Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, October 24, 2014

Seals and Reveals

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.  And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?  And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it – Revelation 5:1-3

The scroll, as Matthew Henry says, represents the secret purposes of God about to be revealed.  Even when the scroll is opened, everything is not disclosed at the same time.  I was, like a lot of American Protestants, taught a Dispensational view of Scripture.  The seven seals of this scroll would seem to align with such an interpretation.  God’s revelation of Himself has progressed, building -- to take Isaiah out of context, line upon line and precept upon precept.   

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that Dispensationalism is probably misguided, but I don’t worry about it much anymore either way.  I’ve adopted a sort of Pan-Tribulation approach.  We’re going to have some trouble, but it will all pan out in the end.

It seems to me that the important thing is that God wants to reveal Himself and His purposes, but His creatures tend to be intimidated or to misunderstand.  We are neither worthy nor willing to break the seals.  True prophets tend to be not volunteers but draftees.  It was only after he had confessed his “unclean lips” and been purged with fire that Isaiah had the nerve to say, “Here I am!  Send me.”  (Isaiah 6:8)  Moses tried to his best to avoid the job.  Jeremiah claimed he was too young.  Ezekiel just freaked out.  Amos would have happily gone back to picking figs and herding sheep.  Jonah ran, determined to get as far in the opposite direction as possible. 

It falls to the Anointed One (Hebrews 10:5-7):

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

In Christ, all those things in God’s revelation, in the Law and the Prophets which were sealed and hidden are unveiled.  It would be nice, I suppose, to know what the future holds.  It’s enough of a draw to most people that some Christian writers and speakers are able to make a fair living off “prophecy” books and conferences.  Like John, we may be distraught that we cannot grasp these mysteries until we realize that all we have to do is look to the Cross and to the Crucified and Risen Lamb.

Our future and our destiny is in the Lord for …we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).  We struggle along in this world with all its deception and guile, but the Incarnation, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee that truth exists and that it will be revealed to us as we are able to comprehend it, as we … grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).  He is the Omega as well as the Alpha; the Word Incarnate, He has our future right here. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Jailer

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. – Luke 6:37-38

Fifty-seven words in this translation give us the basics of peace and prosperity and a happy, fulfilling life.  I don’t suppose a person even has to be a believer, though, if this life were all, the oatmeal would get watery at times, and it would be tougher to stay the course. 

If I want to be happy, the best thing to do is quit grabbing and snatching and, instead, make someone else happy.  Of course, being a true Scotsman, I went about learning this the other way.  Early in life I discovered that what I took from others was taken from me, that creating fear in others caused me to be afraid, that rejecting and mocking others led me to be rejected and ridiculed.  Well, I didn’t actually figure it out early.  It took many an encounter with the arrogant, the resentful, the cruel, and the ungrateful before my eyes were opened to the source of all the ugliness. 

Even when I found I was the problem, it was hard to start being the solution.  You have to sow that first crop in faith to get the seed for the next one.  I had sown so much meanness that the field was overgrown with the briars and brambles of bitterness.  I was going to have to be nice to people who were going to take advantage of my change of heart.  I was going to have to risk a lot of pain and loss before I ever started reaping kindness and understanding. 

At least that’s what I thought, and maybe it happened, but I don’t remember it.  That’s not to say that I don’t remember a few incidents with a few individuals, but there was the grace of God.  It was all around me, all the time.  Looking back, I know that I was around a lot of really bad, even dangerous people and situations for quite a while, but I remember it as being almost blissful.  Sometimes I feel a certain amount of nostalgia for those days.  There was just so much grace.  It was like getting thrown off a building and finding out you could fly. 

Still, it is a lesson I lose to some degree from time to time.  It must be practiced constantly.  The good news is that there are always plenty of opportunities to get back on track, to measure out to others the things I would want for myself.  I can listen without criticism, speak without cynicism, and advise without condescension.  I can apologize sometimes even when I know I’m not wrong.  I can take the hit I don’t have coming, turn the cheek and carry someone’s load a mile that I don’t have to. 

One more thing about forgiveness is that you can say, and Wuest’s Expanded Translation does say:  Be setting free, and you shall be set free.  Forgiveness is freedom. 

