Monday, January 31, 2011

on the edge of forever

The Word for today:
Revelation 22:6-21

Mark this: Revelation 22:21
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

The Bible came out of eternity past to enter Genesis 1:1.
Today the Bible, at Revelation 22:21, enters eternity future.

This transition generates a lot of curiosity and many questions.  In a three-day series which concludes today, we've done our best to answer some of these FAQs. We hope you'll look back over the last couple days if you haven't already. 

And we'll see you tomorrow in Luke 1, as the rain just keeps on pouring.

Your forever friends,
Franklyn, Pastor Joe, Norm, Vickie, & the Shellster


Q. So, what are the conditions of hell?

Ungodly. That's all we need to know. Take God completely out of the equation, and from there hell plays itself out. Things could conceivably be OK for a while, but then it's going to hit the fan.

Q. Do heaven and hell have anything in common?
Both are eternal. Both have a physical dimension; the people in heaven and hell will have bodies.

Q. I mean, is there anything good about hell?
There is nothing intrinsically good about hell, but God has used hell to motivate many a lost sinner right into heaven. I know because I am one of those who went to the cross more to avoid hell than to gain heaven. So in my case--as is often the case--God used something bad for good (1). Therefore, we should not stop talking about hell.  Jesus certainly didn't; in fact, most of what we know about hell comes from the lips of Jesus himself (Mark 9:3; Luke 16:28; Matthew 25:30).

But there is something even more important to say in regards to "hell" and "good" and "bad"--
We must never consider hell apart from the cross. The Judge of the universe stepped forward to take his own judgment upon himself. Because Jesus Christ knew the reality of hell, he went to the cross. Hell is as real as the cross.

Q. Who's in hell right now?
Nobody. Hell will not be open for business until the judgment at the Great White Throne. At that judgment unbelievers will be thrown into the lake of fire. And when Satan is ultimately defeated, he will be thrown into the lake of fire (which is what we're thinking of when we say "hell.") By the way, there is no scriptural basis for the idea that Satan "rules" in hell.

Q. Who's in heaven right now?
This may take a while:
Jesus, Judy, Evelyn, Earl, Stephanie, (write any--and all--other believers' names here), …

They already received eternity--when they were born.

They already received life--when they were born again at the Judgment of the Cross. (Therefore they will not appear at the Great White Throne Judgment.)

They have not yet received their resurrected bodies--they will meet up with them at the Rapture. And they have not yet received their rewards--"crowns"--to be received at the Judgment Seat of Christ (which they are just going to whip at Jesus' feet anyway.)

But the party is in full swing, believe me. They've got Jesus, and they aren't waiting for resurrected bodies, or for crowns--or for us--to get started.

Q.  Party?
Without a doubt. The fatted calf, the best robe, wine that tastes like it was made by a miracle. And eventually, along with their new home, followers of Jesus will get their new bodies.  (Luke 15:22-23 and John 2:6-10; 1 Cor.15:49; Phil. 3:21).

Many think that Adam and Eve were clothed in light, an echo of Old Testament Shekinah glory, which we see reflected at the Transfiguration. Well, that light's comin' back on! But we shall never forget that it is by God's provision, by his grace, that we are clothed in His righteousness.

Q. Does the party ever end?
Let's take a closer look at three verses in the Bible's last chapter. 

First, they indicate that we'll have a job to do:
"His servants shall do him service" (Revelation 22:3)
People think I'm kidding when I tell them that I'm training right now--searching the scriptures, writing, and teaching--to be a Bible teacher in heaven. Scripture indicates that there will be infinite progression and growth (Isaiah 9:7). To me that indicates a high demand for Bible teachers!

"And they shall see his face." (Revelation 22:4)
This was the supreme desire voiced by Moses in the Old Testament and Greek travelers in the New Testament. This has ever been the desire of those who love Him.

"And they will need no lamp, nor light of the sun." (Revelation 22:5)
We will need no light sources such as the sun or light reflectors such as the moon. God will light the universe by his presence. Think "spectacular" and "exquisite" and then keep on thinkin'…

"And they will reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 22:5)
Earth is small, but creation is probably infinite. Who knows but that He will give to each saint a world or a solar system or a galactic system to operate. (Remember that Adam was given dominion over the old creation on this earth.)
So we get new bodies. We serve, and sing, and the visuals are surpassing, astounding. But that's not the essence of heaven. Those things are mere incidentals.

If you can remember when you were a kid, and Christmas was coming, and magic was in the air…

Well, at Christmas we speak of Immanuel (which means "God with us") because "God with us" is what Christmas is all about. (2)

But in heaven, it's "us with God."  Fathom that. When you think heaven, think Christmas when you were a kid, only a billion times better!

Because Christmas is Immanuel. But that baby was born to die.

Heaven is Jesus, born again.

(1) see Genesis 50:20; (2) see Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stand in the Rain Bible Class - Audio File 1/30/2011

the serpent will swallow his tail

Revelation 18:12 - 22:5

Life? Death?

The Word for today:
Revelation 21:22-22:5

We have reached the last two chapters of the Bible, where the "end times" give way to eternity.

This transition generates a lot of curiosity and many questions. We began yesterday, and will continue through tomorrow, to answer these FAQs. Some of the questions will look back in review; some will look forward, to "all things new." (Revelation 21:5)

Q. When is Judgment Day?
It depends.

Scripture identifies three specific Judgments Days, listed below.

We should understand who will--and who will not--appear at each of the different judgment days. We should understand why the judgment days differ.

The most important concept concerning judgment is this:
Where, when, and how an individual is judged depends upon his individual relationship to Jesus Christ:

Judgment Day #1-- The Cross
Jesus Christ was judged at the cross, where he had carried my sins and your sins. Faith in Christ activates the redemption he purchased there. Thus the sins of all believers were already judged--at the cross.

Judgment Day #2-- The Great White Throne
The sins that were not taken to the cross by faith are judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11). Thus all unbelievers will be judged there, where they will themselves pay the wages of sin, which is death.

Judgment Day #3-- The Judgment Seat of Christ
The works (not their sins!) of believers will be tested by fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This judgment will determine their rewards.

Their salvation is not in question here, because eternal salvation was irrevocably purchased for them when Jesus took their place at the Judgment of the Cross. (See 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Q. John 3:16 says that those who believe in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life.
A. Right.

Q. So do those who do not believe cease to exist?
A. No. There is no such thing as cessation of existence. Your question points out something that is essential to an understanding of the future:

What Jesus purchased at the cross wasn't eternity, because everybody--believer and unbeliever--has eternity ahead of them. What Jesus purchased was life.

Q. Life?
Life, in scripture, is the presence of God: Christ is our life (Col. 3:4; Phil. 1:21--also Gal. 2:20; John 11:25; John 17:3).

