Tag Archives: Heaven

“Get Me a Musician”

[The prophet, Elisha, said,] “…get me a musician.” And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him.
2 Kings 3:15 (NRSVCE)

I mentioned in my post the other day that while we’re at the lake Wendy and I are limited in our television viewing choices to the collection of DVDs we have there. So it was that last week I pulled out that oldie, but goodie of the cinema: Die Hard. The movie played in the background as Wendy and I sat at the dining room table with our laptops going about our work.

In case you never caught it, the underlying musical score for Die Hard is one endless string of creative variations on what most Americans know as the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. The iconic melody of that familiar hymn comes from the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony. As I sat at the dining room table, tapping away on my keyboard, the melody suddenly and unexpectedly took me to another moment, in another place.

London. 2009. The Royal Philharmonic. It was our first night in London and Wendy and I had tickets to hear both Mozart’s and Beethoven’s final symphonies in one program. Wendy’s favorite was Mozart, but mine was Beethoven. There is a moment in Beethoven’s ninth when the music suddenly stops and a lone voice begins to sing. I will never forget the moment I heard that voice. I just began to cry as I listened. A chorus of voices joins the orchestra and the music continues to build to one of the most amazing and moving musical climaxes ever. What most people don’t realize is that Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote his final symphony. He never heard a note of it with his ears. He only heard it in his spirit. Amazing.

There is something deeply spiritual about the language of music, and I have learned over time that music is a language all its own. It has a special place in creation. Music is an integral part of heaven in the glimpses provided in God’s Message and the theme of music is woven throughout the Great Story.

In today’s chapter the prophet Elisha calls for a musician. When the music begins to play the power of God comes upon him. The language of music was the conduit of God’s Spirit. I get that. The language of music is a spiritual language (both for spiritual light and spiritual darkness, btw). Music has the power to reach deep inside to touch hidden places inside us. Music has the power of inspiration, conviction, revelation, exhortation, and even transportation.

My body last week was sitting at a dining room table in central Missouri. The melody of Beethoven’s ninth playing beneath Bruce Willis’ machine gun suddenly and unexpectedly transported my spirit, in that moment, to the Royal Orchestra Hall in London. My eyes began to mist over. Physicists tells us that all of time is contained in each moment. Perhaps music is a gateway.

This morning I’m thinking about this powerful medium we call music. I’m mulling over the incredible breadth of music that has spoken to me, moved me, and inspired me over the years. Beethoven to Berlioz to Bach, Miles Davis to Bob Dylan to Yo-Yo Ma, Gospel choirs to bluegrass banjos to steel drums and a Reggae beat. I’ve come to accept that I will never know (in this life journey) fluency in the language of music that I desire. I still can experience its power in ways human beings throughout the millennia of history couldn’t even imagine. I literally have access to the entire catalog of human music in the palm of my hand.

“…get me a musician.”

I Don’t Want to Ruin the Surprise

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
Isaiah 66:22-24 (NIV)

Today we end our long journey through Isaiah’s prophetic tome. Granted, it’s a long slog at 66 chapters. Yikes! We started in late September last year. Isaiah’s work ends with a vision of the end times. It’s what theologians call eschatology: the study of the end times and the final destiny of humankind. Once again, there are clear connections between Isaiah’s vision in today’s chapter and that of John in Revelation.

The study of eschatology has never been an exact science.  Intelligent, knowledgable, and sincere scholars have forever argued this theory and that theory regarding how all things are going to end. I was raised in the conservative protestant evangelical tradition to believe that Jesus would someday call all believers on earth to be “raptured” to heaven, triggering a seven-year tribulation of hell on earth, followed by the return of Jesus to earth, the imprisonment of Satan, and a 1,000 year reign of Christ, followed by a final battle and judgment in which the saved go to heaven and the unsaved go to hell.

There are countless other versions of the end times in which the same Biblical texts are interpreted a myriad of different ways. There are versions in which there is no rapture, or the rapture will happen half-way into the tribulation, or the rapture will happen after the seven years of tribulation. There are versions in which there is no 1,000 year reign, or perhaps the 1,000 year reign has all already happened, or perhaps it’s happening all right now, or perhaps it will never happen literally, or perhaps it will happen but with no real eternal damnation, or perhaps… you get the picture.

When I was younger I studied it all more fervently, presented my own interpretation more dogmatically, and took it all more seriously. The longer I’ve continued in my journey following Jesus the less important it has become to me. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. I will forever continue my journey into God’s Message and pursue Christ. I have just noticed along my journey that we who claim to follow Jesus have historically been quick to place too much importance on theological litmus tests at the expense of the only two things that Jesus Himself said were truly important.

