Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Satan's Strategy, God's Solution

15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying:
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign."
Revelation 11:15-17

This week in Revelation we saw the effects of a sinful world left on its own, allowed to reap the consequences of sin. A third of of the earth burned, trees burned, grass burned (Rev. 8:7). A third of the sea ruined (Rev. 8:8). A third of the fresh water ruined (Rev. 8:11). A third of the sun, moon and stars darkened (Rev 8:12). People suffering in agony as a result of internal poisons (Rev. 9:5). Finally, a third of mankind is lost (Rev 9:18). All of these plagues in the spiritual realm are seen as six trumpets blown by six separate angels. The final angel blows its trumpet and "the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord".

It's a dramatic series of events, but how can we look at it practically for today?
We can understand these disasters, these trumpets, as the result of allowing ourselves and our world to fall prey to Satan's strategy, which is, namely:
  • To lure people away from fellowship with God into fellowship with themselves. 
  • To bring people into such a state of self-indulgence, self-analysis, self-satisfaction, and selfishness that they don't see the earth they came to steward burning around them. 
  • To busy people so much with self-reflection, self-improvement, self-actualization, and self-aggrandizement that they start to begin to see their personal success as the world getting better! 
Even we as Christians can focus so much on ourselves and our self-sacrifice and selfless actions that we don't realize we're falling under the same deception, that it's all about us. But, the truth is...

It's not about us!

God makes this abundantly clear by ending it all! Nothing humanity can muster stops the destruction and judgment. We rage and rant but the earth still burns, the sun still blackens and the stars still fall. We are powerless before a mighty and powerful God who has "begun to reign"!

We try to make a world for ourselves by doing our own thing and pursuing our own goals, but, because of our sin, that's doomed to fail, and only destruction results. And so, God finally steps in to clear away the mess of a world we've made, and bring a new creation.

This story and this revelation is the story of God and His plan. He started it with the creation of everything. It is only appropriate that he would end it, on His own terms. 

Satan hates this fact and makes sure to blind humanity to the truth with a bombardment of self-focused messages. God's solution was to send a man, Jesus, who was immune to this strategy and is able to break humanity out of its inward spiral. Jesus' example reveals an antidote that is powerful and yet subtle. He lived a life in obedience to God's Spirit and taught twelve disciples to do the same. He then allowed his life to be taken in a completely selfless act.

To live like Jesus is to die to self. This is the only cure, the only inoculation to the messages streaming into our heads daily. You are not the focus of history. You are not the reason the world exists. You are not the purpose. God is. 

His love for us is why He made us. His love for us is why He brings healing and redemption to a broken, self-destructive humanity. And He will bring His kingdom down and take up His rightful reign to restore this world.
  1. What are some ways you can get your focus off yourself and onto Jesus?
  2. Are there any specific people that focusing on yourself has distracted you from? What's a small step you can take to shift that focus?
  3. What do you think about the kingdom coming down to earth?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Unity in Suffering

 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Revelation 7:9

God created humans to inhabit a unique realm of responsibility and perception. We are responsible for our physical bodies, our physical property and what they affect on a day to day basis. Yet at the same time we are aware of and can perceive the spiritual realm. That brings us a responsibility to eternal things as well. God thankfully came to earth as a human and modeled how to live successfully in these areas. His life and death, seen from a physical perspective, could be regarded as a failure. He taught, performed miracles, was captured and killed by the Roman state. The end. But seen from the spiritual realm his was a life of perfect obedience to God and the eternal world.  

Counter to everything that the physical world tells us, Jesus' and our suffering is ultimately a good thing. I say this because Jesus' life points us to a pattern of living that regards suffering as a means to an end. This is not to say that he sought out suffering or that we should, but that he lived life directed toward changing this world and that meant conflict with the ruler of this world, Satan. 

