Wasn't John nick-named the "Son of Thunder?"
Tertullian, the Roman historian, recorded that John was banished to the Isle of Patmos after being plunged into boiling oil in Rome and suffering nothing from it. It is said that all in the audience of the Colosseum were converted to Christianity upon witnessing this miracle. He seems virtually invincible, a first century "Man of Steel."
However, we find him crying his eyes out in Revelation 5:4 - - he writes: "I began to weep loudly."
So much for the "Man of Steel," he's nothing but a big baby. Or could there be something else going on? Maybe a situation of terrible consequence was taking place in his life at that time? Well if you were to continue reading in this same section of scripture it states:
"And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look inside it...and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it"
Let me get this straight, he is crying because no one could be found who could open a simple little old book and read it? Why would something so mundane as not being able to read a book make a grown man cry? How can a book be that important?
It all depends on what the book is, and then what happens when it is finally opened. The problem could also include what would happen if the book remained closed? So, first things first, what's up with this book?
It's described as a scroll, and like Ezekiel 2:9-10, it probably has writing on both sides. From the assorted clues scattered throughout the bible, there are a number of things that can probably be said about this scroll:
(1) The opening of it has to do with the continuing and final accomplishment of God's will on earth. So we could say, if this scroll was never able to be opened, the people of the world would be forever stuck on a holding pattern. This broken decaying blue ball as James Taylor says, world continue evermore "falling around the sun." We would all be living in "Groundhogs' Day" gone wild -- with no chance for rescue or escape. As Job 5:7 says, "man is born to trouble as sparks fly upward." I don't know about you, but trouble has seemed to follow me my whole life. If this book can't be opened and read, this earth and it's people are doomed to dwell on a smelly, rotted out earth forever; with a hungry grave that is waiting for each of us to die because it's appetite is never satisfied.
(2) I also think this scroll is connected with the final execution of the law on those who refuse to live by faith (Zechariah 5:1-5). Judgment and condemnation is all that is really left to be done for the law to be fulfilled and no longer binding...all debts are finally going to be called (Romans 2:5-16). And this is not something to look forward to, but it must be done in order for...
(3) The inauguration of the new covenant in Christ to physically begin (Hebrews 9:15-18). What we know by faith, will become sight once this scroll is opened. This is something that all believers should be pumped about. But if no one can open it, all hope is lost, all dreams are dashed. I'm with John, I would cry too!
(4) The most interesting take on understanding this scroll is the logical possibility that this scroll is the "Title Deed" on the earth's possession. It is believed that God gave Adam the keys of control in the garden at the time of creation. It states in Genesis 2:15 "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and rule over it." But he sinned against God, which caused his standing to be forfeited; and mankind in turn was enslaved underneath the power of the one who fooled him (Ephesians 2:1-4, 1 John 5:19). Jesus makes a startling claim in John 12:31 when he calls Satan the ruler of this world.
Was Satan actually handed over the ruling rights and authoritative power of this earth when he deceived the first human representatives in the garden?
One very interesting event that tends to support this idea can be found in Matthew 4:8-9 and Luke 4:5-6. Jesus is being tempted by Satan and he says to Jesus, "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."
Was Satan bluffing?
Now you see why John is crying? The earth was lost to a blood thirsty tyrant. Satan hates us! If no one can reclaim the deed and purchase all the landholdings and people in it, we as a race are to be pitied and mourned. Our destiny is despair and we are left helpless as we watch our children forever be shackled to a heartless despot alongside us. John's tears are warranted!
Is there anyone who can succeed where Adam failed? Is there anyone who can defeat the power of Lucifer? Psalm 49:7-11 doesn't give us much hope, "the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough." Is there anyone, anywhere who can open the scroll?
I'm not sure? (Hint: 1 Peter 1:18-21, Revelation 5:6-7)
As I was sitting down to write my blog, D-Max came into my office and said, "You have to watch what Sharon Vandenberg posted on Facebook!" I did, and this is what I watched...
and if you didn't get it, here it is again...
You must watch it. For three simple reasons:
(1) This stuff is stealing from us.
(2) This stuff is destroying families.
(3) This stuff destroys your own soul.
So, instead of posting my normal blog, watch this instead. It might just wake you up!! Thank you Sharon...
