

We realized how much God had orchestrated our steps when last week we discovered the club we had met in since we launched 7 years ago in the Fenway is being sold and will close in October.  You can listen to that story and hear more about why we made this decision on our website.

We are grateful for God's guidance in this season; we are deeply aware that He is with us and leading our church.  As one beautiful season of much visible life and growth has concluded, we are filled with faith for this new season into which God is bringing us.

I'm convinced more than I have ever been that following Jesus with a church community is the best decision a person can make.

Grace,  David W.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Life in Jesus

Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. -Revelation 22:12
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. - 2 Corinthians 5:10

We spent yesterday evening with our Newfrontiers leader, Terry Virgo. I was humbled by his practical message of  living life, daily, with Jesus. He tugged at my heart and helped me to see life the way it would have been for the disciples. They spent three years living day and night with Jesus. Three years with God; waking up, eating, talking, laughing, enjoying their savior and then He went away.  But He promised them and us that He would not leave them alone. That He would come back, in the person of the Holy Spirit, and fill them.

Terry brought us this message to enliven us again to the simple message that we are to live with Jesus daily. In so doing we would be just like the disciples and just like the Israelites. Wherever we go, God's presence will be with us.

With this in mind I posted the above verses to give us a new perspective on them. If our lives are spent in daily fellowship with Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, then the inevitable fruit of that kind of life will result. The glorious blessing that awaits us after that will just be icing on the cake. These verse are meant as an encouragement to give up everything to follow Him, but I see them also as another picture of the extreme generosity of our father in heaven. We aren't worthy to clean the dirt off His feet, yet He elevates us to count us as His friends, blesses us with His presence daily and then showers us with rewards for being with Him!

Revelation has been somewhat of a sobering journey. We have seen Him coming on the clouds. We have seen Him pour out his wrath on his enemies, He cast Satan and his demons, along with those who rejected Jesus, into the lake of fire. We have also seen Him usher in a new earth and heaven and as His city descends from above, we will rejoice that God's dwelling place will be with mankind, forever.

The delightful thought of being with God is prize enough in itself. We will finally be with the object of our hope, the treasure of our heart, the jewel of our love. The reality of seeing and being with Him, in actuality instead of just in spirit, will be its own continual reward. For in those days we will no longer be separate from the one who made us. We will finally be back in the garden, with our father, restored completely.

1. How can you daily live your life with Jesus, like the disciples did?
2. What are some questions you have for God when you finally meet him?
3. Spend some time in personal worship, praising God for all He has done for us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Glory of God Gives Light

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23)

 In the message this past Sunday, David talked about the New Jerusalem, the city of God, described as a perfect, brilliant, beautiful city in Revelation 21. He mentioned several aspects of the city, including that it would be reflective, it would be protected, and it would be open. It's a huge city- 12,000 stadia long, with a height and width of the same length.  A perfect cube.

12,000 stadia is about 1,380 miles; a stadion was about 607 feet. That's actually quite huge. I mean, the diameter of Pluto is roughly 1,430 miles. Can you imagine if a city the size of Pluto came down out of the sky, a city covered with jewels and made of gold? I mean, I get teared up when I see a really beautiful old building with ornate carvings and gold filigree. I can't even begin to picture an entire city covered in jewels.

It's beyond our imaginings, and that's one of the points that David made. Revelation is a vision, steeped in symbols and metaphors. Because nothing can fully prepare us for the glory that awaits us in heaven. Revelation is not just a picture of Jesus, but a picture of our future with Jesus, and being the bride of Christ is a future that is too wonderful for us to fully take in.

We're nearing the end of our series on Revelation, and we've covered a lot. I think, though, the thing that I've taken away the most, though, is that Revelation, as a picture of Jesus, as a picture of our future with Jesus, is an encouragement for our present time. 

Take, for example, Revelation 21:23: "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp."

In the future, there will be no darkness, because God itself will be our light. More than that, God will shine through us, because we will reflect His image fully and beautifully. So, for now, secure in that, we can be lights in the current darkness. Like the stars, each with its own light, given to it by the Creator. Or like the moon, which reflects the sun so brilliantly that we can see by its light at night. 


