Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Entering the Heart of God

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

God is a loving and delightful God, who made a way for us to get to him through Jesus. He also encourages us on the path back to him when we stray and it's the same way-through Jesus. Like a father correcting his children, he can see whatever state you're in and lead you back to him in a gentle, loving way. A good father will point out what has been done wrong and help you understand it. He won't let you continue to live in it, remaining oblivious to your error.

We see an example of this in Revelation 3:15, in God's message to the church of Laodicea: "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot." God sees the current state of the church of Laodicea and gives them the truth.  But he not only points out the truth- he also provides a solution to their apathy: himself, Jesus. He tells them to cover their nakedness with his righteousness. He encourages them to have faith in him through future trials, and he commands them to put "salve" in their eyes and repent. He tells them that he stands at the door to their hearts, and is waiting for them to let him back in (Revelation 3:14-22).

God is a loving and delightful God who wants us to be with him always. (Matthew 28:20 "I am with you always"). His truth, correction, and encouragement lead us in love into his heart. We know from our own lives that inside the heart of every person is a world of thoughts, emotions, ideas, and memories. When you come into a relationship with anyone, you effectively enter (maybe just a couple steps, or maybe miles) into their heart. So when we enter into a relationship with God, he allows us to see what is in his heart: all of Heaven! 

In Revelation, God allows John into heaven on a journey displaying what he wants to do with his creation, and it's a wild ride! Through Jesus who is the 'door' (John 10:9), God allows us in as well. We can go a few steps in and see what it's like. We can go a few miles in and grow better for it (Psalm 16:11). Hopefully, we will continually journey into God's enormous heart for the rest of our lives. Jesus invites us in for the first time, or back for a subsequent time, because he knows that God is a loving and delightful father who will not reject those that come to him through his son. Jesus knows his father's heart so well, he has the same heart. (1 John 4:16; John 15:9

I believe that this journey into the heart of God will bring us to a better place, a place where our hearts also flow with the same love and delight that God has had since before the foundation of the world. If you let him, he will transform your heart so you have the same heart as he does (1 John 4:12 "If we love one another, God abides in us."): A heart open to those who have journeyed away from God. And it will invite them in. 

John 10:9
 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.

1. Do you agree that Revelation is like a "journey into the heart of God"? Or do you think of it in a different way?
2. Do you feel that God invites us back to him the same way he invites us the first time? Have you felt God invite you to return to him? How was it communicated?
3. How has your relationship with God changed as you've gotten to know Jesus more? Do you see God's heart as inviting and loving even in the "corrections" of Revelation?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Weathering the Storm

How do we respond when our faith in Jesus is challenged, whether through seemingly unanswered prayers, disappointment, or tragedy? When we just can’t work out where God is or what God is doing in a situation? Do we draw on our own strength, or do we call on God to help us weather the storm?

The Book of Revelation repeatedly exhorts us, or encourages us, to endure oppression and suffering, to hold on unswervingly to our faith in Jesus with patience[i]. This would have resonated deeply with John, the man who received this revelation of Jesus Christ. At the time, John was an exile on the small island of Patmos off the west coast of Asia Minor, an island where Rome, the dominating power of the day, sent people considered to be a threat. Pothyress writes, ‘John had probably been exiled there on account of his uncompromising loyalty to Christ. John is thus a picture of the persecution that may come to any Christian’. In Revelation 1:9, John describes himself to Christ’s servants (to whom the letter is addressed) as 'your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus’.

As a pairing, the words ‘patience’ and ‘endurance’ leave an impression. In the original Greek that Revelation was written in, patience was not merely a ‘passive waiting’ but an active word. Similarly, in our dictionary, endurance is the ‘capacity to last’ and to ‘withstand wear and tear’, and it is arguably difficult to build such a capacity by standing still. It would sort of be like heading into a snow storm without the appropriate clothing- we would not be able to survive the storm or navigate our snow laden pavements for very long dressed for the summer. 

Patience is not one of my strong points. If ever I was reminded of that it’s been during the last month as New England has seen a deluge of snow, snow, and more snow. Don’t get me wrong- it’s very pretty, but my family and I have been cooped up indoors with colds for most of it, and last weekend we had to manage without hot water for a couple of days while we waited for someone to fix parts that had been damaged in the latest blizzard. I am already impatient for this season to be over and for the Spring to get here!

On the scale of things, the snow is not the biggest deal (after all, eventually it will melt!), but unfortunately my lack of patience is a characteristic that kind of permeates my thinking on many things. Everything from waiting for a bus to waiting for an answer to my most longed for prayers can spark frustration. Whatever I choose to blame for my impatient nature, ultimately I am the one actually responsible for the way I respond to setbacks and delays, and it’s my bet that if I was better at cultivating patience when I experience minor troubles then I would be better at coping when I encounter major difficulties.  

