Revelation 21 People in a Genesis 3 World

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might,
He increases strength.

– Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)

Life rarely, if ever, makes sense or goes as planned. So much is out of our hands. Beyond our control. We can do all the right things, follow God as closely as we know how, and yet find ourselves smack in the middle of a great storm. The waters rise and the winds rage. We bow our heads in confusion, sorrow, even anger.

It is difficult to read the promises of Scripture during these times. We know we should feel comforted. Encouraged. Strengthened. We know our faith should grow and words of praise should fall from our lips. After all, we know that joy is not dependent upon circumstances. We know that God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

But when the diagnosis comes or the relationship ends or the job changes or we suffer for no apparent reason at all – how can the promises of God be true?

Isaiah recorded these words, spoken to him by the Lord, within the context of warnings about oncoming destruction. God’s people had turned away from Him and they would suffer the consequences of so doing. They could not claim surprise. Deuteronomy 28 outlines exactly what would happen if they chose to follow Him and what would happen if they didn’t.

Still, He did not abandon them.

Seven decades of exile would pass, but they would come home. The city and Temple would be rebuilt. God would even be with them during that exile, as shown in the book of Ezekiel, though not in the way they were accustomed. Not in the way they expected.

Though God was faithful to His people, He removed His glory, the tangible manifestation of His presence, from the Temple. There would be four centuries of silence. Not until a young woman pushed one last time and the cry of a baby pierced the air would the voice of God be heard again.

Not at all what they expected.

That’s all well and good, we think. People get punished when they do something wrong. But what about when they don’t do anything wrong? How come they suffer? How can God be good and true when bad things happen?

These are questions that humanity has wrestled with for so long. We forget that, right now, today, in this moment, we live in a Genesis 3 world. So while it is true that,

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV)

It is also true that,

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

– Genesis 3:17b-19 (NKJV)

Or, as Jesus put it,

In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.

– John 16:33 (MSG)

Submitting to the Lord does not guarantee health, wealth or a trouble-free life. Anyone who teaches thus is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman, a deceiver. The death and resurrection of Christ destroyed the power of sin and darkness, so that anyone who receives the awesome gift of salvation through Him can be restored to right relationship with God. We are released from the terrible yoke of slavery that was pulling us toward death and Hell.

But we continue live in a world that is not fully set to rights.

In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned and therefore caused a man to be born blind. This is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, and I always wonder if Jesus shook His head a little when He answered, “Nobody did.” Just as a life of bliss is not the result of obedience, so a life of suffering is not automatically the result of disobedience.

In this Genesis 3 world, every atom, and all the crazy little pieces tucked inside those atoms, is distorted. Warped. Not functioning properly. Nothing that we can see, feel, hear, taste or touch, including our own bodies, escaped the Curse. There is no horizon upon which you can cast your gaze and think, “Yes, that place is perfect and I shall go there to be free.”

Suffering happens because, despite life-jackets being securely in place and every nerve ready to jump, we remain on a sinking ship. We can see the shore, safe and pleasant. We know we’ll end up on the shore. But we’re not there just yet.

How do we live in that tension? How can we cling to the promises of God, even when unspeakable agony strikes?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

Just consider and meditate on Him who endured from sinners such bitter hostility against Himself [consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

– Hebrews 12:2-3 (AMP)

Brothers and sisters, Jesus knows our pain. He knows exactly what it is to be struck down, abandoned, wrecked – for no reason at all. He never sinned. He never put a foot wrong. Yet He took that beating and hung on that cross.

The anguish you feel – He felt it.

Ours is not an aloof God, removed from humanity, judging us with coldness. He entered in. He continues to enter in through the loving activity of the Holy Spirit, drawing the lost and comforting the found. When you face difficulties, He will give you power. We you must endure, He will give you strength. These things may not come in the way you expect or desire, but they are sure promises, straight from the heart of the Lord who never fails.

In the mystery, the questioning, of being among the rescued who nevertheless find themselves going down with the ship – hold tight to the hand of the One who slipped that life-jacket over your head.

He will see you safe to shore.

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Photo credit: Nikko Macaspac

Linking up with God-Sized Dreams and Barbie Swihart today.

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Five Minute Friday: Inspire

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Fatigue drags me down. I am one with the couch. This is okay; everything that needed to be done today is done. The sun just begins to dip in West, filling the trees with golden light.

Linking up with Kate and all the peeps. We: inspire.

Go.

