The nightly news

Recently I heard a radio announcer say the nightly news was straight out of the book of Revelation.

By Astronaut photograph ISS008-E-19646 was taken March 7, 2004, with a Kodak DCS760 digital camera equipped with an 50-mm lens, and is provided by the Earth Observations Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have wielded unprecedented paths of destruction through the southern states and the Caribbean. Irma is one of the worst storms on record. Similarly the 8.1 Richter scale earthquake that devastated impoverished parts of Mexico, is said to be the strongest quake in the past century.

In my province of British Columbia, Canada, a smoky haze has enveloped the local region since early August.  The province was under a state of emergency for most of the summer due to raging wildfires. Every week thousands of evacuees were sent scrambling to get families and livestock out of the path of consuming flames.  The fires, razing over 9000 square kilometres, are the worst on record ever.

A solar eclipse was seen throughout North America in August. A few weeks later what appeared to be a meteor landed in southern B.C.

On top of these events, we have terrorism in the Western world, the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and the supposedly supreme leader of North Korea who has pointed his missiles at the Western world, are clear threats of war.

Revelation 6:8 speaks of death by “sword, famine and plague.” There is a great earthquake and the sun turns to blood (6:12). A star falls to earth (Revelation 6:13). “Thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake,” take the stage (8:5) and on it goes. The book of Revelation, like the evening news, is not for the faint of heart these days.

What is one to make of the recent news? The popular viewpoint is to blame climate change and human beings’ tendency to pollute the earth in the name of progress and the economy. It is a possibility, but hard to prove, given that accurate records have only been kept during the past 150 years or so which just happens to coincide with the later industrial revolution, a well-known culprit when it comes to polluting our atmosphere. Without getting into these arguments here, I suggest considering another possibility.

The earth was created as a home for human beings (Genesis 1:1). Before death and decay were introduced by humankind’s choices, it could have made a fine permanent home. But, since the first people on earth messed up a perfect place by their sinful choices (Genesis 3) and we, the descendants of that first couple, have continued to do so, I would argue that the earth is no longer permanent. It has an expiry date (Matthew 24:35) and will eventually wind down as an old clock stops ticking. Ironically Even Steven Hawking is in agreement.

But for the believer this is not as bad as it may seem. It is easy to draw parallels between Revelation and recent events, but the end is not yet and we are promised a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1). You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:4-8)

The birth pains are the end of earth as we know it, also the beginning of a new era.  “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind (Isaiah 65:17).

In the meantime what is the message here? Do we put our energies into buying smart cars and planting trees? Try to recharge the earth as if it was a battery? Stock up on emergency supplies and build a fallout shelter in case of natural disasters or nuclear war?

Environmental stewardship is a good idea and one we should embrace. Preparing for the worst is a reasonable plan, but if this is all we do, we have missed the whole point.

As you may have read in my earlier blogs, the book of Revelation, with all its imagery and disastrous events, points us to one thing. Jesus Christ. The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. As we view our present earth going to pieces we need to be reminded of him and what he asks of us.

Warning: it’s not as popular or politically correct as climate change or political solutions.

The message for all humankind and the church in particular is to repent. (Revelation 2:5, 16, 21, 22 3:3, 3:19,9:20-21, 16:9, 16:11.) We are given opportunity to repent and invite others to do so.

Good old-fashioned repentance may have fallen out of favour, but it’s time to to turn from our wicked, corrupt, selfish ways and worship Jesus, who will make the earth new once again. If we are willing to turn ourselves towards him, we can face whatever flood, landslide, earthquake, war or persecution this old world can throw at us and nothing will be able to separate us from him (Romans 8:38-39). When we hear the nightly news, let’s remember what it really means.

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Repost: View from an Airplane

From theIMG_0116adust2 window of the plane, the earth below is a random collection of rugged snow-topped peaks. Placid lakes, scattered like pearls over the snowy Rockies are strung together unevenly by meandering streams, rivers and forests.

We descend into the lowlands where the marks of human habitation are easy to spot. Rectangular fields furrowed in straight lines. Barns and houses, situated neatly in a corner; the lines between properties delineated clearly with fences and hedges. A ribbon of highway cuts along the valley towards the suburbs punctuated by vast parking lots, vehicles, uniform box stores and rhythmic subdivisions are the marks of civilisation as I know it.

