My Choice

“The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies…”
Revelation 13:5a (NIV)

Antithesis (noun) \ an-ˈti-thə-səs\ : 1. The direct opposite

From the very beginning, evil has been the antithesis of good. The evil one has opposed God. Evil is good’s opposite. Jesus’ ministry began by being tempted by the Evil One with the same basic three temptations the Serpent tempted Adam and Eve. Jesus’ earthly ministry ended by declaring that the “prince of this world” stands condemned (John 16:11). At the very heart of the Great Story lies the struggle between opposing forces: God, and the evil one who opposes God.

Along my journey, I have often found it helpful to reduce life’s complexities to the root binaries such as good or evil, death or life, and/or positive or negative before I choose my way.

Today’s chapter is the source material for some of the most commonly known elements of Revelation from which many heavy metal rock bands have gotten the dark themes they use to tap into the imaginations of rebellious teenagers motivated to extol the antithesis of anything their parents believe or desire of them. In this chapter, we meet the “beast” or “antichrist” who declares that no one can buy or sell anything without taking “the mark of the beast” on his/her hand or forehead. John goes on to say that anyone who has insight can calculate the “number of the beast,” the infamous “666.”

This chapter is filled with so much prophetic imagery that it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of its puzzling metaphors. Yet, as I read and meditated on imagery, I found it important to reduce what is being presented to its roots: God and Anti-god.

An unholy trinity arises: the dragon (e.g. satan, anti-Father), the beast of the sea (e.g. anti-Christ), and the beast of the earth (e.g. anti-Holy Spirit).

The beast who is the anti-Christ has a mock resurrection in the form of a fatal wound from which he is healed.

As Jesus was the incarnate Word of God (John 1) sent to proclaim the words of Father, from the anti-Father dragon the anti-Christ beast is given a mouth to utter “proud words and blasphemies.”

As Jesus was the “Prince of Peace” sent from the Father who gave His Son that none should perish but all might have eternal life. the anti-Christ beast was given the power to wage war against God’s people and kill them.

As those who follow Jesus have their names written in the “Book of Life,” those who worship the anti-Christ beast do not have their names written there.

As Holy Spirit was sent into the world on behalf of Christ to draw people to Christ and to indwell believers with His presence and His power to perform signs and wonders, the anti-Holy Spirit beast is given “all the authority” of the anti-Christ beast to make the earth’s inhabitants to worship the anti-Christ beast as well as to perform “great signs.”

Just as Holy Spirit was sent to lead people to Jesus, the Truth, the anti-Holy Spirit beast decieves people into worshipping the anti-Christ beast.

As Jesus made the way for any and all who decide open their hearts to Him and choose to follow, the anti-Christ and anti-Holy Spirit beasts “made the earth and inhabitants worship” the anti-Christ, then “ordered” them to set up an image in honor of the anti-Christ. Any who did not obey are killed. They then “force” “all people” to receive a mark on their hands or foreheads in order to participate in the world’s economy.

Much of the imagery in today’s chapter was perceived by those who received it to correlate directly to the Roman Empire and its Emporers. The “Imperial Cult” made Caesar to be god and all Romans were forced to pledge their allegiance to participate in Roman commerce. Christians had been killed en masse by Nero and his successors. Both the Hebrew and Greek languages use alphabets in which letters also serve as numbers and the idea of names having corresponding numbers was popular. “Nero” when spelled a certain way in Hebrew adds up to 666.

So, does this mean that Revelation is only about the contemporary events and poeple of John’s day?

Prophetic literature is never “either-or,” but “both-and.” Many of the Hebrew prophets wrote about contemporary leader and events, but they are also about the coming Messiah. God’s base language is metaphor, and metaphor is always layered with meaning. Additionally, the Roman empire has always inspired subsequent empires and would be emporers from the Mafia to Hitler’s Third Reich, so it’s very easy to believe that it will also inspire an unholy trinity (6-6-6) that is the antithesis of the complete and Holy Trinity (7-7-7) in the end times.