If you haven't read through Revelation or listened to the messages on it, I would encourage you to take some time to work your way through it. Revelation 1:3 states that, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near." As you go through the series, you might meditate on these things:

1. What has God already done for you in your life?
2. What has God promised you for your future?
3. What is God asking you to do right now?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Our Eternal Home

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more." Revelation 21:1

On Sunday, we bloggers were privileged to give the message, sharing some of the insights that God has given us as we’ve been going through Revelation and especially in relation to Revelation 21:1-8. For followers of Christ, it’s a beautiful and encouraging passage about the present and future hope that we have in Jesus; the promise of a day when there will be no more tears, death, mourning, crying out to God, or pain.

One thing we didn’t get time to look at in detail though was the final verse in our passage, verse 8, ‘But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death’. Emily touched on it briefly when she said that all these people are looking for fulfillment and satisfaction outside of God, and that all of us have a choice whether to find fulfillment in God as the only one who can make us happy, the only one who can take our pain away, or in other things. But, even so, it can seem like a terribly harsh, severe verse to tack on the end of a passage filled with so much hope for restoration. Hasn’t Revelation made the point enough already?

I agree with Emily that this verse does remind us that we have a choice, but it also serves other purposes as part of the passage. It is not only a challenge to us to find fulfillment in God, but it also forms part of the encouragement of the vision of the new heaven and new earth. You see, if the things described in this verse are not part of the new heaven and new earth, then our future happiness is secure. As Poythress writes, "No sin or second fall into evil will disturb the permanent security and bliss of the new world."

The exclusion of anything that could taint the splendor and beauty of the new heaven and earth is also hinted at in verse 1 where we are told that there will no longer be any sea. Many of us love the beauty and majesty of the sea, and I do not think we will be robbed of that pleasure in heaven. Rather, the absence of the sea here is symbolic of the evil and chaos that ancient people associated with the sea. In many places in Scripture the sea is connected with destruction, death, and frightening sea monsters (see for example Psalm 69:1, Jonah 2:3, Daniel 7:3, and Isaiah 27:1). Again Poythress writes, "The removal of the sea means the permanent removal of the challenges to God’s order and hence the peace and stability of the new world."

The security of this new heaven and new earth is important as we are going to be there for a while; in fact, forever! And for anyone who has experienced even a degree of uncertainty or instability in their earthly homes, be it through abusive or failed relationships, financial hardship, sickness, and even death, the significance of this won’t be underestimated. In at least three places in this short passage of Scripture (and if you read the passage again or listen to the message you may spot more!) God goes to great lengths to impress upon us the truth that the future home he is preparing for us, in contrast to the current world we experience, is a place of safety and peace.
  1. How does it make you feel to know that there will be a new heaven and new earth free from pain and suffering? How does it change the way you view life on earth now?
  2. Jesus said, "In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2) On Sunday, Dave spoke about how heaven is not just a fuzzy, spiritual place but it will be a physical place where we find joy and fulfillment working in the presence of God. How does this impact your own ideas of heaven?
  3. Spend some time in prayer thanking God for this future hope and asking Him to help you find fulfillment in Him, instead of the things of this world.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

This Thing Called Millenialism

Sunday, I preached from Revelation 20.   In the second part of the message, I looked at two images.

1) Satan being bound and shut in a pit for a thousand years.

2) Worshipers of Jesus who reign with Christ for those thousand years.

What is most important about this passage is that Satan is portrayed as a limited and ultimately defeated foe and that the the worshipers of Jesus are portrayed as a blessed, active, and victorious (yet persecuted) people.

A question that emerges from this passage is what time period (symbolic or literal) is the thousand years (millennium) in Revelation 20 referring to?  Three positions have become most prominent over the years, but perhaps one pastor friend I know has the best position which he refers to as "pan-millennialism."  In his words, its all going to "pan out in the end." I think Jesus' teachings were meant to promote a similar trust in us when we think about the end times.

With that said, the things we can learn from exploring this concept of a one thousand year time period in Revelation 20 further yield knowledge that is helpful to us in learning to live like Jesus in our world.  It is with this end in mind that I will briefly present my view of the three positions - premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillenialism.

In this view, the millennium (one thousands years) will follow Jesus’ second coming.  This view places the binding of Satan and the victorious reign of the church on earth in the future, after Jesus returns as he promised.

The strength of this view is that it helps to interpret more literally some of the Old Testament messianic promises of the Messiah establishing an earthly kingdom that ushers in an era of peace and prosperity in the world.  I personally feel that most, if not all, of those Old Testament passages are fulfilled through the church as God's people reign on earth in the authority of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit OR through Jesus' inauguration of the new heave and earth in Revelation 21.