The opposite of life is separation from Christ. Separation from Christ is death.

Q. Death?
Death is a banishment, a final and total separation from the presence of God--2 Thess. 1:9. We have a name for that state of being; we call it "hell."

Q. Is hell pictured in the Bible?
Yes, a clear and definitive picture of hell can be found in scripture:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1: Matthew 27:46)

Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) when Jesus became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21,) God withdrew his presence. God is holy, and he will not be in the presence of sin (see Psalm 22:3). Separated from God, Jesus was in hell. But he would not stay there. (Psalm 16:9-11)

Q. So, what are the conditions of hell?
Ungodly. That's all we need to know. Take God completely out of the equation, and from there hell plays itself out. Things could conceivably be OK for a while, but then, well, it's going to hit the fan.

Q. Do heaven and hell have anything in common?
Both are eternal. Both have a physical dimension; the people in heaven and hell will have bodies.

Q. I mean, Is there anything good about hell?
There is nothing intrinsically good about hell, but God has used hell to motivate many a lost sinner right into heaven. I know because I am one of those who went to the cross more to avoid hell than to gain heaven. So in my case--as is often the case--God used something bad for good (1).   Therefore, we should not stop talking about hell. Jesus certainly didn't; in fact, most of what we know about hell comes from the lips of Jesus himself (Mark 9:3; Luke 16:28; Matthew 25:30).

But there is something even more important to say in regards to "hell" and "good" and "bad"--
We must never consider hell apart from the cross. The Judge of the universe stepped forward to take his own judgment upon himself. Because Jesus Christ knew the reality of hell, he went to the cross. Hell is as real as the cross.

(1) see Genesis 50:20

Saturday, January 29, 2011

God's got a serious heart condition (which is holding things up)

The Word for today:
Revelation 21:9-21

We have reached the last two chapters of the Bible, where the "end times" give way to eternity.

This transition generates a lot of curiosity and many questions. Over the next few days, we will attempt to deal with these FAQs. Some of the questions will look back in review; some will look forward, to "all things new." (Revelation 21:5)

Q. Explain the overall "Day of the Lord."  What is the sequence of events?
The relative timing of the events of the "Day of the Lord" are endlessly debated.  Here's how this teacher sees things unfolding:

"The Day of the Lord" is an extended period of time which includes the following events:
  • "That day" begins at the moment of the "Rapture" (the removal of the true church).
  • The Great Tribulation begins immediately after the Rapture.
  • The Great Tribulation ends with the Second Coming of Christ to the earth.
  • The Second Coming ushers in the Millennium (the 1000-year reign of Christ).
  • At the end of the Millennium, unbelievers are judged at the Great White Throne.
  • Thereafter, the new heavens and new earth come into view as the Millennium gives way to the eternal Kingdom of God.

Q. Does the Bible give any indication of when Christ will return?

Q. Really? But I thought…
What part of 'no' don't you understand?

The Bible explicitly states that no one can know the exact time of Jesus' return (Matt. 12:36). But several passages describe the kind of time it will be. Thus, while the Second Coming will come upon the unbelieving world like a thief in the night (2 Pet. 3:10), believers who are closely attuned to scripture will not be completely startled by Jesus' return (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6).

Q. How will he return? Will he be some kind of a spirit?
No way! The return of the Lord Jesus Christ will take place personally, powerfully, bodily, visibly, publicly, and instantly:
For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. (Luke 17:24)

He will come as a conquering warrior. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is the Lion of the tribe of Judah who will obliterate the sin of the world.

Q.  What's taking him so long?
I'm glad you asked.   It seems that God has a heart condition, called 'love,' which is holding things up.  He wants to give as much time as possible for every sinner to find Jesus, the only Way out of here:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  (2 Peter 3:8-10)

("Just the FAQs" about end times and eternity will be continued tomorrow.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

all things new

(written by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Revelation 21:1-8

We live in a world of sequence, where the new is constantly replacing the old.
Sometimes that's good:
Nintendo, Super Nintendo, N64, Game Cube, Wii

Sometimes that's bad:
Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Starship

Sometimes it's neutral:
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Sequence is what we know, it's what we live, it's how this world operates. The old replaces the new and then the new becomes old and is itself replaced. But it is of the utmost importance that we do not come to today's passage with that kind of mindset. Because in these eight brief verses, we have all sorts of new things appearing: a New Heaven, a New Earth, and a New Jerusalem. Here is history's grand finale, at least as we know it. Everything is new, but it's new in a brand new way, in a way that we don't fully comprehend.

This kinds of newness is hard to illustrate, so to rescue me, I want to introduce you to a good friend of mine, Mr. Willy Wonka. (Take your pick between Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp.)
I am particularly fond of his candy called Gobstoppers: a sugary, color changing candy about the size of a marble. I have all the sequences down- purple turns to red turns to green and then you're to the core and its gone. Time for a new one.

Nearly everything that we acknowledge as new falls into this category. Think how quickly all our technology dates itself. Our phones or computers or video equipment all have this nasty habit of becoming obsolete. Our new clothes wind up at Salvation Army. New newspapers end up lining the cages of our birds. The goods and times and relationships in life are used up, discarded, and replaced. Next Gobstopper please!

But in the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we are also introduced to the holy grail of all candy, the pinnacle of confectionery delight: the Everlasting Gobstopper. This mythical treat lasts forever, and is particularly valuable for "children with very little pocket money." In all our experience, our world has nothing like this Everlasting Gobstopper. All our attempts to manufacture such an item are doomed to fail.

But beyond our world, beyond this fallen planet, there is actually something really new, not under the sun, but under the Son. He promises us "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1)."  He says to us "Behold, I make all things new (2)"  by what He accomplished on the cross. Only Jesus Christ can rescue us from the monotony of the ‘latest’ and bring us into the fullness of the 'new,' because this real newness is found in Him and nowhere else.

(1) 1 Peter 1:4
(2) Revelation 21:5

Thursday, January 27, 2011

truer than your doubts

The Word for today:
Revelation 20:11-15

mark this:  Revelation 20:11
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away.

Sin is real. It is not just a concept. It is a force, a perverse power with real consequences.  It brings an end to innocence; it steals the twinkle from the stars.

And its effects are ongoing. It doesn't just evaporate into thin air. It can turn into a tear, a regret, a broken heart, a broken home. But it won't stop there.

Sin started beneath a tree in a garden. It was conceived by a man and a woman whom Satan seduced by playing their own self-centeredness against them.

Once it was set in motion, sin made itself king, ruling over individual hearts and collective history. No one could stop it. No one, that is, until God stepped in. He designed two structures and decreed that all sin would be stopped at either one place or the other…

First, he built a cross and hung from it. Many, trusting him, brought all their sin there, where it was swallowed up by his sacrifice.

