And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
-- Revelation 5:3-5
When I look around at the state of the World I sometimes feel like crying. Because of instant communication available through the Internet, we are daily treated to "wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes, floods, and famine in various places." And didn't Jesus predict that one? Just knowing the prediction doesn't make it any more tolerable when people's hearts seem to be growing colder and colder and the faith of many has gone by the wayside.
John of Patmos (the writer of Revelation) was on the verge of despair, even though he had been granted a vision of the scene that plays out eternally in front of the Throne of God. He was crying because he looked around -- even in the presence of the Redeemed and the Elders of the Church (people chosen by God to shepherd the church in heaven). Not one of those people of renown was found worthy to open the scroll and look into it. What hope was there?
The prophet Isaiah was granted a similar audience with God (Isaiah 6). When he saw God's throne he cried out, "Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips!" And you know, there's a reasonable chance that Isaiah was elected by God to serve as one of the Elders when John was given his vision. Old Isaiah really knew he wasn't worthy. The Elder (whoever it was) tapped John on the shoulder and said (paraphrased), "Don't cry. Jesus has conquered. HE is worthy. He'll open the seals and read the scrolls."
What I just shared with you doesn't make the state of the World any better at present. But Jesus IS worthy and he WILL restore all things, one day. That knowledge won't "dry every tear", but it gives me courage to know I don't have to go searching for someone who can fix all this: He CAN. He WILL.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
-- Revelation 1:8
"Alpha and Omega." Sounds like a vitamin supplement, doesn't it?
Here, let's take that up a notch. "Alpha and Omega 3". Excellent! Now we can market the stuff.
Why did God make that self-identification? Isn't it enough just to say that God is God? Well, "Alpha" is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Actually, the word alphabet is taken from the beginning of the Greek alphabet. That word combines the first two letters of the Greek alphabet... alpha and beta. Are you tired of hearing the word alphabet yet?
Omega is the final letter of the Greek alphabet. Some translations of the Bible actually add what Alpha and Omega mean in their rendering of Revelation 1:8 so it reads, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” But I repeat myself.
If God is beginning and God is ending, then what's the big idea of the second half of the sentence being there at all? "who is and who was and who is to come" just seems like a further unnecessary elongation of what God already said. God IS. God WAS. God WILL BE. Sure. right. Or is God hinting at the Trinity?
The answer is, "yes" and "no". Let me explain.
Yes, God is a Tri-unity. God is three persons but one God. And No. The Triune God isn't making some obscure point to us so we'll say, "Aha!" The second half of the sentence exists to underscore that God is "Alpha and Omega, the Almighty." Maybe it will be clearer if I write it this way: "the ALLmighty." He is first and last (Isaiah 41:4) "Who has performed this and carried it out, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD--the first and the last--I am He." That covers everything that has been made.
John 1:3 assures us, "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." He made it ALL. He made time itself and he made the space into which to place all created matter. And at the end of time, Christ will preside over the closing of the door as time itself is discarded as unnecessary.
When you know the Alpha and the Omega there's not much else you need! What good is this exercise in aphabeting? To remind us all that no matter what is going on in your life right now, no matter what your need, God is bigger than your need. And God is not just "out there some where". He's present in Jesus who is near at hand then and now and in the future.
It's getting warmer outside! As the spring and summer approaches, we clean off our grills and get back into flipping hamburgers and grilling a steak. How often do you look at that slab of meat sizzling with a wonderful aroma and think about the animal that died so you can eat a cheeseburger? If you're like me, then you don't...too gross.
My youngest son loves Honey Nut Cheerios. He eats them religiously and he's so darn cute when he does. He never questions whether or not there are Cheerios in our cupboard, be my wife and I, knowing his love of Cheerios, ensure he always has a fresh supply.
Yesterday, I talked at length about three provisions that God gives the Israelites. We looked a Joshua 5:9-12:
10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. 11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
The Passover was a special animal sacrifice that spared them God's judgment over all of Egypt. That sacrifice was a well-loved lamb, and its blood was placed on the doorposts of the households in the Israelites, and the lamb was then cooked in a feast. The manna was God raining down brown, flakey, bead-sized honey-wafers. Basically, cereal. This was God giving food so the Israelites would not return to Egypt to be a slave for food. Finally, the Israelites make to the land and God stops his daily provision for the everlasting provision or wonderful fruit.