The weakness of this view is that it hard to reconcile with Jesus' clear and extensive teaching (especially Matthew 24-25, Mark 13) that his second coming will be sudden, decisive, and cosmic in scale AND that it would be followed immediatetly by the final judgment.  Premillennialism can also allow for a broader view of Satan's activity and power since he is yet to be bound. 

In this view, we are either currently in the symbolic millennium or soon to enter a symbolic/literal millennium as all the nations of the earth are reached with the gospel. This view sees the church as enjoying a great period of peace, prosperity and triumph (the one thousand years) before Jesus returns.

The strength of this view is that it embraces Jesus' and Paul's teachings that the church has been given authority by God to reign in this life and to see the gospel taken to every tribe, tongue, and nations.  It envisions a victorious church that is presently experiencing the blessing and victory that Revelation 20:4-6 describes.

The weakness of this view is that it does not allow much room for the intensification of satan-inspired activity that the repetitive cycles throughout Revelation reveal and that Jesus himself taught about.  For example, this view is hard to reconcile with Jesus' words in Matthew 24:12 that, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold."  Postmillennialism can lead to a triumphalism that does not help the church persevere well through the suffering, hardships, and persecution that Jesus and the apostles taught it would experience.

Amillennial (Greek: a- "no" + millennialism)
This view understands the millennium to be a symbolic time period that represents the reign of Christ through his church from the time of the Apostles until Jesus returns.  In this view, Satan has been bound by the triumph of Christ at the cross and resurrection so that people from every tribe and nation may come to know Jesus.

One of the strengths of this view is that it allows people to embrace the view of both a church that is ruling and reigning through the authority of Christ but is also facing suffering and difficulties.  It views Satan as bound but  leaves room for the continued activity of Satan from the pit (Revelation 9:1-11) and on the earth immediately before Christ returns (Revelation 20:7-10).  It avoids the triumphalism of the postmillennial view by understanding that, while Satan has been bound and his activity has been curtailed and limited, the church will still face difficulty and distress before Jesus returns.

A weakness of amillennialism is that it does not allow for you to interpret some Old Testament passages and much of Revelation either literally or chronologically.  (However, I personally doubt that some of those prophetic and apocalyptic writings in the Bible are meant to be understood in that way. We are to understand numbers and images such as one thousand years, 666, a pit, and a dragon as representative of real realities but symbolic in and of themselves.)

It's corresponding strength is that amillennialism does make room for the symbolism and repetition that is found throughout Revelation and other parts of the Bible.

Lastly, I find myself most comfortable with an amillennial view because I find that it reconciles well with the rest of the New Testament's teaching (especially those of Jesus) on the end times.  When I read Jesus' teachings, it seems clear to me that Jesus taught that before he returned the gospel would go to every nation AND his followers would experience intense persecution and trouble (Matthew 24).  He also described his return as a decisive event that would usher in both the passing away of this world as we know it and the inauguration of a new heaven and earth rather than an introduction to a literal thousand year rule as premillennialism does.

Thus, I feel the amillennial view fits Jesus' own words and instructions well, and I believe that as a follower of Jesus who is seeking to live like Jesus in our world that this is what is most important.

Questions to Ponder
1) How do these views line up with Jesus' own teachings and instructions on the end times?  Read Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13 to start.

2) How might each of these views effect how you live for Jesus now?  Why?

3) Do you feel it is necessary to embrace a particular view?  What can be learned and applied from each view by someone who is seeking to live like Jesus?  How could you apply that in your own life?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Courage for the Battle

