Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Great Tribulations ~ Revelation 7:9-17 ~ Fourth Sunday of Easter

Two weeks ago, I shared with you my belief that my father is the most patient man in the world.

Unfortunately, I did not inherit a full measure of his spirit—and sometimes, it gets the best of me…

Several years ago, I was stuck in traffic in one of the many towns I’ve lived in over the years.  A construction crew had the road blocked, and I was in a hurry.  But no sooner did I stop than I noticed an alleyway that was clear to my right—so I drove down the alley—and the Lincoln Town Car behind me followed me.   And no sooner do I get to the end of the alley, I hear a siren—and I look in my mirror to see flashing red lights in the windshield of the Lincoln. 

I pull over.  And out of the Lincoln comes a large uniformed policeman wearing aviator sunglasses.  “License, registration” he says to me.  He takes them in hand, looks at me, and he says, “One-way street, sir.  Three signs told you.  Only an idiot would go the wrong say down that alley.”

By this time, I felt like I was an inch tall—and he walked back to his car.  After a few grueling minutes of waiting, he returns, gives me back my registration, looks at me and says, “don’t do it again.”  And he walks back to his car and drives off.  I guess the double helping of humble pie he served me was penalty enough.

But this reminds me of how easy it is to lose my head when trouble comes along—even the smallest of inconveniences, like a few minutes of sitting in traffic.  How much greater the danger is, in losing our faith, when real trials and tribulations come our way…

Revelation is one of the most frightening of all the biblical books precisely because it warns of crises and calamities, the likes of which have never been experienced in all of human history.  Revelation warns of wars, violence, economic upheaval, famine, pestilence, and natural disasters.  And Christians will not be immune from these troubles.  In fact, Revelation warns the faithful that their faithfulness to Christ may cost them dearly—as much as their very lives.

Now it really isn’t for us to say where we are God’s end-times timeline, but there is no mistaking that these tribulations are in fact coming to pass.

Just think back to the last seven days.  And, as awful as it is to say so, things are bound to get far worse.

Which begs the question: when tribulation comes, where will we turn?  What will we do?  Who will we trust?  Will we remain faithful to Jesus Christ?  Or, will we fall away?

We’ve heard time and time again how tribulations have the potential to shake our faith in God to dust.  We’re trying with all our might to trust an invisible God in the face of unshakable agony. 

It’s not as hard as we think to fall away from our faith.  

It is in these times when we’re most tempted to forsake God; —when salvation doesn’t happen, either the way we want it or in the time we want it.  This is when we are most tempted to seek “salvation” somewhere else: from material possessions; from relationships with other people; from quick fixes and cheap thrills…  Whatever it takes to get to make us feel good and give us what we want, when we want it…

If our lips never speak a word of thanksgiving to Jesus for his love and provision, we’ve fallen away…

If we look out only for ourselves and do nothing for our neighbors in need, we’ve fallen away.

And ultimately, if we fail to cling to Jesus when tribulation comes along, we won’t make it.

But the good news is that our good shepherd is does not give up on us as easily as we give up on him.  Salvation belongs to our God the Lamb—and he is not about to withhold that salvation from the sheep of his pasture, even sheep as foolish as ourselves.  Who is our shepherd—but the one who makes us lie down in green pastures; who leads us beside the still waters; who restores us when we go astray; who leads us down right pathways.  He walks with us through the tribulations and protects us from the evils that threaten not just our bodies but even our souls.  These promises apply even to the most foolish and unfaithful of his sheep.

God’s will for YOU is to deliver you from the great ordeal that has come upon this world.  That is precisely why God has become a human being, so to deliver you through it—to CONQUER all the chaos, all the evil, all the death.  You belong in the throne room of the Lamb of God—and your destiny is to worship the Lamb forever and ever. 

If you put your faith and trust in the good shepherd will make it through the tribulations.  No matter what happens to you in life, no matter what calamities come upon this world—you will make it through because Christ is faithful.  Even when you die, you die with Christ, and by grace, you shall rise with him too.  All this trial and tribulation is going to end, but you will live forever.

What a freedom this is—that no loss, no ordeal will be permanent.  So how will you live in this freedom?  What will you do?

Challenge yourself to live your freedom in these three ways:

1.       Give thanks in all circumstances—even the worst.  Yes, there will be times when Jesus is hidden—but that does not mean that he is absent.  Every day, there will be saving graces to get you through every tribulation.  So look for them.  And give thanks.