Our lives are to be lived this way as well. In conflict with and sometimes in exact opposition to our own pleasure. This world directs all its aims toward the ultimate goal, an early retirement and plenty of money to enjoy it. But who does this kind of living benefit? At best the immediate family of those who achieve such goals, at worst only the people who succeed. This kind of living is so focused inward that in some cases it kills off or estranges most people who get in the way. Just look at the lives of some billionaires, they get the money they want, but at the expense of many of their relationships.

But God wants us to live outward and living outward involves suffering. It involves giving, extensively of ourselves, sometimes to the point of death. Who does this benefit? At worst everyone we've ever met, at best, the whole world. 

Being a suffering servant unifies us with "every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7:9). We go out, we live out, and we act out of love to whoever is in need and no one is left abandoned. Every people group on earth appreciates this kind of living because it is how God designed us to live; to emulate the persons of the Trinity, who live eternally in unified servant-hood to each other. 

1. What are some things you can change to live more in line with our God, who was willing to suffer?
2. Is it possible to have both? A life lived for others and yourself?
3. Is living life for eternity viable for every person?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Lion and the Lamb

And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain’ Revelation 5:5-6

In Revelation 5, John’s attention moves away from the powerful imagery in chapter 4 of God seated on the throne surrounded by living creatures and elders, to a detail- a single scroll in the hand of God, firmly closed with seven seals.
In ancient times important documents like contracts were written on papyrus or parchment and sealed with seven seals; a will, for instance, was sealed by seven witnesses. Therefore we know that this scroll is important. In fact, in the hand of God we know it is of the utmost importance to the whole of human history. Like a will, this document needs to be opened in order for its purposes to be fulfilled.
But John weeps. He weeps loudly; we might assume the sort of sobs that shake your whole body, that cannot be stifled. He weeps because there is no one in all of heaven and earth who is worthy to open this scroll belonging to God. His mind is now so completely occupied with the vision of this awesome God, who by His power created all things, that John is desperate to see the fullness of His plans and purposes. He is filled with longing for a glimpse of the exquisite detail that fills both sides of this manuscript in a way that only the Author and Architect of the whole of the heavens and the earth could possibly be capable. He aches for the outworking of a plan that must surely hold the answers to humanity's deepest pain and torment. Can no-one open this scroll?
'Weep no more', says one of the elders. There is indeed one who is worthy of opening the scroll; the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the promised Messiah descended from David- He alone is able. John looks for this roaring lion, lord above all others, powerful, majestic, unchallengeable, mighty, fierce, frightening, authoritative, a warrior king. This conqueror can surely deal with this messy world, fraught with murder, famine, wars, disease, and corruption; for nothing can be too much for him.
He looks and between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders he sees something that perhaps was not so noticeable before; a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. He has seen this image before, a burnt offering on a Jewish altar, charred and broken. A lamb; gentle, small, vulnerable, looking as though it has been slaughtered, massacred, butchered, murdered- served up as a piece of meat. A different king.
The power of God lies in this paradox. That Jesus is neither Lion, nor Lamb, but both. He is both the almighty, everlasting God who sits on the throne and the suffering servant who came into our world to experience it as we do, to undergo the painful effects of our sin, to know the horror of rejection and death. He is a different king. He is the slain Lamb, undefeated, still standing. He has conquered evil, not with showy displays of military prowess or political argument, but with unfathomably deep love.
The ability to open the scroll is His alone. Revelation reminds us that it is only because He is worthy that we may be found worthy. It is only because He has first conquered that we are more than conquerors. And it is only because He suffered that we can make sense of and have hope in a world filled with pain. (Romans 8:31-39)
The scroll is opened. The Lion of Judah who is also the slain Lamb has opened it. The destiny of the entire world, judgment over sin, the end of death, the coming of His kingdom, is certain. The response? The whole of heaven is silent, awestruck, in the presence of God (Revelation 8:1).
As your response, why not ponder one or more of these questions this week:
  1. a. Spend some time silently in the presence of God. Mediate on the vision of God in Revelation Chapters 4-5. b. God is neither the wrathful God of pagan deities nor the soft, compromising god of comfort our culture promotes. Do you have a tendency to view Christ more as Lion or Lamb? Ask God to reveal to you more of His fullness. 
  2. Do you long for God’s purposes to be accomplished like John? Ask God to increase your hunger to see God’s will be done. Consider who you could invite to church over the next few weeks as we continue to journey through Revelation.
  3. Vern Pothyress writes, ‘Christ’s achievement is unique, but it also sets the pattern for Christians. We are to fight our spiritual battles, not with military or political strength, but with endurance, purity and faithfulness to Christ, even to the point of death.’ Do you agree with this statement? How does Revelation support this? Read 1 Cor. 1:18-24 and ask for God’s power to be made perfect in your weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Faith for God's Kingdom