‘Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.’ Revelation 19:11
Revelation makes it clear that there is a battle raging- A battle between Satan and God, between the Destroyer and the Creator, between evil and good.
Yet it also makes it clear that the battle has only one already determined outcome: Satan ultimately is no match for the victory won through Jesus Christ, who appears in Revelation 19 as a triumphant rider on a white horse.
So majestic and powerful is Jesus in the vision, that no one name sufficiently describes Him. He is called Faithful and True (v11), The Word of God (v13), and the King of kings and Lord of lords (v16). He has even a name that no one knows but Himself (v12), so far is He beyond our comprehension. He is accompanied by all the armies of heaven (v14), and yet all the action in the passage is His. Whereas Satan must make use of all his resources-the beast, the false prophet, and the kings of the earth-God, by contrast, is totally sufficient in and of Himself to judge and make war.
So, if there is a battle raging, it poses the question, which side are we on? Or, as Paul McFarthing put it in his message on Sunday, do our lives reflect the total reign of Jesus, or the world that is destined for destruction and will pass away? Because this vision of God in Revelation 19, as Paul pointed out, does not leave room to consider God as an add-on to our lives, a vitamin supplement that we can take on the side as a nice bonus to our general health.
Revelation continually challenges us to live in the truth of who God is, even when it seems like Satan is winning. And that takes courage. And, if I’m honest, sometimes I don’t feel like I have enough courage for the task. On Sunday, I was pondering how I battle both to make Jesus the king of my personal struggles and doubts in private, and to make him known as my king in public among my friends and my family. In both cases, my dominating thoughts are ones of fear-specifically, a fear of God not being enough for the situations I face. Fear can really hold us back and give Satan a foothold.
But the thing about courage is that it doesn’t mean that we will not feel afraid. You may be surprised, like I was, to find that courage is defined as ‘the ability to do something that frightens one’. It means that, in spite of our fears, we choose to step out in faith and trust that God is enough for us. We choose to say that, despite the battle raging around us, we believe that God has already won, and we will live our lives accordingly.
And for those who overcome, Revelation 19 promises that a banquet with much rejoicing awaits. Our God does not do anything by halves, and when the world finally realizes the battle is over, you better believe there will be a party to remember!
‘Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!’ (Psalm 27:14)

  1. What evidence do you see around you that you are living in a spiritual war zone? How can you better equip yourself for battle? Consider choosing a verse of Scripture that encourages you and making it your battle cry!
  2. Spend some time thinking and praying about Paul’s question from Sunday; How can your life better reflect the total reign of Jesus as King?
  3. Meditate on Psalm 27 and let your heart take courage.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Falseness of the American Dream

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:32-34)

There’s a pretty well known song out there that tells us “You can’t always get what you want.” And yet, funnily enough, that’s the exact reverse of what the American culture (and Western culture in general) tells us. We are constantly told, through the billboards, commercials, and other advertisements that have embedded themselves in our lives, not only that we CAN have everything that we want, but that we SHOULD have everything that we want, that we DESERVE it, and that if we obtain all the material things we crave, then we will be happy. As David reminded us on in the message on Sunday, the idea that America is the “land of opportunity where you can achieve your dreams” is built upon the idea that we have certain God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Or, as David explicated, that “you have a right to the life that you want, that you should have the liberty to pursue that, and ultimately you should pursue your own happiness.”

And yet, in our attempts to live the lives we want, to pursue our own happiness, we find, ultimately, that we can never gain all of the things we want. As David explained, “When you’re pursuing comfort, your hope is that you will never know mourning, you will never know pain, you will never know injury.” However, we all experience these things: mourning, death, and broken-heartedness is just part of the human condition in this fallen world.

More importantly, God will not allow the false promises of comfort to last forever. In Revelation 18, we see that even though the city of Babylon (representative of all cities) in her heart says “mourning I shall never see,” that for this very reason, because she has pursued pleasure and comfort instead of pursuing God, “her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Revelation 18:8).

So what should our response be? It is so hard, when surrounded by companies telling us to BUY, when surrounded by magazines and books and TV shows and music telling us to ENJOY and CONSUME (not just things, but one another), to pull ourselves away and realize that none of this will last. In Luke 12, Jesus tells a parable of a rich man who says to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years: relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). How often do we say this to ourselves? While it is not wrong to enjoy the good things that God has given us or to save up money to provide for our future, what we do need to do is change what we are focusing on. Jesus tells us not to spend our lives focused on material things, things that “all the nations of the world seek after,” but rather instead to seek God and his kingdom, “and these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:29-31).

There’s a great film that gets its name from this passage in Luke. “Lilies of the Field” stars Sidney Poitier as a traveling handyman who gets sidetracked from his journeys by a group of German nuns who are convinced that God has sent him to help them build a chapel in the desert. The entire premise of the movie rests on the nuns’ faith that God has called them to this place, and so God, just as He clothes the lilies of the field, will provide for them what they need. The great part about this movie, though, is that He chooses to provide for them through this handyman, and, subsequently, through the people of the surrounding towns.

