27 May 2017

Stone 52 - Revelation

So here we are at the final post in this series of stones: Revelation. It has been a journey that has taken a bit longer to take than expected but well worth the trip. So let's lay out some thoughts on this book.

The book of Revelation seems to have a particular reputation for being the book that describes the end of the world and how it will happen. Many have tried to interpret and connect the imagery in the book to something in modern day times. I appreciate the video for Revelation for pointing out that this book is not some sort of code to be broken and pointing us back to the original context in which it was written.

That being said, do not expect me to try and reveal the secrets of this book. Just my thoughts about it.

The beginning of the book is structured like many of the letters that we have already read. The author identifies themselves and to whom they are writing. In this case, John is writing to seven churches in the province of Asia (Rev 1:4). To me, this means that there is a great deal of information here that might be more clear to the audience than it is to us today.

Verse 19 states that the Lord spoke to John and told him to write what he has seen, what is, and what will take place after this. I think this is an important verse to consider. I think it says something about the structure of the text to follow. Perhaps it hints that the text will point to events of the past, events that are currently happening, and events that are yet to take place.

What comes next are the letters to the seven churches.
  1. Ephesus
  2. Smyrna
  3. Pergamum
  4. Thyatira
  5. Sardis
  6. Philadelphia
  7. Laodicea
The churches each have a different message that applies to them specifically but we can certainly learn from what was spoken to them. I found it interesting that for five of the seven churches it was written, "I know your works." To the remaining two it was written, "I know your tribulation and poverty, yet you are rich.", and "I know where you live-where Satan's throne is!" For all seven churches there is a statement of what the "victor" can expect.

At this point we find the first of three major things that seem to be constantly debated from Revelation: The Scroll. The sealed scroll comes out and it is clear that  information within it is hidden to us since no one can open it (Rev 5:3).

But Wait! Along comes one that can open it! It is the slaughtered lamb (Rev 5:5-6). The lamb is Jesus. Verse 9 is an example of an event that has already taken place. The time of the opening of the seals, however, is debated.

*I do not intend to enter that debate.

Chapter 7 talks about the 144,000 of Israel who are sealed. It seems to flow that they are sealed up prior to the opening of the seventh seal in chapter eight which ushers in the seven trumpets and a great deal of destruction and devastation.

The first six trumpets are mentioned right away, followed by a short break similar to chapter seven. During this break there is another scroll that comes out and John is asked to eat it. This seems odd but we have seen this before (Ezek 3:1-3). Ezekiel was asked to eat a scroll as well and it was sweet like honey as well. Just as Ezekiel was asked to go and prohesy after eating the scroll, so was John. (Rev 10:10-11). We also read that John's stomach became bitter. The bittersweet experience known as ministry...

Later, after a description of two witnesses, which seems to illustrate the work of Jesus on the cross with a death and resurrection, we have the seventh trumpet going off which seems to signify the Day of the Lord.

Then there is a description of a woman, child, and dragon that seem to mirror the account of Genesis followed by some more descriptions of the "Beast".
*I have often heard various theories about what the horns on the beast represent. Many have tried to associate the horns with different countries or perhaps specific ones that have a role in the "End of Days".

I resonate, however, best with the idea that every country seems to become a Babylon in its own way where the idols of sex, money, self, and pride infect the population. This is also where we read about the mark of the beast being 666. Again, many theories have developed around this to the point of trying to identify the beast using a plethora of code deciphering techniques. Many have also tried to identify the mark itself. One such theory is the use of RFID tags being placed just under the surface of the skin and used as a way to track medical history etc.

Pursue God. Know Him.

Then come the bowls which appear to share a description of the plagues of Exodus with the trumpets. In the end, the same is seen - the Day of the Lord - the destruction of Babylon, or at least the modern day equivalent.

On one hand, I admit that I fear America is one of the Babylons - on the other, I dismiss that fear in knowing that I am on the side of Christ.

I hope that at least one of these posts was helpful in some way for someone. Please take a moment to view the two videos on the book of Revelation from our friends at the Bible Project.

Thanks for joining me.
Have an awesome day!

In Christ,

20 May 2017

Stone 51 - Jude

In this post we will go over the book of Jude which is another really short book with only 25 verses. Nonetheless, the book contains some wisdom that we can learn from.