Inspire. A transitive verb, according to Merriam-Webster, “to influence, move, or guide.” The sigh that rises from deep within upon gazing at a sunset or arriving at the the top of a mountain. The pounding heart as the ears bask in the playfulness of Mozart’s “A Little Night Music.” The peace that descends as the eyes sweep across the serene beauty of Monet’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies.” The creativity of God first, then others, pulls at something within and moves us to create.

Yet there is more.

The archaic definition, “to breathe or blow into or uponto infuse (something, such as life) by breathing.”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 

– Genesis 1:1-2 (NKJV)

Ruach Elohim. 

The Breath of the Creator.

All that breathes, all that lives, finds its source and sustenance in the Breath.

 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

– Colossians 1:15-17

He is the inspiration. He holds us together. Nobody taught Him how. Nobody instructed Him in the ways of air and lungs. Nobody gave Him an example of wind rustling prairie grasses, something He could copy or perfect.

Ruach Yahweh.

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

– Isaiah 11:1-2 (NKJV)

The Breath of the I AM.

The mystery of the Incarnation. The Man’s nose inhaled the air. His mouth exhaled the mind and heart of God.

The same Breath clears away the dust and the cobwebs that threaten to overtake our souls. The same Spirit now dwells in us.

It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.

– John 16:7b (NKJV)

Never leaving, never forsaking.

Always inspiring.

Stop.

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Review: As Kingfishers Catch Fire

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Eugene Peterson made waves with the release of The Message in 2003, a paraphrase crafted from the original texts of Scripture without aid from other English translations and without the input of a committee. In his own words, Peterson began this work because,

“While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'”

– from the Preface to The Message

The truth is that a large segment of the Western church is bored by Scripture. The problem that Peterson faced was not and is not unique to that particular bunch of believers. So while The Message is not my preferred translation and I disagree with some of the choices that Peterson made (though I do use it from time to time as you can see throughout this blog), I do appreciate the heart behind the work. Scripture was not written in what we see as the “high falutin'” style of early modern English. God used ordinary people who wrote in ordinary language. Poetic at times, peppered with sarcasm, often attempting to describe the indescribable, but ordinary nonetheless. There is no reason why anyone translating the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into any other tongue shouldn’t use terms that the reader will understand.

Thus my puzzlement regarding As Kingfishers Catch Fire.

I’m not the smartest person on the planet. Nor do I have much patience flowery-ness in the written word. Though I spend more than my fair share of time contemplating abstract concepts, I do so in a linear, analytical, orderly fashion. I prefer fifty cent words to five dollar terms. My own dabblings in poetry reveal my love of straightforwardness. Go for the jugular, as they say.

Thus more puzzlement as I attempted to read this book.

I am loathe to post a review of something I did not finish, but I couldn’t get through this book. A collection of sermons grouped under seven different topic headings (“Preaching in the Company of Moses,” “…of David,” “…of Isaiah,” “…of Solomon,” “…of Peter,” “…of Paul” and “…of John of Patmos”), it’s possible that this work is not meant to be read straight through. As with any other sermon, the hearer (or, in this case, the reader) needs time to contemplate what she has learned.

I don’t know what I learned or what I was supposed to learn.

Peterson doesn’t use the five dollar words for the most part, and when he does he provides explanation. I can make some sense of individual paragraphs, but, when strung together to make a complete essay-sermon, I can’t figure out what the main point is supposed to be. This might be attributable to the nature of reading a sermon versus hearing it; I am not privy to tone, pauses, facial expressions, all of which provide the hearer with physical context clues that can aid in understanding.

Yet I wonder if these would illuminate the murky text or not.

Consider,

The Holy Spirit descended on this old world of ours, and there’s a Psalm 29 powwow in Elmo every day of the year: a grace-revealing gestures, a fresh snow-fall, a friend’s forgiveness, the first migrating yellow warbler, a miracle conversion, a truth-telling poem, a pasqueflower in bloom, the good death of a parent, resurrection – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – all the endless permutations of life. The beauty of holiness. And we have ringside seats. Henry James once said that a writer is a person on whom nothing is ever lost. That sounds like a focused Christian identity to me: the men and women on whom nothing, at least nothing that has to do with life – and virtually everything else – is lost.

– p. 84

This is the closing paragraph from a sermon on Psalm 29 and Revelation 4:1-8. Go and read those passages, then come back and read this paragraph again.

Now tell me, is the beauty of holiness found in the creation around us or in the presence of the God who created?

For the life of me I don’t know how Peterson would answer that question.