In the quiet this morning, my mind and spirit humbly embrace (once again) the reality that I don’t know exactly how all these things will specifically play out. When I boil things down to the root of things, however, here’s what I do know:

I will choose God over the evil one.
I will choose good over evil.
I will choose Life over death.
I will choose Truth over deception.
I will choose humility over pride.
I will choose love over hatred.
I will choose joy over anger.
I will choose peace over discord.
I will choose patience over impatience.
I will choose kindness over harshness.
I will choose goodness over vengeance.
I will choose faithfulness over abandonment.
I will choose gentleness over forcefulness.
I will choose self-control over indulgence.
I will choose surrender over demand.
I will choose hope over despair.

As a follower of Jesus, this is the only way.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Not of this World

Not of this World (CaD Rev 12) Wayfarer

“Therefore rejoice, you heavens
    and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
    because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
    because he knows that his time is short.”
Revelation 12:12 (NIV)

Several years ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers in which I talked about how the writers of the James Bond film, Skyfall, subtly tapped into themes of the Great Story in order to make Bond into a Christ-like figure (you can watch/listen here). I shared that morning, as I have many times in these chapter-a-day posts, that all good stories are reflections of the Great Story.

That came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter. The images of John’s vision like those in today’s chapter sound like some kind of bad acid trip to most modern readers, but to learned Hebrews and Gentiles of John’s day, they echo themes and images from familiar mythologies. Both the Greeks and Egyptians had myths of dragons or serpents chasing mothers to kill their young.

Once again this morning, I set aside the minute details in order to consider the larger picture being presented in Revelation and in today’s chapter. The Great Story told from Genesis to Revelation is ultimately a story of good and evil on a grand spiritual scale. I have observed along my spiritual journey that as an earthbound human who views reality through my brain and five physical senses, it is difficult to comprehend, let alone understand, what Jesus taught: that there is a spiritual reality that is not only “not of this world” but also more “real” than this world. I find it interesting that those who have had neath-death experiences in which they experienced heaven commonly relate two things: First, they didn’t want to come back. Second, they don’t have the vocabulary to express how amazing and how “real” it was. Having been to heaven, they realize how our earthly “reality” is but a shadow world in comparison to what awaits us in eternity.

Today’s chapter has two main characters. A woman “clothed” with the sun and moon and twelve stars on her head. Hebrew mythology and prophecy often referred to Israel as a “mother.” Joseph’s dream was of the sun, moon, and eleven stars (his brothers, the tribes of Israel) bowing down to him. The second main character is the dragon, which is also a recurring image in the prophets and the psalms, and the text tells us that it represents Satan.

The overarching theme of the entire Great Story is established in Genesis 3. Satan temps Adam and Eve. They are expelled from the Garden, cursed to an earthly life, and to suffer death. God establishes enmity between Satan and the woman, especially her offspring whom Satan will attack. God prophesies that Satan will bruise the heel of woman’s offspring, but He will crush Satan’s head.

Today’s chapter is a re-telling of this great spiritual conflict that lies at the heart of the entire Great Story. Once again, the story of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt is a microcosm of this grand spiritual conflict. The Dragon pursues the Woman to the wilderness (like the Egyptians chasing after the Hebrews). The Dragon attempts to stop the woman with water (like the Egyptians trying to pin the Hebrews at the Red Sea). The earth swallows up the waters (like the Red Sea swallowing up the Egyptian army).

In the grand spiritual conflict, Satan has always been seen as the ultimate heavenly accuser and prosecutor (cf. Job 1-2). In today’s chapter, as the end of the Great Story draws near, there is a spiritual battle in heaven and Satan is thrown down to earth with his hoard of fallen angels. Furious, Satan goes after “the rest of her offspring” which would, presumably, be the people of God left on the earth. This is, again, the overarching theme of John’s Revelation; The great spiritual conflict of heaven is coming to a climactic head on the earth.

