The God of Creation and Redemption in Revelation 4 and 5


Kathleen Nielsen

Scripture, when read rightly, will lead us to worship.

Why does John weep loudly at the prospect of the scroll remaining unopened? Look to the rest of Scripture.

The scroll in Ezekiel and the scroll in Daniel. Unfolding human history at the decree of God.

Writing on both sides of the scroll. Every last space was required for God’s decrees for the unfolding of human history. If the scroll would not open, human history could not unfold at God’s decree. What if there is no larger purpose for the days in which we live? John weeps at the prospect of a universe separated from its Creator.

For the remainder of the notes on Kathleen’s talk on Revelation 4 and 5, go to: http://is.gd/tskYBM

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A New and Living Way, Part 3


I. God has prescribed for us a New Way of Living. (10:22-25)
For those who are a members of God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ, God has given us instructions for how we are to behave as his children, both in relation to Him as our Father and to one another in the church as brothers and sisters.

A. We must approach God sincerely. As I have said before, part of being a child of God is the ability to approach Him as a child would approach her father. But a child who loves her father would never go to her father with a sense of disrespect or with a demanding attitude. That same child, confident in the love of her father, is not going to approach him cautiously or fearfully. A child of God must go to Him with the same confidence, trust, and respect. When people in Scripture were in the presence of God, they had two responses: they recognized the sinfulness of their lives and they fell down and worshiped God. When Moses encountered God in the burning bush in Exodus 3, God demanded that he remove his sandals as a sign of respect for being on holy ground. In Isaiah 6:5, when Isaiah saw the throne room of God in a vision, he declared himself to be a man of unclean lips. In Revelation 1:17, the Apostle John saw Jesus in a vision on the island of Patmos and fell down as a dead man.

When we approach God, we must do so with a clean heart, in an attitude of respect and worship. The word here that we translate as “sincere” literally means “without superficiality, hypocrisy, or ulterior motive.” God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:29, “You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” We are to come before God not wearing a mask of perfection or false holiness, but we are to approach Him in prayer and worship, honestly showing ourselves to Him while having a full assurance that He will help us with our sins and weaknesses. One commentator stated, “The people who find God are those who seek Him with their whole heart, with total genuineness.”

The idea of “full assurance” means that when we rely on God, we do so without doubt in our position as His children or His love as our Father. In 4:14-16 of Hebrews, the author has already explained to his readers:
Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jesus, our high priest, provided a way for us to confidently approach God with a pure, forgiven heart, and we are to approach Him this way each time we come to Him!

B. We must confess our hope unwaveringly. The writer begins this section on instructions concerning behavior with a point on how we are to approach God. This is very important to understand, because if our relationship with the Father is not correct, our relationships with one another will almost certainly be wrong as well. These instructions are given in a progressive order, and we see here that once we are confident in our position in Christ, we can then confess our hope with the same confidence. At the end of this verse, we are given an amazing statement concerning our Father: “He who promised is faithful.” God our Father has never failed in His promises, and unlike fallen, sinful man, He is always faithful to do what He says He will do. This fact is one in which we can place our confidence.

The Christians who received this letter had begun to lose their confidence in this new covenant, and it is believed that some of them were considering a return to the Jewish temple practices. Hard times had come and they had begun to waver in their faith in Christ. Just like those Christians had seen God keep His promises countless times, the Bible is full of examples of God’s faithfulness, and we can trust that God is faithful today just as He was then, because our God never changes.

Part of being a child of God is that, as we learn more and more about God, we are changed from the inside out and become more like Him. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, we are promised this will happen: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

We have hope that God is faithful, but what are we to confess? Our confession of hope is the salvation found in Christ. When we are confident in our salvation, we will share that hope with everyone we know.

C. We must encourage one another consistently. Part of becoming a child of God is learning to interact with other members of His family. Just as parents expect their children to treat one another lovingly, so God also expects us as His children to treat one another lovingly. In verse 24, we are told to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. The word “consider” means that we are to do more than think about it occasionally. It’s easy to think about other believers on Sunday morning when we are together at church. But here, we are told that we are to take care of each other’s spiritual welfare; we should show continuous concern for how our brothers and sisters are growing in their walks with the Lord.

This is the standard God has set for how we are to treat one another, but too often we fall short of this standard. In Matthew 7, Jesus gives us one example of how we fail at this instruction to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Here he says, “”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” The word translated here as “look” is the same Greek word that is translated as “consider” in Hebrews 10. With these two passages, we are given instructions in how we should and how we should not think of our spiritual siblings.

The word “stimulate” or “stir up” means we are to sharpen one another. With the combination of these two words, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging us to focus our attention consistently on finding ways to bring the love of Christ out of our fellow believers in real and practical ways.