But many others bypassed God's cross. They did not trust him, or they did not understand, or they did not care, or they thought they'd found another way. They were blinded by the darkness they'd created.

And so God will erect the other structure, a Great White Throne. No sin that detoured around his cross will get by this throne. No, not one.

No one will be acquitted at the Great White Throne.  All those who appear there will be consigned to a hell of their choosing, for sin will not be allowed in heaven.

If you've trusted Jesus, you will never see God's Great White Throne of judgment. You can read about it in his book, but that's as close as you'll ever come. There's no reason for you to be there, because Jesus was already judged for your sin.

But if you haven't trusted Jesus, then there's a Great White Throne in your future. Unless, of course, you can perform a miracle…

And you can. You have it within you to change a Lion into a Lamb, a Judge into a Savior. You have it within you to change a Great White Throne into a cross…

Here's how:
Just cross your heart and make up your mind to place all your imperfections and even all your doubts in a great big sack. Then go to him via a prayer. Tell him you've decided that he's better than your sins and truer than your doubts. Ask him for the forgiveness he purchased with his life. It will not be withheld.

And all this while, you thought you'd never see a miracle. You thought that miracles, if they exist, were only for the other guy.

But you've come to find out that there is--there truly is--wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

All aboard the Bible Bus!

The Word for today:
Revelation 20:1-10

Since our ten verses today last for 1000 years--the Millennium--we thought that we'd have time for this short "commercial" break. So, using myself as an example, I'm going to try to "sell" you something...

They used to have a TV advertisement for men's hairpieces--or do we call them wigs? Whatever they are, there was this man with a full head of hair telling us how great a certain company's wigs are.

Pretty soon we find out that he's the owner of the wig company. Then, at the very end of the commercial, there's the same guy, but without any hair! Finally, as he puts his wig back on, he closes with this line:

"I not only own the company, but I'm also a client!"

It was a very effective advertisement. It sold a lot of wigs.

Well, I don't own a warehouse full of wigs, but I have stored up a fair amount of knowledge about the Bible. (If you've read any of the 600+ "Stand in the Rain" Bible articles, you'll at least grant me that.) But you must understand that these articles represent me with my wig on, so to speak. Not too long ago, however, I was "bald!"

Because up until about 10 years ago, I knew less about scripture than any person I can think of. Then I ran into J. Vernon McGee.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee is simply the greatest Bible teacher who has ever lived.  I first heard him when I was fiddling with my car radio in the year 2000 (which has a nice Millennial ring to it!)

At the end of the segment an announcer said that the program, called "Thru the Bible," could also be heard on the internet. So I pulled over and wrote down the

The very next day I typed into my browser, and I have been there ever since. 1,300 lessons later, in 2005, I finished the Thru the Bible course. The Bible Bus (as we insiders call it) had come all the way back to where I'd started five years earlier.

Then it just kept rumbling on. Pretty soon I began to miss it, so I climbed back on that bus.  And now I'm hoping that you'll get on "the bus" with us!

The reason I chose today to plug this program (other than that we've got 1000 years to play with) is that while "Stand in the Rain" will be leaving Revelation in a week, "Thru the Bible" happens to be in Revelation right now--chapter 5 as of today--and will be there for 3 more months!

So if you want to learn way more about Revelation than I will ever be able to teach you in a thousand years, just click on this climb aboard the Bible bus!

And when Revelation is over, stay on the bus as it rides right on into Genesis. You do that, and five years from now you will be way smarter about scripture than anybody (except for Jesus and Doc McGee!)

Sort of like the old wig advertisement said,  "I'm not only a Bible teacher, but I'm also a student!" And so I welcome you to the mobile "classroom" of the late, great J. Vernon McGee.  I'll slide over so you can sit right here--right behind the driver--with me.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

the revelation of the Revelation of the revelation of Jesus Christ

The Word for today:
Revelation 19:11-21

mark this: Revelation 19:11-12
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.
His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.

The purpose of the Bible, all 66 of its books, is the revelation of Jesus Christ:
For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Revelation 19:10)

Within the Bible's 66 books there is one book, the last, which is even called "the Revelation of Jesus Christ."

Within that last book is a chapter (chapter 19) which describes the Second Coming--the moment at which Jesus is physically, visibly revealed to the entire world, to the believer and non-believer alike.

Thus you could say that we have arrived at the revelation of the Revelation of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

There has been so much information and misinformation concerning the Second Coming that we've decided to print the facts we know from the Bible. We hope this little "outline" will help you to distinguish between what is scriptural and what is merely speculation and guesstimation.

The phrase "Second Coming" does not appear in scripture. Scripture refers to the "return" of Jesus. (Same difference, but we don't want you tearing your hair out searching your concordance for "Second Coming.")

The return of the Lord Jesus Christ will take place personally, powerfully, bodily, visibly, publicly, and instantly:
For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.  (Luke 17:24; also see Matthew 24:30-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3.)

This will be no local happening; you will not have to 'Look there!' or 'Look here!' (Luke 17:23)

On that day, the world will not be seeing the carpenter from Nazareth. It will be Jesus in his incandescent brilliance as the 'Son of Man,' as foreseen by Daniel (7:13-14) and by Peter, James, and John (Luke 9:28-36) when Jesus appeared in glory, as if clothed in light. (This appearance, known as the "Transfiguration," provides the best preview of Jesus' triumphant return.)

The martyred Stephen, as he was about to die, had a similar glimpse:
"Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7:56)

The Apostle John, writing Revelation from the Island of Patmos to which he had been exiled, saw the same figure:
…his face was like the sun shining in full strength (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 1:7 tells us that the whole world will witness this same spectacle.)

The return of Christ will mark the end of history as we know it. It will inaugurate the final Judgment and usher in the new heaven and the new earth. Pain, death, and sorrow will all be banished. The entire structure of evil will be dismantled.

This new realm will surpass our current understanding and imagination. Our attempts to express what we shall experience fall so short that we demean heaven whenever we attempt to convey it. We will need--and receive--new eyes to enable us to see what we shall see. Our current portals of perception--eyes, ears, nose, and tactile receptors--would be unable to take it all in.

We have been warned all along not to place a date or time upon the Second Coming of Christ (Matthew 24:42-44). But many people waste their time in endless speculation and calculations.

The way we should be spending our days is to watch, and to work; to witness, and to Repent!--for the return of the once and future King is at hand.


Monday, January 24, 2011

the serpent will swallow his tail

The Word for today:
Revelation 18:21-19:10

Jesus, prophetically, said that a kingdom divided against itself will not stand:
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.  (Mark 3:24-26)

 We are going to see the kingdom of Babylon begin to dissolve due to that very principle.

