Thrusday – Warfare and the limits of Warfare

We are in Revelation, a scary but appropriate book for the end of the church year. Today’s text is Rev 12:7-17. It continues series of seven signs inbetween the cycles of 7 seals, 7 trumpets and 7 bowl. It really it not another cycle like those last ones, becuase there is no metaphore introducing each portion. Instead, what these signs are is an apocalyptic view of salvation history.

Yesterday we ended with the protection of the woman (the church) for 1260 days. Today’s reading gives a little more background. The dragon couldn’t kill the son (Jesus) and the son was taken up to God. A War in heaven erupts and the dragon is thrown out of heaven. No more can the devil parade before God accusing men (like in Job 1:6-7). Christ has paid the penalty. The accuser has no case.

Seeing the He has been thrown out the devil tries to destroy the woman (the church), but just as was promised the woman is carried safely away and nourished (this time for a time, times and half a time = 1260 days). Even the earth, groaning under the weight of sin, opens up and protects the woman. The dragon’s war has limits. It can’t touch the church. Just like it can’t touch the heavens.

What the dragon can war against is individual Christians. The dragon goes off to war against the offspring of the woman – those who bear testimony to Jesus.

As Peter wrote – Satan is a roaring lion looking for who he can devour (1 Pet 5:8). But we must see the great boundaries that have been put on the dragon. God has expelled him from eternity. Christ has won. The verdict in eternity is sure. Christ has protected his church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. The only warfare the dragon can use is confusion. The only weapon he has is the ability to cloud our vision, to make us loose sight of the things eternal.

Today’s world strives mightily to make fun of that thought – things eternal. The dragon – through the beasts yet to be seen – tries in every generation to move us from that natural inclination that we are more than flesh and bone. The world wants us to believe what it says – “this is all there is”. Yet even the groaning world works against that. To believe that this is all there is, you must believe in billions and billions of years. The things eternal can’t be escaped. Knowing that confusion is the Devil’s only weapon, hold ever more firmly onto the Revelation that we have been given. He’s judged. Eternity is assured in Christ our victor.

May the Lord keep your spiritual eyes clear from the Dragon’s deceit.

Alternate Readings: Nahum 2:1-12 and Luke 12:1-12

Wednesday – The Dragon and the Woman

I don’t know why it took me 4 months to figure this one out. The adult Bible study on Thursday morning is going through Acts. We went through Acts devotionally on this site. Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a catagory labled “Acts” that I could just click it and all those posts would come back? It is too much to go back and lable, but I’m going to add catagories for the primary books covered.

We are in the middle of Revelation. The text for today is Rev 12:1-6. Three visions are over: the opening letters the 7 chuches and two cycles of 7 visions (seals and trumpets). There are different interpretations of everything in Revelation. One of the popular ones is what was expressed in the “Left Behind” books. In the view of this parson, that makes for great stories but does not fit the nature of the book itself. Revelation is not a linear time book. The Left Behind series will read Revelation as one long linear progression. That is one of the reasons I’ve used the word cycles for the visions. What Revelation does is record separate visions of the same time frame (from Jesus to the final judgement) from different viewpoints. The seals and the trumpets and the bowls (and the letters and the portents or events of great significance) all tell the same story just focusing on seeing it from different vantage points.

Today’s reading is the start of a group of 7 portents or events of great significance placed between the end of the trumpets and before the bowls. The first great event – a woman greatly blessed with a child – Mary with Jesus. The second great event – a dragon who stood before the woman waiting to kill the child – the devil using various means (Herod, his own temptation and ultimately Pilate) tries to kill Jesus at every turn. But this is not allowed by God. Jesus does not stay in the tomb! The emphasis in the vision is not on the resurrection but on the ascension. The child was caught up to God and to His throne. The emphasis is on Christ at the right hand of the Father where He can protect the church.

And those left behind are not forgotten! The woman, Mary from before, but now the Church – this is one of the places where the Roman Catholic church gets the idea of Mary, mother of the church. God has prepared a place for Mary (with John) and for the Church. They will be nourished for 1260 days. That 1260 days is John’s shorthand for the entire time from the ascension to the last day. Elsewhere it is 3.5 years or a time, times and half a time.