And this business of focused Christian identity – what? Really, what does he mean here?

No sarcasm.

I’m asking because I really don’t know.

As I wrote above, I am not the smartest person on the planet and I’m aware that my mind works in a specific way. It could very well be that another person could pick up this book and find themselves deeply encouraged and inspired in their faith. In fact, I have seen these people praise this book all across the internet. Someone like me, who is task-oriented to a fault, will find herself throwing the book across the room, yelling, “What do you want me to learn?!”

Perhaps the fault here lies with me, the reader. Maybe I simply can’t hear what he’s trying to say. I don’t know. I hope someone pondering this review does read the book, because I would love to hear your thoughts.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

 

Steady Mind, Stirred Heart

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

A high-church gal lurks inside this woman who has really only worshiped in low-church settings. (Aside from a handful of visits to Saturday night and Christmas Masses, back when I was working out just what it was that I believed). I love carved marble, colored glass and incense. At the same time, I am an admitted iconoclast; statues and shrines are distracting. I can buy into the idea that plain surroundings enable one to “think plain,” meaning that all focus and attention is upon God. If I lived in England with my ancestors back in the day (always a Wednesday), I would have been some odd mish-mash of Quaker and Anglican; a mind devoted to the simple, plain truths, a heart stirred by mystery and beauty.

That intersection is where I live today. Rejecting popes and extra-biblical revelation. Rejoicing in rigorous study and meaningful conversation. Longing for the quietness of sacred space. Wanting candles and stained windowpanes.

Really the longing and the wanting is focused on something more than the outward trappings of a building. I’m fine with simple surroundings (though I think artists and woodworkers often miss out in using their talents to glorify God in adding unique flourishes to our sanctuaries), but I’m not fine with the casual attitude that most Protestants display when gathering together. It’s loud and chaotic. Flippancy masquerading as worship.

Yeah, I said it.

We lean too heavily on Hebrews 4:14-16, reading into it a meaning that we shouldn’t:

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(NKJV)

We are the children of the Good Father. We swim in the grace-river. We claim a royal position, a holy inheritance. All who are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8) can enter into the presence of the King without fear of reproach.

Still, we must know that this is no Buddy Jesus, no Cool-Guy God that we deal with.

This is the One whom we approach:

A voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads; whenever they stood, they let down their wings.

And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. …

I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened. …

I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed. …

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” …

Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. …

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean,[f] followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS. …

…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

– Ezekiel 1:25-28; Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:8, 12-16; 19:11-16; Philippians 2:10-11 (NKJV)

Does it seem right to take a casual attitude toward God?

To sing mindless, repetitive, human-centric songs and call it worship?

To complain about studying the Bible?

To get bored during prayer?

To look at the clock and become irritated when the service “goes over?”

Of course we’re all human and of course we all fall into these very human patterns from time to time. We go through dry spells and rebellious phases and seasons of complacency. There is, to our everlasting benefit, an always-extended mercy from God.

The God who sees.

The God who knows.

The God who is nothing like us and yet planted something of Himself inside us.

The God whose very existence demands the singing of the doxologies, the glory sayings. Mouths open, words spilling over lips, voices raised in blessing the Name of the Lord. Joy rising, the kind of soul-expanding tingle that washes over us when, for just a second, we get our eyes off of ourselves.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

– Thomas Ken

Yes, praise Him. Praise Him with head bowed, heart quaking, knowing that He is holy.

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

– Colossians 1:16-18 (NKJV)

We have lost something in adopting a fast-and-loose approach to faith. In our rejection of liturgy, our banishing of silent reflection, our fear of beauty and our quest to package the full expression of faith into a neat two hours on Sunday morning, we have lost the knowledge that worship is not about us.

Do we honor Him when we fail to quiet ourselves, when we enter the sanctuary as if it is just another room? Do we honor Him when we treat our meetings as just another thing to do, another social time, another check mark to make on the list? Do we honor Him by running, running, always running away from stillness, quietness, order, reverence?

God made the world and all things in it. He said it was good. He could have made it flat and ugly. We wouldn’t have known the difference. Instead He made His presence known by giving us waterfalls and sunsets and dew and a dog’s happy panting and a baby’s high-pitched laugh. He made it all unique and intricate and beautiful. The masterwork all around us reveals the creativity, the heart, of the Master.

Simplicity.

Beauty.

Reverence.

Shouldn’t our worship have these elements?

 

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Photo credit: Matt McLean