In the quiet this morning, I come back to the familiar themes of the Great Story and all the good stories that echo them. Good and evil, the threat of death and the desire for immortality, the grand struggle, the threat and fear of a dark ending before the grand moment of eucatastrophe. There are many who revere Jesus and His teaching, claiming to respect His teaching as a guide for living on this earthly journey. As a disciple of Jesus, I find that His teaching for living and relating to others on this earth was ultimately not about this earth, but about His kingdom that He said is “not of this world.” John’s visions are glimpses of it, just as Jesus referenced it on His way to the cross:

A large number of people followed [Jesus], including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Luke 23:27-31 (NIV)

And so, I proceed on this another day of an earthly journey, believing not just that Jesus offered a helpful guide for behavior in this temporal, earthly existence, but that He came as part of a Great Story, pointing me to a Kingdom that is more real and beyond description with the limitations of human vocabulary. In fact, it might seem like an acid trip to my human understanding (based on friends who’ve told me about their acid trips). I choose to believe that my story is a part of that Story in ways that equally lie beyond my human comprehension.

Note: I’m taking tomorrow and July 4th off. See you back here on Tuesday of next week.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Prophetic Pondering

Prophetic Pondering (CaD Rev 11) Wayfarer

The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over [the two dead prophets] and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
Revelation 11:10 (NIV)

I have been a follower of Jesus for just over 40 years, a period of time which is used in the Great Story as the number of years in a generation. So, I have spent time over the past couple of years pondering the changes I’ve observed in our society and our culture in one generation. In some ways, the changes seem startling to me.

A generation ago, I watched as Christian fundamentalists with groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition sought to force their religious doctrines on society through political power. What I observed in those days was that a judeo-christian world view was foundational in society around me. Virtually ever kid I knew grew up going to church of some kind. It was just what you did.

A generation later, I find it ironic to observe what I would consider woke fundamentalists who are seeking to force their doctrinal world-view on society through political power. Major institutions of media, business, and academia are offering full support. Meanwhile, my own local gathering of Jesus’ disciples has grown in the last couple of decades, not because new followers are joining the ranks but because so many other churches are dying and closing their doors. Churches are being burned and attacked, social media posts call for violence against Christians.

These are things that I would have never have believed would happen in one generation, just 40 years ago.

In today’s chapter, the interlude between the sixth and seventh “trumpet judgments” continues. Two prophets, or “witnesses” are raised up. They echo the ancient prophet Elijah whose prayers shut-off the rains and brought fire down from the heavens.

It’s important to remember that the picture John’s visions create is an Earth in which there are a mere 144,000 followers of God who are sealed and protected through this time of tribulation. Where are all the followers of Jesus? John’s Revelation does not seem to address this, though the letters of the apostles speak of a “rapture” of God’s people in which they are suddenly and unexpectedly snatched up to heaven in the twinkling of an eye. This leaves the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants who are described as unrepentantly anti-God. Therefore, when the two prophets are killed, the world celebrates their deaths and gloats over their bodies. People throw parties to feast the end of God’s messengers.

In the quiet this morning, I once again find myself pondering the changes I’ve observed in one generation. I could not fathom the anger, hatred, and calls for violence that I witness on both ends of the socio-political spectrum. Though, given the gross failings of institutional churches that I touched on in yesterday’s post, I can certainly empathize with those who were victimized and are crying out in anger.

There are mornings on this chapter-a-day journey when I feel as if I am left with more questions than answers; Mornings when I am more perplexed than inspired. I’ve come to believe that this is not a bad thing. The Twelve who followed Jesus in the flesh for three years were still confused and scratching their heads the night before He was crucified and the day He rose from the dead. Why should I be any different? Along my journey I’ve found that it is often the long stretches of pondering good questions that ultimately lead to new depths of spiritual understanding.

So, two thoughts I continue to ponder as I enter my day today:

First, it would be easy for me to over-dramatize the changes I’ve witnessed in a generation and conclude that the end-times are near. I don’t know that. The pendulum of socio-political thought swings back and forth sending individuals on either side of the spectrum into doomsday thoughts and predictions. What I have observed in the last forty years helps me to appreciate how the events and anti-God attitudes in John’s vision could, indeed, be possible, but that doesn’t equate to thinking they are probable in the near turn.

Second, the pendulum of social, cultural, political and religious thought does often swing back and forth. Some would argue that it is currently doing so. The social and political upheaval of the 60s ushered in a period of rebellion, violence, sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. The 70s then experienced a “Jesus People” movement when many people found themselves aimless and empty, searching for spiritual answers. I consider it possible that a generation of young children who are being asked to question fundamental biological truths about themselves (when they don’t even have the vocabulary or cognitive ability to process it) may very well find themselves confused about their identity and longing for a strong spiritual foothold to help them make sense out of life. This might even lead to a spiritual revival.