"Where there is no tension there is no interest. If there is no cause for alarm, worry or wonder, there is no reason to watch. But if you give me a game that is decided on a buzzer beater, regardless of who is playing, you will always have my attention!" Anonymous
What do the 1980 Cleveland Browns, Russian school-teachers, a woman in labor, and God have in common? Keep reading and you will see...
1980 Cleveland Browns: For most Cleveland sports fans, the 1980 Browns will always be fondly remembered as the beloved "Kardiac Kids." They were given this moniker for the simple reason that 6 out of their 11 wins that year were heart-stopping affairs where they had to come from behind in the last few minutes to pull out a victory. As a rabid Browns fan, I can testify that each and every game that year turned out to be an emotional roller-coaster for me. For most of those games I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat filled with high levels of anxiety because for the first three quarters it seemed like the Browns had no chance of winning. And yet, sure enough, miraculous play after miraculous play, the Kardiac Kids would pull the proverbial "rabbit out of the hat" in the waning moments of the game. And in that moment, I was carried up and away into the heights of football glory and ecstasy. One thing is for sure about that season, even though sitting through most of the games were torturous, you couldn't take your eyes off the TV. You just HAD TO WATCH!
Russian School Teachers: For one whole year,1995-1996, my wife and I taught the Bible to public school teachers in the Russian town of Stavropol. At the beginning of the year we asked this question to over 50 teachers, "How many of you believe that God exists and Jesus is his Son?" The first results were meager; less than 20 percent thought the reality of God was even a slim possibility. And no wonder, they were all members of the Communist Party which demanded that atheism be the accepted worldview. It was quite an experience. Some days were a lot of fun, you would walk into class and they would treat you like American superstars-- other days it was like pulling teeth just to get out of bed. But then there were those days where it felt like my wife and I were under major spiritual attack: We found ourselves being mad and quick tempered with each other, we hated being in Russia, we were sick of eating Red Borscht soup, we complained about the snow, and the strong smell of garlic clung to everything . After awhile, we started noticing that on those terrible, horrible, no good very bad days, we ended up having amazing conversations and bible lessons with the Russian teachers. More times than not on those days, the gospel was clearly presented and the lights started going on in the minds of the Russian teachers. The problem for us is that while we were in the middle of it, we couldn't really see the amazing transformation in some of the teacher's lives. Trying to simply make it through the day gave us temporary blindness to what God was doing in the Russian's hearts. At the end of the year, we asked those same teachers the same question and the results were astounding: Over 80 percent believed that existence of God was a possibility and many even accepted the fact that Jesus was his Son.
Labor Pains: Simply put, every time my wife was to have a child it seemed like God made her wait until her stomach was about to burst. Her pregnancies never were easy, nor could they be described as seasons of sheer pleasure. On the contrary, the actual delivery of each baby never came soon enough - - 9 months has a funny way of seeming like an eternity. But you know, once the baby was delivered, the pain was rarely if ever discussed and remembered again.
So you wonder, how do these three things relate at all?
They are all pictures of how God operates in our life: He makes us wait, often through situations that seem overwhelming and even depressing; and then at the last second, he comes through in flying colors. Why does he work like this? The same reason the Browns were so exciting, Russia was so dark, and pregnancy is so stressful. Let me explain:
(1) If God made life easy we would rarely call on him or long for him to show up and rescue us. If I got everything I wanted now, I know I would quickly turn into an apathetic, bored soul. We all know that with quick and easy success comes arrogant presumption and a sense of entitlement. Spoiled children are made by peace-loving parents who give them everything they want without cost. God wants me to want him, and he often does this by asking me to wait. It sounds cruel, doesn't it? But it may just be the most loving thing he could do - -listen to the fourth stanza in Wesley's "Come Thou Fount":
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
We are prone to wander and leave God. We have the heart of a spoiled child - - and so the fetter he puts on our heart is our lack; and in my lack, I become bound to him because I desperately need him. Desperation is his gift of goodness to bring us back to him. My flesh hates this truth, but it is true nonetheless.
(2) When God shows up at our time of greatest need, his glory will be seen that much greater. If he always answered us right when we called, we would only take him for granted. Faith is not built on immediate gratification, but on pressing on when I don't see nor feel him. This is where most church people get it wrong: feeling is not faith, nor is it the fuel for faith. Need is. If I need him, I will reach out for him. And when he shows up...wow do I really see just how great he is! Have you ever had sensitive teeth? When your teeth are feeling fine, brushing is so mundane, and so is the toothpaste you use. But when your teeth became sensitive, there is nothing better than "Sensodyne" toothpaste. It becomes one of the greatest inventions known to man!
