Category: Theology

Secret Decoder Ring?

secret decoder ring

There are loads of passages in the Bible about the future. Lots of them are obscure or hard to understand, perhaps the most difficult being those in the book of Revelation. Since people have argued about the timing and meaning of Revelation’s details  for centuries, I am skeptical when someone says they have discovered exactly what these mysterious passages all mean. It sounds  like they have discovered  a secret decoder ring that decrypts the prophetic passages in the  Bible.

Today I will argue that Revelation gives us great encouragement in living our Christian lives, even if we can’t decode lots of the prophetic details.

Today let’s look at one passage with lots of mystery, the tale of  the two witnesses. These guys appear in Revelation 11:3-12. I’ll give more Scripture than I usually do in my posts:

 And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.  Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. (Revelation 11:3-12)

You can find many attempts to decode just who the two witnesses are. Are they  Moses and Elijah? Are they someone else ? And what in the world is the significance of 1,260 ?

So many theories ! But let’s look at what’s more important. We know that all scripture has something of use for us to live more fully for God today. So — How do the two witnesses affect how I live now?

Let me suggest three ways.

  • The two witnesses speak the truth in spite of opposition—- and God wants us to boldly, confidently speak the truth even when we face opposition.
  • The scorn of wicked people for the two witnesses ends. God sets it right. And here’s a promise : Later, God will set all wrongs right. We don’t know the timing, but God promises that evil will end.
  • The two murdered witnesses come alive. And, Jesus brings us back to life. First, we were dead in our sin and Jesus brought us back to spiritual life. And Jesus promises that sometime after we die, he will return and give us new, live resurrection bodies.

See, we don’t need a secret decoder ring for Revelation to be helpful.  Even though the details of the timing and sequencing of future events remain hidden, Revelation encourages us to live more fully for Christ today, and strengthens our hope that our Lord is fully in control of our future.

Does God Give us a Theology Exam?

pass exam

Sometimes I hear someone skeptical about Christianity asking: “What is the minimum you have to believe to be a Christian?”

I have a problem with that question. It assumes that becoming a Christian is simply assenting to a list of propositional truths or facts or dogmas. But this is a misunderstanding of what it means to believe.

Why? Because in the Bible “to believe” has a much deeper, wider meaning than just saying that a list of facts is true. To start, let’s look at what Jesus said to Martha about faith. The regular NIV translation says:

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25)

That translation gets part of the meaning. But the Amplified Bible expresses the full meaning of the original Greek word:
Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, relies on) Me [as Savior] will live even if he dies

So, an effective way to rephrase the skeptic’s question is: Who do you need to trust to be a Christian? And the simple short answer is Jesus.

But then the next question is: Who is this Jesus that I trust?

John’s gospel is especially helpful here:
 but these have been written so that you may believe [with a deep, abiding trust] that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed), the Son of God; and that by believing [and trusting in and relying on Him] you may have life in His name. (John 20:31AMP)

John’s whole Gospel explains why Jesus is worthy of deep, abiding trust. It explains who Jesus was, describes the miraculous things he did, expounds his commands to love, and shows how he gives eternal life to those who repent of their sins and trust him.

Taking all of this to heart, try to imagine what it would be like if you died and met God — would he give you a theology exam, asking “Which facts and propositions did you believe?”

Or would he say, “Did you live your life by fully relying on my Son Jesus?”

Water in the Desert

small bub spring

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
   and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
   and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
   the thirsty ground bubbling springs
 (Isaiah 35 :5-7a)

Do you ever feel a certain unease even when things are going well? Somehow there is something missing, just knowing life should be more than this.

In today’s passage, Isaiah wrote to his fellow Israelites who were being exiled, but who would later be allowed to return to their homeland. His powerful poetry shows marvelous things that God has done, is doing, and will do.

Not only did Isaiah speak to his Jewish compatriots, but as prophet he gave a preview of what Jesus would do at the cross and will do when he returns.

Yes, a major part of Isaiah’s promise has already been fulfilled …  but much remains to be completed. We call this the already and the not yet. Understanding the difference between these helps keep us from two misunderstandings of how God is working today.

Misunderstanding # 1. We overestimate how much of our problems and ills God will heal now…….and get disheartened because he has not lived up to all our expectations. We expect our best life now, so we get embittered when we lose a job or have declining health or family feuds. We focus on what has not gotten fixed and are discouraged because God seems so slow at answering our prayers.

Misunderstanding # 2 Is underestimating how much the Lord wants to do now. We get so discouraged by what happened in #1 that we neglect how God is on the move now and does care for us. We forget that God says: “Fear not, I am with you.”

Even though there is no guarantee that all our burning sand will be cooled in this lifetime, it is guaranteed that God transforms how we react to the heat we face in this life. Our tongue does start to shout for joy.

And we warmly anticipate that one day our Lord Jesus will return and the rest of the “not yet” will become “now”.

 

Was God Lonely?

rosko

You may remember an FM Disk Jockey named Rosko. Before FM radio became homogenized and commercialized, he had a free-form show on WNEW-FM in New York. He was free to make his own playlists, read poetry, and give monologs. One night, while playing the theme song from 2001 A Space Odyssey, he gave a monolog about why God created man. His theory:  God created man because he was lonely.

But I’d like to respectfully take issue with Rosko.

