Tag Archives: Revelation

The Bible–Not Just Any Old Sacred Book

Open BibleIn the current public conversation about gay marriage, there are many stories of Christians who refuse to participate in gay marriages. They refuse to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings. They refuse to make floral arrangements for gay weddings. They refuse to issue marriage licenses for gay weddings. When pressed, they universally point to the Bible as the source for their conviction that the only God-given definition for marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Q – Why is the Bible so important to Christians? Why would Christians try to stand up against the culture and accept so much pressure and spend so much time and money in court defending their stance just because the Bible says that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

A — The Bible is the guide God himself has provided for guidance in faith and life. It is a source we can see and touch and read and re-read in order to learn who God is and what he wants us to be. God knew that in the world of time and space we would need something we could hold in our hands.

There are Christians who see the Bible differently. Marcus Borg, in his book Speaking Christian says, “The Bible is sacred scripture . . . because our ancestors in the faith declared these particular books to be sacred, that is, authoritative. . . . not because it was uniquely and directly inspired by God.” ( (Borg 2011) p. 70

The gulf between Christians who believe that the Bible is the inspired revelation of God and Christians who believe that it is an ancient, sacred book is huge. Insurmountable. The authority granted by God himself is quite different from authority respected because ancient people thought the book was authoritative. It is logical to ask, if the authority of the Bible is its designation as “sacred” by ancient people, how is that different from the Baghavad Gita? Other ancient people believe in sacred Vedas. Muslims believe in the sacredness of the Quran. If the Bible’s authority derives from the same authority as these other “sacred” books, what makes it more authoritative than any of them?

The answer is: Nothing.

Why don’t most Christians agree with Marcus Borg? We disagree with his view, because we recognize in the Bible the unique revelation of God. We recognize that God inspired and then preserved Scripture for our instruction and blessing. How else did writers across so many thousands of years write the same truth set in the same prophetic context? How else did all the different elements of the Bible survive wars, fires, and simple human forgetfulness during years of apostasy? The Bible is God’s book, and he has always taken care that each generation pass it on.

God’s inspiration of Scripture makes it unique in the set of all sacred texts. The others are exactly what Marcus Borg describes—texts selected by ancient people for their beauty or their inspiration or even their spiritual qualities. They don’t claim to be God’s Word. The Bible does, and we accept that truth.

Furthermore, when we cling to the teachings in the Bible, we are not clinging to ancient traditions that can be invalidated when the times change. Rather, we are clinging to timeless truth. Because the Bible is God’s inspired revelation of himself, we teach that Jesus is the Way, not a way. We teach that Jesus is the only Way to God, and we make this exclusive claim, because Jesus said it, and we know Jesus said it, because it is in the Bible.

That is why Christians stand firm in the conviction that homosexuality and other various “orientations” in the sexual pantheon are sin. The Bible teaches us that God created man and woman to live in a mutually exclusive relationship with each other, enjoying the sexual bond as one element of a whole life relationship blessed by God. The Bible compares the relationship of God with his church to the relationship of man and woman. Because the Bible teaches that this plan is God’s plan, we accept it and reject all other sexual variants. If the Bible had emerged as a “sacred book” among many “sacred books,” we could not count on its unique and universal application to all people at all times.

This is the reason that the church I attend makes the Bible central in our worship. Not only do we include extensive Scripture readings in each worship service, but much of the language of other elements of worship—prayer, praise, offerings, and so forth—is drawn from Scripture.

Recently I was reading a news item that included a reference to the experience of attending a Christian worship service. A man said of the experience, “It was a biblically based church.” When the interviewer asked him to elaborate on the meaning of that statement, the man said, “The sermons were very conversational. They always had a tie-in to the Bible and how these teachings relate to everyday life.” I chuckled a little, because in my church, we would not say that the sermon had a “tie-in” to the Bible. If the sermons in our church are not drawn from the Bible, we feel cheated. We would not be satisfied with a sermon on some general subject that included a quotation from the Bible for illustration or inspiration. We expect the sermon to help us understand some important lesson from the Bible, and we expect it to embody motivation and inspiration to point us to God, to lead us to learn, to prompt us to pray and grow and mature in faith.

