Preparation in the Court of God

ThroneRoomIn the court room – the One who sits on the Throne has a book (a biblion – probably a very large codex; a set of scrolls together – the “book” as we know it did not even begin until the mid-2nd century AD) on his right side, symbolizing His power and authority.  And a great angel – a powerful and strong angel (could be Gabriel – God’s messenger, as Gabriel means “God’s strong man”) calls out to all of creation – who is worthy?  And no one is found.

John is upset and begins to weep because there is no one who is worthy to open the seals upon the book. There are seven – signifying perfection.  But one of the elders assures John and tells him to look – for the Lion of Judah has overcome.  But the Lion turns out to be a Lamb – slain with seven horns and seven eyes.  The power of the Lion, the wonder of the Lion turns out to be the sacrifice of the Lamb!  And He sends this out into the world through the Spirit – the seven spirits of God (meaning the Holy Spirit in perfection, I think).  Interestingly, it is the Lamb who has the symbology of the seven, but the Spirit is of God, and it appears that He sends the Spirit(s) into the world.  An argument for both the Western and the Eastern view of the addition to the Nicene Creed, I believe, can be made here.  Originally, the Nicene-Constantipolitan Creed of 381 reads, regarding the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father” and later in the Middle Ages, the Pope commanded that they add “and the Son” to it – in Latin “filioque”and is even now a major division between Eastern and Western Christianity.  The phrasing of the passage, in my opinion, supports the Eastern (original) Creed, while the symbol of 7 eyes and horns, being the seven spirits of God appear to be “on” or “in” the Lamb, supporting the Western.  Regardless, the Lamb is the One who is worthy, who has overcome the Evil powers, who can open the seals that guard God’s will towards the earth (which is what it appears the biblion contains).

The Lamb comes forward and takes the book – without asking, without it being presented.  He simply takes it.  He knows His own worth!  And the One on the Throne allows it.  The elders, and everyone else, fall down and sing, praising the Lamb with a “new song.”  It happens to begin exactly the same way as the older song in chapter 4 does – “worthy are You” – confirming the fundamental equality and sameness of the Lamb and the One on the Throne!  Jesus IS God!  He purchased us from among every nation and made them into a kingdom of priests! (that is, grafted them into Israel; see Romans 8-11)  The elders and the living creatures and EVERYONE in heaven and on earth and below the earth – ALL of creation in numbers beyond counting (myriads on myriads and thousands upon thousands) sings to Jesus’ glory.

And then it is said “Amen” – let it be so; and they worshipped.  Jesus was and is the second Person of the Trinity – He is God and worthy to be praised and worshipped and glorified.  As we are on earth, that is part of our job.  He, and only He, is worthy for this – what John’s vision is about to reveal.

Again, this is John’s vision of what will – is? – happening.  It is difficult to say if it is future or present in the book – it is the vision.  Regardless, the point of this is that the Lion conquered through the sacrifice of the Lamb – two juxtaposed animals that are both Jesus; and that He is worthy because of this sacrifice to rule and to be worshipped.  He is indeed God.  Nothing can defeat Him – but His power is in His weakness and sacrifice, not through brute strength.  And He sends His power out into the world through and in the Spirit(s) of God.

Another Week

I’m not really sure where to start.  I am horrified.  I am hurt.  I am angry. I am defensive.  My emotions are…confused, I suppose.  I feel like I need to say something, but I’m not really sure where to start. 

Let me start off with a story:  a young Parisian student, from a wealthy family in the 18th century, went out “on the town” one night.  He did stupid things, drank too much – you know the basic story.  He got into fist fights and tore his clothes; got dirty and passed out in the gutter.  In 18th century Paris.  He looked horrible and smelled worse.  He woke up tied down on an operating table, where two doctors were discussing in Latin what they were about to do – they wanted to examine a newly deceased cadaver in order to learn a great deal about how the human body works.  The student was the cadaver – he just wasn’t dead yet.  The two doctors were waffling – they were good men who didn’t want to hurt anyone, but believed deeply in the cause of “progress.”  One doctor said “he is a homeless bum – he will certainly go to heaven and be happier; no one will miss him!  He’s a nobody!”  The young student – recovering enough to catch this in Latin – responded, also in Latin, “I may be a nobody, but I am still one for whom the Christ died!”