(3) The greatest endeavors in life take the most patience and endurance. The reason great things aren't often done for God is because great things require great sacrifice. Seeing Russians come to Christ, or seeing your new baby girl for the first time maybe the sweetest gifts ever. And much of that sweetness is because of the sacrifice that it cost to get there. Sacrifice proves significance and worth. In fact, this is precisely what the whole concept of worship means : the act of showing worth." Is God worth the patience and endurance he asks from you - - or are you quick to give up when times get tough?
I think we have wrongly attributed singing to true worship. Singing is easy, singing is fun, and I think singing is used more to please us than it is to please God. However, waiting for God through difficulty maybe the greatest act worship we could ever offer. Those who wait on God prove that he is of vital importance to them.
So, is life hard for you right now? It is for me. Are you going to wait...or pout? Are you going to hold on for God to show up at the last second, or give up right before the real action is about to begin? True worshipers wait. Will you?
"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." James 3:1
"Keep a close watch on your life and doctrine. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." 1Timothy 4:16
"Be scared, be very, very scared!"
I wish more bible teachers and pastors would take the biblical warning in James 3:1 about bad teaching more seriously than they presently do. If only they would simply shut their mouths and go fishing, the church would be a whole lot better off. The amount of foolish and ridiculous teaching being taught over the airways and worthless Christian books being sold off the best sellers list is just staggering. If I see one more smiling Joel Osteen cover stare at me right as I walk into the Christian bookstore, or one more blood moon mystery, I am going to snap and go "Bruce Lee" on some shelves! "Hiiyyy - yahhhhh!"
1 Timothy 4:16 points to how teaching is directly tied to people's eternal well being. In Matthew 23:15, Jesus even declares that bad teaching can turn someone into a doubled-portioned devil of hell. So our teaching matters.
The question is, how do we approach it? When do we stand strong and make bold declarative statements, and when do we admit our lack of comprehensive understanding? I offer three tools to approach teaching doctrine -- and they are never more important than when you are entering highly controversial waters like "End Times Events" and "Deciphering the Book of Revelation."
CLEAR: Doctrine that is easily understood, widely discussed and generally accepted.
This area of teaching is often called the "absolutes" of faith. They are the essentials. And to be a true follower of Jesus these are the teachings that must be appropriated, believed and acted upon. I have often heard it said about the absolutes, "These are the teachings you would take a bullet for."
What are some teachings that comprise the absolutes? I will list a few: "Justification by Faith", "The Virgin Birth", "God as Trinity", "Eternality of Destiny". Most ancient creeds were written to declare the absolutes.
The approach to teaching the absolutes is perfectly expressed in Jude 1:3, "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Contend means to stand strong, be bold, and freely defend what you know to be true. I love what G.K Chesterton says about this kind of teaching, "BUT WHAT WE suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason."
When you know something is true, stand strong.
CLOUDY: Doctrine that is complex and depends upon obscure verses and theological traditions and constructs to understand.
This area of teaching is often called the "convictions" of faith. They are the areas of doctrine that take time to grasp and there will never be a point where they are fully understood. We see through a glass darkly on these issues. The irony is that true followers of Jesus can often fall into competing camps over these teachings. Does that mean they are not important? On the contrary: the reason they are so disputed is because wherever your convictions land, your actions will follow. I have often heard it said about convictions, "These are the teachings you probably would take a bullet for, but your brother may not."
What are some teachings that comprise the convictions? I will list two. (1 - less complex) Mode of Baptism. Over the years of historical Christian witness, baptism has been a thorn that has caused much division in the universal unity of the church as a whole. Some groups believe in infant baptism, others stand strong on believers baptism. The battle still rages and divides. And where you stand matters. (2 -more complex) Eschatological approach to Revelation, especially in regards to the next appearance of Jesus' return. Did he already metaphorically return in 70 A.D. in the clouds of Titus' army, will he appear next in the sky as he calls the church up to himself in the rapture, or are we waiting for one swift action of him physically appearing at the second coming when he comes to set up his throne on earth? Christians of different stripes will relentlessly argue and try to persuade each other about these issues; and yet, if we were honest, all of us still see through a glass darkly.