I’m getting long, and this is a lot of explaining. The key thing to keep in mind in revelation is that it tells the story of salvation and human events over and over. The numbers and the mystical creatures are not symbols for things that you don’t know or very specific things. They are representations and apocalyptic shorthand for stuff we know from easier places – like Romans. If you are getting lost – go read Romans. If you are trying to find the USA or the atomic bomb or a specific prophecy – go read Romans. If you are looking for comfort that God is in control, has a plan to save us and has the power to carry it out – continue reading Revelation. Tomorrow this story continues.

Sermon – Reformation Day – Rev 14:6-7 – Conversation with Dr. Martin

Although my editor-in-chief, my Mom, didn’t fully appreciate the “Visit with Dr. Luther” part, I really enjoyed thinking about, writing and delivering this sermon. I bucked my editor this time and said I was happy with it and that altering the “visit” scene would gut the central conceit of the entire sermon. She eventually agreed, but still didn’t like it. I’ll chalk it up to generational difference. It might be a little too playful. Maybe this will be one of those sermons that a short time from now I’ll look at and say how did I even go into the pulpit with that!?! But right now. I still like it. It felt blessed by the gospel from the start.

Tuesday – The Seventh Trumpet is Blown

Revelation is such an up and down ride. You get the great troubles of the earth – the four horsemen and their plagues, the unleashing of demons and natural disasters, the cry of the saints – How Long? All of that would make you want to put it down – the world is too much with us – but when you do you miss the highest gospel points. Today’s reading – Rev 11:14-19. The seventh angel blew his trumpet – and a loud voice proclaimed The Kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of Our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. I can’t read that and not hear the mass choir singing the Halelluia Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The seventh trumpet brings the new creation. The saints are no longer asking How Long? Because it has been revealed. The 24 elders are no longer addressing the one who was and is and is to come, but the address the Lord God Almighty who is and was. The everlasting reign has commenced. The temple is open. The ark, the judgment seat of God has come out. God’s place is now with his people. For those long suffering people of God – the saints in heaven asking How Long and the saints on earth living through the plagues – now the wrath and judgment of God comes to those oppressors.

I live in comfortable America ensconced behind a computer screen and with plenty to eat. I can even walk down to Pizza Corner when the desire strikes. But still, on a late fall day after the 1st ever suspension of a World Series game and the wind gusting 35 MPH and the leaves all off the trees and a poor night’s sleep behind you becuase the kids were scared and in your bed all night, You can just intuit that something that went horribly wrong is being set right. I can stare out the window and just barely hear that distant triumph song – the kingdom of this world, had become the kingdom of Our Lord and of His Christ…

May the Lord bless your week and give you ears to occasionally hear that choir break through the clutter of our lives.

Friday – The 6th Trumpet releases the last battle

Oh why do I get dragged into these things? Revelation, what was I thinking?!?

In the reading for today Rev 9:13-21 the sixth trumpet sounds and the full force of the demonic hordes are unleashed upon the earth. The angels that have been standing sentry at the 4 corners of the world are removed. This time – a time that had been held ready for the hour, day, month and year – is none other than armaggedon, the last day. As the plagues and the woes increases, so did the hardness of the hearts of men. And this is no different. In the final battle the demons kill 1/3rd of the people alive, but men did not repent from the works of their hands.

A everything is going to hell, the people of that time focus more intently on the gold and silver and bronze and the works of their hands. The call of God to look beyond the world to higher things goes unheeded at the same time the signals will never be stronger.

The core of reveletion is three sevenfold visions – seals, trumpets and censers. The sixth in each case is the final battle. This reading is best understood by looking at the three together Rev 6:12-17 and Rev 16:12-16. The vision is terrifying. Lord please let me not be present at that time. The great dragon released from the abyss, combined with the political and religious forces under his dominion will kill a third of humanity. What exactly is contemplated is not known – but it looks very much like modern warfare with fire and smoke and sulphur. John would have known about Pompeii. The description is of 1000’s of Pompeii’s.