2.       Turn to him.  Cry to him.  Seek refuge in his word.  Worship him.  Don’t look for a meaningful life in things, in thrills, or in relationships—because none of these will ever meet your needs and expectations.  Salvation belongs to our God.

3.       Live to serve others.  Since your shepherd is handling all matters pertaining to your salvation, you’re free NOT to be constantly looking out for number one.  Celebrate God’s goodness by sharing it with others.  Since you are a sheep of the Good Shepherd, you ALWAYS have gifts to share; gifts that testify to the truth that the world is NOT going down in its own destruction.  The selfless love of Jesus defeated death and the devil—and YOUR selfless love in Jesus’ name can defeat all tribulations just the same.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Whole New World ~ Revelation 5:11-14 ~ Third Sunday of Easter

Chances are, if you are at least my age or younger; or you have children or grandchildren—you’ve seen the Disney animated classic Aladdin.

But if you haven’t: Aladdin is a small-time thief who comes into possession of a magic lamp.  He rubs the lamp, and out comes a monstrous-but-jolly-and-fast-talking genie who grants Aladdin three wishes.

His greatest wish is to become a prince, so he can marry the enchanting Princess Jasmine.  He gets his wish, and, in one of the most spectacular scenes of the movie, he takes Jasmine on a magic carpet ride.  He shows her “a whole new world,” as the theme song from the movie goes…

You could say that John (the author of Revelation) is on “a magic carpet ride of sorts.”  The Holy Spirit snatches John up from the earth and shows him “the whole new world” that is soon to be.  He’s now in the throne room for the seat of power in the universe—and on the throne sits none other than the Lamb who’s been slaughtered.  We know this Lamb as Jesus who is the Christ.

Surrounding the throne are thousands upon thousands of angels, elders, and living creatures—bowing down and singing their worship.

If the words of their chorus sounded familiar to you, there’s a reason for that: we sing them every week in the canticle of praise which we know by name This is the Feast.

This is the future: in the world that is to come, all creation will be united in everlasting praise for Christ.  So if you’ve ever asked the question, “what will we do in the next life?”  Revelation gives us the answer: WORSHIP!

Worship is what happens when any living creature gets swept up into the saving grace of God’s Holy Lamb.  When Christ’s love reaches into our existence, we are radically transformed.  (1) We are born again into Christ.  Sin and selfishness melts away into love and forgiveness and mercy.  (2) Fear is transformed into hope.  (3) Instead of Jesus being some far-off, distant divine, Jesus becomes present with us.  Jesus fills our being: we hear his voice as he speaks from the word; his commands and promises challenge our minds; our emotions are stirred as the word comes to us in music.  His presence warms our hearts in the company of our fellow believers.  We taste his goodness in the bread and wine that are his body and blood. 

Whenever we worship Jesus Christ, the world as we know it disappears.  The Holy Spirit snatches us up out of the doldrums of our earthly existence to transport us to the world that is to come—where suffering and pain will not even be a memory, and when nothing stands between us and the Savior who loves us. 

Is that how you experience worship?  Are you lifted up into a whole new world?  Or are you like me?  Do you wish that your experience of worship was this powerful, but you struggle?

How wonderful it would be to truly be able to stop all the world and just be in the presence of Christ; with no worries, no fears to weigh us down, no distractions, no barriers; just Jesus.  But it isn’t that easy.  The sad truth is that our “baggage” has a funny way of following us into God’s house.  Worship demands energy and focus that we sometimes don’t have.  It’s not hard for worship to feel like a “going through the motions.”  It is so tempting to give up on worship—because we can’t get into the spirit.  We get nothing out of it.

But God does not bring us to worship for “what we can get out of it.”  God uses worship to get you out of it—to lift you up from your pain and your weariness, so to join you to the living Christ.  So if you come here today empty and broken, even with no faith to speak of, you have come to the right place and the right time.  Worship begins with surrender.  We come before God as empty vessels; tired, worn, weary; stained by the iniquity of our sin.  And Jesus gives us what we need:  eternal life…  The forgiveness of our sins…  And hope for tomorrow…

Christ is meeting to you today in this time of worship.  So be here in the presence of God; participate in the singing and the hearing—and the receiving.  Come here to be bold and defiant against everything that is working against your faith.  Then rest assured—the risen Christ will meet you.  You will be lifted up in faith; strengthened in hope; formed in love.  Worship will pour forth from you because you are in Christ.