This morning I’m thinking about Wendy. My wife hates when surprises are ruined. She will blissfully ignore hints, turn a blind eye, and put things out of her mind if she thinks that it might ruin what is intended to be an eventual surprise. When Jesus was asked about His return He deferred knowledge and said, basically, “it’s a surprise.” I think I’ve adopted Wendy’s attitude as my theological bent toward eschatology. It was obviously meant to be a surprise.

So, taking a cue from Wendy, I think I’ll let the whole end-time thing be the surprise Jesus intended. Today, I’ll just keep focused doing the two things Jesus said were important for me to do:

  • Love Him.
  • Love others (even Amillenialists)

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How are Those Resolutions Coming?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Romans 7:15 (NIV)

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions coming? I laughed the other day when a friend on Facebook confessed that he couldn’t wait for everyone at his crowded gym to give up their resolutions and stay home.

Why is it that we struggle to do the things we want to do and the things that we know will be good for us? At the same time, we continue to do things we know are unhealthy for ourselves (and perhaps others) even though we know we should stop.

This is the crux of the rumination in today’s chapter. There are those who steadfastly believe, or act as if they believe, that God’s favor is earned by keeping the rules, being good people, and coloring inside the lines. Paul’s response is basically: “How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming?”

No matter how good we try to be, we never truly rid ourselves of the human condition. Despite our resolutions we find ourselves choosing the couch over the gym after a couple of meager attempts at self discipline. The five pounds we shed in January (of the 20 we need to lose) is back on by Valentine’s Day. And, we won’t even go there with the nasty little secret behaviors the rest of the world doesn’t see.

The message of Jesus was simply this. You can’t rid yourself of the nature of sin. That being the case, death is the penalty. Jesus did not come to give us a a bunch of Pinterest worthy sayings to motivate us toward good works. Jesus came to die the death that we deserve, so that we might have access to the Life we can never afford by our own efforts.

Today, I’m feeling grateful that my salvation is not dependent on my goodness. I think I’ll keep working on those resolutions, though. They won’t earn me a ticket to heaven, but they will certainly make my journey on this earth a little better for both me and my companions.

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The Big Lie

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land
Deuteronomy 9:5 (NRSV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of delivering the morning message among weekly worship with my local group of Jesus followers. In the message I shared what I believe to be the most subtle, insidious lie that we are led to believe about God and eternity: it’s about what we do or don’t do. Nothing could be further from the truth:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10 (MSG)

Then this morning I read God sharing a similar message to the Hebrews through Moses. I hear in Moses’ message the concern that once the people took possession of the land they would “probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing.” Moses reminds them that it’s all God’s doing, not theirs.

I so easily fall into the mindset that God will accept me or reject me based on my deeds, good or bad. If I fall into sin I believe God will punish me. If things are going well I get the feeling I must be doing something right for God to be blessing me. So I do extra good things to try and counter balance the bad and earn a little extra blessing. I think in the back of my head that eternity must be based on some giant set of scales that will weigh out the good and bad in my life. If good tips the scales I’m in, if my good falls short of my bad then I’m hosed. But that’s not at all what Jesus taught and what God’s Message says. Here’ another reminder I shared yesterday:

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. Titus 3:3-8 (MSG)

Today, I’m grateful for all the God has done in redeeming me and thankful that it’s not up to me or my effort, my good deeds, or my ability to earn my way into God’s good graces. God’s gift has restored my relationship with Him and given me back my life.

Needed: A Good Samaritan in a Hell-Fire and Brimstone World

An illustration of the Parable of the Good Sam...
An illustration of the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Rossano Gospels, believed to be the oldest surviving illustrated New Testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Such is the fate God allots the wicked,
the heritage appointed for them by God.”
Job 20:29 (NIV)

Zophar now responds to job, and there is a subtle yet major twist to the rhetoric. Up to this point, the three amigos have been making the case that, in this life, the righteous are blessed and the wicked suffer. Job continues to argue that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities he is suffering.

Zophar now expands the rhetoric and introduces the theme of death into the mix:

Though the pride of the godless person reaches to the heavens
    and his head touches the clouds,
he will perish forever, like his own dung;
    those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found,
    banished like a vision of the night.
The eye that saw him will not see him again;
    his place will look on him no more.
His children must make amends to the poor;
    his own hands must give back his wealth.
The youthful vigor that fills his bones
    will lie with him in the dust.

Their appeals are clearly not working, and the self-righteous trio are hell-bent on satiating their judgmental blood-lust. Zophar decides on escalate things to another level. It’s time to pull out the big guns. He brings out a little hell-fire and brimstone from the rhetorical arsenal to convince Job to repent before he dies and returns to the dust and remembered no more.

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

I remember seeing a story on CBS Sunday Morning several weeks ago (the show is part of the Sunday morning ritual for Wendy and me) exploring our concepts of heaven and hell. They interviewed an old hellfire and brimstone preacher and included a clip of his fear inducing rants from the pulpit. It seems to me he must be a spiritual descendant of Zophar. I sometimes have a hard time reconciling the appeal to fear with the example of Jesus who said He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. At the same time, even Jesus was known to utter a stern warning now and then, and I have come to realize along the journey that God uses all sorts of messengers and messages to reach the ears of His lost children.