I’m posting this much later than norma this morning because I’ve been pondering how best to conclude. I’m still not sure, so I’m just going to leave it here, continuing to ponder.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Justice

 

Justice (CaD Rev 10) Wayfarer

I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Revelation 10:10 (NIV)

Over the past couple of days, I have been watching a documentary about Roman Catholic priests who committed terrible acts of child abuse and subsequent horrific crimes to cover it up. The institutional church also aided in stonewalling the victims, as did the local authorities. There have been multiple times that I’ve come close to turning it off and walking away. It’s hard to watch.

Our fallen world is full of injustice. It always has been. And, the institutional church has been complicit. Just a few weeks ago the Southern Baptist Convention announced the results of an independent investigation which revealed that the denomination had hidden countless acts of sexual abuse by pastors and volunteers for decades. Even in the conservative small town where we live, there has been scandal and cover-up.

Our children’s generation has championed social justice, and they’ve been critical of previous generations of believers, and the institutional church, for not doing enough to address injustice. My ears and my heart are open to this critique. This world will never be found wanting as it relates to the need for justice. The Great Story is filled with cries for justice from Abel’s blood to the prophets, Job, the psalmists, and Jesus.

And that brings me to Revelation. The judgments envisioned and prophetically predicted for the end times are God’s judgment on a corrupt, unjust, and unrepentant world.

Today’s chapter is an interlude between the sixth and seventh “trumpet” judgments. A giant angel descends to earth holding a small scroll. John is told to eat it. It tastes like a treat from the dessert bar, but once it’s finished it turns his stomach sour. The prophetic words of the scroll are what John is told to proclaim and prophetically predict. The final stomach-churning judgments. Seven bowls of just reckoning and Judgment Day.

Kind of like the documentary I’ve been watching, it would be easy to shut the book and walk away. Revelation is not an easy read. But, it’s a necessary read in understanding the whole of the Great Story.

In the quiet this morning, I circle back to the stories of adults wracked with pain and anger because they were victimized by men who were supposed to be God’s servants. On one hand, it has my heart crying out for Judgment Day. On the other hand, I’m reminded of my own sins, my own complicities, and the injustices I’ve not only failed to address, but to which I’ve contributed either by word, act, or omission.

I hear the question of Jesus’ followers echoing in my heart: “Who then can be saved?”

“With man it is impossible,” Jesus replied, “but with God all things are possible.”

I sit in the quiet and ponder what this means for me on this day. The words of the prophet Micah rise within my spirit, words that Micah proclaims are God pleading his just case to the mountains and the hills:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

And so, I enter another day of this earthly journey intent on doing so.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”

"Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" (CaD Rev 9) Wayfarer

The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands…
Revelation 9:20a (NIV)

I find it fascinating that our world continues to use Hitler and the Nazis as the ultimate metaphor for evil. Given their lust for power, their unbridled ambition, and the atrocities they unleashed on this earth, it’s an apt metaphor in many ways. I have heard it argued that true evil will not respond to anything but overpowering force. It could be argued that World War II is an example of that principle. We continue to hold Hitler and his Nazis as our favorite metaphor for evil. Of course, metaphor loses its power when it is applied loosely and flippantly in unwarranted situations, but that’s a different post for another day.

Today’s chapter describes the fifth and sixth “trumpet judgments” on the earth that John saw in his vision. The fifth is a plague of locusts another plague that parallels the plagues on Egypt in the time of Moses. The locusts are described with monstrous imagery and led by “the angel of the Abyss.” The locusts torture earth’s inhabitants until they beg to die.