Jude begins his letter by indicating that his intent was to write about something else but instead found it more important to write about contending for the faith (v3).

Jude reminds his readers about some examples where the end result is destruction. He reminds of the deliverance from Egypt and the death of those who did not believe, the fate of the angels who decided to desert their positions, and the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as others for their perversions (v5-7).

Verse 10 says, "But these people blaspheme anything they don't understand, and what they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals-they destroy themselves with these things."

**How many times have we witnessed that... someone attacking something they do not understand? The acts of sex, sin, and rebellion - which are things that we all know by instinct are things that will end up destroying us if we do not learn how to deal with them. We will share the fates of those examples that Jude gives us in verses 5-7.

Jude desires to warn the reader of these people and continues to describe them as dangerous people and using some vivid imagery to do so (v12-13).

Verse 16 also shines some light on the hearts of those people as self-centered and goes on to remind us that it has been said that there will be scoffers who walk around according to their own desires (v17-18).

Jude tells the reader to keep in the love of God (v21).

So - beware the natural instincts, do not be quick to dismiss and ridicule that which you do not understand, and remain true to the unfailing love that is God.

Please enjoy the video about Jude from our friends at the Bible Project.

Until next time,

13 May 2017

Stone 50 - 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John

In this post we will be putting the books of 1, 2, and 3 John together for what I think is an obvious reason.

1 John
My initial thoughts in reading 1John is that we have an appeal to firsthand experience. Right away, the author speaks of "what we have heard, seen with our eyes, observed, and touched with our hands (1John 1:1). This is shared so that we might also have fellowship with God and Jesus (1 John 1:3).

This fellowship with God means walking in the light (1John 1:7). I see this as having multiple points.
**I think of it in this way - To walk in the light is to be seen as opposed to walking in the dark where we can easily hide and not be seen. As Christians, we ought to be visible. As another point, God is light. We need to bask in it. Grow.

John makes many statements about saying one thing and doing another (1:6, 2:4, 2:9, 4:20) and also provides examples of those who are in Him and those who are not.

John gives a piece of advice that is perhaps more difficult than it may sound at first. Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world.
**What a challenge! I admit that I am frustrated by the world but there are plenty of things that I enjoy. But wait, God created the world and the people who inhabit it. Am I not to love them and His creation? Hmm... so of the "world" must have another meaning as it is used here. Perhaps even love has a different meaning in this context. Perhaps I ought not to worship the things that are born of this world - man-made stuff. That seems to fit more logically.

Much of what I take away from this book is that words are empty. Consider 3:18 where John says we must not love in word or speech but in deed and truth. Clearly this applies to Jesus as well. We should do more than simply give lip service to Him but to live out the commands of Jesus. The lifestyle apologetic.

We are called to beware of the false teachers and to test everything - we saw this in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians as well (1Thess 5:21).

In the end, a bold statement (1John 5:12) - "The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn't have the Son of God does not have life."

**Do you have the Son of God? The most important decision you will ever make.

2 John
This very brief (13 verses) letter shares a warning not to beware of false teachers who do not remain in the teaching about Christ (v9).

3 John
This letter is also very brief (14 verses). John sends a warning to Gaius about Diotrophes and praises him for his helpful aid to those who have come as an encouragement to continue doing so.

Please enjoy the excellent video about these three books from our friends over at the Bible Project.

Until next time,

29 April 2017

Stone 49 - 1 Peter and 2 Peter

In this post we will take a quick look at two letters from Peter.

1 Peter
Peter reminds the reader that they a part of something huge - a living hope and an inheritance that is imperishable (1Pet 1:3). We are encouraged to hang on to this future hope despite the persecution that we might suffer.

In addition we are called to live holy lives (1Pet 1:14-15).
We are called to run from our worldly ways (1Pet 2:1, 2:11, 4:2) and to submit ourselves to authority (1Pet 2:13).

**I think it is worth noting that we are not to submit with blind ignorance nor are we to engage in activities perhaps mandated by human law which would violate God's Law.