Today, I am thinking about Zophar and his friends, who seem more concerned with proving themselves right than about loving, comforting, and easing Job’s pain. It’s as if their spiritual world view carries more importance than a simple act of kindness. They seem like the good religious folks who passed by the mugging victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It wasn’t the righteous, religious folks who acted in accordance with the heart of God, but the unrighteous, on-his-way-to-hell-in-a-handbasket bloke from the other side of the tracks in Samaria who simply acted with compassion and kindness.

Job needs a Samaritan. So do a lot of other hurting people. That’s who I want to be.

Bad News; Good News

 

The Book of Life 2
(Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. Revelation 20:12 (NIV)

This morning as I read through this verse I had a bit of a panic attack. It’s the end. I’m standing before God. The books are opened, and everything I’ve done is recorded in those books. I’m going to be judged according to what’s in the books. Yikes. This is bad news.

All of a sudden the memories of all the shameful things I’ve done come flooding into my mind. Every heinous thought. Every secretive deed. Every self-centered act. Every errant and angry word. I’ve thought, said, and done so many shameful things. There’s no way I’ll make the cut. I’m doomed.

Then I remember all that we’ve read and learned in this story that’s unfolded as we’ve gone through God’s Message a chapter a day. This is the good news and the core theme of the story:

  • Everyone is doomed. Everyone falls short. Once the books are opened and the truth is revealed there isn’t a person living or dead (Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and the Pope included) who is “good enough” to earn salvation.
  • There is another book. If you read the chapter then you know that, along with the book that reveals all we’ve said and done, there is a second book mentioned: The Book of Life. This is the book of those who have “received Jesus, who have believed in His name.”
  •  Grace. Jesus promised that any who seek after him and seek forgiveness for all the crap they’ve every done will be forgiven. This is the crux of the story: Jesus suffering and dying on the cross was, in essence, Him choosing to pay the just penalty for all the shameful thoughts, words, and actions recorded under my name (and yours too) in those books John was describing. Jesus paid the penalty for all I’ve done, so that I don’t have to. I don’t deserve what He did for me. That’s called grace: unmerited favor.
  • Covered. In the ancient sacrificial system we’ve read about, the people would bring their sins and sacrifice to the priest. The word picture of the sacrifice was that their sins were place beneath the altar. As the lamb was slain and the blood ran across the altar and fell to the ground it was covering the sin underneath the altar. That is why in John’s vision of heaven Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He was the sacrificial Lamb who made atonement to cover all our sins.
  • Gratitude. So I need not be worried about what is written in those first books John described. My sins are covered by His blood. I have received Him. I have believed in His name and my name is written in the Book of Life. This fact does not give me a sense of pride or arrogance. I am better than no one. I am simply forgiven. I have been given a priceless gift which I do not deserve. I am both eternally humbled and forever grateful.

I find it ironic that we reach this waypoint in our journey the week leading to Easter. This Friday is Good Friday, commemorating the good that Jesus did on the cross for anyone who would seek His grace and forgiveness. It is a good week to think on these things.

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A Hint of Heaven

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.”
Revelation 11:15 (NIV)

Those who follow along with these chapter-a-day posts will recognize the fact that I’m not delving into the prophetic interpretation and meanings of John’s Revelation. This is a conscious choice. Having studied and taught the book on multiple occasions, I find that a brief blog post on each chapter would never offer enough time and space to adequately address the often complex world of prophetic writing and imagery. In addition, my chapter-a-day posts have always been intentionally devotional in nature. My primary motivation each morning as I read the text is: “What does God have in the chapter for me today?” These posts have never been an in-depth study, but simply a spiritual thought for each day’s journey.

One of the things that has piqued my interest this time through Revelation is the scenes of heavenly worship that John witnessed and recorded. In particular, I find the verses and words of praise and adoration used by the angels, the elders and the creatures fascinating. I have also been pleased to read some of these words and to connect them with songs both ancient and contemporary that are familiar. It’s had me thinking about what I can do with this in my own personal worship.

Today I ran across the verse above and, of course, the familiar sounds of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus immediately popped into my head. Each year at our high school Winter concert, it is the last piece presented and anyone who wishes to join in can step on stage with the high school choir. There’s always a crowd. It had been a few years since I’d been to the Winter concert, but with Suzanna living with us this year I found myself back on stage with the high school choir this past December. I don’t know if there is something special and powerful in the heavenly words from John’s vision, or if it’s the combination of words and inspired music from Handel’s score, but I can never get through the whole thing without tears.

Reading again John’s vision of God’s throne room these past two weeks, I get the sense that the Hallelujah Chorus is a hint of heaven’s majesty.

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