When the sixth angel sounds its trumpet, four angels at the Euphrates River are loosed along with a countless multitude of mounted troops with horses that spew fire, smoke, and sulfur. One-third of the earth’s inhabitants are killed. While this plague does not have a parallel to the ten plagues of Egypt, its imagery had a clear parallel to Roman citizens in the first century. The Parthian Empire was right across the Euphrates River to the east of the Roman Empire, and the Parthians were the only enemy that the Roman Legions could not defeat. Parthia’s mounted archers could ride forward and shoot backward, and their unpredictable battle tactics made them one foe that Rome did not want to face. Romans feared the day that Parthia’s mounted army attacked and John’s vision would have directly stirred these fears.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to get lost in the minute details of apocalyptic literature. I recall one arrogant professor I once had who famously lectured on the end times and sold volumes of his recordings on the subject. I remember some of his interpretations being so rooted in the geopolitical world of the cold war that I highly doubt they would make sense today.

Instead of getting buried in the minutia, I tend to pull back to try and see the big picture. I believe the rather obvious parallels between the judgments of Revelation and the plagues of Egypt are more than a coincidence. In the Exodus, God unleashed 10 plagues on Egypt in an effort to get a hard-hearted Pharaoh to repent and free the Hebrews from slavery. In Revelation God unleashes plagues on the earth in an effort to get hard-hearted humanity to repent and be free from the shackles of sin.

The hard-hearted Pharaoh refused to repent. So does humanity in John’s vision.

And so, I find my thoughts wandering back to the nature of evil and to history. The Nuremberg Trials and the flight of top Nazi officials to places like Argentina revealed how unrepentant and hard-hearted were the individuals who unleashed unspeakable atrocities on humanity for their own power and pride. To this day, the stories of powerful families and corporations who fueled the Nazi regime and remain unrepentant for their past continue to come out.

So in the quiet, I find myself thinking about the simple act of repentance. It means a change of heart that leads to a change in direction. It means to spiritually stop, turn, and go the other way. As Bob Dylan sings it: “Gonna change my way of thinkin’, make myself a different set of rules. Gonna put my good foot forward and stop being influenced by fools.” It’s what Pharaoh refused to do. It’s what Hitler’s henchmen refused to do. It’s what humanity refuses to do in the end times according to today’s chapter.

And, on this Monday morning, I once again find myself humbly admitting that I don’t know what every one of John’s visions means. I’m sorry that I can’t reveal it to you with smug certainty like my old professor and the multi-cassette volumes he was happy to sell to anyone. Here’s what I do know for certain. My heart, my thoughts, and my subsequent words and actions can easily become rooted in pride rather than humility, in selfishness rather than generosity, in anger rather than kindness, in vengeance rather than forgiveness, and in hatred rather than in love. Every day of this earthly journey is an opportunity for me to have the self-awareness to catch myself, stop, and choose to go in the opposite direction; To choose good rather than evil.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Judges (May-Jun 2022)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Judges published by Tom Vander Well in May and June of 2022. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Judges 1: Git ‘er Done! (or not)

Judges 2: This Chain That I Must Break

Judges 3: The “I” in Idolatry

Judges 4: Women and Prophets

Judges 5: Deborah the Leader

Judges 6: Willingness

Judges 7: Different Ways

Judges 8: King, or Not?

Judges 9: Two Paths

Judges 10: Leaders are Not One-Size-Fits-All

Judges 11: Childish Notions

Judges 12: And So, It Begins

Judges 13: Living a Great Story

Judges 14: Achilles’ Heel

Judges 15: Who I Don’t Want to Be

Judges 16: A Confession

Judges 17: Order, Disorder, Reorder

Judges 18: Willful Independence

Judges 19: Violent Times

Judges 20: Tribal Instinct and Higher Law

Judges 21: Series of Unfortunate Events

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Ignorant, Mindful, and Ready

Ignorant, Mindful, and Ready (CaD Rev 8) Wayfarer

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Revelation 8:4 (NIV)

As a student of history and as a mindful observer of life, I have noted that followers of Jesus in every generation seem to be convinced that we are in the end times. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned it on this chapter-a-day journey. It seems to me that as human beings age and we feel our own sense of dread with the inevitable approach of “the end” of our own earthly journey, it is easy to project this sense of “the end” on the world around us.

