Saturday, August 20, 2016

THE RIVER OF LIVING WATERS

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)
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We come now to some of the most beautiful words written in the Scriptures. At least this is my opinion. Up until this point in the last chapters of the Revelation, John’s description of the city of God was from an external view. He was standing on the mountain and watching the city as it descended from heaven. Now however, just as the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel was shown the temple first from the outside, and after that entered into the very sanctuary, John also now enters the New Jerusalem. He now begins to describe what he saw on the inside of the city of God. It is probably my favorite passage in the entire Bible: 

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and flowing down the middle of the great street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
There will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it. His bond-servants will serve Him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
And there will no longer be any night. They will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them, and they will reign forever and ever.
And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.”
The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show to his bond-servants the things which must soon take place. (Revelation 22:1-6 my own paraphrase). 

The Water of Life

The subject of the water of life is a common one in Scripture. Jesus used it often in his teaching. My mind immediately goes to the account told to us of one hot day when Jesus sat in the shade of a tree near a well of Samaria. The well was outside of the city of Sychar. The disciples had gone into town to get some food, but Jesus chose to remain at the well to rest and to wait for them to return.(to continue reading, please press the READ MORE link below)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

OF NATIONS AND KINGS

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)

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The Nations

As we continue on in the passage, we read this: “The nations will walk by its light [speaking of the light of the New Jerusalem], and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed” (Revelation 21:23-25 NAS).

We learned earlier that the gates are made of a single pearl, but apparently the pearls are for adornment only, since they are never rolled in front of the gate entrance (or whatever other method would be used for closing the gates). The fear of thieves or lack of security is never in question in the New Jerusalem, so the gates remain open always. 

With this sentence, John brings up another subject about not only the New Jerusalem, but the entire New Earth. He speaks here of the nations. Who are these people and are they inhabitants of the New Jerusalem? Of course, we have no answers that are certain, but does not the existence of these people of the nations bring up several interesting questions?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

NO MORE NIGHT

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)****************************
NO MORE NIGHT

The very first thing that John said about the city the New Jerusalem when he first saw it was that it shown with a great brilliance. Then, after writing about some of the other aspects of the city as we have read, he now returns to that theme of the light of New Jerusalem. John writes, “The city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23 NAS).

The verses in this section have led to a few people teaching some misconceptions about eternity. The first of these misunderstanding concerns questions about the sun and the moon. Because of what John said, some people teach that there will be no sun or moon at all in the new creation. I will get to that point in a moment.

First however, I would like to mention another misunderstanding that some people have about this section. This misconception is that John is speaking merely in a figurative manner, and that the subject at hand is not actually speaking of a physical light at all. The thinking concerning this is that since John was living in the day before artificial lighting for the streets of cities, when darkness came, people usually went nowhere. In those days and in those places, with darkness came insecurity. That is why the cities of his time had walls with gates that they closed at night. The people did not want invaders to have the chance to enter their cities under the cloak of darkness. Families also closed themselves inside their own homes.

In those types of environments, there is a special feeling of sequestering and even shielding oneself in protection. About forty-five years ago, I lived in a village such as this in a rural area of India. It was not such a small village. If I recall correctly, it had a population of about 50,000 people. We did have electricity in the village, but it came on only occasionally during the day. Usually, shortly after dark, it was always shut off. There were no streetlights, so the village lay in complete darkness at night except for whatever light might be coming from the moon and the stars and from the oil lamps inside of the dwellings.

When darkness began to fall, everyone knew that they should be getting home because soon the electricity would be off, and no one wanted to be out in the streets at night. It was not that it was particularly dangerous in that village. Certainly, I never felt insecure there, but it was just very disorientating to be out wandering the little pathways in the darkness. After it became dark, everybody just stayed in their homes, or perhaps visited in a neighbor’s house.
(Please click on READ MORE below)

Friday, August 5, 2016

NEW BOOK - HE BUILT WITH STONES


A Story of the Swedish Emigration Years Of the Late Nineteenth Century

Anders Johansson was on a journey in the late 1800s. Anders was a young stonecutter from Sweden, a stone mason. Coming from a childhood of sorrow and of uncertainty, he picked up the craft of stonecutting and worked to perfect it so that he could become secure in his life. His journey to achieve security led him to various parts of Sweden, and finally overseas. At the end of his travels, however, Anders discovers something even more satisfying than the security that he had worked so hard to achieve. He also discovers something about himself, and comes to realize an entirely unexpected goal.