The approach to teaching the cloudy should be handled as the Bereans handled Paul's teaching in Acts 17:11. We need to examine scriptures to see if what is being taught is true. And as we disagree and view different passages with our different colored lenses, let's not destroy one another in the process. I can remember my dad telling his six children, "You may not agree with each other and at times, you may not even like each other, but you are family, and as long as you live under one roof you need to forgive and move past hurts. Or I will hurt you!"
Keep learning, growing, and when you are wrong...be flexible and grow up!
PETTY: Doctrine that is really not doctrine, but personal likes and dislikes.
This area of teaching is often called the "preferences" of faith. They are the different ways we have learned to do church. And these are the things that need not matter if you are really a disciple of Jesus - - for we have bigger fish to fry than these issues. I have often heard it said about the preferences, "These are the teachings you should never take a bullet for."
What are some teachings that comprise the preferences? I will list a few: color of carpet in the sanctuary, chairs or pews, ties and dresses, piano or organ, slides or hymnals, steeple or no steeple, movies, lipstick, drums, hair length, tattoos, head coverings, piercings, Wednesday night prayer service, hands raised, hugging, wine and yes, even beards and bow-ties. Face it, it just doesn't matter!
How should we approach these issues? Take Romans 14:12 advice: On disputable matters, "each of us will give an account of ourselves to God." I hate to say it, but Elsa is right, "Let it Go!" If you can't let it go are you really living for the glory of Jesus or the comfort of self?
One of my main motivations for teaching on Revelation is because over the last few years some people have blurred the lines of doctrinal importance when it comes to how to teach this book. I have been given some books that have taught some of the craziest and silliest speculations on Revelation that you could ever imagine. After I read the books, the people who gave them to me thought I should preach them from the pulpit - -but because I didn't, they believe me to be scared of the end-times or I was ignorant of the issue.
Do you want to know what I really am scared of? Representing God in fool's clothes. I do not want Jesus taking me aside in heaven saying, "What was all that monkey business and tom foolery you were teaching? I allowed you the KCBC pulpit so you could present my gospel with clarity. You muddied the water with cheap tricks and silly speculations." That honestly is terrifying to me.
Remember what 1 Timothy says again: "By your doctrine, you might save some." Now that's heavy!
"The fact that your dog has fleas, is no reason to open your home to a wolf!"
('The Broken Eye' Brent Weeks)
Yes, you are right, the church has fleas!
We are a community filled with broken and sometimes very strange and frustrating people. It has always been that way. If you were to take a quick perusal through the book of 1 Corinthians you will quickly realize that the first century church had some real problems. Paul even calls some of them infants, and one of the reasons he wrote the book is so they would learn how to grow up!
But he never once considered quitting on them. Paul would not even consider for a moment talking to people outside the church so he could mock, criticize, and gossip about his own people. His mantra was always, "Love the Brethren first." Peter says to "love each other deeply from the heart." And Peter and Paul both understood that real love included warts, fleas and all.
What are the church's fleas?
Well, there are many: Church people often dress funny - - in truth, we usually are 15 years behind the current fashion trends. Many of us are fond of listening to Lawrence Welkish type music on Sunday. We tend to be overly critical of each other. We would rather watch "Little House on the Prairie" than the newest Sit-com on TV. We have pot-lucks with weird casseroles and super-cheesy and carbo-rich mac-n-cheese meals. We have grandparents that take naps on Sunday afternoons. We tend to get angry when it comes to politics, and we more often than not are set in our ways and hard to move.
But when it comes to our general nature, like a golden retriever, we are naturally kind and have great dispositions. We show up to people's funerals. We make meals for the sick. We give a lot of money to help the poor and missionaries on Sunday. We don't sleep around. We don't always fall for commercialization or try to keep up on trends so people will like us (think square glasses). We more often than not tell the truth because we love the truth. We fear God, we love our families, and we really want Jesus to win.
When you grow up in the church, you are quick to notice the fleas and take for granted the blessings. And sadly, after awhile, you can get tired of scratching and picking out the fleas of those around you. This reality of life creates a problem, because people who find themselves tired of scratching are quick to let in the wolf!!!! Let me restate this - - when you are hyper critical of the normal human foibles around you, you tend to see those outside of your group with rose colored glasses. And when you start doing that, your defenses go down and you let people and ideas into your life that can eventually destroy you.