Shootings.  Here in Minnesota.  I watched the video and read reports about the police shooting in Falcon Heights.  While admitting I probably don’t know the whole story, I think that the officer who shot was most probably scared out of his wits and reacted badly.  That is no excuse.  He should have been trained to deal with something like that.  The shooting in Louisiana.  I don’t know a great deal about that one.  But it seems wrong. 

The mass shooting police ambush in Dallas.  During a peaceful protest, at least five police officers were ambushed and killed.  The suspect, before he was killed, told police negotiators that he was angry and wanted to kill “white people – especially white officers.”  The African American communities nationwide have every right to be angry and hurt and scared.  But it is wrong to do that. 

The problem here is that there is more than one side to any story.  African Americans are angry and hurt by their treatment by some police officers.  With good reason!  When protests become violent and leadership is encouraging the killing of police officers – the police officers are scared too!  Which makes them more jumpy – which makes it more likely that they might do something horrible as an overreaction!  Which makes everyone else more angry!  The cycle just gets worse. 

But you see, we are ALL those for whom Christ died.  We are all human.  We are PEOPLE. 

I also just read an article about a school in the area where the minority population is lower than the state average of 29% – and where there has been recently incidents of racially charged graffiti and exchanges made to minorities to the effect that the whites think that their lives don’t matter, and they should “go home” to Africa or Latin America.  Not only does this show a marked lack of understanding of history and migration patterns of the last several thousand years (if anything, according to that logic, white Americans should probably head back to the Caucus Mountains in central Asia – being Caucasian…or at least Europe!), but it shows a lack of empathy.  People are people.  If you cut us, we all bleed the same color.  We all matter.  Christ died for us.  We matter.  WE MATTER!! 

We may disagree with each other, about a great many things.  We may think that someone is horribly horribly wrong!  That’s okay.  Personally, I think that “rap culture” and wearing jeans that are so low you can barely walk is WRONG.  (And yes, I purposely chose something a little silly.)  But that’s my opinion. I am entitled to it.  I may think that police officers are mostly good men and women who took an oath to defend their communities – that mostly they try to do the right thing and sometimes they make wrong decisions.  I think that.  I also think that yes, there are corrupt individuals and institutions and am concerned about the militarization of our police forces nationwide.  I think that both of those thoughts can be held at the same time.  Some may disagree with me.  That’s okay.  We may communicate, we may argue.  We may even get a little heated about it.  But killing someone or taking away from their humanity?!  No.  No.  A thousand times no. 

We are living in a time of difficulty.  It is dark in our nation.  People are worried.  People are scared.  Civilians are afraid of the police.  The police are afraid of the people they are supposed to be protecting.  We are raising kids, at least in some places, who are finding it difficult to see past the color of another person’s skin to their basic humanity.  We are encouraging political mouths who don’t seem to think about what they say or do as long as they can spin it enough to get votes.  Our nation is busted.  And to be totally honest, I am afraid for what is going to happen over the next year or so. 

I don’t know the way forward.  But I do know that we can’t go back in time to undo anything.  These people are dead.  The damage has been done.  We can not just go about thinking that everything is okay here.  I also know that the only way out is through.  We must find a way to talk to one another.  We must find a way to hold people accountable.  We must find a way for “old boys’ networks” (in every community – police, the “hood,” and in Washington D.C.!) to be nullified.  We must find a way to be vulnerable to one another and move forward.  To hear each other.  To turn the other cheek.  To make a way out of the darkness. 

I believe – and I know that there are some who would disagree with me! – that the only way is to lean on Jesus.  To see His love for ALL of us, even those who have or are turning away from Him, and to see each other as people who are of value.  When you see another human being – they matter. 

Please.  Please don’t forget that.  Let’s talk. 

The Throne Room (Revelation 4)

It’s been a while, I know.  But here we are – back in Revelation; chapter four.


John looks up and sees a door into heaven and is invited up to be shown the things that are to happen “after this.”  It could easily be translated “next” – probably referring to the time of the churches of Asia.  Whether we are to interpret that as “the Age of the Church” or a different time is entirely guesswork, really.  Regardless, John sees the heavenly throne room – the 24 elders, the seven spirits of God, the sea of glass, the four living creatures.  