If you’ve ever seen Rio Bravo … Angie Dickinson …  What was I talking about?  Oh, yeah, John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, and Ricky Nelson are holding Claude Akins in jail until the judge comes to town so Ol’ Claude can be tried for murder.  But, Claude’s rich and ruthless brother and his small army of henchmen are going to try to break Claude out.   So it happens that the good guys holding the prisoner are about as much prisoners as the criminal. 

You can’t keep a prisoner without a jailer.  If you don’t want to do that job, you have to let the prisoner go.  Unlike the case in Rio Bravo, the Judge is always in town fully aware of whatever crime or trespass has been committed, knows all the circumstances, and has all the evidence.  He will see that justice is done.  We don’t have to worry about it.  We are, by refusing to release the prisoner, keeping ourselves in bondage needlessly and preventing our own trespasses from being pardoned. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Verse of the Day

For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.  Psalm 27:10

It’s a very busy day with people in two different corners of the country wanting things done right now.  And that’s not even considering that my daughter-in-law is threatening to drop by while my wife is trying to bake herself a cake and make chili at the same time.  Something will suffer, and I only have time for a quick VOTD.

I remember my granddaughter staying with us one night when she was very small.  As we were watching a version of Heidi, she became agitated and fearful because the little girl had to go live with her grandfather.  She wanted to know what happened to Heidi’s mommy and daddy.  Apparently, the fact that the grandfather was there did little to reassure her.  We do not expect to be rejected by our parents.  This is about the worst thing that can happen.  There must be something dreadfully wrong with us if we are so forsaken and abandoned. 

The psalmist saw beyond the loss of his earthly family.  As painful as it might have been to be so divided, he found solace in the love and acceptance of the Father.  He became a part of the family of God, a relationship and a connection that go deeper than blood and outlast time itself.    

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Great Pretender

So they drew near to the village to which they were going.  He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent. So he went in to stay with them. -- Luke 24:28-29

I have been reading a sermon of Andrew Murray’s based on these verses, and then Rick mentioned in a comment yesterday that sometimes we seem to think “God is out to get” us.  That reminded me of the way this whole passage is worded.  God sometimes pretends in order to move us and draw something out of us. 

After His resurrection, Jesus joined two of His followers as they walked the seven miles or so from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  The travelers spoke of the events that had just taken place, and Jesus, unrecognized yet, chided and corrected them:  And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27). 

The hearts of the two listeners were stirred as they began to grasp the fullness of the revelation.  By this time, they were near their destination, and it was late in the day.  Where the ESV says Jesus “acted as if he were going farther”, the KJV says “made as though” – the Greek word behind this occurs only here in the New Testament and means “to conform oneself to [an appearance]”, that is, to pretend. 

Jesus pretended He had somewhere else to go. 

The two who had walked all this way with Him still had no idea who He was, but they were fascinated and hungry for hope.  The only reason Jesus did not go on down the road and perhaps find someone else to talk to was that these two “constrained him”; they begged Him to stay with them.  In fact, you could say, they prayed Him stay with them. 

Now it was the Lord’s intent all along to go in and reveal Himself to these two, but He would not have done so had He not been invited to abide with them.  This parallels what we read in Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  The three go in the house and sit down to eat.  Jesus takes up the bread, blesses it and breaks it.  Suddenly, the eyes of the two listeners are opened, and they recognized the Lord in their communion. 

Murray pictures the Emmaus Road experience as being comprised of four stages.  First, there is the stage the death of Jesus had created where the two men had hearts that were sad and troubled.  That’s the state of those who have lost hope, who believe that, if indeed this Man named Jesus ever lived, He died long ago. 

The second stage is that of the heart that is “slow to believe”.  Christ was crucified.  We know that.  We also know that we ought to believe the message we have heard that He is alive, but we are not sure.  Perhaps it is only a legend, a hallucination – He lives metaphorically.  It’s something we ought to believe in, but we struggle.  The two whom Jesus found were at this stage because they had heard that the women had gone to the tomb and found it empty.  It seems they were not thoroughly convinced of what that meant.

When the Lord joined them and began to speak to them from the Scripture about His death, burial, and resurrection, He took these two to the third stage of having hearts that burned.  As they were walking along this road, they were taking a journey much longer than seven miles.  They were going from hell to heaven, from death, hopelessness and alienation to life everlasting.  They moved from believing only in the crucified Christ to believing in the living Christ. 