Take for instance the flea hating and wolf loving poster child: Rob Bell. Just listen to his recent statements on Oprah's "Soul Sunday":
“I think culture is already there (embracing homosexuality) and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone,”
Rob is a man who got his start as a Christian pastor that was known for rightly pointing out the fleas in the church. He opened the windows to a lot of stuffy Grand Rapids Christians; and through his creative teaching style he helped people in the church breathe and experience the fresh air of true grace. But somewhere along the line, instead of showing mercy to his own and looking past the fleas, he grew tired of them and he started loving the wolf more.
And where he stands now, the wolf is his family and the flea-bitten dog that once had his allegiance is now despised. To say that the church is becoming "irrelevant" is like saying grandma just needs to die. Wow, the people who first sang his praises are now treated like chopped liver.
What is worse is how he is willing to destroy the Word of God for his own success. If it wasn't for that 2,000 year old document we wouldn't even know who Jesus was, we wouldn't understand what the church's purpose is on earth, or we wouldn't be able to see when we were being devoured by a world that hates you and your God. Oprah is a wolf, face it - - she loves to deny and destroy the singular particularity and beauty of Jesus. She likes her jesus (yes I didn't capitalize it), but hates the real Jesus.
Jesus of the bible demands for our pride to die and his name to be the only name exalted. Oprah will never do that - - she loves herself too much. And so Rob, in his own prideful selfish way, is willing to throw the church in the gutter so Oprah will be his friend. And she is one powerful friend because she has the lost world's ear, which means she will continue to promote his idiotic Zim Zum garbage!
The irony in his statement is that he is willing to embrace the "flesh-and-blood" people who are pro homosexuality, but castigate and call irrelevant the people who just so happen to believe in letters that were written 2,000 years ago. Doesn't he realize church people are made of flesh and blood too?
The problem with our society is three-fold: (1) We no longer know how to recognize wolves. (2) We forget that everyone has fleas (3) When you throw away the Bible you have nothing, and I mean nothing to stand on. Might becomes right, coolness becomes the standard of truth, and you quit on the very people who first loved you!
I really miss having Rob Bell on our side, he is such a talented guy. And now he is owned by a wolf. Sad...really sad.
It was an odd conversation. A Senior High student in my church youth group informed me with unshakable confidence what he was going to do after he graduated:
"I want to make movies because I really like watching them."
I wasn't too sure about this -- you see, he was one of those students who even as a Senior found great delight in watching the "Veggie Tales Silly Songs". Every so often he would interrupt youth group by randomly breaking out in a round of "Oh where is my hairbrush?" thinking it was the funniest thing ever. Most of the other students moaned.
I asked him two follow-up questions: "First of all, who doesn't like movies? This is like a person saying I am going to make my own brand of chocolate because I like candy...doesn't most everyone like candy? Secondly, are you any good at it?"
He never thought about being good at it as an important reason for going into it; for him, liking it was enough. He was sure his passion for watching shows would carry him into great success and riches. He gave further proof of his qualifications, "Hey, I even helped with our church plays, and I really liked doing that too!"
I often wonder,"Is this how most Christian movie makers started?" And if it is, it sure explains a lot!
Have you ever really noticed that Christian movies....well...how do I say it...STINK? I know I will get a lot of blow-back from those in the church who think Christian movies are wonderful simply because their morals are good, and they pay lip service to Jesus. But shouldn't their art, story line, acting quality, camera work, editing, and drama be good too?
Secretly, I have avoided watching Christian movies in theaters, and it takes a lot for me to watch them at home too -- because I just don't like most of them. They are so predictable. Even the good ones are considerably bad.
The problem is you can't say how you really feel to most Christians in the church because there is a "Sentimental Thought Police" that demands for you to embrace anything and everything that markets itself as Jesus friendly.
Take for instance the most recent popular Christian movie, "God's Not Dead." Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 17 out of 100. That's really bad. Most Christians will say that Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 17 because they have a worldly bias. No, they gave it a 17 because the Rotten Tomatoes critics are evaluating it honestly. It is poorly written, acted, and the story line is obvious. Personally, I loathe how the movie leads every thread of the plot to find it's climax at a Christian Rock Concert, as if that is the next best thing to heaven on earth. A two hour concert does not heal all wounds, nor does it authenticate genuine faith. How silly?
I agree with what one "Variety" critic wrote, "The Almighty deserves better advocacy than he gets in this typically ham-fisted Christian campus melodrama." God does deserve better, I am just not sure we can do better?