Do you understand that Jesus is the lamb of God and His sacrifice was enough to throw off the anger of God? You don't have to do anything, just reach out to Jesus.
Do you depend on the Bread of Life (John 6) where Jesus becomes your daily manna?
Are you seeing the fruit of following Jesus?
In Exodus 3:2 Moses says almost casually, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.”
The moments that change our lives profoundly are like burning bushes from which God calls. Burning Bush moments are those times when God gets our attention using something that has the potential to harm us and yet we are not burned by it. In the story, not only wasn't the bush consumed by the fire, God gave instructions to Moses so he would not be consumed either. "Keep your distance," God said. This is holy ground.
The fire of God -- so dangerous and yet so wondrous -- has the potential to change my life or destroy it. That's why it is so critical that I pay careful attention when God speaks. It isn't enough to say, "That's beautiful" and go on my way. I need to listen carefully when I become aware that this moment is different. Moses had seen fire before many times. This fire was different. God was in this fire.
Have you ever had a profound moment of clarity like that? God is in this place and I didn't know it? How did you respond? How did that response change your life?
In Deuteronomy 26:1-11, we see a people on the verge of a long promised gift from God. A land of their own. A long awaited gift. Are you waiting for the promises of God? Are you waiting to get from God before you can respond to Him? The promise of God is that He gives, and He give on His own timeline in His own ways and part of our faith is recognizing the ways He has given, but that He will give. Look at these verses from this passage...
Verse 1 - “Lord your God is giving you (the Land) for an inheritance”
Verse 2 - “harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you”
Verse 3 - “go to the place that the Lord your God will choose”
Verse 7 - “the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction”
Verse 8 - “And the Lord brought us out of Egypt
Verse 9 - “And he brought us into this place and gave us this land”
Verse 10 - “the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me”
Verse 11 - “And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you”
The Lord gives, and what does He ask of us, to respond. He asks us to remember. What are the ways you are thankful to the giver of Life today? Share with each other those good gifts that God has given you.
Exodus 34:29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.
A lot of people find prayer difficult. Most of us can come up with things to ask God for. That's why a lot of our prayers are "petitions" (sounds like we're trying to get a government agency to give us something). When we're together with other Christians praise isn't that difficult (sounds like we're at a rock concert or sporting event). But conversation with God? That's hard!
The obvious reason is that we're talking to someone who isn't likely to talk back. Moses was lucky! He could go up the mountain and literally have a conversation with God. Jesus was called "Immanuel" -- God with us. Can I have an ongoing conversation with the God who is with me?
At the end of last Sunday's teaching I said, "I’m going to spend the period from now until Easter making offers to each and every one of you to spend time talking with God." Today, the day before Lent begins, I'm making the first offer. Let me know you listened or read. Write back or simply call and tell me you'd like to get together with me sometime in the next 40 days and have a conversation with God. That'll start the process going.
Love in Christ to you all,
Let me tell you about the Hilltop Steak House.
The first time I went to the Hilltop Steak House I was a 20 year-old college kid spending the summer on a Christian work/study project in Medford, MA. I had never seen anything like this place, as reviewed in the NY Times in 1988:
"A 68-FOOT-HIGH neon cactus towers over the suburban prairie along Route 1 north of Boston, a commercial badlands of mini-malls, muffler shops and markdown liquor marts. This startlingly garish landmark beckons hungry passers-by to the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass., America's largest restaurant, both in number of customers served and sales volume.
On a typical Saturday, the Hilltop, a sprawling Ponderosa that accommodates 1,300 carnivores, rustles up about 7,800 meals. It serves nearly 2.4 million customers annually...