It is a scene of wonder and power.  Lightning and thunder coming from the throne, the living creatures singing the song of praise…it is meant to show us a merest fragment of the Power of God.  It is interesting that the “characters” here (the elders, the living creatures) are always associated with one another in the throne room – no other place.  It is also interesting that the “one sitting on the throne had the appearance of jasper and carnelian” is the only description of the occupant of the throne and the subject of worship.  Perhaps John – even in the vision – was too overwhelmed to be able to really see and appreciate God in His splendor.

So many symbols are in this, and they echo to some degree throughout the book.  The gemstones are commonly associated with the breastplate of the high priest and at least in some traditions are associated with omnipotence and omniscience.  The number 12 is commonly associated with the divine government – 12 tribes of Israel, 12 months, 12 apostles, 12 gates into the New Jerusalem, and so on.  The sea of glass, I believe, is meant to reflect the sea of the world and tame it.  To the ancient Israelite, the sea was a place of terror and confusion – chaos incarnate.  However, it is glass – there are no waves or storms.  God has defeated chaos. 

The living creatures sing a song of praise, and it is reflected and responded to by the elders singing a different song.  These songs are repeated, with variation, throughout sections of Revelation – hinting at the structure of the book.  The choirs get larger and larger – as the influence of the Throne and the Lamb gets larger and larger to control and cover the new world that is made. 

This is the way to worship God. With songs of praise and glory and wonder and awe.  There is no other way. 

Doubt and Dialogue (Recap)

Last Sunday (and I know that this a little late – I plan on doing this on Tuesday from now on), the sermon was titled Doubt and Dialogue.  The scripture was from Mark, with the man with the son who was possessed. The verse that most people remember from the pericope is when the man cries out to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

The man wants to believe, but he’s having trouble.  He’s doubting; all sorts of things.  He’s doubting Jesus’ power, His love, His ability to do anything.  The man says “if you can do anything, please have pity on us.”  “Have pity” is from the Greek word for your gut – where we feel emotions, according to Greek philosophy.  In America, we tend to talk about feeling in our hearts, but for the ancient Greeks you felt things in your gut, just like when we talk about “butterflies” we get before a speech or when we’re with the one we love.  And the man’s doubt is coming from the same place.

What strikes me is that Jesus doesn’t rebuke him.  He calls the boy to Him and casts out the evil spirit.  Jesus, in fact, never rebukes someone for doubting.  He rebukes people for being too arrogant and thinking they know it all – the Pharisees for the most part.

My argument is that doubt is not really the opposite of faith.  I think arrogance is the opposite of faith.  It is when we think we know it all when we get into trouble with Jesus, not when we have trouble believing in His goodness or power.  Doubt He can work with, but if we have walled ourselves off from His touch…He won’t open the door we’ve shut.  He “stands at the door and knocks.”   Arrogance is the problem of faith, not doubt.  We all doubt.  That is part of being human.  Some have even argued that the episode in the garden of Gethsemene is possibly Jesus Himself doubting.  (“If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; not My will but Yours be done.”)  That’s another post, though.

There really are two fundamental reasons that we doubt.  One – we just are having trouble feeling it.  We have trouble putting this into words – largely because that part of our brain and thinking does not use words.  We just…feel the doubt in our gut.  It’s like when we meet someone and we just know they are not right.  You don’t know why – and you certainly can’t elucidate the reason…you just KNOW.  Or two – we think we know about it and don’t believe it intellectually. “No one can beat a four-minute mile!  It just can’t be done!”

This is arrogance.  This is doubt from a place above the act.  Deciding that the miracles in the Bible could NOT happen because miracles just don’t happen is the same thing.  We are so sure – because we are so sure.  Like in the case of a four-minute mile – we knew it couldn’t be done because it had never been done.  Until it was. Currently, the world record for a mile is 3:43.13, by the way.  More than sixteen seconds faster than the time that “everyone” said could not be achieved.  Humans can’t fly.  We can’t run that fast.  We can’t…and so on.  People don’t rise from the grave.  It is the same thing.  It is us being arrogant.  It’s no different at its core than people thinking that eggs are really bad for you – until more studies have been done and now it’s the “perfect food.”  It is us thinking that we know it all, and not allowing for the possibility that we could be wrong.