What this reminds me of is this truth: While the City of Babylon encourages us to use and ultimately destroy ourselves and one another to find our own “happiness,” in God’s kingdom we are asked to love and help one another- to build others up, instead of ourselves, and lay aside for ourselves treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33). God’s message of sacrificing our material pleasures to help others in need is the antithesis of the City’s message to get what we want while the getting is good, because God knows that this material world will not last forever. The City of Babylon will one day be destroyed (Revelation18:21-24), and God’s True City, the New Jerusalem, will endure. And in the True City, it won’t matter how much money we’ve made, or how many things we’ve bought, or how much sex we’ve had. The only thing that will matter is whether we have been rich in God, whether we have loved and honored Him, and loved and served our neighbors. That is the legacy that will last.

Some things to ponder:

  • Luke 12:34 tells us that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Often we can tell what we are prioritizing by what we are spending our energies, resources, and time on (and what we are worrying about!). For myself, I often find that every few months I have to re-examine my priorities. If you’re able to, take a moment to journal or meditate on where your treasure (and hence your heart) is, and on where God wants it to be.
  • How can we extricate ourselves from the constant message of the City to live for luxury instead of God? One thing we can do is to be aware of how the City is encouraging us to use one another, and to fight against that. Vicky gave a great blog post last week about how to help in the battle against human trafficking. Revisit her post and pray about what role you can play.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities

"The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes, and of earth’s abominations.' " Revelation 17:4-5
On Sunday, David unpacked Revelation 17’s description of the great prostitute, who we found, in her association with the ancient city of Babylon, represents the deadly allure of the city. She is attractive and enticing, decked out in purple, scarlet, and jewels, signifying wealth and worldly beauty, and promising sensual pleasures; her golden cup overflows, she is drunk and satisfied, she is seated on a magnificent scarlet beast whom she appears to have dominion over.
Yet, all is not as it first seems. Revelation is nothing if not, well, revealing. A closer look at the contents of her cup reveals abominations and impurities. She is destined for destruction, and will eventually be laid desolate and naked by the very beast she now rides, her once well-adorned flesh burnt up by fire (Revelation 17:16).
In this powerful vision, God reveals the mystery of the cities that you and I live in. Like Babylon, they provide so much promise. The promise of wealth and luxury through commerce. The promise of sensual and sexual pleasure through the relative anonymity the big city offers. The promise of power through status, knowledge, and domination. And yet, these things ultimately lead to death. They rely on something that is in direct conflict with God’s kingdom and so cannot last. At the root of these promises, we see how the city relies on the principle of using others to get what we want. The prostitute uses the beast, and the beast turns on and then destroys the prostitute. This is such a fundamental principle of how cities operate that we have developed our own terms and expressions for it. The rat race. Dog eat dog. Etc.
This Revelation series has afforded us a lot of opportunity to examine our hearts, and certainly this passage is no exception. Poythress in his guide to Revelation writes how every day advertisements tell us, ‘If you only have enough money and toys and sensual pleasures, you will be fulfilled.’ And that little Babylons grow in our hearts as we compromise with sin to pursue our own desires, whether it be for sex, fame, power, health, or beauty (p.161,2).
What then are we to do? Renounce the city’s evil ways and turn our backs on it, lest it contaminate us with its abominations and impurities? Flee the city, lest it becomes drunk on our own blood?
Interestingly, in Jeremiah 29:7 we are told instead to ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ You see, as we draw further towards the end of Revelation, we will find out that God is building a new city, a place where people will not be used by one another for selfish gains. And as future citizens of that new city, we have a role to play in ushering in the kingdom living that God intends. I believe this means not only examining our own hearts- though it’s a good place to start- but also standing up and taking action on behalf of those who become victims of the city’s oppressive forces.
One of the ways the city's oppression happens, which David used as an example on Sunday, is trafficking. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as  domestic workers held in a home, or farm workers forced to labor against their will. As such, it’s a good example of the kind of devastation wrought by the city’s promotion of sex, wealth, and power. It makes people slaves to the gratification of others' desires.
Here are the facts. Human trafficking is the third largest crime industry in today’s world (there are more slaves today than ever before in history), and you’ll find it in Africa, in Europe, in America, and in Massachusetts – right here in our backyard. To give you a further idea of the scale of this issue, a study in 2001 showed that at least 100,000 to 300,000 youth are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation annually in the U.S., and that number is likely to have grown since then.
If you’re anything like me, when you’re confronted by issues like this you are shocked, saddened, but perhaps most of all, overwhelmed. How can we have a real impact on issues of this magnitude? Yet, there are people working tirelessly, who are not afraid to speak up on behalf of people in situations like these. And as Christians who believe in the unique value of all human beings, created in the image of the Almighty, we should be at the forefront. So, I asked a friend who has spent a lot more time researching these issues than me what I as an individual can do, and I was surprised by the everyday choices that I make that can help turn the tide against trafficking both here and abroad.
First, we can pray.
Second, we have choices we can make as consumers that have an impact on trafficking, like committing to buying fair trade. My friend writes, “This is because there is slavery throughout supply chains, especially in the fashion, cocoa, and coffee/tea industry.  Two useful tools are: fairtradeusa.org and free2work.org who rate companies according to how ethical they are. There are a number of shops I refuse to buy clothes from and some favorite chocolate that I no longer eat - yes, this means that the clothes I buy are slightly more expensive, so I have less clothes, but I think this is a small sacrifice. The most common objections I hear from my friends are: it isn't as convenient, I don't have enough money to buy fair trade, and it won't make a difference. But it definitely will - consumers have power.” We can also sign petitions online calling for changes in those industries. Or write to our favorite shops asking them about their ethical policies or telling them that we will not buy their products until they commit to eradicating slavery from their supply chain.
Third, we can educate ourselves, so we can better tell others. My friend says, “Learn about what trafficking is (and what it's not!) and how to spot the signs of trafficking (try the information here). Keep your eye open for trafficking in your community and be ready to report it if you think you see it (even if you aren't sure). Talk to friends and work colleagues about trafficking to raise awareness that slavery still exists. I started talking about slavery at work, and as a result my colleague organized for the CEO of an anti-trafficking charity to come and give a lecture to nearly a hundred students. As a result some of the students decided to make this particular charity their chosen charity for the semester and raised a large donation to give them- amazing and a completely unexpected result of me talking to my friends. One thing I have learned is that people can't care about it if they don't know about it.”
Fourth, we can join organizations that already exist who are working to eradicate trafficking, or some of its causes like poverty, or lack of education. This could be as simple as liking or following these organizations and sharing/retweeting their posts on twitter or facebook (a list of suggestions is at the bottom of this post). It could be as quick as making a donation to a grassroots organization to keep girls in school or assist women with setting up their own business which will help prevent the most vulnerable from being targeted by traffickers (consider signing up for Pure Charity who partner with companies that will donate a percentage of your spending to the cause of your choice). Or choosing to buy gifts from 'companies with a conscience' (there is a list in this blog).
A lot of these things do not actually take that much of our time or resources, but if you have more time on your hands you could even join an organization to take part in a march or walk on Anti-Slavery day, fundraise on their behalf or help to lobby for changes to law.
And should we need further encouragement, Jesus himself said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Instead of using others for our own ends, may we seek to replicate the love that God has for us, a love that is lavished on others as we seek not to be served, but to serve.