In the mid-70s the line formed at the door to the restaurant and stretched 1/10 of a mile around the side. Waiting diners were given a colored, numbered token that corresponded to the room in the restaurant you were going to be seated in. The steaks were enormous, accompanied by the largest baked potato I'd ever seen and a garden salad that could have fed a family of 4. The food was great. That was 1976. The Hilltop Steak House closed in 2013, replaced by intimate minimalist places, wine bars, and bistros.
As you read this, you're probably thinking I'm about to make some point about how churches need to be redesigned for the 2020s to suit the tastes of a changing culture. Nope. I want us to focus on those little colored, numbered tokens.
What killed The Hilltop Steak House? It wasn't bad management or bad food. It died because it was, after all, just a "meat market," and no one wants to be treated like a piece of meat. I can't say what it feels like to be part of a mega-church. I've never experienced it. I can tell you that the thing I most appreciate about being part of a small church is that I'm always noticed, always cared for, always valued in a small church. Do people always talk to me? No. But I know that I'm known here, and no one is going to give me a small, colored token and tell me what room or group I'm assigned to.
I was struck, as I wrote last Sunday's message, by how the crowd pressed in on Jesus in Luke 6. That was a meat market for sure! Jesus finally had to say, "But I say to you who hear!" And someone -- I don't know who -- stood still in the crush and listened. That's hard work. But you'll notice that the crowds didn't last forever, not at The HIlltop Steakhouse and not for Jesus. Jesus died essentially alone with no great crowd attending at the cross. Jesus challenged the people in Luke 6 to know and be known. You and I find ourselves in the queue lines of life all the time. Will you take the risk and subvert the queue line? Take the "cue" from Jesus. Stand still in the queue and listen. What is God saying to you?
Last Sunday at worship we looked at Jesus' Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6. I gave everyone an assignment at the beginning of the message: Memorize The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Here they are in the English Standard Version:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We've been learning that the gospel -- the "euangelion" [in Greek] is 1) the good messenger, 2) the good message, and 3) the reward someone gets for bringing good news. That last one Christians don't think about much. Each of the nine groups Jesus mentions in the Beatitudes brings good news. Each is a good messenger. Each gets a reward. That's why they're "blessed". Maybe thinking of it that way will help you as you memorize.
If you want help memorizing Scripture or if you want to talk about these groups and why Jesus commends them, write back! Let's start a Beatitude Conversation!
"All spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth."
" When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. "
Five verses. That's all that separates "all" speaking well of Jesus and "all" being filled with wrath and ready to throw Jesus off a cliff.
Some say pastors take "awkward pills", and I guess I understand what they mean. Church can be a pretty awkward place. Let's face it, here's a place where we're supposed to be all excited about Jesus, who is the main attraction. But none of us really knows what that excitement is supposed to look or sound like.
We sing songs to try and express our feelings. Someone prepares a weekly lecture that's supposed to hype us up and make us want to tell others about Jesus or make us more Christ-like. We have seminars -- even for little children -- because we want to teach each other how to be like Jesus. We even set up a weekly coffee reception so we'll hang around and talk about Jesus with one another.
But imagine what it would be like to be the person leading the singing on a Sunday or giving the lecture or teaching the seminar? In the beginning, everything's going great. Everyone loves the first five minutes. But when you get to the part where you talk about sin or about us being separated from God if we don't know Jesus all of a sudden everyone in the church starts to throw things at you! Now that's awkward!
But seriously... what do you find awkward or strange about church... not about faith in Jesus... about Church. We all agree that Jesus is the "Hometown Kid" who made good. Write back and let's talk.
Disclaimer: these discussions are now being posted on our PCC 'blog' as part of our website. Your responses will be public. Click below to Practice Community in Christ. Ask. Seek. Knock.
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. - Luke 3:16
"There are times when life, like a river, is over your head and you feel like you are drowning. Yet, the water from these very rivers wash away your filth. What the water does not remove, the fire purifies."
-- Francis Frangipane
Are you going through a "fire-ing?" Pots are heated in a kiln twice. The first time the clay is dried. The second time, the glaze is fixed to the pot. A simple clay pot isn't very beautiful, though it has been "tested by fire." That testing must happen more than once before it becomes a thing of beauty.
Let's talk. How are you being tested right now?