It occurs to me that humans like order. The farmer ploughs a straight line. The builder uses squares and rectangles for his measure.  We operate according to clock, calendar and schedule, meting out our minutes as if we were in charge of them. Our plan, on any given day, is to get from Point A to point B along the smooth and efficient highway with no traffic or accidents.

We want to know our children will come home from school. That our parents will live a long and happy life and die peacefully in their sleep. We want the security of knowing we have a job and pay cheque tomorrow.

Like Job in the Bible, we don’t appreciate the disruption of devastating illness, random violence or the collapse of financial security. When relationships break or a loved one falls ill, our desires for predictability and order are shattered. We want our plans to work out.

When viewing the chaos of life from an earthly perspective, some refuse to acknowledge a God who allows such apparent disorder. Others cry out to the God of the universe, asking Him to re-order our lives, to make the crooked straight and to restore what is broken and lost. To make everything to how. It. Should. Be. According to our straight and limited designs.

But God’s order is not like ours. His designs are subtle and yet profoundly beautiful.

As viewed from the airplane, I do not at first notice the design etched upon the crags of the mountains where the snow has collected or the perfection of individual snowflakes. I cannot fathom the fractal placement of each tree branch and the measured out tributaries of the snaking river which follow this same pattern. The Fibonacci sequence, which is the numerical blueprint for flower petals and pine cones is a complex mystery to my mathematically challenged mind. The Creator whispers His mysteries in the secrets of nature down the side roads, along the winding forest trail. Even out the airplane window.

That same God reveals beauty in other unexpected places. The smile of a child with Down’s syndrome. The vision of heaven experienced by a woman on her deathbed. The sorrow of a prison inmate who repents from his past life and begins anew.

I cringe when told “everything happens for a reason.” It is such a clumsy attempt to sum up God’s plan when things go awry. We might naively think we should find a reason or even think we know it, especially when it comes to the troubles of others. But if we are honest we realise it will rarely be revealed in this life. Humanly speaking, we are incapable of seeing it, just as the intricacies of a snowflake can barely be discerned without a magnifying glass.

The patterns of nature are not immediately visible, but they are there for those who would observe. Life in this world may seem haphazard and unfair, but when we reflect on God’s creation, study His character and take note of His workings throughout the kaleidoscope of history, glimpses of a pattern will emerge.  The rest will be revealed. In God’s own time and way.

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Glimpses of Glory

Instead of having two blogs with the same name, I’ve decided to diversify. For a while I thought I could get away with one blog, but being who I am, apparently I cannot. Here at Glimpses of Glory as seen through a Dark Glass, I will blog about faith and life. At times, that will mean  a more focused look at God revealing Himself through the Word and at other times, it will just be whatever is on my heart or happening in life or the world.

If you are interested in history, my books, reading, writing and travel, please join me over at http://www.roseseilerscott.com.

I hope to be writing again soon, but right now I have a BA to finish, so I hope you will patient.

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Alpha and Omega

No-one would deny that Revelation a complex book. A lot of symbols, prophecy and layers of potential interpretations.  The last book of the Bible has inspired stacks of books, art and more than a few “out there” predictions and false prophecies.AlphaOmega-2

Yes, Revelation is complex, but it is also profoundly simple.  In studying Revelation through BSF, I have seen that Revelation is really just about one thing. One person who will be lifted up for all eternity. All the suppositions, possibilities and interpretations in the world will fade in the presence of His glory. Whether premillennial, post-millennial or figurative millennium, Jesus is coming!

The important thing is to know Him. Do you acknowledge Jesus, the God-man as Saviour,  Lord and King? Are you willing to stand before Him and worship now and forever?

False teachings on this subject are numerous—certain groups claim that Jesus was not God, or that some other Messiah will be revealed to a select few. Do not be taken in by their message of a Jesus who is not divine or whose work of redemption is somehow incomplete.

In my first blog in this series, One Story,  I looked at the idea of the Bible as one narrative from beginning to end and the clue at the end of the book of Revelation to the One Story idea (Revelation 1:8)  “He is the Alpha, the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Apparently quoting the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet was done by rabbis when they wanted to indicate the whole of anything.* Since the New Testament was written in Greek, the language of most of the known ancient world, it seems to me that using the Greek alphabet instead of the Hebrew, takes this idea a step further,—Jesus is the whole of everything for everyone.