They were at the stage of Romans 10:9-10 -- because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.   I suppose, at that point, they were on their way to heaven.  The Stage Three Christian is a Christian -- righteous, church-going, Bible-believing.  We long to see Jesus when we all get to heaven, right? 

Unless there is such a thing as a Stage Four Christian.  What if we could have not just a burning heart but a satisfied heart, as Murray puts it?  What if Jesus would reveal Himself to us?  Is that possible?  If Luke is right, it is possible.  If we are willing to admit that we believe but we are not yet satisfied, if we are willing to entreat and pray and beg the Lord to come and abide with us, He will.  He will come through the door we open for Him.  He will commune and abide with us always. 

Now, right here is where it becomes a problem for people like me.  These boys in Emmaus did not know they were inviting Jesus into their house.  My mother would let anybody in her kitchen for beans, cornbread, and coffee.  It didn’t matter who they were, how dirty they were, where they were from, or what they did for a living.  I have seen preachers, politicians, doctors, judges, and lawyers sit down at her table.  Old hound men and hillbillies that hadn’t had a bath in a year sat there as well.  She would try to pick up and clean up a little if she knew somebody was coming, but even if she didn’t have any warning and the place was mess – and it often was – she didn’t turn anybody away.  That’s the way to do it.

A lot of times, we are kind of ashamed of how our place looks.  Maybe it hasn’t been swept in a while.  Maybe the windows need washing, and the shelves need dusting.  Maybe there is some stuff in here I would just as soon Jesus didn’t know I had.  If I knew He was coming in, I’d try to make it spotless.  We are not to be that kind of a host.  If He is knocking, we need to go ahead, open the door and bring Him in.  If He has been walking with us and acts like He’s going to go on and not come in, don’t think, “Wow, that’s a relief.”  No, beg Him to come on in.  Tell Him, “You’ll have to forgive me.  This place is a mess.  But, please, please, come in, and abide.”

The day is now far spent.

Monday, October 20, 2014

When the Long Night Comes

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. -- Colossians 3:5

I want people around me to be happy.  I want people to have what they want.  I hate to fail.  I hate to let people down.  I like to procrastinate.  I like to goof off.  I like for things to last and to function correctly.  I don’t always like to maintain things and spend money on upkeep.  We live in a world where things break, weather, decay, fall apart and die, where we are constrained by time and energy and the availability of resources. 

My desires and preferences sometimes not only conflict with reality but with one another.  It’s not too surprising, then, that I am occasionally frustrated.  If I get annoyed, aggravated and frustrated enough, I have been known to say, “I wish I were dead”, or, “I will be glad when I’m dead”.  Probably everybody has some standard phrase that they use to express that kind of end-of-the-rope emotion.  I used to say something different and considerably more vulgar.  I’m not sure it was worse.  In fact, I tend to think that wishing I were dead is probably offensive to God. 

It’s true that we are supposed to die to self, to apply “the metaphor of death pictured in baptism to [our] actual life” as Christians (Word Pictures in the New Testament, A.T. Robertson).  On the other hand, no matter how painful my life is, no matter how much I may feel like a failure, no matter how apparently hopeless things have become, I am and always will be valued and loved by the Lord.  To think that I might as well be dead or that I would be better off dead, or even that those around me would be better off if I were dead – well, honestly, in a sense, it might even be true sometimes.  It is understandable that someone being tortured would long for death and that what constitutes torment varies from one person to another.  Yet, to think my life of no value comes perilously close to the advice Job’s wife gave him that he should curse God and die.         

If we live long enough – I’d even say if we follow God long enough, apart from His mercy, it is not unlikely that we will find ourselves despairing of life, as Paul himself did:  For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8).  

 It happens, and when it does, the only answer I know is to not quit.   

There are times when I don’t feel very faith-y.  I feel beaten.  I can’t see any point to my life at all.  I’m just here, and I’m hurting, and it just doesn’t make any sense to keep going. 

But I know, deep down, at some level, that’s when you beat the devil.  That’s when you become an overcomer.  That’s when you are walking in victory.  It doesn’t matter how it feels, how dark it is, or how it looks.  It doesn’t even matter how it ends.  All that matters is getting up and going on.