In verse 25, we are told the reason for the urgency in the instructions of verse 24; many had begun to get frustrated and had grown disillusioned with the church and had even abandoned the fellowship of believers. It is nearly impossible to have any type of relationship with someone you never see. These practical instructions are meant to remind the readers that they will not be able to build up one another with encouragement if they are not gathering together. There is strength in numbers, and the discouraged sister is quickly encouraged when she comes together with other believers for a time of worship, prayer, and encouragement.

An early Christian writer named Ignatius once wisely observed, “When you frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.” By gathering together, more mature believers are able to teach and encourage younger believers, and those younger believers in turn remind the older believers to keep their excitement for the Lord fresh and new as they walk with Him. Abandonment and isolation lead only to defeat, so the writer encourages his readers to remain together because the longer they stay together in a mutual state of love and encouragement, the closer they all come to the day when they will see Christ face to face.

My sister Brittany learned quickly her being a part of our family came with certain responsibilities. My parents raised us to believe that carrying the Mason name required certain things of us. We were told that Masons worked hard whether our boss was looking or not. We were told that Masons worked hard in school and that they went to college. We were told that Masons kept their promises and were true to their word. We were told to remember that when we went out into the world and began making choices on our own that we needed to remember that we not only represented ourselves as individuals, but we represented our family. My parents did a good job of teaching us those things because they spent time with us and taught us those things and then quickly corrected us when we were not living in a way that was consistent with who we were as members of the Mason family.

Just like being a Mason comes with certain responsibilities, being a child of God comes with certain responsibilities to God and to each other. This week, find ways that you can live out your confidence in your position as a child of God. Do you confess your hope in Christ without wavering? If not, find an opportunity this week to share your faith with someone. Take a moment and take inventory of how you consider your friends and family. Do you spend your time judging them and their sin, or do you spend more time considering how you can encourage them in their walks with Christ? If you realize you spend more time thinking about their sin than about how you can help them out of your sin, then make a point of changing that this week.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 5


This is part 5 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Heyward concludes her argument with a rallying cry for change. As is the case throughout her article, her call to change is correct, but the direction in which she desires to enact this change is deadly. The following is Heyward’s proposed solution to the issue of a misunderstanding of sexuality in the church:

If we are to live with our feet on the ground, in touch with reality, we must help one another accept the fact that we who are christian are heirs to a body-despising, woman-fearing, sexually repressive religious tradition. If we are to continue being members of the church, we must challenge and transform it at the root. What is required is more than simply a “reformation.” I am speaking of revolutionary transformation. Nothing less will do (Heyward, 16).

Heyward’s call to recognize the past sins of the church is valid. Only when sins are acknowledged and repented of can true healing take place and forgiveness be granted. A vast number of problems within the Church today would be resolved literally overnight if believers were willing to repent and humbly seek forgiveness from their God and from their fellow believers. God confirms this promise in 2 Chronicles 7.14: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” True change occurs not through bitter retribution, as Heyward suggests, but through humble repentance and forgiveness.

This issue of creating idols out of sex and self ultimately stems from a misunderstanding of the person, nature, and work of God. Most claim that their disdain for God’s moral law has little to do with their “personal” relationship with God. They claim to love God. Their problems is with Scripture. Some may think that this type of thinking is extreme and could never be found in the mind of the average church member. But it is creeping into the pews and can be heard in excuses given concerning sexual immorality, divorce, exorbitant debt and a host of other self-gratifying sins. When people make statements like, “I know the Bible says it’s wrong, but God wants me to be happy,” they are judging Scripture through the lens of personal experience—the exact thing sexual pagans do to justify the worship of sex and self.

This idolatrous thinking has made its way into the local church, and it will not be corrected through a “revolutionary transformation,” but only through a humble reformation, by a return to the recognition that the God worthy of service and worship is powerful and sovereign, and He alone ensures that His will and ways have been communicated to His people without error or confusion. Those who think that Scripture is irrelevant today because it has been corrupted throughout time do not have a low view of man or of Scripture. They have a low view of God and his ability to maintain His promise that “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is 40.8).

Carter Heyward has so much right in her argument: sexuality can be seen as an aspect of humanity that is fluid and changing. While people (with very rare, medical exceptions) are born biologically heterosexual, through the influence of man’s sinful heart and the impact of the sinful choices of others, some go against the loving and unchanging one, right way of the loving Father and go astray, seeking to do things their own way (Is 53.6). Choosing to follow the sinful desires of the heart is not a liberating way of finding oneself and realizing one’s full potential, as a loving bodyself like Heyward tries so hard to claim. Rather, when man chooses to go his own way, his iniquities are not laid upon the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53. By going one’s own way, one is committing to pay the price for sins committed against an infinitely holy God.