 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

THERE WAS NO TEMPLE

(A Continuation from the pervious post - Here Comes the Bride)
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It was then that John noticed something else unusual about the city. This time it was not for what the city had, but for what it did not have. “I saw no temple in it,” John says. The absence of a temple indeed would be unusual for John, since the temple of the New Testament times was almost synonymous with the city of Jerusalem. To travel to Jerusalem was to go to the temple.

However, it was immediately quite clear to John why there was no temple in the New Jerusalem. In the same breath he says, “For the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

This is understandable to us in a spiritual sense, since the temple in the Old and the New Testament was a place where Jews would go to worship God. God was unseen to the people, and intangible, except for the times early in their history when he revealed himself as a blazing fire or as a cloud. The Jews had been taught that the temple was the dwelling of God. Even God himself had indicated this. At Solomon’s dedication of the temple that he had made in Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord came and filled the temple to such an extent that even the priests could not enter it (2 Chronicles 7:1-2). 

Two Words

It is significant to know that there are two different Greek words in the New Testament that are both translated simply as temple in the English. The first is the word hieron, which has at its root a word to indicate something that is set apart or sacred, as an actual temple building made of wood and stone would be. It was not a multipurpose building. It was set apart and dedicated to use for worship. The other word is naos (from naiō – to inhabit). This is a word that refers to an inner but unseen spiritual life that is within a person or even an object, such as the life that is within the buildings of the temple.

These two words often seemed to be used interchangeably in the New Testament. It may be much the same as when we use the word church. When we commonly speak of the church, such as, “This morning we are going to church,” we mean it in terms of the church building. However, we also know that any building made of bricks, wood and glass is not the true church, as when the Bible speaks of the church.

The true inner life of the church is the lives of the believers in Jesus. Sometimes people refer to this as the invisible church, since it is the true church which cannot be seen and is in other ways mostly intangible. However, this is the true inner life of the church of Jesus Christ which does not depend upon a building. The actual life of the church resides in the believers, not in the building.
(please press READ MORE below)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

HERE COMES THE BRIDE

The Presentation of the Bride  - (From Revelation 21:9-21)

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (Revelation 21:9 NAS).

What follows in the text, what the angel showed John, is perhaps to me the most mysterious of any of the Biblical accounts. And I am not alone in this sentiment. When the Apostle Paul was speaking on the theme of husbands and brides and in referring to them, he said, “This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, NAS).

By using the word mystery, Paul did not mean it and I do not mean it in the sense in which we usually think of a mystery. To us, a mystery is Sherlock Holms or Colombo putting many seemingly insignificant clues together to solve something that was before unknown. The clues were always there, it just took someone with a superior power of observation and reasoning to put them all together.

That is not exactly the sense of a mystery in the Bible. In the Bible, mystery (mustērion) is a word that conveys the idea of one closing his mouth. (From mueō – shut the mouth). It means that there are many things concerning what John was shown about the bride of Christ that are not yet told to us. There are many things about all of this that are not yet revealed. We do not yet have enough information to really understand what John saw, nor did he have the words to communicate properly and fully what angels showed him.
(Please press the READ MORE button below)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

IN DEFENSE OF A “PIE IN THE SKY” FAITH

Some years ago I saw a promotional notice for a spiritual growth seminar to be held in a church in the city near where I was living at the time.  Part of the promotion read:  

Why does God let me go through such painful circumstances? Why does he seem indifferent to my prayers?
We’re tired of spiritual pie in the sky. We want authentic, God-as-he-really-is faith – the kind that holds us together when our world is falling apart and equips us to offer strength and hope to others. 

