Thursday, September 25, 2014

When We Are Complete

I saw Heaven standing open, and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.

The great preacher of yesteryear, RG Lee, used to tell a story about his mother.  He asked her one day, “What was the happiest day of your life?”  I thought she might say something about the day one of her children was born, or the day my father asked her to marry him, or perhaps her wedding day. For a long moment she sat there and then looked across the room as if she could see for a great distance. And then she spoke. 'It was during the war between the North and South. The men were all away. My mother, your grandmother, had to do the work of a man in the fields. She eked out a living for us from the farm. One day a letter came saying that my father, your grandfather, Bennett, had been killed. That letter contained a great many kind words about his bravery and sacrifice. Mother did not cry much that day, but at night we could hear her sob in the dark of our small house. About four months later, it was summer, we were all sitting on the porch shelling beans. A man came down the road, and mother watched him for a while and then said, ‘Elizabeth, honey, don't think me strange, but that man coming yonder walks like your father.’ The man kept coming along the road, but we children thought, ‘It couldn't be him.’ As he came to the break in the fence where the path ran, he turned in. Mother sprang from her chair scattering beans everywhere. She began to run, and she yelled over her shoulders, ‘Children, it's your father.’ She ran all the way across the field until they met. She kissed him and cried and held him for the longest time. And that, Robert Lee, was the happiest hour I ever knew.'

Whatever your happiest day was, it pales in comparison to the day we’re going to talk about this Sunday morning.  This is the day Christians have sung about for centuries in innumerable songs.  It’s the fulfillment of all of our fondest hopes and most cherished dreams.  Revelation 19-20 has a lot to say about this day, and some parts--especially 20:1-11--are the subject of controversy.  I won't shy away from that controversy this Sunday, but I hope to spend most of my time just helping us see in advance the best day we'll ever experience. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Downfall of the Dark Side

A half-century ago, an army occupied the Southern United States, bringing about a revolution that changed our country forever.  Only this wasn’t an ordinary army; they took their battle plan straight from the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to Him the other also…Love your enemies and pray for those who hate you.  We know this army today as the civil rights movement.  It seems like a long time ago, but some who are reading this can remember when a black American couldn’t vote in many parts of the South; when they were forced to eat at different restaurants and send their children to different schools and use separate restrooms. Most people in these parts, both white and black, didn't necessarily support that system, but they didn't actively oppose it either.  It's just the way things were; but the way things were was evil, pure and simple…and evil dies hard.  Courageously obeying the words of Jesus, this army marched peacefully while bystanders called them hateful names.  When they were assaulted with police dogs and fire hoses, they didn’t run away.  When mobs dragged them out of lunch counters and beat them, they didn’t fight back.  When a church was bombed, killing four little girls, and when other civil rights workers were  abducted and murdered in the dead of night, they cried out for justice, but they did not bomb, murder or riot in return. The fight isn’t over yet; racial inequality is still a problem today.  But we all owe them so much.  Today, people of my generation and my children’s generation can’t help but look back and wonder, “If I had been alive then, would I have marched alongside them?  Would I have spoken out against injustice?  Or would I have kept quiet, clinging to an evil institution that was destined to die?”

            As we continue in our study of Revelation this Sunday, we get to the good part today; the end, when evil is conquered.  This book is actually a letter written to seven churches who were representing Christ in difficult times.  Like those civil rights workers in our own country, they were facing hatred and violence. But they weren’t just trying to change this world; they had eternal transformation in mind.  Keep them in mind as we look at Revelation 16-18.  Then we'll talk about what this all means for us.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The War of the Ages

I'm right in the middle of preaching a series on the book of Revelation. Whenever people think about this book, they immediately think about the Antichrist, the number 666, and other mysterious imagery shrouded in our minds in spooky music (this is true of both devout Christians and the totally non-religious, in my experience).  This Sunday, we'll talk about the spooky stuff.  But it won't be wild speculation; my interest is in what the Bible actually says in Revelation 12-13, and what God wants us to do in response.

The book of Revelation was originally written to a Christians who lived in what is now Turkey.  They knew the Christian life wasn’t easy.  It was about to get even harder.  One reason God gave them this revelation was because He wanted to remind them that there were things going on in the spiritual realm that affected their lives down here on Earth.  As Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. So yes, we'll encounter the Beast this Sunday (actually there are two beasts in Revelation 13...did you know that?).  But John’s vision also gives us a good indication why life for Christ followers is so tough...and how we should live in these war-torn times. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Just Wait a Little Longer

Recently, I woke up early in the morning.  As I went into the bathroom to get ready, I saw a piece of paper with very crude, childlike writing on it.  I could partially make it out, but what I made out didn’t make any sense.  I stared at that for a long time, trying to figure out what it meant.  That night when I got home from work, Carrie told me a story.  The night before, I went to bed early.  When she came into the bedroom, I spoke out loud, though I was clearly still asleep.  I said, “We got a better Puerto Rican.”  She thought that was so odd, she went into the bathroom to write it down, but all she had to write with was an eyebrow pencil, which explains why the writing was so crude.  I would love to be able to tell what I was dreaming about that night, but I have no idea. Perhaps it was about baseball.  Perhaps I dreamed the Astros got Carlos Beltran back...or someone better, the "better Puerto Rican."  Sadly, the mystery of “We got a better Puerto Rican” will probably never be solved. 
  I'm currently preaching on the book of Revelation at WBC.  There are some very mysterious words and images in this book.  I don’t claim to be able to understand them all, and frankly, I don’t trust anyone who claims that they do.  Last week (chapters 4-5), we saw how only Jesus is worthy to open the scroll that represents the plan of God for the consummation of human history.  This Sunday, we’ll see what happens when Jesus opens that scroll (chapters 6-7).  It is sealed with seven seals, and each time Jesus opens a seal in Heaven, something happens that impacts Earth.  I don’t think the purpose of this was to give us a blow-by-blow account of how the End Times are going to play out, so that we could watch the news and say, "Aha!  It is just as it was foretold in the prophecy!"  Remember, this is a letter written to real Christians who lived 2000 years ago, meant to inspire them to be ready and to not give up.  They were facing difficult times, persecution, poverty, alienation among their people, and they wanted to know how God felt about all that.  This was God’s answer to them, and encouragement to us.  I think you'll be encouraged by this passage; I hope you'll be there.