  1. What other issues today, like trafficking, do you see arising from the nature of the great prostitute, the city?
  2. Spend some time praying for these issues.
  3. Take half an hour to research an organization that is tackling these issues and choose at least one action you will take to bring God’s light into the darkness of these situations, such as those highlighted in the post above. Below are some suggested anti-trafficking organizations you could take a look at:
End It Movement (organize a march or walk on anti-slavery day)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Justice of Hell

Revelation 20:10

"and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."

This week David talked about the reality of Hell. Capitalized, proper noun, place- Hell. It doesn't get much discussion these days. It gets mentioned and hurriedly ignored as a negative we don't like to dwell on. In reality, we really shouldn't dwell on it, since scripture tells us to focus on things above, noble things, things that uplift. And so almost every time it is brought up in a sermon or blog this fact “that it is not discussed much” is highlighted.  My point being, it is rarely a thing we think about.

All that being said, Hell is extremely important. It is a place we don't want to go, obviously, but it is also a place we don't have the capacity to comprehend (eternal suffering doesn’t make sense). I particularly hate the idea of anyone going there but that doesn't mean no one does. People go there every day, and because billions are probably there already, Hell is a reality some are right now living. It's not a place they hear about occasionally in a sermon- it's a place they see, smell, taste and touch at all times.

You can think about Hell in the mild sense as "the place God allows people to go because they don't want to be with Him." This is the version that some have given to diminish the severity of its horror. When God is shown this way, as giving people what they want, it somehow makes Hell less of a problem. It’s a state of mind that you might get stuck in, but it’s almost no big deal; you’ll be fine since that’s what you wanted anyway. This is the vanilla Hell.