In essence, we are to be good examples living in the world for others to follow. Of course, what I find interesting is the fact that a good example by God's standard would be thought of as a bad example by a non-believer. That should not dissuade us though. (1Pet 2:19)

So we are called to submit to government (2:13-14), slaves to their masters (2:18), and wives to their husbands (3:1).

**Before we get all up in arms over this - submission does not mean inequality nor does it hint at lesser worth. God ordained the institution of marriage but not slavery - Humans came up with that one. God's word addresses the issue but does not endorse it.

1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in us. This is a favorite verse of mine.

We are to model God's grace and love (1Pet 4:10). So much easier said than done, right? If I could but muster what I consider a fraction of that...

2 Peter
Peter writes that we should make every effort to supplement our faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2Pet 1:5-7).

Peter states that they were eyewitnesses to the declaration from God that Jesus was his beloved Son (2Pet 1:16-17). He also makes clear that prophecy does not come from man but from God (2Pet 1:21).

We must be wary, however, since there are false teachers among us who will distort the truth (2Pet 2:1, 3:16-17).

Continually pray, my friends, that God will reveal to you the false teachings. That you would be aware and not tricked by them. May he open our eyes to the truth and thereby protect us from the lies of this world.

Please enjoy the videos about 1 and 2 Peter from our friends at the Bible Project.

 I really like the statement about love at 1:28-1:35 in the video of 2 Peter.

Love is... "devoting oneself to the well-being of others, no matter their response or the cost."

Here is my reminder of how I think we get there. Not easy. Still working on it.

Until next time,

22 April 2017

Stone 48 - Hebrews and James

In this post we will take a brief look at Hebrews and James in which there is quite a bit going on.

The book begins by placing Jesus on a pretty big pedestal. A well deserved one, however. Jesus rightfully belongs in a position superior to all else.

Interestingly, the text specifically states that he was higher in rank than the angels (Heb 1:4). My understanding here is that a comparison is being made with old and new methods of communication. Where communication once took place through angels, Jesus came to communicate and is better (Heb 1:1-2).

The takeaway is that the angels brought an extremely important message and therefore we ought to pay even more attention to the message that Jesus brought (Heb 2:1-3).

Hebrews then goes on to make a comparison with Moses and how he was faithful (Heb 3:2). As you recall, Moses helped to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land. Jesus has come to lead us into a new creation and how much better that is than the promised land! We ought to then take heed and remain faithful, not rebelling, and missing out as the rebellious Israelites did.

Next we have a comparison of Jesus to the priests of old. Jesus is our high priest. Just as the old priests made sacrifices on behalf of the people, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of all of us and is a superior priest (Heb 7:27).

Then we read about the old covenant and the new covenant as well as the superior sacrifice that was made - the new covenant established in blood (Heb 10:9-12). Jesus - the better messenger, guide, priest, and sacrifice - establishing a better covenant, we ought to listen and follow Jesus! The many warnings found in this book are valid and wise.

**As I watched the video (see below) and read through the text, it made me think about it all in a different light. So often, as I have read through the Bible, I miss that bigger picture. Each book points to Jesus or shows evidence of the "fingerprints" of God in some way. It was so good to see it this way.

How often as I reflect on my own life do I find parallels! How difficult it is to let go of the old and cling to the new! How challenging it is to break old habits. How powerful the lure of the flesh! I am a broken, tired, and selfish man in need of a savior!

This short book starts out by telling us to essentially be grateful for the trials that we endure (James 1:2, 12). We are then given counsel on not treating others differently based on their status or wealth (James 2:1). James then reminds us that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 26).
**I think it is important to reiterate that it is not our works that save us. There is not a checklist of things that one must accomplish in order to be saved. We need only to have Jesus. The point here is that if we truly have Jesus in our lives that works should be a natural outpouring of that faith. Without the action - our belief is merely a set of empty words.

James then talks about controlling our mouths. We should not praise God and curse men with our mouths (James 3:9-10). Such a small part of out bodies but whoa, how it can guide us to trouble (James 3:6, 8)!
**Over the years, I have always thought of "taming the tongue" when I think of the book of James. Seems like this is always the topic when there is a sermon from James.

Oh, but James has much more to say! He really hits us hard with the comments in chapter four! We are called to submit to God and resist the Devil (James 4:7-8). By drawing near to God, He will draw near to us. We ought to operate based upon His will and not our own (James 4:15-16).