Many people in the culture find it quaint or even disturbing that Christians value the Bible so highly. Sadly, it must be noted that someChristians find it equally quaint, because, like Marcus Borg, they have abandoned the notion that God inspired the Bible. Our conviction that the Bible is God’s revealed guide for our faith and our life puts us at odds with the culture, and with some Christians, on many points. Same-sex marriage is only one of many issues where our commitment to biblical teaching makes us stand in opposition to both the secular ethic and the new and different Christian ethic that derives not from the Bible but from the sense of joining in the evolution of humans.

If you consider the Bible to be God’s inspired guide for your faith and life, be sure you actually read it every day. It will be hard enough to live a godly life if you pray and study every day. There is no hope you can do it if you never actually read God’s inspired guide for your faith and life.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Open Bible
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOpen_Bible.jpg
By Wnorbutas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0

 

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Secular Thinkers Do Not Live in the Real Reality

If you read material written by secular thinkers, you will read about what they call “reality.” In their view, the things science measures and weighs constitute reality. If science cannot see, hear, touch, taste, smell, weigh or measure something, then it does not exist. Such a worldview means that the existence of secular thinkers is bounded by time and space.

In God’s eyes, secular thinkers are confining themselves to an apparent reality that has a very limited form of existence, the reality of time and space. God’s worldview is set in the realm of eternity and infinity. That worldview is the real reality. It is evident throughout the Bible, but nowhere is it so graphically displayed as in the book of Revelation.

Many is the Bible student who has tried to make Revelation a timeline for the end of time. The story-telling devices used in order to help us wrap our finite minds around an infinite universe lend themselves to the notion that they describe a schedule of events, a project plan in which God wraps up the old creation and brings out Creation 2.0. To interpret Revelation that way is to miss its most important message. The important “revelation” in this book is not a timeline; it is a presence. The book of Revelation confirms for time and eternity that Christ is always with us, just as he promised when he said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Revelation also confirms what Jesus meant when he said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19) Finally, Revelation reinforces what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Revelation shows us what is really going on, the real reality, behind the apparent reality of our daily lives. Revelation graphically portrays the truth about the battle between good and evil that permeates the world of time and space, and it makes very clear what we will be required to conquer if we are actually dragging our crosses with us every day.

Secular thinkers deliberately close both their physical and their spiritual eyes to the truth. When God breathed into man and made him a living soul, he didn’t make a secular being. God made a human being to be a spiritual creature. Secular thinkers can deny it, but they cannot escape it. The book of Revelation talks about them when it says “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.’” (Revelation 6:15-16) They know God, despite their protestations to the contrary, but they reject him, and they would rather die in a rockslide than face him.

Revelation shows with brilliant, explosive, even flamboyant language, that there are two realities – the apparent reality of time and space, and the real reality of eternity and infinity. Human beings live at the intersection of those two realities. Christians acknowledge and celebrate it; secular thinkers deny and suppress their perception of it. Secular thinkers deny the image of God within them, but there is a part of them that misses the relationship with God that human beings are born to enjoy. If you doubt it, visit The Houston Oasis or the North Texas Church of Freethought or any other atheist “church.” Atheist “churches” are springing up all over the country, because atheists think Christians have something they want. Unfortunately, atheists, or secular thinkers, think that the form of congregational gatherings is what Christians have that they don’t have. They mimic the form by gathering on Sunday morning, singing, listening to inspirational words, and so forth. They use these churches for rituals associated with weddings, funerals, and other momentous occasions. What they do not do is worship God or submit to any power greater than themselves. It seems safe to predict that these “churches” will either fade away when the novelty wears off or morph into something more like a social club or an educational association. The ritual, the form only, of “church” becomes dry and uninviting even to Christians if God is not the center of it.

Secular thinkers persist in their delusions for two reasons: 1) they are seriously committed to the idea that there is no God, and 2) Christians have not done a good job of following Christ’s instruction to live faithful, committed, self-denying lives every day in every place. The book of Revelation reassures Christians in one way – it makes it clear that there are some people who simply will not let go of themselves and receive Christ. There really are people who cannot receive that truth, and it will be so till the end of time. However, the book of Revelation should also inspire and motivate Christians to be more faithful in living the faith and sharing the faith, because the consequences of unbelief are staggering. Those consequences should drive Christians to pray fervently for secular thinkers and live lives of love and integrity as testimony to Christ every day. Christians know the truth: not only will life in the apparent reality of time and space be empty without Christ, but also, life without Christ in the real reality of eternity and infinity will be unspeakably horrific and desperately unending. A lot of people, including a lot of Christians, refuse to think about the destiny ordained for Satan and those who choose him. A lot of people think they have not made a choice in life, but Revelation makes it clear that those who do not choose Christ have chosen Satan.