And finally today, challenge yourself with these two questions: what about our worship in this church brings you the joy of Jesus?   And, is there something new or different that would help me experience his joy more fully?  The most important work we do as a church is creating for you and for all an encounter with the living Christ in our worship together—and this is one area where there is always room for growth.  Think about it, pray about it, and let us know what you need, so that we can make sure that the gifts God has given this congregation build you up in faith in the best way possible.  Let us pray…

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Get Ready, 'Cause Here He Comes ~ Revelation 1:4-8 ~ Second Sunday of Easter

If there was an award for the most patient person in the world, I would have to nominate my dad as that person.

I’ll never forget the countless times my sister and I would fight and get into trouble—and he’d never lose his temper.  But that didn’t mean we weren’t disciplined…

On more than one occasion, he’d say to us: “what would Jesus say if he saw you acting like this?”

At this point, we stopped the fighting and mischief—and behaved ourselves.  Now I never remembered being scared by dad’s words, as if to think that Jesus would break down the door and give us a God-sized paddling…

It’s just that we loved Jesus—and we didn’t want him to be angry with us.

I wonder if dad ever knew how much his words sound like they came straight from the pages of the book of Revelation…

In fact, the entire book of Revelation can be summed up in just three short words: Jesus is coming

So often, we think of Revelation as a divine secret-code-book that we must decipher in order to know exactly what’s going to happen in the end times.  We treat it as a play-by-play guide that tells us how the world’s going to end—and that gives us clues to help us know WHEN it’s going to end. 

But the ultimate message of Revelation is that Jesus is coming.  This is good news—and we must take comfort from this fact.  But this is also a warning against complacency and disobedience—and everyone must pay attention. 

Its words of WARNING make Revelation one of the most difficult and frightening books in all of Scripture.  Already, in the seventh verse of the first chapter, we have cause to be uneasy:

Look!  He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.  So it is to be.  Amen.

This is the part that scares us—because we know we are sinners.  We know we have cause to be uneasy.

Jesus is coming—and he is coming in judgment. 

Anytime I think of judgment day, for some reason my dental appointments come to mind…

My dental appointments typically begin with three questions:

1.       How many times a day do you brush your teeth?

2.       How often do you floss?

3.       Do you drink coffee?

For me, it’s guilty as charged for the third.  I’m chief of sinners, as far as coffee’s concerned.  But as for the first two, I know I’m going to be told that I haven’t done enough.  There’s no sense in lying or making excuses.  All of my “dental sins” are going to be laid bare before the one to whom I must give account; namely, the dentist.  And if I fail to do what they told me to do six months ago (and I happily said I would do), I’m going to face the painful consequences.  

That dental floss gets me every time…

Well, Jesus has made an appointment with this world.  He is coming—and we had better get ready../

Yet as threatening and frightening as that may sound, God did not give us this biblical book to terrify us into submission.  The book of Revelation is God’s gift to comfort us; to urgently call us to submit our lives to the gracious and merciful One who holds the universe in his hands.  Who is this Jesus who comes? 

·         The One who gave his precious body and blood FOR YOU.

·         The One who claimed you as his own in baptism.

·         The One who forgives you.

Therefore, as we are faced with the reality of our sin, as we know full well that we have not been faithful to the faithful one, we flee for refuge to the mercies of Jesus Christ—fully assured that we will never be turned away or rejected.

In fact, Jesus GIVES YOU his righteousness as a gift that you receive through faith.  Therefore, we need not fear the day of judgment.  Jesus is your righteousness.  You are saved by grace through faith.

Therefore, because you are so loved, so graciously forgiven; given a blessed assurance of your future in Jesus Christ, challenge yourself to get to know the Christ who was and is and is to come. 

And ask yourself: what would Jesus say if he walked into your life today?  What would he say about how you spend your time?  How you spend your money?  Your plans and your priorities?  What would Jesus say about how you care those in need?  How you forgive those sin against you?

What would Jesus say about how you live in relationship with him?

Don’t be scared do to this.  Treat these questions as gracious invitations from Jesus to participate in him and grow in your faith.  After all, Jesus does not come to condemn you, but to draw you to himself.  So say yes to his invitations.  Let him come and fill your days with peace.