Whether or not the promoters of this workshop realized it, the phrase “pie in the sky,” comes from the anarchist and syndicate labor organization of the early 1900’s called the Industrial Workers of the World, or commonly referred to as the “Wobblies” (actually still in existence).

I am certain that the Wobblies had many grievances that were worth consideration in those days and probably still do.  And, since the group was originally involved with organizing migrant and day workers, they no doubt represented many people who otherwise felt helpless against big industry.  However, the Wobblies had another side to them as well. They had a perspective of life that ridiculed any thought beyond this present life. The Wobblies especially derided those who looked at life as being in some ways being a preparation for eternity. They mocked those who placed their hopes in eternity.

One of the ways that the Wobblies did this was through the singing of distortions or parodies of popular hymns of the day.  Pie in the Sky is one of those parodies.  This was a perversion of the hymn, In the Sweet Bye and Bye.  This hymn (the real one) was often sung by the Salvation Army, a Christian organization for whom the Wobblies held considerable disdain.

The labor organization despised the view that the true reward for virtuous living would come not in this world, but only in heaven. They accused the Salvation Army for not caring for the earthly needs of people – a view, I think, that came more from prejudice than from actual fact.

The phrase “Pie in the Sky” came from the chorus of the parody of the song, In the Sweet Bye and Bye:

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ‘bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet: 

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die. 

The Eternal Perspective

As in most issues, there are extremes on each end.  I am sure that the promoters of the workshop which was to take place at the church in the city would not have shared the same view as the Wobblies. Rather, they were merely seeking a present-day reality to their Christian faith as well as the future promises.  I understand this desire and longing of these Christians.  I have felt the same way.
(to continue reading, press the READ MORE button below)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

HOW TO LIVE IN FREEDOM - 101

The Pharisees of Jesus' day had issues with Jesus largely because Jesus saw through their false religiosity. In that day, the general cultural perception was that being religious meant that you were righteous, and people respected you for this. That is why the Pharisees developed some very strict rules of conduct. The rules meant nothing in regard to one’s relationship to God, but they served the purpose that the Pharisees sought. Their rigorous rules gave the appearance that they were more righteous than everyone else. That was their main objective.

The New Pharisaical Thought

As early as just a few years after Christ was on earth and when he taught his disciples, as his gospel began to spread to other places, there were already some misunderstandings about the Christian life that arose in the churches. The letter to the Galatians was written by Paul to address one of those mistakes. I am not sure whether we should be surprised or not, but the problem had not changed since the days of Jesus dealing with the Pharisees. There were some in the Galatian church that had the same inclinations as the Pharisees, and began to come up with rules to distinguish within the body of believers who was the most holy.

And so it has been for most of history. People in the church have made up rules to distinguish who was really a Christian and who was just pretending to be a Christian, or who (at least in their eyes) was a “better” Christian. We have learned to measure ourselves and others by what we do or what we do not do. We may criticize the Pharisees for their list of laws, but we have done a pretty good job at this ourselves. We think that we can add to our righteousness by following an additional list of rules.

To be fair, I believe that most of the rules in our present day churches that might enter your mind have origins that were well-meaning. In very conservative churches, for instance, rules for extremely modest dress among the women are most likely meant with good intentions. Also, the unspoken or sometimes even spoken ban on all alcoholic drinks in many cases was a reaction to severe alcoholism that was prevalent in the local culture, bringing with the drunkenness the damages that it caused in families.

One can think of many examples that were meant to be a help, but instead have mainly served to be little more than additional laws that we are expected to follow. The rules may have addressed some problems, but they also created an even larger problem in the church – that of spiritual pride. The laws gave us the ability to say, “I am more spiritual than you because I don’t do this and you do,” or, “I do this other thing and you do not do it.”
(To continue, click on the READ MORE button below)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

BREXIT AND BIBLICAL PROPHECY

One day, after Jesus made a rather vague reference to future events, the disciples asked him a question for which they probably wanted a straight and forward answer.  They asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 NAS).

