Sunday, April 24, 2016

THE NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH

Today’s scripture involves John’s vision of the New Heavens and the New Earth. In this portion of the book of Revelation, John specifically begins to tell us about the city of New Jerusalem. Before we begin with what John writes, I want to first manage our expectations concerning his description.

We need to first attempt to imagine how difficult a task this
John Writing "The Revelation"
was for John. He had to try and describe something that is beyond our limits of experience, and by using only human words that we are able to understand. Think about how difficult this must have been for John. 

Otherworldly Descriptions

In some ways, I think what John was trying to do must have been similar to what we would have to do if we were able to somehow speak to a baby, still in the womb of his or her mother. Imagine what it would be to try and explain to this little one what our present world is like – the world outside of the mother’s womb.

There are perhaps some things that this baby possibly could relate to. For instance, the little baby in the womb would have a consciousness of his or her own being. He knows that he is alive and that he has feelings. We could perhaps relate to the baby on that level.

The baby must also have an awareness that there are other people. They know about their mother, certainly. The baby is living within the very womb of their mother. They must also know about their dad, who gets down close and talks to them through the belly of the mom. With these few bases of knowledge that we have in common with this little baby in the womb, we could perhaps begin to tell him about the family that he will be born into.

But then what? How would you describe to this little unborn one the forests and the lakes of Wisconsin? How would you begin to tell him of the grandness of the world on which we live? And more pertinent to our subject of today, how would you begin to describe what a city looks like? Where would you even begin?   (to continue reading, click READ MORE)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A SHEEP IN THE HAND IS WORTH...EVERYTHING

"They will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand."
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There are several metaphors in the Bible that God uses for his people. Each of these is intended to illustrate and accentuate a particular aspect of God’s relationship with us. One of the most common of these metaphors for the people of the Lord is the sheep of God’s pasture. We find this image repeatedly in both the Old and the New Testaments. 

The picture of the shepherd with his flock of sheep used to illustrate God with his people is not only one of the most common in the Bible, it is also one of the most endearing. It reveals God’s heart of tenderness and love for us.
The prophet Isaiah says this of God: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock. In His arms He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom. He will gently lead the nursing ewes” (40:11).

There is something about the relationship that a shepherd has with his sheep that illustrates especially well God’s relationship to his people. In our experience with actual shepherds and with real sheep, the sheep are dependent upon the shepherd in every way for their well-being. Without him, they would be left unprotected and defenseless in the wilds, and even often times unable to find food. These shepherding qualities of being a protector and a provider are important for any leader of people.
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Sunday, April 10, 2016

I’M GOING FISHING

In the Gospel of John, the Apostle Peter said something that I have wondered about from time to time. When he spoke the words, it was after the resurrection of Jesus, and even after Jesus had appeared to the disciples. Peter was together with some others who had been his companions over the previous three years. Suddenly Peter makes an announcement.
 
“I am going fishing,” he says (John 21:3)
 
This may have been a very innocent statement and perhaps we should not read anything more into it than what initially appears. But what he said is still intriguing to me.  To me, Peter's words take on a meaning that is a little deeper than a simple expression of a whim to go and catch some fish. Peter was near the end of a series of trying experiences and near the end of what had been a very difficult time for him, and I think that Peter may have been speaking out of a feeling of weariness.
 
Perhaps the reason that I have wondered about these words of Peter’s is because, in the past, as I have worked in different capacities in various countries, I also have sometimes found myself just coming through what were difficult times for me. I, in no way wish to compare my experiences with those of Peter’s, but I find a sort of commonality in what he may have been feeling. His statement of going fishing has come to have additional significance for me.
 
 Being in Control
The  Apostle Peter- van Dyck

Before he began to follow Jesus, Peter was a man who was used to being in control. He was a man of strong self-determination and drive. These qualities made him a good fisherman. Of course, he had to work with variables such as the weather and the movements of the fish. Sometimes he would return to shore with a great catch of fish and sometimes with very little.
 
Basically however, success in his occupation meant hard work. The longer the hours he put in and the better he refined his fishing techniques, the more success he would have. There is a certain comfort to that perspective.
 
But the years he spent with Jesus had turned this perspective on its head. Suddenly success was not a direct result and product of labor. Self-determination did not seem to carry the weight as it had in his earlier life. This never became more evident to him as it had in the days before he made the comment about going fishing.
 
“Even though all may fall away,” he had said to Jesus earlier, “yet I will not” (Matthew 26:33).
 
Peter believed it of himself. He could not imagine distancing himself from the One whom he had made his Master.
 
“You will, Peter.” Jesus told him. “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”
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Sunday, April 3, 2016

THE DOUBTERS

Jesus had risen from the dead!
Mary Magdalene even saw him alive at the tomb and reported this news to the disciples. Also, the other women who had gone with Mary told the disciples that they saw the empty tomb and that angels had appeared to them, telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Nevertheless, in large part, it seems like most of the disciples were reluctant believe any of this. They were skeptical of what the women told them. Perhaps they thought that the women wanted so badly for this all to be true that they had imagined it.

But Peter and John had also been to the tomb. They also had seen that it was empty. They saw no angels, but based on what they did see, they came to believe what Jesus had said about himself rising from the dead actually had come true. I am not sure all the things that would have convinced them of this, but they did see the linen grave wrappings in the tomb. If someone had stolen the body, certainly the thieves would not have first unwrapped it and leave the cloths lying there. They would not have taken time to neatly fold or roll up the cloth that went over the face.

There must have been other factors as well that helped Peter and John to believe, but whatever they were, the men went away from the grave believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.

As far as we know, none of the other disciples went to the tomb to see if what the women told them was correct. They still had questions about the events of the morning. In fact, they had more than questions. They were also a bit afraid of what this could all mean to them. It does not seem that they went to the grave to confirm what the women had said, but if it was true that the body of Jesus was gone, they thought that they might be accused of stealing it. After all, this was the plot that the Pharisees thought that the followers of Jesus might try. That is why the Roman guards were placed at the grave and the seal put on the stone over the entrance. 

A Room Full of Doubters

Because of all of this, on the evening of that same day that Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples had gathered together in a room. They were hiding somewhat out of fear. It is not clear, from the different accounts in the Bible, just how many of the disciples were together at this point. We know that Thomas was not with them on that evening. That much is mentioned. I think that perhaps Peter and John also were not there. From the events of the morning, when Mary Magdalene left the tomb the first time, she went to tell Peter and John about the empty grave. It seems that at that point at least, they had been staying at a place apart from the other disciples. (To continue reading click the READ MORE link below)