Malcom Muddridge, a brilliant British television producer, who is also a great thinking Christian, wrote something years ago that has always caused me to question the way we as Christians approach the media:
"Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good, and no desert so dreary and monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way around. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive, and full of charm...the media, as it seems to me, in their offerings of a depiction of love is almost invariably eros, rather than agape, that provides all the excitement; success and celebrity rather than a broken and contrite heart that are made to seem desirable; and Jesus Christ Superstar rather than Jesus Christ on the cross who gets a folk hero’s billing."
How do you depict agape love on the large screen to be seen as attractive? If Christians can figure this out they might have a chance of gaining an interested audience. But as it now stands, most Christian movies are simply poor imitations.
Yesterday I came across an article that explained exactly how I feel about the low quality of Christian films entitled, "Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?" (http://www.vox.com/2015/2/15/8038283/christian-movies-bad-old-fashioned-fifty-shades) The writer brought out two tremendous points:
(1) "Where Hollywood, for the most part, strives for artistic greatness; Christians try to be good. Hollywood wants to make masterpieces; Christians want to communicate good messages." The problem with this is that no one will listen to a good message if it is wrapped in cheese!
(2) "This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance." I like how Pascal said true evangelism is more than winning an argument, it is developing and enticing a taste. Look at it like this: You will never convince someone that gluten free meals are better for you if they always taste like saw-dust!
The article ended by saying: "One remedy to this (Better made Christian movies) might be an apocryphal anecdote attributed to Martin Luther. After a cobbler converted to Christianity, he asked the German theologian how he could be a good Christian cobbler. Luther responded, 'The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.'
The answer, then, might not be in striving to convey the message most full of surface-level goodness but, rather, in pushing for artistic greatness. Then, once form and content emerge in harmony, can barriers be broken down and conversation begin. Because really: no one likes a poorly made shoe."
If you think Christians movies are just fine and they are great tools to bring people to Jesus, go watch "The Imposter" with Kevin Max (D. C. Talk) or the remake of "Left Behind" with Nicolas Cage and you will begin to understand how bad of straights the Christian movie industry is currently in.
From all outward appearances, there could never be a better church than Ephesus as described in Revelation 2:1-7. They were the best! If they were still around today, their pastors would probably be asked to headline as celebrity speakers at the big conferences on church growth, community development and doctrinal discernment. Seriously, listen to their credentials:
"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary...this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate..."
Pretty impressive, huh?
What makes these words even more astounding is that they come directly from Jesus Christ himself! Could you imagine having the Lord of Glory tell you and your church, "Guys, great work! I see how hard you are working for me, you are doing above and beyond. I love how you don't put up with cheesy charlatan preachers, you continue to live above the garbage and filth of the pop culture, and your doctrinal teaching is spot on. Man, oh man, I have never met a smarter bunch!"
I don't know about you, but if Jesus said this about the church I am leading, I would feel like I have arrived. I probably would begin writing a few books on "Church Excellence", sell them at higher than market value, and organize some Christian cruise signing tours so I could drink in the success of being such an integral part of moving the kingdom of God forward in our broken post-modern world.
But hold on...not so fast...
Even with all the accolades, the Ephesian church was not standing on solid ground before God. Instead of awarding them with "The Meritorious Badge of Honor", he primarily had John write them to warn them: "I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent!" Jesus was getting ready to take away his presence in their community, and was considering to cast them aside and trample them under because they were becoming last without taste.
Wait one second, how does God go from singing praises to threatening extinction?
Listen very, very closely; this next phrase should send chills down your spine...
But I have this one thing against you, you have lost your first love!
What does this mean, because it really seems to make God angry? Not angry, sad. Jeremiah 2:1-21 discusses the confusion/frustration God feels as his people choose to turn away from him. They once had him, but they no longer find their satisfaction or delight in him.
Translation: Enjoyment and passion for God is a necessary component for genuine faith.
Those who do not find their God as "satisfying" will lose his presence. People will not "taste and see" that God is good through the life of the church - - and that is the main reason God put them as a light on the earth. Jeremiah reveals a closeness lost, and a lack of continual trust. Hewing cisterns means relying on self, controlling world through my power and ability, and turning to me from a life that once was categorized as "utter dependence on God."
In a somewhat paradoxical way, I'm grateful for failing because in my lack I can freely and honestly admit that I need him. However, in my flesh I struggle with struggling. I don't like it. I want to be be the cistern and well of wisdom for others...but by allowing me to struggle and need rescuing, God forces me to point others to himself.