"Babylon," as we have seen, is a kind of all-purpose code word for the world system which is ruled by Satan. This is the kingdom that Satan had offered to Jesus:
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."   (Luke 4:5-7)

In chapter 17, we saw religious "Babylon," the prostituted church which Satan (working through Antichrist) will manipulate for for his purposes. This is the religious arm of the beast.

In chapter 18, we see a political/commercial “Babylon,” which is the other arm of the beast.

And then, as if the beast were arm-wrestling himself, we see political Babylon turn against religious Babylon.

These two Babylons had been one. In the blunt and graphic language of Revelation, we are told that the kings (the political world system) had fornicated with the harlot (the world religious system). They'd used one another:
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality..."   (Revelation 17:1-2)

But after using the false religious system to unify the world and gain complete control of all, the Antichrist will turn against the harlot, plunder and destroy her, and seize all power and worship for himself.  As he does, he will be carrying out God's will:
The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled.   (Revelation 17:16-17)

We have seen evil at war with itself before:

**In 2 Chronicles, three nations were in league against Israel until they turned on each other:
As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped. (2 Chronicles 20:22-24)

**In the court of Pharaoh, a snake devoured the other snakes.  (Exodus 7:11-12)

**Ultimately, at the cross, Jesus became sin in order to defeat sin:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

When God has no alternative but to fight fire with fire, he will pit hell against hell, until heaven wins.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Stand in the Rain Bible Class - Audio File 1/23/2011

"every word"
Revelation Chapters 10 - 17


(written by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Revelation 18:1-20

Mark this: 18:17
"For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste."

In our passage today, we read about an unmitigated disaster- one that makes the Great Depression, Hiroshima and 9/11 look like small potatoes. We witness the titanic collapse of Babylon. The biggest and greatest and only hope that the godless world has, is destroyed. The source of world's power, wealth, luxury, and splendor is wrecked in spectacular fashion. History has witnessed much destruction, but the scale we see in this passage is unprecedented.
It's hard to wrap our minds around it. "When the foundations are being destroyed,what can the righteous do?" (1)

What do you take for granted?
We are told that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes, but in our everyday reality, I think we assume much more than that, especially in America. Today, we expect financial security, we expect personal safety, we expect family stability, we expect physical health. When any of the above don't quite measure up, we then take appropriate measures to return us back to normal. The problem is, we no longer live under the assumption that we can greatly influence these four categories (which we can). We now live under the illusion that we can control each of these categories (which is impossible).

Have you ever considered the hard truth of just how close any one of us is to disaster in any of the above areas? One market crash, one lost job, one terrorist, one nuclear strike, one terrible choice, one doctor visit, one phone call, one moment away from our own world forever turning upside down. Its rather disconcerting and so most of us prefer not to think on such matters.

But the truth is, that even if we are not around to face the events found in the book of Revelation, each one of us will have to face our own personal apocalypse, our own personal judgment day. Its for good reason that Word of God compares our brief time on planet earth with a fading flower, withering grass, a passing mist. (2)

When everything is going well, we all can lose sight of eternity and priorities very quickly. When everything is going well, its easy to assume that we are trusting in Jesus Christ. Its only when everything falls apart that we can see what we really believe. All the wealth and hopes and dreams of Babylon were gone within a single hour. It can take much less time for any single one of us.

May we all take the advice angel in this passage and "come out of her." May we remove our hopes and security from this sinking ship, before its too late.

(1) Psalm 11:3
(2) see Isaiah 40:7 and James 4:14

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Great Masquerade

The Word for today:
Revelation 17

(Over the next few days, we'll be going back to Babylon. Today's article will look at religious "Babylon" in chapter 17. We will encounter political/economic "Babylon" in chapter 18.)

mark this:  Revelation 17:5
This title was written on her forehead:


Babylon is an all-purpose metaphor in the Bible. It represents--
  • the worldly system--the kingdom of Antichrist (1)-- which opposes the principals and program of God;
  • human/demonic pride which seeks to displace God;
  • false religion, idolatry, and the false god of materialism;
  • the confusion caused by godlessness.

Babylon first appears in scripture as Babel (2), where the people joined together to build a tower. The tower, so it seemed, was to be built so that the people could reach up to God. But what they really wanted to do was pull God down to their level.

If we can grasp that concept, then we can understand the essence of "mystery Babylon," the prostituted church in Revelation 17. She is going to seem religious, even pious. But--like the Tower of Babel--she will be just the opposite of what she seems.

How will the church turn into this harlot?

It will happen at the Rapture, when all the true believers are taken out of the churches. True believers from every denomination of Protestantism, true believers from every parish in Catholicism, true believers from here and there and everywhere--all gone.

 What remains will look like a church, but faith in the real, biblical Jesus will have vacated the premises. What's left behind is the prostitute spoken of in Revelation 17--an unfaithful version of the true "bride of Christ."

Throughout much of Revelation we are in a counterfeit realm.  Antichrist will present himself as Christ. The prostitute will play the faithful bride. Evil will pose as good. The wolf will wear sheep's clothing.

And many will be deceived by the Great Pretender. You remember him; he pretended to be a snake in the Garden of Eden.

The Great Tribulation is going to be a Great Masquerade. With the true church gone, what's left behind will be a world filled with spiritually gullible people who will be predisposed to the devil's deception.

They'll be buying whatever counterfeit goods he's selling.

They already are.

(1) see Matthew 4:7-9; Luke 4:5-8; (2) Genesis 11

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Something's got to give," we say. "Things just can't go on this way."

The Word for today:
Revelation 16

mark this:  Revelation 16:16
And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

Armageddon is a word that lives way at the back of your head.

We might not know how to spell it, or say it, or define it. But we all know what it means.

The psychologist Carl Jung called them 'archetypes.' They are symbols universally recognized, transcending time and language and culture.

Something embedded within us, somewhere deeper than our DNA, demands a decision, a judgment.  The Old Testament already visited Armageddon, and called it the Valley of Decision:
Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD.
Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.
Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. (Joel 3:11-14)

Armageddon is where elemental forces assemble in inevitable opposition. Good & evil, light & darkness, truth and falsehood gather there, and they are incapable of peaceful coexistence. The one must vanquish the other or be vanquished itself.

These forces are moving inexorably toward the plains of Megiddo (from which the word 'Armegeddon' is derived.)  If the place looks eerily familiar, it's because you've seen it in the back of your head:

Within an individual, just as within the body politic, are elemental forces--flesh and Spirit, self and sacrifice, courage and cowardice--that are incapable of peaceful coexistence.  "Something's got to give," we say. "Things just can't go on this way."