My point is this- doubt in itself is not a bad thing, but arrogance is.  Jesus wants us to believe in Him, but we have a hard time believing when we come to the Bible and His people from a place held above it all.  We need to humble ourselves enough to doubt our own surety – and be able to talk about it.  The only way forward through doubt is dialogue (unless He shows up and does some sort of a miracle and proves Himself to us – which could happen!  But it seems like it’s pretty rare.).  The only way to get through doubt – is to talk about it.

Do we have a culture of doubt and dialogue in the Church?  There certainly does not seem to be one out in the world – read any political forum on the ‘web!  But we need one.  We need one to be able to grow – in our faith, in our understanding, as disciples.  We need to be open enough to be able to walk into the Church and say – “I am having some trouble with this!  Help me!”  And then be able to talk it out.  We may not be able to solve everything – and sometimes, as they say, we just have to push the “I believe button”, but it moves us forward.

So bring your doubt, and let’s talk it out.

Revelation Recap


We’ve been studying the book of Revelation in Sunday school over the last couple months – and we decided to continue it on this blog over the summer.  God willing, we’ll finish!  I thought I would do a sort of re-cap of the first three chapters that we’ve talked about.

First, a couple of ground rules and background.  Revelation (or the Apocalypse) literally means, in Greek, “that which has been revealed.”  Apocalypse is a transliteration of the word in Greek – the word itself actually has nothing to do with what we think of when we hear the word “apocalypse,” meaning a terrible and possibly world-ending disaster.  The book is, however, at least in some way about the End Times.  It was written in the early second century AD (or possibly very late first century), by a man named John, who was a disciple of Jesus.  The author may have been the same man who wrote the Gospel of John and the three letters of John, he may have been different.  Tradition holds that they were the same man. Continue reading


What is “culture,” anyway?  We have started this series about Christian Culture in church…what am I talking about?  Merriam-Webster defines “culture” as “a way of thinking, behaving, or working” which is not bad as definitions go.  But what does it mean to us?

Andy Crouch, the author of a wonderful book called Culture Making, says culture has something to do with “making something of the world” – that is, what you “make” of the world around you.  It is what you DO with the stuff around you – the idea of being able to make an idea or a thought or a product etc when presented with the stuff of being around you.  Clotaire Rapaille, a French author and marketing expert, wrote a book called The Culture Code in which he boils down a people’s beliefs about certain ideas to a single word or phrase through extensive research.  For example, he argues that for Americans “perfection” means “death” – that is, there IS no perfection this side of death so we might as well not strive to make it in our products.  He says that is why we buy products and then two years later throw them out and buy new ones that are “better” and “new and improved.”  For Rapaille, culture is a set of beliefs about the world that are ingrained and impossible to change.

The underlying beliefs and assumptions about everything that IS.  Most of the time, we don’t even know that we think in a certain way – we don’t see it because everyone around us thinks basically the same thing.  Not about issues like immigration or whether Jesus is the Son of God or not – but about things like time.  Time is a fascinating…thing.  In the words of the Doctor, it is a “ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff.”  But that’s not the way we think about it.  Not really.

We, as Americans, are future oriented.  That is, we think about the future as it is coming and try to prepare for it.  We assume that it is going to be different; and almost certainly better (although that particular assumption appears to be changing – note the proliferation of apocalyptic scenarios that we read and watch).  We see time as a vast, unlimited freight train barreling into the future where flying cars and economics of prosperity and equality are unlimited.  “You can’t stop the march of time.”  Time is also capable of being broken down into units – days, hours, minutes, seconds are all clearly defined; and for most of us defined not only in a length, but in value: “time is money.”  “That’s not worth my time,” and so on.  We don’t think about it – because that is the way it IS.