Jeremiah shows us not primarily an angry God, but a sad God. He doesn't understand our trade: a close intimate walk with him for a stale life of work, work, work to prove my worthiness.
Have you made that trade?
I tried to ride a horse once, but I fell right off. Only 5 quick seconds...he sped up, and I tumbled backward off his back. Luckily, he was a mini-horse, so it didn't hurt so much when I landed on the thick grass.
So when someone tells me to get off my high horse, I stop and wonder if that person really knows me? Don't they know I hate riding horses?
Well just last Thursday, President Obama made an accusatory statement at the National Prayer Breakfast about the Christian community, a group, by the way, I am honored to be a part of. Here is his stinging comment, "lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ."
Are Christians in danger of riding a high horse? Do we think we are a better brand of person just because we call out Muslim terrorists for burning pilots or beheading journalists? Are we wrong to criticize the killing of cartoonists? Or are we reacting as any normal person would when we see criminals getting away with atrocities, and who get upset and demand for justice?
Oh no, can't you see that our outrage is just a smokescreen hiding our meanness, cruelty and intolerance toward innocent god-fearing Muslims?
When you look at our world, ask yourself, are Christians really the problem? Are we that terrible? I really want to know. I want reasonable people to tell me if I need to change my ways...If you will allow me to be candid, I feel like Christians are not the ones riding horses at all; but rather we are the ones being horsewhipped by a hostile world. Even here in the supposedly religiously liberated United States it seems like honest Christians are treated with real intolerance; and we have become the whipping boys for our modern culture's angst.
Let me give you a few examples
* THE CURIOUS CASE OF BEN CARTER: According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, (SPLC), they have listed the famed neurosurgeon and potential 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson on their list of "extremists." The reason, as explained by the SPLC, seems to be little more than the fact that Carson supports traditional definitions of marriage and that he famously spoke-out against Obama's policies at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.
* THE BAKER'S BUNGLE: A Christian baker who, on the grounds of her beliefs, refused to sell a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, may be required to pay as much as $75k per complainant – or, in this case, for the two people denied service, $150k. It has taken more than two years to near a conclusion of the case, which began when the Oregon bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, refused an order for a wedding cake in January of 2013. Now, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries says that there is sufficient evidence that the Aaron and Melissa Klein discriminated against the couple, and that they will have to pay damages.
* MEAN OLE' MINISTERS: Two Christian ministers in Idaho, Donald and Evelyn Knapp, have allegedly been ordered to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies at their chapel or face fines or jail sentences.This nightmare began Oct. 7, 2014 when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho's marriage laws and legalized same-sex marriage in that state, which allowed Idaho county clerks to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses a week later. On Oct. 17, the Knapps declined a request to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.
One columnist who reported on this asked the following questions:
Notice who the aggressors are here. Notice who is being intolerant. Why can't same-sex couples who want to marry under the newly minted law find ministers who have no objection to the procedure? Are they seeking the vindication of their rights or trying to force their beliefs on other people to the point of compelling them to deny their own?
The problem with the columnist's questions is that he jumped right back on his high horse. Christian's should not have a well thought out opinion; instead they must submit to the will of the state, take their beating and forget their faith.
So what is the answer? I know, instead of riding high horses, we should get on the back of the Lion, and let him defend our cause!
Looking at the Modern Church and the Arrogant Spirit of the Age
In Revelation 1:5, Jesus has been given three offices, three duties to fulfill when he was sent on his mission to earth. He was to be the "Faithful Witness," the "Firstborn from the Dead," and the "Ruler of the Kings of the Earth." The final role that Jesus has been given has yet to be fully realized; and to me personally, thinking about the implications of him taking over the world at his second coming has always been fascinating and frightening.
Ruler means he is the chief; chief over all the chiefs of the whole land. When Jesus came to earth the first time, he didn't invoke his rights as ruler; but rather he came as an insignificant slave who submitted himself to the lash and the executioner's cross of the world’s authorities - - both Jewish and Roman. He died willingly to woo the hearts of men. He did not come to impose his will upon people, but to persuade and win them through kindness and humble service to the Father. But let me tell you, when he comes again, he “ain’t going to be messin' around.”
This is what Revelation is all about, Jesus is presented as the returning King and he is going to be takin care of business, serious business. His business as returning King will be very straight-forward - - he is going to...
(1) Reclaim what is rightfully his.