My reply springs out of what the Trinity is like.  When I first heard about the Trinity, God in three persons, it was presented as dry and abstract. It was a theological puzzle that was hard to either understand or explain.

But I have learned that a much better way of looking at the Trinity is to see it as a love story instead of an enigma.

The 3 members of the Trinity have always strongly loved each other.  Its three members —Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were more than happy with the love and fellowship they had amongst themselves since before the beginning of time. And they could have just stayed in that 3-way love story forever. There was no loneliness inside the Trinity!

But, wonderfully and amazingly, the love among the 3 members of the Trinity was so great that it overflowed into them deciding, out of their love, to create the universe — and us.

But despite that love we rebelled against God. Did God dump us? No, out of the abundance of love from this same triune God, came the decision to redeem us by sending God’s Son Jesus:

 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

And showering even more love upon us, Jesus the Son blessed us by sending the Holy Spirit:

 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26.)

I could never please a lonely, needy God, but because his Son and Spirit live in me I am able to please our loving Father.

Surprising Flowers

Processed with MOLDIV

I expect to see daffodils in people’s gardens in early spring. They are welcoming signs of the change of seasons.

But this spring I saw something unexpected while walking in the woods across our street.

Wild daffodils in the middle of the woods.  

My surprise flower encounter led me to reflect on what is expected and unexpected in how God works in our lives.

When we watch how God works does it look like a garden that is well ordered, predictable, manicured, and under control?   Can there be surprises or unpredictability in the kingdom of God? Let’s check in with Paul:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

Personal testimony: My own life was struck by the Lord’s unpredictability. Back when I was a teenager and knew everything, I decided that Christianity was just a bunch of myths and fairy tales; I was too intelligent to believe such nonsense. But in my 20’s I was stunned to be knocked upside the head to see that Christ’s story is true.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.   (1 Cor 1:21)

I heard this foolishness and suddenly it started to make sense to me.

Of course, Paul is being ironic in his use of the word “foolishness”. It’s only foolish from the perspective of modern rational logical scientific enlightened thinking.   But from God’s perspective becoming a Christian is the wisest thing that could possibly happen. Even though we can’t prove Christian faith beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is not unreasonable… Indeed, what stunned me was that there is evidence 1 that an individual who claimed to be God was executed, came back to life and was seen by many.

Dear readers, you are in one of two camps. You may already believe Jesus’ gospel is true and life-changing. Or you may be a skeptic as I was. Every day God challenges skeptical people…maybe you are being wooed today.

I refused to believe until Jesus showed me he is truth and love and said, “Come on in.” What about you?

1.  Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

Unexpected Medal

silver medal shrunk

I ran a 5K race one morning near St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville last month. I like the age group competition in these races.  My days of being at the front of the pack are long in the past, so it’s fun to have rivalries with those who are my own (advanced) age.

After the race, I was disappointed.  I ran 2 ½ minutes slower than last year; last year I got no medal; so, I knew I had no chance to get a medal this year. I left before the winners were announced.

That afternoon, I looked up the results online. To my shock, I got the silver medal in my age group! (A friend who did stay for the awards later gave me my medal which you see in the picture.)

What an ironic outcome: my training was much weaker this year; yet I got a medal despite all that. So, the medal was quite a surprise and an unexpected gift.

Doesn’t that sound like grace? We get an unexpected free gift, as opposed to something we work so hard for and think we can earn!

Romans 6:23 ESV describes the best free gift.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And another of my favorite grace verses is:                                                                                                                       For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

At the race, I certainly could not boast about how hard and well trained my effort was. Or how I kicked the butt of some tough competitors in my age group. (Nope, a couple of them did not even enter the race that day.) So, the medal was an unexpected gift.

I can’t take credit for anything good I have ever done that could possibly get me into a favorable place with Jesus. Salvation through Jesus is a far better unexpected gift!

 

God is Love…. Is God only Love?

In love a throne will be established;
    in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
    one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
    and speeds the cause of righteousness (Isaiah 16:5)

Today’s Old Testament passage is a prophetic preview by Isaiah of what Jesus is really like.   First and foremost, and very thankfully for us, his throne is established in love. That is huge, because of how we often mess up—-it’s Christ’s love that overlooks our many foul-ups. I’m thankful for that – I know how often I mess up.

But Jesus is not only love. Because, at the same time, Jesus is also righteous and just—qualities that are almost as important as God’s love. As I encounter the enthroned Jesus, he wants me to be not only loving but empowered to live a righteous and just life. If God were only love, we could do what was right in our own eyes and God would say “No problem …. whatever”.

Scripture says that God does not overlook what is unjust and unrighteous. But, really, aren’t we the same?  When we see something that is not just, don’t we want it set right?  Even a child knows when to say, “No fair!”

A bamboozling big bank bigshot is too big to jail, but a dishonest underling is sent to prison for a long time. A whistleblower gets fired for exposing how their company is ripping off people. What injustices! If God were only love, these types of rip-offs would never be set right.

But we have a God who does want to set things right! And as we follow the Lord, then in our own areas of influence, we keep pursuing righteousness and justice empowered by love. Living that way, we can overcome evil significantly, but not yet totally.

Scripture teaches that the day will come when God will say “No more.” A world where righteousness and justice fully prevail will arrive.  Imagine that day — no more rip-offs, no more deception, no more favoritism. God will get rid of the garbage.  We look in hope to that promised day when all evil will be wiped out forever.