In the middle of war and financial panic and the prosperity gospel being preached what do we worry about? Do we see it as a call by God to get right with him through Christ, or do we worry about how to protect our gold and silver and the works of our hands. The message of Revelation is the original hellfire sermon. Judgment day is coming – will you be able to stand? Or are you looking for a rock to hide your stuff under?

May the Lord protect you in that day.

Thursday – The Fifth Angel blew his trumpet

I am torn. The lectionary has the 2nd reading coming from Revelation. As the time of the church year winds down this makes sense, but Revelation is about the last book of the bible to treat in a blog format. It is just way to “indirect” in its words. Personally, I know the NT much better than the OT (outside of the Torah). If this was Genesis through Deut, then I’d feel better, but we are in the minor prophets. Micah to be exact. The Gospel Reading is marching through Luke, but that would get way too confusing with the Sunday Sermons coming from Matthew. I am torn, but Revelation appears to be the best course.

Reading: Rev 9:1-12

We pick up Revelation in the middle of the 2nd cycle of visions. The first grouping was seals on a scroll. The last grouping is the censors/bowls. This grouping is trumpets. The first 4 trumpets have sounded. The effect of those trumpets is the physical world gone mad. God’s good creation is twisted becuase of sin and producing all kinds of natural disasters that destroy things like the ocean, and the fresh water and the grass. Never all the natural resource. Never even half of them. God is merciful in the midst of evil. But the next three trumpets are Woe!

With the fifth trumpet, the demons are let loose upon unbelieving men. They are allowed to torture people for five months (not all the time, but enough to always be mindful of them). They have no ability over those with the seal of God, and the demons have no authority to kill. But all of that raises the question, why are they released, and who gives them their authority? The hard answer is that it is God – And that God does this for his good purposes, and the good of those afflicted. The suffering without recourse to death is a call to repent and turn to God – to find eternal life instead of the longed for destruction. The demons do the will of the Father bound by his limits. Like Satan in Job.

God does not want evil. Neither does he want the sinner to die. Since mankind saddled him with the former, God uses it as a goad to accomplish the latter. The devil wants to torment us and convince us that our sins are not forgiven, that there is no God, that we have no hope – stings like a scorpion. The mission of the Christian is to call out during these times that there is a saviour – Jesus Christ. The devil wants to destroy the human race – abaddon, the destroyer. Christ has saved it and is recreating us.

May the Lord grant you the insight to calm the troubled souls in your life.

Alternate readings: Micah 5:1-15 , Luke 10:25-37

Tuesday – The End of Acts – Paul at Rome

A couple of thoughts: 1) I think I’m getting too long in these posts. The meduim and the original intention was a quick hit. I’m going to try and shorten them. 2) I’m also going to tighten up the focus on one of the readings for the day. What that means is the other readings will now be listed last.

Reading Acts 28:17-31

Over the weekend our reading of Acts came to its conclusion. Instead of jumping to the new reading, I’m pulling this one from Saturday.

The story of Acts is the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The story of Acts is also the story of Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s guidance and leadership of His church. Luke brings both of those threads, not to a conclusion, but a fulfillment. Paul is now in Rome. The old phrase all roads lead to Rome is the operative one. The ends of the earth have been reached at least metaphorically. Even though the ends had been reached the message was still proclaimed and the nascent church still under the guidance of Jesus. Paul lived in Rome two years (under house arrest) and preached to all who came to him. And he did this preaching openly and unhindered. The Spirit and Jesus had opened a door to the gentiles and the Roman world. And They brought people to Paul – He welcomed all who came to him.

I said a fulfillment instead of an end. Luke ends the story with a picture of what the church looks like. In chains, but free to preach. Always welcoming, always drawing those whom Jesus and the Spirit call. One day there will be an end to preaching and teaching. One day the time of grace will be over, but until then the message continues to go out to the ends of the world. The last picture Luke leaves us with is a fulfillment of the promise at the start the Jesus would be with us always. The purpose of that presense is to save the lost. There are always doors being held open. One day they will close, but until that judgment it is a time of grace. We welcome all in the name of the Lord, teaching them everything He told us.

May the Lord grant you eyes to see those open doors.

Good News

The big good news is that Jesus is alive and you are no longer in your sins. The gospel should never go unsaid.