(2) Render righteous judgment that he has previously withheld. (Romans 2:4-5)
(3) Restore his throne upon the earth. Look at Revelation 2:26-27 & 3:21.
However, as the world stands now, the rule of Christ as King is daily mocked and ridiculed. Even people who claim allegiance to Jesus will wave off the idea of his supremacy and one day world domination with a mild shrug and patronizing smile. “Oh, that’s nice…but let’s not take it too seriously. We don't want to offend, nor think we have all the answers. You remember the terrible P.R. we got from the Crusades back in the Middle Ages don't you? You don't want another blemish on our reputation happening again...do you?.” Many, many mainstream church leaders and even your average Christian have been breathing in the air of Absalom for far too long now.
In 2 Samuel 15:1-6 there is a sad little story where King David's son Absalom usurped his dad's authority because he wanted to rule, he wanted the throne. He would sit outside of the city gate and "steal the hearts of men of Israel" by telling the people that their "claims were valid and everyone can come to me" instead of directing them to David, the rightful king. It was a good deal for Absalom because people would come and bow down to him and kiss his hand. I'll bet Absalom loved being "the man!"
In 2 Samuel 16:15-22, Absalom eventually kicked his dad out of Dodge (that's Jerusalem to the more serious bible folk) and crowned himself king. You can read it yourself, because I don't want to describe the other terrible things Absalom did to shame his father.
This is exactly what many leaders and spokesman in the modern church are currently doing to Jesus, David's true rightful heir. Instead of directing people to the words and rule of Christ, they sit outside the city gate and validate the claims of every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane who want to vent, and live life the way they want to live it. They do this because people will metaphorically kiss their hand, think and talk highly of them while trashing the real truth of Jesus the King. How do they do this? Let me offer three areas of "gate sitting" that are taking place in our country:
(1) New Sexual Liberties: Jesus is holy and he agrees with the Levitical codes on sexual purity as found in chapter 18 (He and his Father wrote them). But now our American society wants to do what they want to do and they have written these laws off as ancient and ignorant - - "Why can't men sleep with men, women with women? Why can't a man decide he is a woman and a woman decide she wants to be a man?" The Christian Absalom crowd loves to step in and speak for Jesus, "Don't worry, that ship has sailed, we have grown in toleration and sophistication. It is o.k. to not be any gender, it's ok to have 15 parents for one child, it's ok to marry who-ever you want, sleep with whoever you want...as long as you love the other." (I don't think their definition of love is the same as the King's definition?)
(2) New Spiritual License: Jesus is the only King, isn't he? No, not anymore, just ask the Dali Lama our President's good friend, or ask Oprah, everyone has a chance for eternal pleasure, and they can choose whatever faith path feels right for them...right? Jesus doesn't mind sharing his throne with Allah, or Shiva, or the FSM (Flying Spaghetti Monster) - - does he?
(3) New Scientific Learning: Maybe when it comes to human origins, gender, depravity it is not a matter of God's creative power or man's rebellious nature; maybe, or should I say probably, it is a matter of our chromosomes and evolutionary theories. Sin isn't willful rebellion, it is nothing more than a lack of an elongated X chromosomes and telomeres. The more we learn, the less we need to hear from an all-knowing King who likes to have us silly saps still believing that he is supposedly in control of all of nature.
If you continue to read the story of Absalom, there is this curious part in 2 Samuel 18:9-17 where Absalom was being pursued by some of David's men. As he was riding his mule, he got his beautiful long hair caught in the tree and he was left hanging; vulnerable and defenseless. Along came David's soldiers and they hurled a couple three javelins into his chest and killed him. Absalom loved his hair...and it was his hair that did him in.
Many in the church love to be loved by the world, and it is going to do us in. We love to sound sophisticated, tolerant, and compassionate toward the various perversions of this sick world. We most especially love to sit at the gates and answer people on behalf of Jesus. You must be careful when you do this because (1) according to James, you who claim to teach on behalf of the King will be judged very strictly, and (2) the King is coming back soon and you will have to answer for every word you say. I warn you, you don't want to be left hanging like Absalom!
In Psalm 2, the writer wants us to see who really is on the throne. While the nations rage, the Lord laughs. And he implores us to "Kiss the Son" lest he be angry. So stop trying to get people to kiss your hand - - the only person who should be receiving kisses is Jesus the King!
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths you are there. Psalm 139:7-9