And we're right. A day of reckoning, individually and collectively, awaits. We can feel it in our bones.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

echoes of Exodus: Jacob's lost children make their way home

The Word for today:
Revelation 15

mark these:
They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.  (15:3)
After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened. (15:5)
The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. (15:8)

If Revelation starts to get away from you, if the images and symbols elude your understanding, the thing to do is to go back to the beginning!

Not back to the beginning of Revelation, but back to the beginning of the Bible.

The church made their mass exodus, the Rapture, at the beginning of chapter 4.

So from that point Revelation becomes an echo of Exodus (the 2nd book of the Bible) which is the story of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

All we have to do is replace Pharaoh with Antichrist and Revelation will look almost familiar:

Great miracles will be performed--by God's people and by Antichrist's followers, just as in Exodus.
Great plagues will strike the sinful world, just as in Exodus.
God's people will be hemmed in on every side. But the hand of the LORD their Deliverer will save them.
And then they will sing a song they'd learned by the side of a Red sea.

Revelation is a reunion of characters whom we knew; it is the culmination of a plot that was set in motion from the beginning:

"Pharaoh" returns -- as Antichrist
"Egypt" returns -- as a federated world system bent on the destruction of God's people.
Babel returns as Babylon.
Moses returns--as Moses! (1)
Elijah returns--as Elijah! (1)
Even the church will return--as a Bride.

And when the Lamb of God returns, the people will sing the Song of their Passover Lamb, a new song learned long ago.

Revelation should begin to be faintly familiar, like a "new song learned long ago."  Many years and tears and miles and far too many farewells have accumulated between the Exodus of Israel and the Rapture of the church. But those farewells weren't forever.


Even now something is stirring:

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (2)
Moses is making his return from the backside of the desert; Elijah is about to step back into the vortex of a whirlwind; the priests are re-assembling the tabernacle; the prophets are finding their voices; Israel is returning from exile by the rivers of Babylon; the nations, once dispersed at Babel, are regathering at Armageddon, and a flood of judgment is about to be loosed.

And somewhere, in a far country, a wastrel son decides to arise, to return to his father's house, to retrace the steps he'd made.

(1) see Stand in the Rain of January 11, 2011: "Will the real "Two Witnesses" please stand up!"
(2) W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

every word

The Word for today:
Revelation 14:14-20

mark this: Revelation 14:18-20
"Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe."
So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

When was the last time you sang this song in your church?--
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Or when was the last time your pastor preached a sermon on the section of scripture that we have before us today--the scripture which inspired that song?

Must have been before you started attending church, because you've probably never heard that sermon. 

The reason we Stand in the Rain, reading the whole of scripture, is because it forces us to consider verses like Revelation 14:14-20.  It forces me to present the Bible as God wrote it, not as I chose it.

The evangelical church today tells the truth, for the most part, but it's often a limited truth.  Limited truth can be a form of a lie.  That's why our courts find it necessary to insist upon "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"--because many a huckster and many a cult have hoodwinked the public without, technically, "lying."

Here's a principal to remember:
to the extent that your church teaches and preaches every verse in the Bible, your church is telling the truth. 

Or, to put it another way:
to the extent that your church does not teach and preach every verse of the Bible, your church is not telling the truth.

Almost every cult has a Bible in the pew.  Their lie isn't in their book, it's in their emphasis of what's in their book.

We have not been commissioned to edit God's words.  Our commission is to spread the word--to sow the seed, all of it--over every path.

As a Bible teacher, I find the following warning--from the very last page of your Bible--to be even more worrisome than the images of judgment from our reading today:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.  (Revelation 22:18-19)

Because if you or I--as pastor, preacher, elder, or teacher--have under-emphasized (or altogether avoided) the teaching of some verses or scriptural concepts, then we have effectively detracted--taken away--from the Word of God.

When we were kids, my brother and I used to pick the the grapes out of the fruit cocktail.  Sad to say, that's how the Bible is often taught.  But recall the proclamation of the great King himself:
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."  (1)

We can't keep picking just the fruit of the Spirit (2), while leaving the grapes of wrath behind.

(1) Matthew 4:4;  (2) Galatians 5:22

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Fell, fell is Babylon."

The Word for today:
Revelation 14:6-13

The first time we hear about Babylon in the book of Revelation is in 14:8--
And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great."

"Babylon" stands for many things in scripture, and we will have more to say about it as Revelation proceeds. But today we are going to look closely at the language which is used to pronounce the fall of Babylon.

1. The first thing we see is that the verb, fallen, precedes the subject, Babylon. This is not normal word order! We are told that something has "fallen" before we find out what that something is!

Babylon's fall is announced before its rise has even been hinted. Babylon meant such horrible things to his readers that John thought it best to assure them that Babylon would have only a temporary existence.

2. The English language actually lacks the verb tenses with which to accurately translate Revelation 14:8. The closest English can come to a literal rendering of this verse would be “Fell, fell is Babylon.”

The angel announces that which is yet to come as though it had already happened. In the original Greek, “fallen” is in the prophetic aorist tense. In other words, God’s prophetic word is so sure that He speaks as though the event had already taken place. It is just as sure as if it were history already. Our language is incapable of so emphatically pronouncing the angel's prophetic certainty.

3. Finally, we see "fallen" not once but twice. Does that mean the city will fall two times?

In order to understand the double "fallen," we need a complete understanding of what "Babylon" is going to represent as Revelation unfolds. So we must reveal, in essence, what the angel already knew:

"Fallen, fallen" does not mean that one Babylon will fall twice. "Fallen, fallen" means that two different Babylons will each fall once!

As we shall see, shall see.

Monday, January 17, 2011

a perpetual revelation

The Word for today:
Revelation 14:1-5

mark this: 14:3
And they sang a new song before the throne...

'New' might be my favorite word.  It never gets old.

Some people see the Bible as old.  I see everything else but the Bible as old!

The Bible from cover to cover is new. Genesis opens with a new creation. Revelation closes with yet another new creation; even the end of the Bible is a new beginning!

God tells us to forget the old, because he is doing a new thing:
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19; see also Isaiah 42:9; 48:6-7)

His mercies are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:23)

Jesus shows us a new and living way.  (Hebrews 10:20)

Even I am new!--
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

With a new heart and a new spirit.  (Ezekiel 36:26)

So new that the old rules don't even apply!--
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.   (Galatians 6:15)

Someday I will even have a new name (Isaiah 62:2; Revelation 2:17).

In fact, God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). 

And he always will. Heaven isn't going to stand still. History and eternity are a perpetual revelation of God's new and fuller appearance.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

the nature of the beast (part 2)

The Word for today:
Revelation 13:11-18

mark this: (Revelation 13:18)This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.

and this:  Revelation 16:13
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

Yesterday, Stand in the Rain looked back, locating preliminary appearances of the beast--the antichrist--throughout scripture. The reader who has not done so may want to begin there.