So what do we need to be doing in order to cultivate patient endurance in our lives? When I meet challenges in my walk with Jesus, those things that are ‘snow storm equivalents’ in my prayer life, how can my faith weather it? In Hebrews 12:1 we are encouraged to throw aside sin and everything that might hold us back in order ‘to run with endurance the race that is set before us’. Again, running a race suggests we need to be training, getting in shape, persevering through trials, navigating obstacles. Honestly, my default when facing a challenge, after my frustration abates enough for me to listen to some reason, is to tell myself to try harder (as if by sheer force of will I can make myself more patient), to remind myself that God doesn’t owe me anything, so really I should stop being so entitled. His ways are higher than mine after all! Then I sort of grit my teeth and arm myself with some Scripture – usually something about how enduring and persevering are all good ways that God refines us. 

Well, that only gets me so far. There isn’t much joy in it, and usually within a day or two I’m almost back where I started – feeling impatient with my situation and wondering why God doesn’t act- haven’t I suffered enough? Then I start the whole draining process again.

So the message from our series on Revelation this week really hit home for me (You can listen to it here). In it was the timely reminder that patient endurance is not meant to be a burden- another thing on the ‘to do’ list. It is an active state but our activity is often misguided. In Revelation 2 the church in Ephesus are commended for their patient endurance, bearing up for Christ’s name, running that race, day in and day out. But, in Revelation 2:4, Jesus says to the church, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” They had lost the joy that had come from their first intimate encounter with Jesus, and so patiently enduring had become a drag. They were still in the race, but it had become a weary trudge- the bounce had gone from their step. This contrasts with John’s patient endurance, which he had ‘in Jesus’ and not apart from him. John was relying not on himself, but on God.

How quickly we abandon our first love! How quickly we try to do things on our own! Yet, knowing and experiencing the presence of 'God with us' are both central to our ‘capacity to last’, to weather the storm with patience. And when we find ourselves in places where it is harder to trust, when we wonder where God is and what He is doing, we have a resource open to us- to go back to that first encounter, to remember His goodness to us in the past and to let it be the basis for our hope in the present and future.

This week marks the beginning of Lent, which traditionally lasts 40 days to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert and enduring temptation by the Devil. Accordingly, many people give up something for Lent, but what we often neglect to do is to ask God to fill the gap that is left with more of Himself. 

As a response this week, consider doing one or more of the following:
  1. Spend some time talking honestly to God about an area of your life where you are currently struggling to have faith. Ask God to remind you of ways He has helped you in the past, and ask Him to give you joy even in the difficulties of your current situation.
  2. If you have kept a prayer journal in the past, spend some time looking back at some of the old entries. Thank Jesus for His faithfulness and for ways in which prayers have been answered. Ask Him to help you remember these in times when your faith is tested. 
  3. Read through the accounts of Jesus' temptation in the desert in the Gospels (one account is in Matthew 4:1-10). Ask God to show you what you can learn from the way that Jesus patiently endured during this time.
As we continue our series on Revelation during this Lenten season, let us remember what God has already done for us. And while you are waiting for the fulfillment of God's promises in your own life this year, ‘May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Colossians 1:11).

[i] Revelation 2:2-3, 13, 19: 3:10; 6:11; 13:10; 14:12; 16:15; 18:4; 20;4 22:7, 11, 14

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jesus in the Book of Revelation

This Sunday saw the kick-off of City Church’s new series going through the book of Revelation. If you missed DW's introductory sermon, you can hear it here.
A few of us will be blogging alongside the series. We're hoping to shed more insight on this final and intriguing book of the Bible and get us thinking about what it means for us today.
So, what do you think about when someone mentions the book of Revelation? The end times and Armageddon, something akin to your favorite sci-fi film? Maybe you've never really engaged with it because you've been put off by some of the supernatural imagery which seems difficult to apply to your day-to-day challenges and concerns. Maybe you even find it frightening, all that talk of judgment and torment. Or perhaps its final description of the new heaven and new earth fills you with hope. If you’re new to the Bible perhaps you've never even heard of it.
Well on Sunday, we heard about how Revelation is first and foremost a 'revealing' or 'disclosing' to us of who Jesus is. It seeks to show us all something that is truly relevant and simple, to make something clearer and not more mystifying and hard to understand. There are many themes in the book- worship, battle, suffering, heaven, truth versus deception to name a few- but all of this only makes sense in the context of who Jesus is.
As we progress through Revelation you may notice the breadth and depth of ways in which Jesus is described, each and every one of them telling us something about his nature, character and purpose. And it does this from the very outset. In Revelation 1:1-8 we are told that He is Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of kings on earth, the one who loves us and frees us, the one to whom glory and dominion belong forever, the one who is coming back, who every eye will see.
As I read through Revelation in preparation for this series, one of the names that most struck me is found in chapter 1 verse 8:

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who was and who is and who is to come, the Almighty.”