But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." Revelation 1:17-18
This week we took a break in our series on the book of Revelation to hear from a guest speaker, Pastor Dave Hill of Abundant Grace Church.

The message Pastor Hill gave was one of hope, of growing strong in faith, and of renewing our belief when all around us the world is saying it can’t be done. “Faith does not mean you never doubt,” he told us, but if we open our ears, "God will faithfully speak to us again so we can believe anew.” And just as we explored in the blog post last week, Jesus himself tells us this in Revelation, saying that he “stands at the door and knocks”, and if anyone hears him and opens the door, he will “come in to him and eat with him” (Revelation 3:20).

But why should we need him to? Why is it necessary for Jesus to knock again and again at the doors of our hearts? Why do we keep shutting him out?

I think the answer lies in the world around us, in the straight up evil that we see. There is so much death, so much pain, so much suffering. People being murdered, being raped, being robbed, dying of neglect and abuse, dying of disease, victims of war and famine. And, partnered with this, the vast indifference of so many others, people living in comfort and contentment, choosing ignorance, choosing blindness, choosing to believe that it doesn’t matter.   

This is not an easy topic, and yet, we need to grapple with it, because for so many of God's children the suffering of this world is not just a topic: it's the reality of daily life. 
But there is still hope. 

Amazingly, wondrously, we can still have hope. 

Revelation tells us that Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings on earth, the Alpha and Omega who is and who was and who is to come (Revelation 1:4-8). Indeed Jesus' first words to us in Revelation are to 'fear not', because he has overcome death with such finality that he can claim to hold the very keys to it. And as the first and last, the one who is alive forevermore, He is going to bring a mighty reckoning to redeem the world from the evil that we have wrought in it.

Vicky Griffiths, in one of her posts, put it like this:
“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.”

Do you have faith for that? I know sometimes I struggle to. But, as Pastor Hill put it, even if our faith seems small, and the world seems to be falling apart at the seams, God is able to take our small faith and enlarge it. If we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, that is, in itself, a powerful thing! Because we know that Jesus’ resurrection is proof from God that he really does hold the keys of death and Hades, that he really is alive forevermore. Because of this there will be a day of judgment, and we will be declared righteous through our belief in Him (Acts 17:30-31).

There are terrible things happening every day. There is injustice everywhere. But one of the recurring themes of the Book of Revelation is that this will not always be so. From the prophets (Daniel 2:44, Zechariah2:10-13) to the New Testament (Luke 13:23-29), God tells us that this world will NOT last forever.

For those who believe in Him, let this be your encouragement: God’s kingdom, a kingdom of light and truth and beauty and peace, is increasing, and one day it will fill the earth.

  • Sometimes, when we get distracted by the devil who is the "author of discouragement," we lose faith in our vision of God's coming kingdom. Where is God speaking to you about believing Him anew? How can you change your focus so you are listening to God's Word instead of the devil's lies?
  • Read Romans 14:13-25 and consider this: "Faith is not pretending something is not what it is." You  may be waiting on a promise from God, but how can you give glory to Him for what He's already done in your life?
  • Read Revelation 1:12-20. John, when he saw this vision of Jesus, "fell at his feet as though dead". Meditate on this image of God and what it tells us about Him. Allow it to build your faith today.