Warning: This article contains word-pictures of graphic evil. The reader will also encounter some extremely dark surmise.
It is not recommended for children, or for the scripturally inexperienced, or for the spiritually immature.



First, the facts. Then we'll draw the face of exponential evil.

In Revelation 13, Satan appears (as a "dragon"--see 12:9 and 13:2) along with two "beasts"--one from the sea (13:1) and one from the land (13:11).

(The "sea" in scripture indicates the nations other than Israel. Thus a political Antichrist--the beast from the sea--can come from any nation other than Israel.
The "land" indicates Israel. Thus the false prophet, a religious Antichrist--the beast from the land--will come out of Israel.)

'6' is the number of man since Genesis, when man was formed on the 6th day. So 666, in the context of Revelation 13, is formed when the beast from the sea (a man, a '6') and the beast from the land (a man, a '6') assume their roles in an unholy trinity (a '6-6-6') of Satan's devising. This is the ultimate culmination of Satan's pride and man's idolatry. Finally, Satan and man can worship themselves.

The formation of this counterfeit Trinity stems from Satan's longing to be like God, to enthrone himself in God's stead:
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
"I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High."   (Isaiah 14:12-14)

Unredeemed man, like his father the devil (John 8:44, below) seeks to take God's place. This can take many forms, but it often begins when individuals decide that they will be their own arbiters of right and wrong. From there, it's not too long before a society--a government--will vote themselves the ability to decide matters of life and death. God has not relinquished these matters to man.

These are dark days in the USA. A man goes on a killing spree in Tuscon. He has a satanic shrine in his backyard and when his math instructor wrote '6,' he insisted it was '18.'

Looking through his twisted arithmetic, I discern a demonic inside joke: the beast--a man, a '6'--is one with a trinity (a '6+6+6'). So, 6 is 18. It's merely the arithmetic of hell.

Identifying the face of evil in Revelation 13 isn't a parlor game, a riddle, or a puzzle for us to solve. Evil, in Tuscon, is the grotesque smirk behind a 9mm Glock. Jesus knew this face:
You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.   (John 8:44)

Evil, in Revelation 13, is a self-worshipper who knows his time is short, and is determined to take everyone down with him--

Because maybe, just maybe, God won't have the heart to judge so many.

Then God would be a liar--shirking his promise and responsibility to judge sin--and thus no longer God. And so the crown and throne and scepter that Satan could not gain through usurpation, he would attain through God's abdication…

That's the spirit of 666. That's the nature of the beast.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

the nature of the beast (part 1)

The Word for today:
Revelation 13:1-10

Mark this: Revelation 13:4

And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

Revelation 13 concerns "the beast," famously associated with the numerals 666.

So over the next two days, Stand in the Rain will delve into this topic. But we will not concern ourselves with identifying who the beast is--or will be--because whether he is Joe, Sam, Willy, Ferdinand, or Oglethorpe has not one whit of significance for this writer. ("A rose by any other name is still a rose…")

We will endeavor to convey not his name, but his nature.

Part 1 will look back--locating preliminary appearances of the beast in scripture.
Tomorrow, part 2 will convey "the nature of the beast."

The beast. The Antichrist. The false prophet. 666.

What to make of all this?

First of all, it should be known that the Antichrist will be an embodiment of a spirit that is presently at work among us, greasing the slippery slope to hell.

The word “antichrist” appears only in the epistles of John (1 John 2:18; 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7), and the Bible student will learn as much about Antichrist from these epistles as he will learn from John's other book--Revelation.

"the spirit of antichrist"

“The spirit of antichrist” (1 John 4:3) refers to the demonic deception that will work to produce the final world ruler who rules as the false Christ. The spirit of antichrist is always actively seeking to pervert the gospel by distorting Jesus Christ’s true nature:
Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

"many antichrists"

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. (1 John 2:18)
The plural--“antichrists”--in 1 John 2:18b refers to false teachers whose false doctrine distorted the truth and opposed Christ (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; Acts 20:28-30).


The singular--“antichrist”-- in 1 John 2:18a refers to the coming final world ruler, energized by Satan, who will seek to oppose and replace the true Christ.

Thus the final antichrist of Revelation 13 will not be something new, but will embody all the antichrist spirits that have perverted truth. This can be seen in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, where the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) is still to be revealed, but the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.


For further study:

The Bible student should be able to trace the movements of "the beast" prior to his arrival in Revelation.  He is--
"the little horn" of Daniel 7:24-26;
"the desolator" of Daniel 9:27;
"the abomination that causes desolation" of Matthew 24:15;
"the man of sin" of 2 Thessalonians 2:4-8.
To the beast Satan gives the power which he offered to Christ (Matthew 4:8-9; Revelation 13:4).

Extrabiblically, the Bible student should be aware of "The Second Coming," a culturally influential poem by William Butler Yeats:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Friday, January 14, 2011

the flip side (pt. 2)

(written by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Revelation 12:10-13:1

Mark this: 12:11
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Whether or not you are a fan of philosophers or people from Denmark, I am sure that you will be a fan of this piece of advice from Soren Kierkegaard. He writes: "While reading God’s Word, you must incessantly say to yourself: It is I to whom it is speaking; it is I about whom it is speaking." This does not mean to that we ignore context or what the author intended, but rather that we take God at His word that His Word is indeed living and active. It means that we come before the word NOT to study and dissect it, but rather we come before the world and let the Word study and dissect our hearts and lives and motives.

We want to allow today's passage not just to inform us, but also to transform us. But the tendency with a complex passage like today's is to try to come up with some feasible explanation and then move on to more "pertinent" or "understandable" sections. After all, things like battles, angels, dragons, and the very elements of the earth fighting may not normally interest everyone.

But right in plain sight of these very action-filled verses are two very important concepts, and we are going to look at them in reverse order.

The first concept is found in verses 13-17, and describes the Dragon’s attack on Earth. Here we learn the Reality of Warfare. We have already seen the devil’s violent attempts to overthrow heaven and destroy Christ. We have also seen the angels of God, and Jesus Christ Himself fighting back and being victors.

But this last passage shows us that although he has been defeated, Satan is still making war against those who follow Jesus. Satan is a defeated foe, but a very desperate and dangerous one as well. Peter warns us that our "enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1)" Until we grasp that our enemy is real, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. After all, we can’t win a war that we done know we are in.

The second concept is found earlier in verses 7-12. This section shows us the Reality of Victory. It takes us way back to when Satan rebelled against God. We are witnesses to a cosmic battle between good & evil. And Satan is defeated and thrown out of heaven. God wins!!!

This message is not unique to Revelation- that's been the plan since Genesis 3:15 "He (Christ) will crush your (Serpent) head" up through 1 John 3:8- "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work."