As a young man, I read books that predicted the world wouldn’t last beyond my high school years. Since I graduated high school in 1984, many would-be prophets mingled Orwell and Revelation in predicting doomsday. I seem to remember televangelists predicting the date of the rapture and the beginning of the end on more than one occasion. Then came the doomsday scenarios of the end of the 20th century that mingled the apocalypse with the Y2K global computer meltdown (history shows that apocalyptic predictions spring up at the end of centuries like flowers in spring). More recently, we had the end of the Mayan calendar that people associated with the end of all things.

With this in mind, I want to be careful with my thoughts on today’s chapter. I don’t want you to read what I’m not writing.

In today’s chapter, John’s vision from God’s throne room in heaven continues. When the seventh seal on the scroll is broken there is a dramatic pause, thirty minutes of silence before the next round of judgments on the earth begin. The prayers of God’s people rise as incense before God’s throne. Recall the cries of those who’d been martyred in chapter six: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

I always have to remember as I read the Great Story that God layers life with certain themes. Just a few weeks ago in a Message among my local gathering of Jesus followers, I gave the example of how the diagram of an atom looks like a little solar system. The moon revolving around the earth, the planets revolving around the sun, and our solar system in the galaxy continue to expand this layered motif outward into the expanding universe. God is an artist, and he layers themes and motifs in both creation and in the Great Story.

The prayers and cries of the martyrs (those believers through history who were tortured and killed because of their faith) echo God hearing the prayers of God’s people enslaved in Egypt (Ex 3:7). The judgments and plagues in today’s chapter and subsequent chapters echo the plagues on Egypt. God’s deliverance of humanity from the shackles of a fallen world ruled by evil as we read it in the book of Revelation is a macrocosm of the story of God delivering His people from Egypt.

As the angels blow their trumpets of judgment in today’s chapter, plagues fall on the earth. The hail mixed with blood echoes the ninth plague on Egypt. The sea turned to blood echoes the first Egyptian plague. The waters turning bitter in the third trumpet are the reverse of God turning the bitter waters sweet at Marah for the Hebrews. The fourth trumpet echoes the ninth plague on Egypt.

I couldn’t help but notice that the consequences of the trumpet plagues are largely disruptions of nature which will disrupt commerce which in turn will wreak havoc on the global supply chain, which will only fuel economic and international strife, which will only fuel the works of the four riders of the apocalypse that have already been loosed: conquest, war, violence, famine, and death.

Disruption of supply chains, disruptions caused by war, supply shortages, famine, inflation, economic disruption, anger, violence: sound familiar? Yes, I can’t help but see the current events around me and think to myself how quickly things can spiral and descend in an out-of-control chain of events around the globe.

And this is where I don’t want you to read what I’m not writing. I’m not saying we are in the end times. I continue to maintain, as Jesus taught, that no one knows the day and the hour. I’m determined to cling to this ignorance. I can, however, read today’s chapter, look at current events, and appreciate how cataclysmic events like a global pandemic, natural disasters, wars, and famines can quickly destabilize the entire world as is described in the “Trumpet Judgments” in today’s chapter. And while Jesus said that I don’t know the hour and the day, He told multiple parables in which He encouraged His followers to be alert and to always be ready for the end to arrive.

And so, I enter today mindful and endeavoring to be ready, come what may in my own lifetime.

Note: Four recent messages were added to the Messages page today, an archive of YouTube and MP3 fiiles of messages.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language”

"Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language" (CaD Rev 7) Wayfarer

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.
Revelation 7:9 (NIV)

In yesterday’s chapter, the first six seals of a scroll were opened by Jesus. Today’s chapter is an intermission before the seventh seal is opened. John describes two different things revealed to him. In the first, the four winds are held back from the earth by four angels, while a fifth angel places a “seal” on the foreheads of 144,000 “servants of God,” 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

The four winds was a metaphor of God’s wrath and judgment on the earth. The prophet Jeremiah used the same metaphor (Jer 49:36). A “seal” was used in ancient times to both protect documents from being opened and to mark who sent them. Metaphorically, this seems to indicate that these 144,000 “sealed” servants of God will be protected during the impending tribulation being held back by the four angels.