But it’s not that way for everyone.  And it certainly wasn’t always the way people thought about time.  Time tables and schedules have not always been around.  In fact, for most of our time (see!) here on this earth, people have been more present or past oriented.  It’s only the last hundred years or so that we have shifted our focus.  For ancient societies (like the one that is assumed in Scripture), the present was and will always be, until the “end” when Jesus will return and re-make the heavens and the earth.  Time was divided more into days, seasons, and years – not minutes and seconds.  The past was better than now (generally the age of heroes and giants, see Genesis 3-6 or so) – but “now” was unchanging:  other than a few minor changes like who might be in charge, nothing really was going to change in the foreseeable future.  It will be like today.

Culture is the unknown way you look at the world.  You don’t even KNOW that you look at it that way, until someone comes along that doesn’t look at it in the same way.  To take a simple example, what do you call a single dish entrée that contains several different ingredients such as meat, pasta, and vegetables that is served in the deep dish it was baked in?  If you’re from Minnesota – it’s a “hot dish” and you probably were surprised when someone you met called it a “casserole.”  You never even considered that there was another word for it.  Culture is like that.

So what does that mean for the church?  And Christian culture?  Part of my point in this series is that Christian culture means the same thing it meant almost 2000 years ago.  We aren’t “American Christians” – or we shouldn’t be.  We are Christians who happen to live in America.  There are ways that we do things that are distinctly American – but we are Christians first.  THAT is our culture.  We need to form Christians…and our church should reflect that culture.  We are citizens of heaven before we are citizens of any other place here on earth.   No matter what else has changed, that hasn’t.  How do we become Christians first – and Americans second, knowing that even in talking about all this, we are looking at Christian culture from an American worldview.

The Practice of Prayer

prayerLast night at the Wednesday night Lenten service – which is much more like a class than a full-on service – we talked about prayer.  Not just how to do it, but how to have a real active prayer life.  We watched a quick clip from War Room (a fabulous movie- you should watch it!).

Prayer, at its basic level, is communicating with God.  It is two-way – that is, God talks to us too!  We need to listen.  So often, we tend to fold our hands and bow our heads and give a prayer from our hearts – and then immediately get thinking about other things right after the “Amen.”  In the West, we immediately migrate towards what is called kataphatic prayer – prayer of words and speech; us talking to God.  We need more apophatic – prayers of feelings and silence, where we listen for God’s voice in the stillness of our hearts and minds.

I suggest a beginning practice of prayer – if you’ve ever read or heard a class about Eastern Meditation, this will sound familiar.  Start with a place and a time – it doesn’t have to be complicated or for too long – but a place where you can focus on God.  Someplace where other things won’t distract you.  Pray at a time when other things won’t distract you.  Spend a minute or two in silence and just focus on the presence of God – He is always with you.  Think about Jesus; think about what He has done and continues to do for you.  Think about the Spirit; think about how the Spirit fills you and speaks to you.  Then…pray.

One way to pray is by using other people’s words – find yourself a prayer book.  We Protestants don’t have a lot of them that aren’t used as worship books – but there are plenty out there.  I love to use the prayers of the Desert Fathers, personally – when I can find them online.  [I’ve had real trouble finding a collection to just open up and read…]  I also like some of the collections of Celtic Prayers from the early church in Britain – Celtic Blessings: Prayers for Everyday Life by Ray Simpson is good.  There are LOTS of prayer books!  The wonderful thing about praying someone else’s prayer that has lasted so long is that they so often speak exactly what we would LOVE to say but don’t have the words.  The Fathers and Mothers so often can speak to the Lord in a way…that we just don’t know yet.

Start with these.  Start for just a few minutes – focus.  Read the words slowly – out loud if you don’t feel too silly.  Think about what you’re saying.  Focus.  Don’t lose heart – because you will lose your focus.  Stuff will intrude.  Be prepared to fight to talk to God!  The devil doesn’t like it when we get to know our Lord like this!

But stick with it.  Eventually, your time with the Lord will increase – and you will get to know Him better.  I like to say that in reading the Bible you learn about God – in prayer you meet Him.  [Not a perfect saying, because in learning the Bible you meet Him as well, but in a different way than you do in prayer…]  You’ll get past the words from the past – but hopefully you’ll still love them! – and you will start to communicate with not only your words but your feelings and thoughts; and you will commune with God in ways you never thought possible.