What is even more amazing is that we see that not only did God’s angels overcome the enemy, but we can share in that victory. Look again at verse 11. The amazing truth is that we overcome the enemy not by our might or religion or wisdom or piety. We are victors because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

We can share in that victory.
We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (2)
Victory means not that we are suddenly immune from failure or pain or setbacks or struggles or suffering. Rather, it means that we can work through these hard times in Christ’s power.

This passage in Revelation is a call to wake up:
To realize the reality of the unseen world
To realize the reality that we have victory in Jesus Christ
And to realize the reality that we are in war and have a battle to fight.

It is an invitation to believe in God and join with Him. He is calling all of his children into his service, because that is what it means to be a Christian.

(1) 1 Peter 5:8
(2) Romans 8:37

Thursday, January 13, 2011

the flip side (pt. 1)

(written by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Revelation 12:1-9

Today's passage is going to be a final look back at Christmas, which may seem strange, because many of us have never connected Revelation with our traditional understanding of Christmas.
Now, when I say traditional understanding I mean what I usually see in Christmas plays, nativity scenes, and in Christmas cards . That 1st Christmas is portrayed as something very simple, very safe and very comfortable. Best summed up in the classic hymn- “Away In The Manger”
Away in a manger, no crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head
The stars in the bright sky
looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus Asleep on the hay ....
.... The cattle are lowing the poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes

Now I don’t want to belittle this hymn, but it is what it is, a children’s song. We have an edited version of Christmas designed for children. You get the picture that everything is clean, neat and beautiful, and that even the animals are singing in unison. But this Christmas carol lacks some of the hard truths. That very first Christmas was not very simple, safe nor comfortable.
Consider the following:
• The very long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (80+ miles) while very much pregnant
• The lack of any decent place to deliver a baby.
• The agony & mess that is child birth.
• Then being forced to spend the night with disgusting mess that comes with housing animals.

For most of our Christmas cards, nativity scenes, and traditional understanding of that 1st Christmas is based more on that hymn than on the reality behind the Christmas event. It is important to move beyond romantic and childish understanding of that 1st Christmas or the incarnation of Jesus Christ in general.

But even beyond that scene in Bethlehem, we need to recognize that there is more going on that night than just the interaction of the nativity scene. In today's passage, we have a wholly different picture that is painted surrounding this event. I have yet to see a nativity scene or a Christmas card that depicts this version of Christmas. (Maybe I ought to use the picture above next year and see what kind of reaction I get.)

What clearly emerges from these 1st 6 verses is kind of the cosmic view of Christmas. There is no manger, shepherds or even Bethlehem. Instead, we have three main characters:
1. The Child- Represents Jesus Christ Himself- (This is undeniable because it quotes Psalm 2 to talk about the ruler of all the nations.)
2. The Dragon- Represents Satan- who tries to devour Jesus. From King Herod onward, there have been many who seek to destroy the Anointed One.
3. The Woman- Represents the Nation Israel (generally) and Mary (specifically)- who gives birth to Jesus. Remember that Joseph was warned in a dream about Herod’s intentions to kill Jesus, they fled into Egypt (the desert).
This passage changes our view & shouts is the reality of the unseen world. We live in an age that denies the supernatural. We are skeptical about stuff we can’t explain. We always look for the human explanation to the various situations and circumstances we face. To some degree this is okay. We don’t want to get ridiculous and believe that every time something bad happens the devil was behind it. That’s foolishness.

But we American Christians have gone so far in the other direction that we think and live our lives all too often as though this world is all that there is. The Bible speaks otherwise. It lets us know in no uncertain terms that there is much more to reality than what we can see, taste, touch and hear. In fact, the unseen world is actually the more permanent of part of reality. This planet, our physical bodies, and all out material possessions are fading and will eventually be destroyed, but the eternal will remain.

Remember, the stable, the manger, and all the physical objects of that original Christmas are now long gone. The shepherds, magi, King Herod, and even Mary & Joseph have since passed on. But that night began the greatest counter-insurgency ever in the spiritual realm and we still feel the consequences to this day. So remember and celebrate that 1st Christmas, certainly. But never forget the enormous repercussions of that event- most of which could not be seen by human eyes. "Therefore, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (1)
(1) 2 Corinthians 4:18

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

God rolls a series of 7's: this joint's about to close

The Word for today:
Revelation 11:15-19

mark this:  Revelation 11:15
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever."

What’s with all the sevens?--
7 churches,
7 letters,
7 lampstands,
7 stars,
7 seals,
7 angels,
7 trumpets,
7 crowns,
7 plagues,
7 bowls,
7 hills,
7 kings,
If you suspect that the series of sevens is saying something, you are right.

Seven is a sort of biblical shorthand; throughout scripture, ‘seven’ indicates completion, or complete-ness. So the series of sevens reminds us throughout Revelation that God is wrapping things up.  Another well-known instance of seven used in this way can be found in Genesis 2:1-3:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.


When I did not follow Jesus, I chased after this life almost as hard as I'm now chasing after the life to come. Many, many nights found me perched on a bar stool until (depending on that county's closing time) 2, or 3, or 4 o'clock.

Then, no matter where I was, the lights would flicker--off, then on; off, then on; off, then on--like a kind of semaphore code that we bleary-eyed drunks could understand, signaling that the tavern would soon be closing its doors.  Outside, a new day was overtaking the old one.

The number seven, repetitively blinking its way throughout Revelation, serves to proclaim the same sort of message:  This sad old joint is about to close.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Will the real "Two Witnesses" please stand up!

The Word for today:
Revelation 11:1-14

mark this: Revelation 11:3
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days...

One of the great parlor games among Bible freaks (like yours truly) is to--


Who are they? That's the 64,000 dollar question among my fellow Bible nerds. Some oft-mentioned possibilities from the pages of scripture include Enoch, Noah, Elijah, Moses, Steven, and John the Baptist.
Well, I know for fact who the Witnesses will be, so if you'll just send me $64,000 in a stamped, self-addressed envelope, I will provide you with the answer. (Or you can just read the rest of this article for free.)

I base my answer partly on the principal of rhyme, and partly on the principal of reason.

The Bible, you see, "rhymes" itself with its every other part. (Biblical rhyme is not a matter of matching sounds, but of matching thought or circumstances.)

Turning to the last chapter of the Old Testament, we see the Sun of Righteousness rising with healing in his wings. (We know that the Sun of Righteousness is a biblical metaphor for the Second Coming of Christ.)

Besides the Sun of Righteousness, only two other persons--Moses and Elijah--appear in that last O. T. chapter. In order, then,  to fulfill biblical "rhyme," these two names must re-surface at the end of the New Testament, at the Second Coming of Christ.