It is a question that many of us still ask today. It is not so curious that we should want to ask this question. Sometimes, political and social events in the world take turns that are highly unpredictable and even upsetting. These frightening developments make us all wonder if they are perhaps harbingers of the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ.

The disciples did not exactly get a straightforward answer to their question. What they got was instead a series of parables to help them (and us) determine the social and political atmosphere that will be present in the days leading up to the end of the age. I am not going to go through all of those parables right now, for that is a lengthy process and I have done that in other places (see the book, Watching for the Day).

There are only two statements of Jesus that I want you to take away with you today. First of all, in speaking about the social and political atmosphere in the end times, Jesus said of the initial stages, “All these things are merely the beginnings of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8 NAS). The second statement of Jesus is one with which he concluded two of his parables, “Be on the alert, for you do not know the day [nor the hour] that your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42; 25:13). 

A New Word

As you consider these two statements of Jesus, please now consider a word that has been introduced into the English language: Brexit. Although it is a very new word in our English vocabulary, almost everyone already knows what it means. If you do not, do a quick google search on it.

In fact, if you are a Christian, and to make your search more interesting, in the search bar type: “brexit and biblical prophecy.” You will find out not only the meaning of the word, but a whole host of people who claim to be Bible teachers and who will tell you exactly how Brexit was predicted in Biblical prophecy and how it signals that Jesus is coming back very soon. Often there is a postscript saying something to the order of, “Please send me some money so that I can get this message out to millions of people!”

Then, after you have done your internet search, step back and let the words of Jesus return to your thinking. “All these things are merely the beginnings of birth pangs. Be on the alert then.”

Despite my cynicism for some of the people who claim to know exactly how Brexit fits into Biblical prophecy, I do not deny that I also believe that what is currently happening in Britain and in Europe is significant in terms of events surrounding the question that the disciples asked Jesus, “What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” (To continue reading, please click the READ MORE button below)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

THE DEMONIAC

In Luke chapter 8, we have the unusual story of a demonized man who was living in the tombs of a cemetery in the land of Gerasenes. This was a man who was driven by the demons within him. The man was obviously mad. He went around naked, and in some ways terrorized the people of the city. The townspeople had tried to control this demoniac, even putting him in chains and shackles and under the watch of a guard. However, apparently given tremendous strength by the demons, the man broke the chains and ran into the desert, driven there by those same demons. This apparently had happened more than once. The demons in the man (for there were more than one), seemed to have had complete control over the man, seizing him and making him to do things that the man did not want to do. 

Possession

Although I have lived in some places where it was said that there were many people who had demons, I have never seen a situation such as this one. We sometimes speak of people as being possessed by demons, and even in many Bible versions, the word used is possession. It says that the man was possessed by the demons within him. From this translation, we get the idea that the demons had ownership over the man and that he had no independence at all, or any will of his own. But possession is a strong term to use in translating this. The word that is used is actually a primary root (in Greek) that means simply “to have.”

However, perhaps even more important than the translation of the word is how we think of this situation in terms of ownership. It was the man who had the demons, not the other way around. It was the man who was in possession of the demons, not the demons who possessed the man. Although in the case of the demoniac of Gerasenes, the man seems to have been almost completely under the control of the demons, he was still the one who had ownership over his body. He still was in control of an independent will, although, for so long had he given demons reign of his actions, he had all but forgotten how to exercise his own will. But even with this, a person will always retain his ability to choose or not to choose, as clouded as that distinction may appear.

In some ways, it is not unlike a chemical addiction that some people have. These addicted ones become so dependent upon the drug that it is actually difficult to tell whom or what is in control. Our bodies can become so addicted, that to not have the chemical would mean death. In cases such as this, it would seem that the drug is the one in control.

This is a terrible situation and I am not trying to pretend that it is not sometimes extremely difficult, but despite how it may seem, the person is still the person. It is not the chemical that is the person. Our free and independent will is something given to us by God and it cannot be taken away by a demon, or a drug, or anything else. (to continue press the READ MORE button below)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

THE PHARISEE AND THE PROSTITUTE

There are many New Testament stories about the Pharisees. The reason for this is because this group of religious leaders were almost united in their opposition to Jesus. Not absolutely every Pharisee was, mind you. There were a few very notable exceptions to this. However, as a whole, the Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus. They felt threatened because they were the highly respected religious leaders of the day and were accustomed to great demonstrations of respect given to them by the people. But Jesus did not do this. Jesus held little respect for them. He considered their rigorous rules they taught that the people should follow as man-made laws, and not things that God required.