James reminds us that our wealth and material possessions are nothing and yet we cling to it (James 5:2-3). Instead, we ought to remain patient (5:7), truthful (5:12), and devoted to prayer and praise (5:13).

**If you are looking for a little conviction, James is the book to read.

In the meantime, please enjoy the videos about Hebrews and James from our friends over at the Bible Project!

Until next time,

08 April 2017

Stone 47 - Titus and Philemon

In this post we will take a brief look at the books of Titus and Philemon. These were actually letters that Paul had written to them. Let's find out what he had to say.

In his greeting to Titus, Paul mentions God and adds, "...who cannot lie..." (Titus 1:2).

**As a side note, I had also read that this part comes from the Greek word apseudes meaning incapable of falsehood. I then thought of the parts of that word which are recognizable in the English language such as pseudonym which refers to a false name. Think of pseudo-anything and it implies that the anything portion is not genuine. Then I thought of the prefix a- as in agnathan which refer to fish that do not have a jaw or amoral referring to a person without morals. Putting these two together - a/pseudo - we can infer "without false". So this Greek word apseudes makes sense when looked at that way.

God does not deceive - and he is trustworthy - we can be assured of the eternal life that He promises to us.

Paul writes to Titus that he is to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5). The characteristics, as I understand it, describe the opposite of the prevailing majority in Crete at the time. He also mentions the Judaizers who insist that new believers be circumcised and follow Jewish traditions from the Old Testament. He calls on Titus to set them straight. Titus 1:16 is Paul basically saying that their actions speak louder than their words.

Moving into chapter two, Paul shares with Titus about sound teaching and talks about how people should behave.

This seems to tie into the meat of chapter three and doing good works. It is worth noting that while the subject of good works comes up often, we are not to attempt to gain entrance into the presence of God through them. It is through Jesus that we will make our way to the Father. That being said - as a result of having Jesus as a part of our lives, good works ought to be a natural outpouring of that.

So Philemon is a rich guy who has a church that meets in his house (v2). He has a slave by the name of Onesimus. Turns out that Onesimus runs off for some reason and eventually runs into Paul and becomes a Christian.

As I understand it, Roman law at the time would allow for the death of Onesimus as punishment for running off. As such, I can imagine that Onesimus was likely afraid to go back.

Paul writes this letter to Philemon as a request to accept his slave back - not as a slave but as a dearly loved brother (v16). Paul cashes in a few chips as well by saying that he will cover for Onesimus but that Philemon owes him one as well (vv18-19).

**Slavery comes up often in the Bible. That does not mean that God or the Bible endorse the institution. The Bible records history. In this letter to Philemon, Paul encourages a proper Christian response to Onesimus.

Slavery in those times was not necessarily like the oppressive negative stigma that we place upon it today. If you owed money and could not pay it back - you might become a slave. The law was also that you were to be released after seven years. Those who had kind masters could choose to remain a slave in lieu of going back on their own and falling into poverty or trouble. In a similar way we could think of our own employment as being slaves to our employers. We are willing workers and those for whom we work can be both good and bad. Paul encourages a proper relationship between master and slave, employer and employee.

Please enjoy the videos on Titus and Philemon from our friends at the Bible Project

Until next time,

25 March 2017

Stone 46 - 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy

In this post we will take a look at the two letters to Timothy.

1 Timothy
Paul writes his first letter to Timothy and calls him to work in Ephesus since there is some strange teaching going on there (1Tim 1:3).

**Clearly this is something, then, that has gone on for centuries! Nothing new here. We must be vigilant even to this day about false teachings and misuse of the gospel.

This was Timothy's charge. To correct the bad teaching going on in Ephesus.

**As with other portions of the Bible - we must keep the writing in context to determine the true meaning. Paul was not writing to us. He was writing a letter to Timothy and it had specific instruction for him. It referred to things going on in a specific place -  things that Timothy no doubt experienced first hand while he was there. Because of this - we must strive to understand what was happening there at that time and how the words Paul wrote should be interpreted based upon that. Then we might come to an understanding of how these words might also be useful for us today.