Hell is most popularly portrayed as “where you’ll party with all the fun people.” This brings to mind the line in Billy Joel’s song, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, ‘cause sinners are much more fun”. Somewhere along the line, people got the idea that Hell would be an endlessly fun time where no one has to deal with that pesky “God” guy who spoils all the fun. This is the party Hell.

Then there’s the Hell of the Bible, which you would think would be the most believable! Jesus mentions Hell 46 times throughout the New Testament (some are repeats from different accounts of the same speech). He calls it a “lake of fire” (Revelation 21:7-8), “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12), a “furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:42), and a place where there’s “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).  All of these descriptions are of a place unlike the popular notion of Hell. This is the Biblical Hell.

The vanilla Hell is appealing because it tones down the punishment aspect of Hell. The party Hell is easy to popularize because who doesn’t like a party? The biblical Hell, however, couldn’t be further from these descriptions. Yes, you are separate from God, and yes, you are there because you chose to be away from Him. But you are certainly not enjoying your time, and if you do see others, it’s not a time of social bliss.

The reality of Hell is hard for us to justify, simply because our view of God is too small and because our focus is on ourselves.

First, think about creation from God’s perspective. He made creatures who started off perfect. They were given the option to disobey and did. He then covered that disobedience the only way He could, by punishing his son Jesus. Now people have the option, again, to disobey or reject that sacrifice. From that point on, what other option would you have God give? When we see this from God’s perspective, it’s easy to understand why God cannot be with those who have rejected His every advance.

Second, think about who God is and what it means to reject someone like Him. Think about it in terms of physics and Newton’s third law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If you run into a brick wall and don’t hit it with much force, it won’t budge and all of that force will be pushed back on you. How much more if you run into a God-wall? The reaction to your rejection is equivalent to the object you’re rejecting. Since God is infinite, the rejection will be infinite. For mortal humanity that punishment seems severe, but we are not slighting a human here, this is the God who created all!

You may already believe that Hell is real, that the Hell described in the Bible is a real place. You may believe it is justified because God is infinite and this creation is about Him. But have you ever thought about it as not just a necessary and just thing, but actually as a good thing? I would posit that not only is it a good thing, but it makes Jesus’ death even more amazing.

Let me explain. Think about the worst humans in history. Now think about how you would feel if when they died, they simply ceased to exist, crossing into oblivion. Think about that and try to feel good about it. All the pain and suffering they caused others. All the atrocities they wrought, and when they met their end? Nothing. Not even a tiny slap on the wrist. They are let off scot-free. Without Hell, Justice is left unbalanced.  

Now, think about the pain and suffering that you might incur. The awful punishment that God might bring upon you if you die in your sins. Then remember that Jesus not only saved you from an eternity without God, but the punishment you would have endured while you were in Hell. He took away your sins and the ultimate effect of those sins. Though you may still experience the temporary consequences of your actions, He saved you from the end result of your sins- Hell. This thought also brings us even more joy when we realize that not only did He save us and bring us out of Hell, but He drops the awesomeness of HEAVEN on top of His mercy.

Our God is righteous, just, merciful, and good. He will punish injustice and reward those who choose to follow Him. He will give those who reject Him an equal punishment to what they’ve rejected and an amazingly unequal blessing for those who believe in Him.

1.     Why is it hard to believe Hell is justified (Romans 2:6-8)?
2.     When was the last time you talked about Hell? (Philippians 4:8 think about this verse in light of Jesus' death and how it saved you from Hell)
3.     How can we see God’s goodness in light of Hell? Can we see how it is ultimately good that those who reject God are sent away? (Revelation 21:8)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Winepress of God's Wrath

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.(Leviticus 17:11)

"So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God." (Revelation 14:19)

            In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus tells a parable about how the kingdom of heaven is like a field of grain. When an enemy comes and plants weeds amongst the good seeds, the owner does not allow his servants to pull the weeds out just yet, or they might “uproot the wheat with them.” Instead, he instructs his servants to let the weeds and grain grow together “until the harvest,” at which point the weeds will be burned, and the wheat will be gathered in. In John 4:31-38, Jesus, again, talks about a harvest, where “the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together.” And in both Matthew 9:35-38 and Luke 10:2, Jesus tells his disciples that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”        

            We often refer to this last verse when we talk about evangelism, the sharing of the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. There are so many people out there that are willing and ready to hear more about God’s truth and God’s love, and have no one to tell them about it. But in this day and age, we often prefer NOT to think about the final harvest, the time of Jesus’ return when, as Revelation 14:19 tells us, the harvest of the grapes of the earth will be thrown into the great winepress of God’s wrath. There is something in this modern day and age that tells us that the God of love and mercy, the Jesus who forgives and heals the sinful and broken, can’t be a God of wrath- it just doesn’t compute for us. 