Reason (which is far less reliable than rhyme!) also leads me to conclude that the witnesses must be Moses and Elijah:

Moses was Israel’s great leader and lawgiver who exercised God’s miraculous power to authenticate His message and destroy Israel’s spiritual enemies. There are many similarities between the plagues and judgments against Egypt (Exodus 7-11) and the future plagues and judgments of the two witnesses during the Tribulation.

Elijah was a vital leader to Israel during a critical time in the life of the nation. During his ministry, Elijah prayed that God would stop the rain for three and one-half years (1 Kings 17:1). This power over the rain corresponds to one of the supernatural signs of the two witnesses—the power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying (Revelation 11:6), which will be a period of 1,260 days.


Finally--and most convincingly, to me--we recall that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2-3). Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, appeared together to affirm Jesus’ claim as God’s Messiah.

It is likely that the Bible will be banned during the Great Tribulation. But should Moses and Elijah return, "the law and the prophets" (a phrase denoting scripture as a whole) will still be represented, not in paper form, but in the flesh--similar, in a way, to Jesus' First Coming, when the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.)

The ultimate witness to Jesus is the Bible. It stands to reason that Moses and Elijah--representative of "the law and the prophets"-- would be sent to a Bible-banning world to maintain the testimony to Jesus, which is the entire purpose of scripture in the first place:
"For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus."  (Revelation 19:10/NLT)


Monday, January 10, 2011

If you get to heaven before I do...

The Word for today:
Revelation 10

mark this: Revelation 10:6-7
"There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets."

When we were kids at Camp Kenan, we used to have a lot of fun singing a song that went like this:
If you get to heaven
Before I do,
Just drill a little hole
And pull me through.
Kind of a cute song. But even more fun was when we belted out the verse that followed:
If I get to heaven
Before you do,
I'll drill a little hole
And spit on you!
We sang that second verse with great gusto and a perverse glee, as you can imagine!

I still smile over that song, whenever it rolls across my mind. But lately the song hasn't been altogether funny or silly, because our number could actually come up soon.

There are certain segments of time that are marked out in the Bible. Right now, we are in "the church age," so called because the hand of God is moving through the church (the body of Christ) and not--for the time being--through the nation Israel, as was the case in the Old Testament.

At the same time, we are also in "man's day," spoken of by Jesus as "the times of the Gentiles." (Luke 21:24)

But there will come the day when a page of God's calendar will turn, and "man's day" will give way to the Day of the Lord (1).  Having been granted his little say, man's little day will be done.

The Day of the LORD opens with the Great Tribulation Period (see Stand in the Rain from January 8) and includes the Millennial period, when Christ returns to put down rebellion and establish his reign on earth. Nobody, spelled n-o-b-o-d-y, knows exactly when "that day" will arrive (2).

But there is no biblical reason why the Day of the Lord might not be here tomorrow. There are no prerequisite prophecies which must be fulfilled before that day can arrive. To be sure, that day could be thousands of years away, as well. But the point is that there are no unfulfilled scriptural pre-conditions which stand between today and that "tomorrow."

So keep your drill handy.  And you'll want to make sure it's the cordless kind.

(1) Joel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zephaniah, and Zechariah all refer to the day of the Lord, calling it "that day." The New Testament refers to the day of the LORD in 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10;
(2) Mark 13:32

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stand in the Rain Bible Class - Audio File 1/9/2011

Listen to the audio from the January 9th 2011 Stand in the Rain Bible Class which covers:

Revelation 3:14 – 9:21  "in the twinkling of an eye"

maybe it's maybelline

(written by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Revelation 9

From the dark underbelly of the advertising world, three particular commercials reached me as a kid growing up. Despite having no need or desire to use any of these products, they, for whatever reason, got stuck in my head. The first two involved shampoos: Pantene and Denorex. I would drive my parents crazy by going around and saying: "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" or "On this side, I can feel a tingling sensation" over and over. But the one phrase I remember joking around with the most was "Maybe its Maybelline" because, no matter the situation, it applied to my junior high mind. We would blame every success or failure around us on poor old Maybelline: if someone spilled their milk, made a free throw, got in trouble, passed a test. Maybelline was always the real culprit.

"Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline" In a strange bit of irony, that company used commercial after commercial full of women who were definitely "born with it" to convince the rest of those who were not that the only possible solution was their product. But this silly phrase is very appropriate in helping us to understand the human heart.

Over the past two days, we've been reading through some downright terrifying passages describing the Great Tribulation. Starting in chapter 8 and right through today's reading, we see the following consequences occur, related to the 7 Trumpets:
- Trumpet 1: 1/3 of the earths vegetation is burned (8:7)
- Trumpet 2: 1/3 of the sea, sea creatures and sea vessels are destroyed (8:9)
- Trumpet 3: 1/3 of fresh water becomes poisonous (8:11)
- Trumpet 4: the radiance of the sun, moon & starts diminish by 33% (8:12)
- Trumpet 5: the Abyss is opened and creatures torment mankind (9:1-12)
- Trumpet 6: 1/3 of mankind is killed by destroying angels (9:13-19)

Its hard to even the imagine the scale and suffering of such horrors. But even more amazing to me is the reaction found at the end of this chapter. Consider vs. 20-21:
The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent
of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols
of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk.
Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual
immorality or their thefts.
Each person has all the evidence they need to demonstrate their utter need for God.
But instead of seeking Him for refuge, they still cling to all the practices that got them
into this mess in the first place. The problem is not in the mind but in the heart.
We saw this kind of insistence of doubt in the Israelites as they wandered in desert.
Every day they experienced God's presence in the Pillar of Smoke and Fire, and God's
provision in the manna he gave them. But this was not enough. "In spite of all this,
they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe." (1)

That is true of mankind today. All the evidence in the world cannot move a hardened
heart. Believers and non-believers alike have this tendency to blame any and
everything for our circumstances and problems, except ourselves. We have the
tendency to trust in any and every possible solution, except God. We are not
that different than the unrepentant people of Revelation 9 or the unbelieving Israelites.

And so the Word of God, here, as well as in numerous other passages, tells us the true
conditions of our hearts. He warns us of our almost limitless capacity to deceive
ourselves. These people serve as an example of what happens when we harden our
hearts towards God

Today's passage is a spiritual stress test on our hearts. So how is yours?
Instead of blaming God or the church or hypocrites or Maybelline, what we ought to do
is come to the understanding that maybe we are born with it. Maybe the problem is
really us. Maybe we are by nature "children of wrath" and "dead in our sins" (2)
Maybe we really are still in need of a Savior- to save us not only from hell, but to also
save us from ourselves.

And its only from this place of total need that we begin to see the real Revelation of
Jesus Christ.

(1) Psalm 78: 21. Read all of Psalm 78 for a short and sad summary of this thought.
(2) See Ephesians 2:1-10