Friday, January 31, 2014

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.
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?
Believers from every nation, every race, every century, every gender, every description. The only thing they will have in common is their faith in Jesus Christ.
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 a few 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, eternal 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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

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.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

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

Monday, January 27, 2014

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.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

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 1000+ "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!
So if you want to learn way more about the Bible than I will ever be able to teach you in a thousand years, just click on this climb aboard the Bible bus! 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.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

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.

Friday, January 24, 2014

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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


(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 the 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. It's 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. It's 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, it's easy to assume that we are trusting in Jesus Christ. It's 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 of the angel in this passage and "come out of her." May we remove our hopes and security from this sinking ship, before it's too late.
(1) Psalm 11:3
(2) see Isaiah 40:7 and James 4:14

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"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.

Monday, January 20, 2014

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"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

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 and throw them away. 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