The smaller, more localized good news is I just finished Saturday/Sunday worship attendance. We had 70 people come and worship with us this weekend. That is about 20 more than our average over the last 6 weeks. On an ordinary 3rd Sunday of the month. God be praised. It was good to see the crowd. Hope to see everyone back soon.

Sermon – Matt 22:15-22 – Whose Image do you reflect?

This sermon had one core idea. We are made in the image of God, hence rendering unto God the things that are his includes all that we are. Very simple and very radical idea. We have an easier time getting lost in politics or sports or just the stuff of life. God isn’t there emailing you directly every day. What he send are preachers and books and friends and blessings, and they are easy enought to dodge or leave on the shelf or mistake for our work.

In that sense the sermon was like an image. You can look at it from different angles. You can ponder the image, but everything you need to know is captured very quickly. Any effect is in personal examination.

This particular sermon had very strong roots in a couple of discussions with the church community. Rita F., celebrating her 80th birthday, and in Bible study brought up a very deep question. What exactly is God? What we have been revealed as God is Jesus. Jesus said if you have seen me you have seen the Father. Trying to get go outside of that revelation gets us into the position like Job being questioned or like Paul’s pot of clay asking the potter. What we have been revealed is the image of God, the icon, Jesus. And as Christians, his is the imgage to which we are being conformed.

Caesar deserves his due as a type and shadow of that ultimate reality. Caesar points us the ultimate rule of all by God.

Thursday – St. Paul and crew shipwrecked

I’m changing my titles to reflect a little more of the content. I believe search engines actually pull more from the headings than anywhere else. So, while I’ll keep the day, I’m adding more info about the post.

Hosea 13:4-8
Acts 27:27-44
Luke 9:18-27

If you’ve been reading the story of Paul and the voyage to Rome today’s reading strikes calm amidst the storm. Paul, the prisoner, has essentially taken over as captain of the boat. The boat had been drifting with bad winds and the waves. The cargo has gone overboard and the crew has no idea where the are exactly. Paul promises they will all survive. They’ve been in this drift for 14 days, and the finely tuned ears of the sailors hear the wash of waves against land. Afraid of running onto sharp shoals (undersea rock cliffs) the crew throws out anchors to slow or stop the boat. If they can only hold until daylight, then they might have a chance. But some of the experienced crew decide the time is right to make a break. Paul stops them. He tells the centurion, unless they stay, we’re all hosed. The soldiers force the sailors back. They cut the dinghy loose. Everyone is in the same boat.

And that is when the calm happens. Paul tells them all to eat – to share a meal. They haven’t eaten for two weeks. Yes its dark, yes there is no life raft, yes we are going aground. Eat, the outcome is in God’s hands, but he works through people. Fed people are more prepared to swim (remember Phelp’s 5000 calorie diet?) Paul took bread, gave thanks to God before everyone and began to eat. Luke tells us the number, 276 people.

They make it to daylight and try and beach the ship. They do hit those shoals and the boat is being broken apart by the waves. Once again people want to do something stupid – kill all the prisoners. But the other leader steps forward. The centurion stops them, and gives the orders. Swimmers overboard first. Non-swimmers, grab a plank of the breaking up ship. In the middle of disasster, calm and order emerge. This time from a secondary source.

Where does that calm and order come from? It comes from the faithful Paul. God said not one would be lost – and Paul believed it. He so believed it that the crew followed his orders. His influence was such that at the tensest moment, with the sound of danger right over the side, everyone stopped worrying to eat. And the calm passes from one leader to the next. The centurion, needing Paul’s orders to stop the sailors from leaving, now takes his own action in abandoning the ship orderly. The calm comes from the promises of God.

That is also true in our lives. 401K’s crash. Houses sit unsold. Sons and daughters wander away. Parents and spouses pass away. The waves are all around. We have a sure Word. God is making all things new. He has a mission – to save sinners. We are one of those saved sinners. Occasionally we have to swim for it. Our sin leads us into dangerous shoals, but God is at work through it all. If the tension is a little high – take time for a meal – take eat this is my body given for you…

May the Lord keep you safe and calm through the shipwrecks we pilot ourselves into.