In the second part of the vision, John sees a multitude of individuals from every “nation, tribe, people, and language” who were wearing white robes. John is told that they had come “out of the tribulation.” This connects with the martyrs in yesterday’s chapter (Rev 6:9-11) who were given white robes and told to wait for the others who would join them. John is then told that they will serve the Lamb in his temple and be protected, provided for, cared for, and comforted.

There are a couple of things that stand out to me as I ponder these visions in the quiet this morning. The first is the reality that Jesus was very clear with His followers that following Him may very well be an earthly death sentence. The resurrected Christ told Peter that it would be true for him. Tradition says that this was true for 11 of The Twelve disciples (John is believed to be the only one who may have died of old age). It has been true for multitudes of followers throughout history. It’s still true for followers of Jesus today in places like Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, and China. This is both a sobering thought, and it stands in direct opposition to the “name it and claim it” televangelists or those who believe that following Jesus is the way to safety and prosperity on this earth.

The other things that stands out to me is that this is the second time in John’s vision that he describes people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language.” The greek word used for “temple” in today’s chapter specifically denotes the temple structure where God’s presence dwelt. Throughout the history of the Temple in Jerusalem, only Hebrew men could enter. People of other “nations, tribes, peoples, and languages” (along with females) were not allowed. Also, Paul was very clear that after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection a “Jew” was not someone with Hebrew DNA, but whose heart was surrendered to Christ (Rom 2:28-29). This raises the question as to whether the 144,000 “sealed servants” mentioned in today’s chapter are DNA Jews or Spirit Jews.

One again, I’m left admitting that I know that I don’t know the answers to some of these questions. There are couple of things, however, that I do know. I know that being a follower of Jesus is a path of surrender on this earth, and that very well means that it sometimes leads to suffering. I also know that heaven is a place for people of every nation, tribe, people, and language. Therefore, any thing on this earth that stirs up division, separation, and discrimination against a person or group based on nation, tribe, people, and language is incongruent with Jesus’ teaching.

Therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I enter this day endeavoring to surrender, to serve, and to love indiscriminately.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“What Do You Expect?!”

"What Do You Expect?!" (CaD Rev 6) Wayfarer

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Revelation 6:15-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I find ourselves on that section of life’s road in which we get to watch and walk with my parents and her grandma as they traverse the home stretch of this earthly journey, and experience all that happens to the human body as it ages and begins to wear out. There is nothing novel or new about this progression. Ever since the third chapter of Genesis in which God tells Adam and Eve “from dust you came and to dust you will return,” human beings who live long enough have experienced the natural breakdown of the human body and mind until death finally catches up with us.

On our visits to Wendy’s 95-year-old grandmother, I’ve listened and observed as Wendy listens to grandma, who sometimes laments over her aches, pains, and nagging ailments that limit her quality of life. Wendy, ever the Enneagram Eight “challenger” that God made her, responds: “Your body is ninety-five years old, grandma! What do you expect?!”

In today’s chapter, we find John still in heaven’s throne room and Jesus (a.k.a. the Lamb) begins to open the scroll that was sealed with seven seals. As each seal on the scroll is broken, something awful is revealed to John. Conquest, war, famine, death, injustice, and cataclysmic natural disasters. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like what’s revealed to me when I open my news app each morning. Hold that thought.

A couple of observations. First, the prophetic images John sees here are not new or novel in the Great Story. Centuries before John’s vision, the prophets introduced these visionary images. Zechariah also saw the four horsemen (Zech 1 & 8). The souls under the altar connect directly with the Hebrew altar of sacrifice (Ex 29:12; Lev 4:7). The natural catastrophes mentioned were also referred to by Isaiah, Joel, Haggai, and even mentioned by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2. So I think it’s important for me to understand that everything in this vision of “end times” has been foreseen all along. It’s all connected and it’s all been foreseen for a long time. Even Jesus described it:

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Matthew 24:6-14 (NIV)

Next, I have often stated that human history in the Great Story is very much like one long life cycle. Creation and time are layered with meaning. God’s people have long understood that one day is like a lifetime from birth (sunrise) to death (night). Followers of Jesus have seen that a week is like a metaphorical lifetime of Christ in which every Friday is a memorial of Jesus’ death and every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection that launches us into a “new” week. In the same way, each year has the same pattern. In my chapter-a-day treks through ancient books like Exodus and Joshua, I often made the case that humanity was in the toddler stage of history. Civilization acted like immature, ignorant, and petulant children who are driven by their appetites, emotions, and base instincts. If I follow that metaphor to its logical conclusion, then Revelation is a vision of humanity in the throes of death, the ultimate conclusion of sin’s curse on humanity that was declared in Genesis chapter three.