            This wasn’t always the case. Just take the Battle Hymn of the Republic, written at the beginning of the American Civil War, which in one verse talks of Christ dying to make men holy (grace and mercy) while in another it speaks of the “grapes of wrath” and the “fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword.” And God says of Himself that He is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by NO MEANS clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

            David spoke about this question at length in his message on Sunday: “Is that kind of a God bipolar in some way?” I think that, in this generation, we have lost a lot of understanding of God’s character as a true and just God, and so, yes, we struggle to explain to others the seemingly bipolar nature of God. How is the law of the Old Testament compatible with the grace of the New Testament? How is the Jesus of the Gospels compatible with the Jesus who is going to release plagues and destruction at His second coming? And, more importantly, as David asked us: “Is this the kind of God you would want to worship and serve?” 

            Revelation is often, as David told us, seen as a book of doom and destruction. In this series, however, we have looked at it as a revelation of Jesus, of who God is. Revelation 15:3-4 declares that God’s ways are “just and true,” that He alone is holy, and that His acts are righteous. So if someone asks us, “Is the God you’re serving just and good in destroying the life of the wicked or the sinner?”, then our answer, according to Revelation, is yes. 

But it is a yes with the understanding that God’s wrath has already been poured out once before- onto His own son. Onto Jesus. His blood ran like wine, his body was broken like bread, and for what reason? That God’s wrath would be taken on His own shoulders, that the judgment of death for our evil deeds would be borne by Him, and not by us. 

This is the truth, then, that we so desperately need to understand: there is no mercy without wrath. There is no grace without judgment. There is no Jesus, the savior, without Jesus, the judge.

Because if we were not guilty, why would we need mercy?

Because if we were not condemned, why would we need a savior?

Because if we were not drowning and lost in darkness, if we were not weighted down with the lies and thefts and hateful things we have done to ourselves and one another, then why would we need a God of love and mercy in the first place?

“Is this the kind of God you would want to worship and serve?”

A God who sees my worst thoughts, my worst deeds, my anger and rage, my bitterness, my ugliness, knowing what I deserve for the hateful and spiteful ways I have acted towards others, and yet chooses to take that punishment for me, chooses to show me mercy when I have been merciless, chooses to show me kindness when I have been ruthless, chooses to be broken that I would be made whole- is that the kind of God I would want to worship and serve?


That is the kind of God I would want everyone to worship and serve. And one day, every knee will bow to Him.

At the beginning, I mentioned a parable Jesus told of weeds and wheat growing together until the harvest. This speaks to the other hard part of believing that God is just and true. If He is just and true, then why doesn’t He just come now? Why does He continue to allow sin and sadness, disease and destruction? Jesus Himself tells us why: Because the harvest isn’t ready yet. Because there are still hearts that He is planting seeds of faith in. Because He is slow to anger, and a merciful and forgiving God.
He is the just and true God who saw our sin, knew that it deserved death, and yet, in His love, took that death upon Himself. May we have the strength to understand how wide and high and deep is the grace and love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14-19).

 ---Reflection Points---
  1. In Revelation 15:2-4, John sees a vision of singers with harps next to the sea of glass (probably where we get our images of harp-playing angels in heaven), singing “the song of Moses.” Take a couple of hours to either read the story of Moses, as told via the Book of Exodus or to watch the film “The Prince of Egypt” (on Netflix.com or Amazon instant video), and reflect on how the story of Moses and Israel reveals both the justice and mercy of God. 
  2. David, towards the conclusion of his message, stated this: “I personally have come to the resolution that there is too much joy, too much love, too much work, and too much glory in partnering with Jesus to heal and redeem this world…to stop ministering over the partial answer we are given about the justice and trueness of God’s character.” Pray about where in the harvest YOU are needed to bring love and joy, and about whom God wants you to be ministering to.
  3. Beth Moore, in the introduction to her book Praying God’s Word, says this: “I’ve come to believe that God generally prioritizes one of two objectives: showing us His supremacy or teaching us His sufficiency.” I believe that this can be related to Revelation, in this way- until the day when God reigns in supremacy, we must live in the sufficiency of His grace. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 and consider the ways that God has shown His sufficiency in your life, and the ways that He has shown His supremacy.