Besides this, the Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus because he had great appeal among the common people of the day – even among the non-religious people and perhaps even especially among the non-religious. That is because Jesus offered them a way out of their bondage to their lifestyle and their sin. The Pharisees did not. They offered only condemnation to the sinners. No effort of these people could be good enough.

Jesus instead offered grace to all who really did want to change. He taught that true deliverance from sin cannot come from our own efforts, but only through the grace given by God. He offered them salvation from their sinful lives.

It is because of these things that the Pharisees were constantly trying to entrap Jesus in some mistake or some false teaching. They did everything that they could to discredit him. This seems to be much of the motivation for a dinner invitation one evening. A Pharisee by the name of Simon asked Jesus to his home for dinner. (click READ MORE below to continue)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

NEW BOOK

In the past couple of years I have been working on an historical novel based on the Swedish emigration years of the late 1800's. It has just gotten published and you can order a copy by clicking on this link: HE BUILT WITH STONES

Below are the first couple of pages:
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ANDERS JOHANSSON
It was almost startling how early in the day the darkness came. The time was only about 3:30 in the afternoon, but already it was difficult for the man walking in the failing light of evening to make out the trail back to the small cabin that he was renting. In addition to the falling darkness, what made his walking even more difficult was that there was snow on the trail. The snow had been packed hard by many footprints and had become very icy.

As the man picked his way through the dark shadows of nightfall, he stumbled once on a limb that had broken off a tree and was lying in the darkness across the path. The icy trail made regaining his balance difficult, but despite his foot slipping from under him a little, he finally did manage to right himself and keep from falling all the way to the ground.

The walker was a young man of about twenty-six years old. His name was Anders Johansson. The place was in the midlands of Sweden. More specifically, it was in the province of Värmland. The year was 1876.

The darkness coming at this premature hour of the day had taken Anders almost by surprise, as if it were something out of the ordinary. But Anders knew that the early sunset should not have been unexpected. It was winter, and at these latitudes, the daylight hours were always fleeting at this time of the year.

Nevertheless, every winter Anders seemed to be taken aback by the untimely sunset. The reason that he was caught unawares by it was because of the stark contrast between the winter and the summer months. In the summer, the situation was just the reverse. The sun barely even set below the horizon in the summer, and true darkness only lasted a couple of hours. But now, in the winter, there were a mere five or six hours of daylight, making the day seem almost over as soon as it had begun.

Anders reached the front step of his humble cabin and stomped his boots to get rid of as much snow as he could before opening the door. He lived alone, so there was no warming and cheering fire waiting for him in the hearth. No smoke coming out of the chimney. The inside of the cabin would be cold. In fact, once he stepped inside, it seemed even colder inside the cabin than it did outside. It wasn’t really, but when one enters a house in the winter, almost instinctively he expects it to be warm. When it is not, the coldness seems all the more intense.

Every evening that winter, when Anders returned to his cabin and felt the coldness even inside, his thoughts returned to another winter, just a few years earlier. In this region of Sweden, that winter of the past was now remembered as “The Winter of the Great Hunger.” He had barely survived that year. Many people he knew did not. Even some of his own family had almost succumbed to the starvation of that winter.

Anders shivered inside of the cold cabin, but it was not only the temperature that made him tremble. Despite the fact that that winter of hunger was some years in the past, the memory of it still made him shudder.

Just as the early darkness caught him a bit unawares, so did these nagging and distressing remembrances of that frigid winter of starvation. Anders had not thought much about it in the winters that immediately followed it, only in that he was glad that it was over. However, this year, he was almost haunted by the memories. He did not know why those thoughts suddenly made a return, nor could he shake the visions of the past that came to him.