This is the only place in the Bible where God reveals himself as the Alpha and Omega and in the three times it appears in Revelation it seems to relate to both God the Father and His son Jesus. We know that the book was written in Greek and Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet while Omega is the last. So it’s like God saying, ‘I am the A and the Z, I was there from the beginning, I’m present now, and I will be there at the end. That is how immense and totally sovereign I am.’
When we understand what it means, we can see what an incredibly visual way this is of God showing how he rules the whole of history- there’s a lot of letters in an alphabet, and for us there’s a lot of time between Creation and the end of time when Christ returns, but God is the Lord of it all.  The complete, all-encompassing way that God both is in his very being, and is the way in which he operates, is echoed throughout Revelation in the repetition of the number 7, which to early readers was a number that represented completeness.
For me, there is something deeply satisfying in knowing God as the Alpha and the Omega. It reminds me of the ‘completeness’ or the ‘fullness’ of God who is working his purposes out in everything, who leaves nothing undone. Many a time I have been frustrated when time and money have apparently gone to waste or when a project I've poured my heart and soul into have had to be abandoned half way through or, even more frustratingly, tantalizingly close to the end. I've experienced that uneasy sense in relationships where hurt and bitterness have left things feeling unresolved. And I've wept over a world where the innocent suffer from other people's mistakes and there just seems to be no justice or restoration of things to how they should be. Yet, this all-powerful God is always operating to tie up loose-ends and to right wrongs; His very nature as Alpha and Omega means that all his plans come to pass and there is nothing and no-one left outside of them. He is the creator, sustainer and finisher, who is coming back to redeem the brokenness in this world.
Like many revelations of who God is, the implications for us are enormous. We have a God who is so comprehensive that there is simply no room for any other god in our lives; everything that is necessary for us and the world around us is found in the Alpha and the Omega and as such he is worthy of our full worship and attention. In Proverbs 19:21 we are reminded, ‘Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand’. In the light of God working throughout history, our own imperfect and incomplete plans are secondary to His purposes and we can look forward to the fulfillment of all plans that coincide with His will.
Furthermore, we are told in Ephesians 1:23 that this fullness or completeness of Christ lives and is at work in the body of the church. Until he comes again, as our final Omega, He is working out His purposes through us, and seeking to restore and make whole what is broken through our prayers and actions. As we journey through the book of Revelation together may He reveal to us even more clearly His complete and perfect plans and our place within them.
We’d love to hear your comments on this blog, and to discuss questions that you have about Revelation. Join City Church on the Table for the discussion thread here.
Looking for some inspiration? Here are some questions to ponder this week- you could spend 20 minutes doing all of them or just focusing in on one.

  1. What preconceived ideas of the book of Revelation do you think you have? Take a moment to bring these to God and ask him to reveal Himself to you afresh as we go through the series.

  2. Reading through Revelation 1:1-8 what ways in which Jesus is described stand out to you? What encourages you? What would you like to know more about?

  3. Ask God to show you the plans and purposes He has in the world around you as the all-encompassing Alpha and Omega of history. It could be in your community, workplace, home or even in your heart. Spend some time praying about these things and asking God to help you to align your plans with His.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Intro to Revelation // Resources for Further Study

It has begun. We've embarked on our journey through the book of Revelation.  I'm excited.  Revelation means a disclosing or unveiling; the book of Revelation is all about Jesus revealing himself to us (his church).  Our prayer this series is that the Spirit of God would expand our vision of Jesus so that we could know him more closely and others might come to know him.

This Sunday, we set out a few guiding principles for engaging with this book in our first message:

  • Seek to interpret the Bible by the Bible. A lot of the imagery and characters in Revelation appear in other places in the Bible and help us understand their meaning in this book better.
  • Be aware of the use of repetition and symbolism within the book.
  • When in doubt, keep things simple. The book was written to ordinary Christians.

Two resources that I have found helpful in engaging with the book on a deeper level are the ESV Study Bible and Vern S. Poythress' book, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation.  If you want to study the book of Revelation on your own and understand the type of literature the Book of Revelation is, I would recommend these books.

Poythress helpfully outlines the structure and cycles found within the book that are very useful in understanding the broader message of the book and help prevent getting caught up in a "too literal" interpretation of what is often clearly symbolic language.

The ESV Study Bible outlines the different views typically taken in interpreting the prophecies found in the book of Revelation.  I will outline them briefly here for those who are interested but consider adding this study Bible to your book collection.

Schools of Interpretation

Historicism sees Revelation as unfolding a chronological sequence of historic events starting with the 1st century church and continuing to unfold throughout the different stages of church history.

Futurism holds a similar view as Historicism but views most of the events as having yet to take place.

Preterism sees most of the events described in Revelation as having already occurred in either the Fall of the Roman Empire or the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Idealism believes that use of recapitulation (repetition) in Revelation signals that the prophecies need not always be interpreted as specific historic events but rather they speak to the ongoing struggle of the church in the world until Christ returns while noting the escalation of events as Christ's return nears.

I lean strongly toward the idealist view while acknowledging that it is likely a mix of the above.  For those of you who wanted a bit more context on Revelation, I hope these resources and notes are helpful.

Grace and peace.

Friday, February 6, 2015


Welcome to our contribution to the study of the book of Revelation.