And this brings me back to Wendy addressing her grandmother’s shock and lamentation over her body’s slow, uncomfortable decline. “What do you expect?!”

In the quiet this morning, I find that an apt question with regard to the bleak description that Jesus, John, and the prophets foreshadow regarding humanity’s final chapters. Broken and sinful humanity living in our civilization and the kingdoms of this world ruled by the “prince of this world” (as Jesus named the evil one) decline into the throes of death.

Pessimistic, I know, and a bit depressing for the one who has no hope.

But, there is hope! And we’ll eventually get there at the end of this chapter-a-day trek through Revelation. Until then, the journey may seem like a long, slow slog of decline towards death. Hang in there. As Bob Dylan sings, “Just remember, that death is not the end.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Alpha Point and the Omega Point

The Alpha Point and the Omega Point (CaD Rev 5) Wayfarer

In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”
Revelation 5:12 (NIV)

A year or two ago, my friend shared with me a story about the 20th-century Jesuit priest, anthropologist, philosopher, and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The story inspired me, and I ended up using it in a message a few weeks later. It also inspired me to learn a little more about de Chardin and his teachings. Later in his life, the philosopher-priest was silenced by the institutional church and ordered not to teach or publish anything. As an amateur historian, this always tells me that he must have been on to something true.

One of de Chardin’s most popular theories was that of the “Omega Point.” Just as He believed that the universe began as a tiny “Alpha Point” of matter that exploded into being with a big bang, he saw everything in the universe as connected, transforming, and flowing towards an “Omega Point” in which everything recedes back to that tiny point. His ideas not only inspired scientists and physicists but also artists and writers. Flannery O’Connor’s Everything that Rises Must Converge is a riff on Chardin.

For me, the inspiration led me to look with new eyes at the Great Story that God authors from Genesis to Revelation (the “alpha point” and “omega point”). The Great Story is clear that Jesus was the “alpha point” through which all things were created (Jhn 1:3) and it is He who “holds all things together” (Col 1:17).

In today’s chapter, John’s visit to the throne room of heaven continues. He sees a scroll that is sealed with seven seals. A call goes out in heaven asking who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. No one is found worthy, which has John weeping with grief. Then “the lamb who was slain” (e.g. Jesus) is revealed who, because of His surrender and sacrifice, is worthy to open the scroll. A choir of innumerable angels then sings:

In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

There are seven attributes that Jesus is worthy to “receive” according to the angel’s song. Seven is the number of “completeness” or “completion.” The number is used 55 times in Revelation. As I have read, pondered, and studied Revelation over the years, I was always a bit confused by the fact that “power” and “wealth” were included in this complete list of what Jesus is worthy to receive in the end.

Then I started considering what Chardin’s “omega point” was getting at in connection to who Jesus was, what Jesus taught, and who Jesus is revealed to be in today’s chapter.

Jesus is the beginning, the alpha point of Creation from Whom all things flow.

Jesus taught His followers not to treasure the power and wealth of this transient, created world because it doesn’t last, it isn’t eternal, and eventually…

Everything, including all the power and wealth in creation, along with everything in this universe will flow back to Jesus, the Creator, the Omega point, in the end.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering the effect and consequence of my embracing this notion. It means that everything I have in this physical world is not really mine. It flows from the Alpha point and it will flow back to the Omega point. If this is true, then it transforms me from an owner of everything I have to a steward of everything I have. Suddenly I am a character in a very real version of Jesus’ parable of the talents, caring for and investing all that the Alpha and Omega has entrusted to me on this earthly journey. In this Light, I see my earthly journey in the context of an eternal reality that begins before the Great Story and will flow beyond its final chapters. I suddenly find that other things begin to make more sense.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

And so, I enter another day in the journey, echoing a heavenly chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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