For too long the church has silently sat back and uncomfortably watched society claim sex as its own. Before it is too late for the next generation of believers, the church must heed the warning of those who seek to take the good gift of God and further corrupt it in sexual paganism: “Our silence will not protect us…. We are shaping history with our words. Either we speak as best we can or our power… will slip away like a thief in the night” (Heyward, 16). Unlike Heyward, who believes that humanity’s power comes in unity with one’s self and with one another, Christians must remember that God’s grace is sufficient in whatever battle may be faced when standing in the truth of the Word. Christians are called to speak out against those who claim to speak for God but spread lies. Silence will not protect us, but it will most certainly condemn us if we remain silent concerning the increasing attack on biblical sexual morality.

Freedom in Christ or Boredom in Christ?


The assumption is this: One of the main reasons that the world and the church are awash in lust and pornography (by men and women—30% of internet pornography is now viewed by women), fornication, adultery, masturbation, exhibitionism, homosexuality, bestiality, rape, and endless sexual innuendo in all media—one of the reasons we are awash in all this is that our lives are intellectually and emotionally disconnected from infinite, soul-staggering grandeur. Inside and outside the church we are drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, and silliness. Television is trivial. Radio is trivial. Conversation is trivial. Education is trivial. Christian books are trivial. Worship styles are trivial. It is inevitable that the human heart, which was made to be staggered with terrifyingly joyous dread and peace by an infinitely untouchable, embracing God—it is inevitable that such a heart, drowning in the all-pervasive, blurry boredom of banal entertainment, will reach for the best buzz that life can give: sex.

The deepest cure to our pitiful addictions is not any mental strategies—and I believe in them and have my own. The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite, everlasting, unchanging sovereignty, holiness, wrath, justice, wisdom, truth, and mercy of God. And sex is just one of the hundreds of day-to-day issues you face that will overwhelm you and debase your life without this kind of encounter with the living God.

http://www.desiringgod.org/resourcelibrary/sermons/bydate/2004/166_Gods_Design_for_History_The_Glory_of_His_Mercy/

The above quote is from John Piper, and is along the same line as Beth Moore’s teachings in “When Godly People do Ungodly Things,” which I know several of us have read and greatly appreciated.

So often we fall into sin simply out of boredom—we have forgotten the amazing adventure to which we are called when we become children of the King! Instead of searching for ways to “make it through the day,” let’s find new ways to forsake the trivial and dig into the unsearchable riches of Christ. Reading this short quote challenged and reminded me that our walk with the Lord is not a journey set on auto-pilot or even cruise control—it takes work on our part to not be bored. When I read Piper’s take on boredom, I was reminded of one my kids in my After School Program. One afternoon Sarah and I were blessed to witness a living illustration of the culture in which we live: As this young girl spun in circles in the middle of the room, she declared, “I’m bored! Someone entertain me!”

How many times do we make similar declarations to the God of the Universe? I know I am guilty of desiring to be cosmically entertained on a regular basis. Our culture has become one of passive entertainment; and this notion is sneaking into our spiritual lives. The emphasis on emotion and experience in worship has led to a generation of God worshipers who think they are not getting from God all that is theirs if they are not “feelin’ it.” Many more have given up completely on a life of freedom through Christ because they are in such bondage to the sins of this world. So many have bought into Satan’s lie that sex is the ultimate pleasure and fulfillment. When they indulge in any of the above mentioned sexual sins and experience nothing but shame and heartache, they think, “if this is the best there is, what hope do I have for happiness in this life?” What we do not understand is that the Creator of the experience is so much more fulfilling than the experience itself! This applies to anything, not just sex. As much as I love hiking and enjoying creation, that experience is not to be worshiped in and of itself. Rather, any experience we enjoy should direct our attention to the Creator of that experience and draw us into a deeper amazement and appreciation of Him.

Just like I sat down with my little friend at After School and explained that it’s more valuable to learn how to entertain yourself instead of waiting to be passively entertained by another, God desires that we learn to grow and be amazed by Him through our own work and not just through the spoon feeding of others. Maturity means moving past passivity and taking an active role in your growth and “entertainment.”

I have learned the last couple of years that the cure for the common bore is not more television or music or internet. In fact, I have become culturally illiterate (I failed my friend Salida last week in a moment of urgent need when I couldn’t tell her who was voted off of American Idol the previous night!). But while I couldn’t tell you the winners of American Idol or Survivor or Dancing with the Stars, I am certainly far from bored. And my lack of boredom comes mainly from ridding myself of the trivial entertainment of this world and devoting my time to the infinitely endless task of growing in the knowledge of my infinitely endless Saviour. In fact, boredom usually occurs when I am in a rut spiritually and I find myself watching more TV or spending more time surfing the internet. We are bored when we turn our brains off and demand that someone entertain us. This quote reminded me that I am accountable for my own boredom—and my own enjoyment of the Saviour. It challenged me to find ways this week to be staggered and overwhelmed by a new understanding of our heavenly Father.