Christians must be aware of the worldview of secular thinkers, because that worldview is rising in prominence, acceptance, and power. An amazingly large proportion of Christians actually believe that they can separate sacred and secular in their own lives, a deceptive mindset that results in their willing participation in practices and even laws that do not acknowledge the right of Christians to live their faith outside church buildings. Secular thinking permeates government at all levels, and is shaping policy, legislation, regulations and administration in ways that restrict the exercise of Christian faith and suppress the testimony to Christian faith in public life. The book of Revelation depicts the consequences of rejecting God so graphically, that Christians must not let themselves be duped into thinking that there is some secular space on earth where God doesn’t belong. Christians must resist the development of such ideas by living faithful lives and by exercising the civic responsibility of every citizen to participate in the public dialogue around issues and by voting in every election. Most important, the knowledge that this worldview is gaining power should powerfully motivate Christians to obediently be about the business of making disciples.

It is important to remember that civic responsibility only has power in the apparent reality of time and space. Christians cannot rely on being more skillful at political action than secular thinkers. To do so is to rely on the dynamics of time and space. Even as Christians act in the political world for the good outcomes that honor Christ and make the nation a better place to live, they must never succumb to the temptation to believe that political strategy will win the day. Secular thinkers and everyone else who believes there is a strictly secular space on earth must count on strategy to accomplish their objectives. The only power they acknowledge is the power that operates in time and space. Reliance on that power leads to deal-making, compromise, and even dark undercover operations in order to achieve the political goal. Christians live in time and space, but they are not limited to that life or that power. The light they shine into the world of political strategy and social action comes from the real reality of eternity and infinity.

The book of Revelation describes a moment when the great dragon, an image for Satan, is so angry at the way things are going that he lashes out with his tail and knocks a third of the stars out of the sky. In that image Christians recognize the time/space reality that good doesn’t win every skirmish, but the totality of the story makes it clear that Christians simply must persist in their faithful testimony. If they do that, the ultimate outcome of their work will be good. Secular thinkers who lose a skirmish must despair, because they don’t know if there will ever be another chance to succeed. Their worldview is limited to the apparent reality of time and space. Christians can rejoice in all things and need never despair, because they live in the real reality of God’s worldview, the view from eternity and infinity.  

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollSalvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!

Revelation 7:10

  •  Salvation is an important word. Without looking in a dictionary, list three words that come to mind when you hear this word. Look it up in standard dictionary and then look it up in a Bible dictionary. What is the difference between the common cultural usage of the word and the way Christians use the word?
  • We think that when we pray to receive Christ in our hearts, then we receive the gift of salvation. The author of Revelation says that salvation belongs to the Father and the Son. Why?
  • Those who sang these words are described below:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  

  • What sort of experience would constitute a “great tribulation?” How does this reaction of the faithful to tribulation compare with the cultural momentum to create victims as a consequence of every thoughtless word? How do Christians escape Satan’s temptation to feel sorry for themselves when the culture scorns Christians and Christ himself?
  • What is Christ’s salvation worth? For what would you give it up?

A Hymn for Meditation

Spirit of God, Descend Upon my Heart hymnal

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart.
Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, strength to me impart
And make me love you as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies,
But take the dimness of my soul away.

Teach me to love you as your angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame.
The baptism of the heaven-descended dove,
My heart an altar and your love the flame. 

George Croly

  •  Read the first verse. Can you speak or sing these words with conviction that this is your own prayer?
  • The story of Christ’s transfiguration, the image of Elijah being carried to heaven in a fiery chariot, and the moment when the persecutor Saul of Tarsus was struck down as he approached Damascus are all explosive images of God’s revelation. They all represent transforming moments. How does this hymnwriter wish to be transformed? What sort of transformation do you think you need?
  • Is there anyone you do not love? Cannot love? Don’t want to love? What could change that state of affairs?
  • Think of two things in your life that would be different if you actually made your heart an altar lit by the love of God.