Looking at the whole story, spanning millennia, Jesus was present in the beginning. He is the Word…(John 1:1) the one who created. Colossians 1:15- 20 clearly spells out Jesus eternal nature and lordship over all.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

As the yet unnamed Redeemer, he is the one referred to in the promise made in Genesis 3:15 as the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the evil one.

At several more pivotal points in the Old Testament,  a Christ figure appears as “the angel of the LORD,”according to most Biblical scholars. To Abraham he is Melchizedek, (Genesis 14:18-20) and to Jacob, the one he wrestled with. (Genesis 32:24-30) Possibly, it was He who came to intercept Joshua as commander of the army of the Lord. (Joshua 5:14-15) He appeared to Gideon (Judges 6) and it is possible it was him in the fiery heat of the furnace with Daniel’s three friends who refused to bow to a false God. (Daniel 3). These things took place even before the prophecies about Him coming to earth were fulfilled.

At the fullness of time, Jesus came as a human child, the Son of Man to the virgin Mary and to all humankind.  He went as the sacrifice Lamb to the cross and upon His return to heaven, sent his own Holy Spirit to live within His people and transform them into his likeness, until the day of His next coming, which will also come at the fullness of God’s time.

Revelation is the culmination of everything the bride, Jesus’ church has been waiting for. “Faithful and true describe the character, the words and the actions of the Lord Jesus.” (notes Lesson 24, p.4) He will return as promised, to judge, (Revelation 19:11) to rule, and finally to bless all those who bear His mark and His name. Jesus shares the throne with the Father, as Lamb and King. (Revelation 5:6, 3:21)

This same Jesus, “the Alpha, the Omega, beginning and the end is coming.” (Revelation 22:13)

Are you ready?

*http://www.gotquestions.org/alpha-and-omega.html

This blog is not affiliated or endorsed by BSF. Nor are the following posts any sort of definitive theological commentary. The opinions expressed here are simply my own thoughts and reflections on the book and what I am learning from the study.
Unless otherwise noted, all references are quoted from the New International Version or New International Version 1984.

 

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On becoming Real

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Image: The Holy City    https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5733219084/in/album-72157626748303260/

The classic children’s tale The Velveteen Rabbit is the story of a child’s toy. Not knowing that there were real rabbits in the world, the Velveteen Rabbit is told that becoming Real is a thing that happens to you when a child loves you for a long time. Eventually, the Velveteen Rabbit becomes a beloved toy, accompanying his owner through a serious illness and becoming so shabby and germ-ridden that his destiny is the bonfire. But, as children’s stories go, before the fire is lit, he magically becomes a real rabbit, with real hind legs and real fur, able to romp and play in the field as he had never been able to when he was only a stuffed toy.

Like the little rabbit in his previous life, we tend to think that life here is the real deal and that heaven is just an ethereal fantasy in the clouds. The popular notion of heaven is not something that is substantial and real.

In contrast, the description in Revelation 21 is about as solid and real as it gets.

The city of heaven will more massive than any metropolis on earth.  Imagine roughly the distance from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Los Angeles, California, to Austin, Texas, to Winnipeg, Manitoba, back to Vancouver.

Heavens foundations and walls are built of 12 different gemstones. (vs. 18-21)

Jasper as mentioned here in Revelation 21, is believed to be a diamond in the ancient context by many commentators, which given the description, makes sense.  Diamonds are known to be the hardest naturally occurring substance on earth. My Dad has a diamond saw that cuts through concrete. Diamonds are that solid.

Gold is a precious metal of substance. Placing my wedding ring in the palm of my hand, I feel the density of its weight. But, as Linda, our teaching leader pointed out, gold will be used as asphalt, for paving the streets. Can you imagine the heaviness of all that gold!

You wouldn’t think it could get much more substantial than gold and diamonds.

But then there is the presence of our Lord, whose light replaces the sun and moon (v23). In this life, in these bodies, and our fallen state, we can never behold the perfect glory of God. Though redemption through Jesus has made a way to God, we cannot yet live with Him in a physical sense.

I can’t help but think of the Velveteen rabbit who had no idea of what “being real” could be, until he was Real.  The things that seem important, the present reality we live in, will become as only a dream, in light of the glory and wonder of heaven. Our souls, the “real” part of us will live on. When our bodies are transformed we will be like Jesus and see Him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

That is the day that we become Real!