One of the takeaways from 1 Timothy might be from Paul's reference to himself (1Tim 1:12-17). Paul notes his past in verse 13 as an arrogant, blaspheming, persecutor of the gospel and that despite these awful attributes, he was shown mercy anyway.

In verse 15, Paul states that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. By substitution, that means everyone as we are all guilty of sin.

Paul urges Timothy to be an intercessor for the people there through prayer. Paul states that it is good and pleases God (1Tim 2:3). This would hold true today. It continues to please God when we pray on behalf of others for their well-being.

Paul then makes some statements in his letter to Timothy that many people might struggle with.

Now, I do not proclaim to know every detail or have every answer but I will suggest to you that perhaps what we read is not as it may appear when we take the words from their original context.

Here is a great resource called Never Read A Bible Verse.

Consider 1Tim 2:9-10. If these are the only verses we read, one particular meaning seems to stand out. Is this really a commandment from Paul to all women of today? No. It is a letter to Timothy about what was going on in Ephesus. Is it possible that the women in Ephesus were dressing provocatively or perhaps that more wealthy women were "outdressing" the poor women?
Remember - something was amiss in Ephesus - that is why Timothy was there - to correct it all.

Does that mean we cannot take something from this in today's time? No. I do not see anything inherently wrong with the statement about dressing modestly and with good sense. Verse 10 seems to make it clear that DOING good is more important than DRESSING good - as it were.

I think we can apply the same thinking to the verses about the role of women. Something was happening in Ephesus - something messed up enough that Paul sent Timothy to go and fix it. Ephesus was already known for distorting scripture and false doctrine. Could this have been what the women were up to? Is it possible that the correction was specific to the Ephesian women? I do think it is possible to have equality of all persons who are created in the image of God while maintaining different roles.

Paul then speaks about the qualifications of the elders. The idea is that they are to be good examples of Christ followers. As leaders of God's household, they should first be recognized as good leaders of their personal household. That seems fair to me.

The enemy is eager to distort the truth and lure God's children down the wrong path.

Paul has advice for dealing with widows, other elderly, and slaves as well since it matters how the church deals with them or doesn't.

In 1Tim 6:10 Paul writes that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. I mention this since it is a pretty familiar saying. Unfortunately, I often hear it as simply "Money is the root of all evil." Notice the subtle but very significant difference in meaning...

Not -money- but the -love of money- and not -all evil- but -all kinds of evil- Notice how the original refers to an attitude towards an object rather than the object itself. Money in and of itself is not evil and much good can actually come from it when used wisely and in accordance with God' plan. Not to mention that lots of evil comes from many other sources so money cannot be the root of it all. This is just one example of how easily things can be distorted to mean something different.

2 Timothy
Paul writes again to Timothy and encourages him not to be ashamed. Again, looking at the context of what is going on...

Paul wants Timothy to come and visit him but he is in prison. As such, there is a negative connection in the eyes of the people in many cases when it comes to Paul. Associating with him could look bad for Timothy as well. So in essence, part of this is a plea to Timothy to come anyway and not be ashamed of him for being in prison since he is there because of his work for Christ. This is important for us too. We also should not be ashamed to be associated with Christ even though we may be persecuted as a result. Ultimately we are saved through Christ and should not abandon that.

Paul urges Timothy to remain strong and faithful and to share in the suffering as Christ suffered. The expectation is no different than a soldier, athlete, or farmer who strives for excellence (2Tim 2:1-7). The message is to run away from fleshly desires and to strive to be holy and special, set apart for God's work (2Tim 2:20-21). This does not come without a cost, however. Living a Christian life is not a simple one. The enemy lurks around every corner waiting to devour us (1Pet 5:8-10).

**So let us be strong in the scripture! Test everything against the Word and hold onto what is good (1Thess 5:21). The Word is good and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2Tim 3:16-17).  This is why we must take up the full armor of God (Eph 6:13), to resist evil! We must be prepared.

**1Tim 4:3  -  "For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will accumulate teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new."
This is in effect now. People around the world are trying to craft their own truth and it is harmful to them and those around them.

Go forth and be strong!

Please enjoy the videos about 1 and 2 Timothy from our friends at the Bible Project

Until next time,