The End of Time Doesn’t Matter

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...
Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s readings:
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36
 

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Luke 21:33 

As the day of Jesus’ death approached, he packed a lot of guidance and instruction into the time he had left in the flesh. The gospel for today includes comments ranging to the end of time. A lot of people spend a lot of time trying to figure out when that moment will come, but that is not the reason Jesus said these words. When he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” he meant to be lifting the concerns of the disciples out of the rut of prophetic decoding.

It is easy for people to be lured into attempts to sort out the prophecies in an attempt to put the date for the end of the world in their calendars. People like calendars. The popularity of organizers and self-help books about time management attest to human fixation on taking control of the flow of time. Yes, I said control of the flow. Human beings do not like the fact that we can’t get a grip on time and slow it down or speed it up at will. Time is completely beyond our reach. Yet humans organize and prioritize and multi-task endlessly in an attempt to control time, anyway. The fact that nobody knows when it will end is distressing. How will we ever get everything done by then? Jesus wanted people to know that his message transcends time. If time is out of control, his word is true. If time is over, his word is true. We don’t need to know when time will end. It is irrelevant to his claim on us and our faith in him.

Those words have two additional values for Christians.

First, no matter what is going on in our lives, Jesus’ words do not lose their power or their relevance. When we become physically ill, we take medicine. There are many different medicines to take, and it is important to use the right one for each disease. Sadly, it is also important to use them with discretion, because some medicines lose their effectiveness with repetition. The words of Jesus apply in all places at all times, and they never lose their effectiveness. His words are true, always.

Second, even if everything in time and space dissolves into eternity, the words of Christ continue to be true and relevant. Nothing that happens now or in eternity changes the message of Christ. Human project management is big on deadlines and milestones. Work must be done as required. We love projects that come in on time and under budget. For that accomplishment to have any meaning, we need to know the point at which the project would be considered a failure. Yet Christ tells us that it doesn’t matter when time ends. His call to us, his claim on us, his words to us do not change just because time ends. When John was given the vision he recorded in Revelation, the crucial element in the vision was the presence of the slaughtered lamb at the right hand of God in the heavenly throne room. Christ and his words are as relevant after history ends as they are today.

Then why did Jesus even bring up the “end times?” His point is not to send us into a calculating tizzy. His point is to remind us that there is no time to waste. We need to be doing his will and living his way right now. We need to get started. We need to be busy doing it right now. His point was not to tell us that we have some certain amount of time to share his love with the world so we can organize our time in little packets and meet some milestone. He wants us to start sharing his love right now and keep doing it till we go to meet him through the doorway of death or until he does, in fact, return.

When Jesus burst on the scene, the gospel writers record that the Holy Spirit fell on him at baptism, and after that, as he roamed the cities and countryside, he talked about “the kingdom of God” coming near. Jesus the Messiah was God in the flesh, and when he came near, the kingdom did, indeed, come near. After Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit fell on his followers, and in Paul’s words, their bodies became temples for the Holy Spirit. The first century Christians, and twenty-first century Christians and Christians in the future till the end of time bring the kingdom with them wherever they go because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our work is to be the kingdom in the midst of humanity, sharing the love of Christ with everyone we meet. We don’t look in our organizers to see if today is a “witness to Christ” day. Every day is a day for our testimony, because every day Christ’s words are true and Christ’s love is relevant.

It isn’t easy to be faithful. People resist Christ’s words. People resist Christ’s love. People actually become angry when we bring the kingdom of God near. Jesus had the same experience. He brought the kingdom near to the scribes and Pharisees, and they conspired to crucify him. We risk the same fate. Sometimes the resistance is mild, as when someone told me recently that I should not be talking about religion in a conversation about what government ought to look like. Sometimes the resistance is fierce, like when Nigerian church members were ambushed as they left church one Sunday; some were killed, and many were wounded, just because their Muslim neighbors resented the existence of a Christian church in their neighborhood. We must be prepared for people to be upset or even violent in reaction to our faithful testimony.

Jesus told about the way the world will end, and told us he would return, so we would have that truth to build our hope. That information prepares us for the way things really are. The fact that we can’t possibly know when or where to expect to see the end should take the panic away. We don’t have a deadline or a milestone to worry about. All we need to do is be faithful every day. One day he will come again, and when he does, nobody will fail to see it. In the meantime we simply do the one thing he has asked us to do: share his love with everyone we meet. His message will always be timely and relevant, because, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but [Christ’s] words will not pass away.