Note: This series of blogs, while growing out of a “Bible Study Fellowship” (BSF) study of Revelation, is not affiliated or endorsed by BSF. Nor are these writings any sort of definitive theological commentary. The opinions expressed here are simply my own thoughts and reflections on the book and what I am learning from the study. Scripture passages quoted are from the NIV unless otherwise stated.
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Justice or Mercy

How can God be just?

This past week, a terror attack in Belgium rocked the world. As the bereaved mourned their dead in the city square, cries for justice went up among angry young men who wish to impose their own form of justice upon the perpetrators. Easter Sunday saw another attack, this time on children and families at an amusement park in Pakistan.

As we watch these stories unfold, our hearts break. We clamor for justice. At least, we think that is what we want.

But where does the human version of justice draw the line? But what if the victim of injustice becomes the perpetrator and commits an equally heinous act? Do we ask for justice for thieves who act out of desperation and addiction? What about people who lie to their employers or cheat on their income tax? How about justice for parents who scream in anger at their children? Or children who rebel against their parents? Do we really want justice for these things or do they fall a little too close to home?

What if justice were to fall upon us or those we love?

This justice that shows up in Revelation 16 makes us uncomfortable. How could a loving God appear so vindictive and angry that He would destroy the world he made? It is a question worth wrestling over.

Humanly speaking, the best judge in the land is incapable of fully righteous judgement. Romans 3:10 explains the state of our righteousness. It does not exist.

Our BSF teaching leader used the example of a pilot who cannot always discern the horizon when flying from visual cues. Errors in judging whether the plane is flying right side up or upside down can be fatal. Our perception of the horizon is skewed by our own biases and desires. None of us is capable of figuring out the exact point of reference for justice. We have no clue and we don’t have to look far to see how seldom anything resembling real justice gets meted out.

That is why we need someone with precise objectivity.  God’s perfect character, like the horizon for the pilot, informs his perfect justice which will come when the time is right.

Perhaps what we view as injustice is actually God’s mercy, allowing opportunity for the most egregious of offenders to repent before they face final judgement.  Not that they deserve God’s mercy; none of us do. Even if we like to think our “lesser” sins qualify us for mercy that murderers, thieves and rapists are not entitled to,  God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Even the apostle Paul had been a full participant in injustice. He counted himself as the worst of offenders (1 Timothy 1:15). It is a good thing I didn’t get to be judge and jury before Paul experienced God’s mercy.  As a recipient of God’s grace Paul has been sharing his testimony through his words ever since, even centuries beyond his human life.

God’s mercy and justice are the great equalizers. His completely fair and righteous justice will apply to every infraction no matter how small and His mercy, through Jesus, is available to every offender who would repent and believe no matter how great the sin. That means me, you and the terrorist.

Note: This series of blogs, while growing out of a “Bible Study Fellowship” (BSF) study of Revelation, is not affiliated or endorsed by BSF. Nor are these writings any sort of definitive theological commentary. The opinions expressed here are simply my own thoughts and reflections on the book and what I am learning from the study. Scripture passages quoted are from the NIV unless otherwise stated.
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Revelation #7: The beast’s M.O.

By Phillip Medhurst (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Phillip Medhurst (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads,17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark…

Revelation 13:14-16

What a passage! One fantastical beast follows another. What could it all mean? Even the most learned Bible scholars probably can’t say for certain, but one thing pointed out in last week’s lecture was that these beasts and the dragon appear to be a counterfeit of God himself- an unholy Trinity.

To discover where he might be present today, I think we should pay close attention to the beast’s Modus Operandi.

First, he uses deception by performing a great show displaying his power (verse 13). Deception is literally the oldest trick in the book, first used with Eve in the garden (Genesis 3).

Satan is big into “knock off” designer wear. It looks like the real thing until you examine it closer. Since his full power isn’t yet unleashed, his tricks rely on subtlety, mimicking what God does.

I recently set up a table with my books at a community market. The next aisle over, a woman set up a booth with cute little angel figurines. I believe her business had to do with “angel readings,” as if she was claiming to talk to angels and channel their messages to anyone who wished to purchase her services. What a deception! Those are not the kind of angels we want to be talking to and we are expressly told not to use third parties (mediums) to communicate with the spirit world (Leviticus 20:27). If God has a special message for us, he is perfectly capable of sending his own messenger angels.

An even more widespread deception is the lure of wealth and prosperity. Popular TV evangelists twist this as being part of what God’s plan for his people. Let’s take an objective look at the most wealthy and famous people on earth. Do they have peace in their hearts? Satisfaction? We don’t need to look any further than Hollywood to see that all that glitters is not gold—family dysfunctions, addictions,  and suicide are rampant among those who have wealth and fame.

Every day in my own life, I fight deceptions and temptations. I struggle with empty uses of my time. These pastimes seem attractive and harmless enough, but keep me from doing things that are better.  Discouraging thoughts threaten to paralyse me if I don’t stay in the Word and anchored to God’s truth. It should be obvious where those are coming from.

Contrast the real thing here. Deception is not in God’s character. Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6) Our job is to become familiar enough with the Truth so we can avoid being deceived.

Next, in Revelation 13, this beast throws the weight of his new power around. He orders people to set up an image, incidentally going directly against God’s repeated command to not set up images of Him or worship them (Exodus  20). Anyone who refuses to worship the image the beast has made will be killed.  Then the beast forces people to have a mark allowing them to make any financial transaction. He becomes an evil dictator.

After we give in to Satan’s deceptions, he limits our choices:

If you give in to the temptation of taking illicit drugs or drink alcohol to forget your troubles, you may become addicted. Your choices will only revolve around getting more drugs or booze.

If you give in to sexual temptation with someone you are not married to, you may get pregnant. Your choices become very limited. Ironically, though ending a pregnancy by abortion appears to be a “choice,” it completely eliminates any choice your child might have ever had.

False religion uses force and lack of choice. Cults offer their followers strict regimes, no latitude in thinking and dire consequences for disagreeing with the leader or group.

Religions which force conversion attempt to bring an earthly kingdom by eliminating their opposition or making people’s lives very difficult. Today, Christian brothers and sisters face the sword of radical Islam and have given up their lives rather than renounce Jesus Christ. These type of events sound like they are straight out of Revelation!

Jesus, on the other hand, does not use force. He gently invites us. Revelation 3:20 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).  Instead of asking us to give up our lives, he gave up His in order to have a relationship with us.

When did Satan ever give up something for you or give you a choice that made your life better?

Lastly, I observe this beast brings bondage and slavery. In fact that is all he has ever done. Since that first great deception, we are born to sin and slaves to it. Romans 6:16a explains the concept. 6 “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death…”

Offering oneself as a slave was often the only way a person had of paying off a debt. In some places in the world, this still occurs, but the person making the loan will make the interest so high, the debt becomes impossible to pay.

Eventually debtor remorse for the “loan” of what people thought they wanted, will be unprecedented. The people at the beginning of this chapter thought the first beast and the dragon were the greatest and worshipped them (verse 3, 4). The realization that they would have a debt to pay for their terrible sin of worshipping someone other than God, was far from their minds, but they become enslaved to the second beast, receiving his mark, just as a slave receives a tattoo or an animal is branded for ownership.

Slavery at this point in the narrative appears hopeless. There is no way out.

Except, as far as we know, these events have not yet taken place and people can still reject the Beast and his wicked ways.

The notes of week 17 state: “Satan’s worst devastation and deception cannot defeat the purposes of God.”

I would argue that one of Satan’s most insidious deceptions is slavery to believing that we can make it on our own. This is what “religion” teaches. Being good will get you to God. Do this and you will get salvation. Complete these rituals. Follow this path, wear these symbols. Legalistic thinking creeps in like a poison, even into our churches. NONE of these methods of getting to God will result in our redemption.

In contrast, Jesus promises the greatest and most complete freedom. We can throw off that burdensome yoke and the slavery of trying to be good when we follow Jesus.  The chains of sin that bind us will fall away. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened… my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30.) He invites us to life with Him and will change us from the inside out making us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The end result of Jesus’ way is freedom from fear! We need not fear death, Satan, his deceptions, his future dictatorship or his enslavement. Scary looking beasts, dragons or any earthly kingdoms or people they represent, cannot harm us.

We only need to know how the enemy works. Have ears to hear (verse 9). Recognize the enemy and have patient endurance and faithfulness (verse 10) as you worship the one true God.

Note: This series of blogs, while growing out of a “Bible Study Fellowship” (BSF) study of Revelation, is not affiliated or endorsed by BSF. Nor are these writings any sort of definitive theological commentary. The opinions expressed here are simply my own thoughts and reflections on the book and what I am learning from the study. Scripture passages quoted are from the NIV unless otherwise stated.

 

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