the kingdom of God

All Things Visible and Invisible

It was  Girolamo Fracastoro, in 1546, who insisted that there was an unseen force in our world that had a profound effect on our physical health. At first, people thought his views were preposterous – but by the late 1800’s, thanks to Louis Pasteur, it had become clear that micro-organisms, or germs, were behind diseases that were plaguing Europe. It’s common knowledge now. We wash our hands regularly and practice good hygiene because we believe there is an unseen world of germs around us at all times, effecting and infecting us if we’re not alert.

The Bible challenges us to take that a step further – to embrace the idea of an enchanted, spiritual dimension where unseen forces are at work. The Bible sees God’s realm, we could say “heaven”, as a world that overlaps and affects our own world, but is hidden from view.

This Sunday as we continue on in our study of the book of Revelation, we’ll be reading all of chapters 4 and 5. They’re short chapters, and I really hate to split them up because they are meant to be read together. In these chapters, John is given a revelation (hence the book’s name) of the unseen realm of God. He enters into the throne room, or command center and sees who is really in control of history.

It would be easy for John and the churches of his day to think that evil had the upper hand and that God’s plans were no longer in his charge. The vision he receives is meant, through rich symbolism, to reveal to him that all is not as it seems on the surface.

As you read over the descriptions he gives – let your imagination run wild. I’ve done some drawings that I’ll put on the screen this Sunday – but those are just to provide spacial reference – don’t let my drawings limit your imagination. See the colors in your mind – listen to the thunder and blink reflexively at the flashes of lightening. Feel the wind brush your skin as the mighty mass of wings on the four living beings fan the air. Smell the burning oil from the seven lamps, be dazzled by the crystal sea. We’ll go over what all these symbols may mean, but the summation is that they are declaring God’s sovereign rule over all things visible and invisible. No matter how things may look to the naked eye, God is firmly in control. How would John’s first readers have found comfort in this idea? In light of our turbulent world, what comfort can we derive from these images?

Chapter five introduces us to a scroll with writing all over it, sealed up with seven wax seals. This is God’s plan and purpose to redeem all things (Daniel 12:8-10). The question goes out, asking who is worthy to open this scroll – that is, who is able to enact this plan? It is here that the core of Christian reality is displayed. John is crying because no one is capable of doing this – but he’s instructed to cheer up and look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah is able to pull it off. When John looks, what does he see? It’s not a lion at all…just the opposite.

There is a message here for all who suffer and who are concerned that evil has the upper hand in this world. God is ruling from his throne, and his plan to redeem all things is still firmly in his grasp. But how he’s at work doing that is the surprising thing. Not by might, not by power as we understand power. What does a slaughtered lamb communicate to us? What does the cross demonstrate for us? What is the power that God has determined to use to overcome the world?

It’s really important to grasp this. Our own sense of well-being and stability flows from our acceptance of this important truth. We do not lose when we pick up our own cross to follow Jesus – that path leads straight to the throne of God and the making of all things new.

I’m super-stoked about the study this week. I promise not to go all Pentecostal on y’all…but it’s a thin promise.

What is Valuable?

Image result for looking at diamondHave you ever watched one of those shows like Antique Roadshow or even Pawnstars? People are always hopeful that the old Samurai sword they found in the attic or the vase that Aunt Edna willed to them will be worth a fortune. Sometimes they are evaluated highly…mostly they’re not.

Finding something of value is the theme for the passage we’ll be looking at this Sunday as we continue our study of Matthew, reading chapter 13:44-58.

The parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price carry on the prior theme of something hidden and unexpected (like that of the wheat and weeds, the mustard seed and the leaven), but now a new dimension is added: value. Jesus is trying to get across the great value of God’s in-breaking kingdom in comparison to all other things/religions/philosophies/pursuits of life. In what way do you understand God’s rule over your life and this world to be of value? How do you understand it to be the most valuable thing, if you do? What do you think it means to prioritize and value God’s kingdom more than anything else?

The parable of the dragnet leaves the world of agriculture and sets us out to sea. Once again, we have something hidden yet productive as our motif. Why do you think its important that Jesus describes the indiscriminate nature of the net in that it gathers all kinds of fish? What about this story reveals the value of God’s rule to you?

The parable of the old and new treasure seems to be making a closing point to the line of thought we’ve been on. What do you think the old and the new treasure represents in this story? How does this fit into your understanding of how God’s kingdom is at work in your life and this world? How can something old shed light on something new, and visa versa? How did we see that being played out in Jesus’ ministry and later in that of the church?

At the end of the chapter there is yet another story of Jesus being rejected. It sort of plays out in the narrative what was implied in the stories of the wheat and weeds and the dragnet. Why did the people of Nazareth reject Jesus? Based on the last line of this chapter – what is it that ultimately informs our sense of Jesus’ value?

This will be a challenging and, I think, interesting excursion through the stories Jesus tells us. Hope to see you on Sunday!

 

 

 

 

Can We See Our Part in God’s Plan?

How often do you find yourself thinking that you’re too busy to take time to pray? Do you ever dismiss the urge to share about Jesus with someone because it feels uncomfortable? Let’s face it, there are a lot of routines in our lives that the claims of the gospel and the work of God’s kingdom can really have a tendency to disrupt.

But what if, in the midst of those things that we marginalize in order to maintain our routines, the actual key to fulfillment is found?

This Sunday we’ll be reading John 4:31-45 – which is basically the falling action after the story of the woman at the well.

Once again, we have a situation where Jesus is talking about one thing but his hearers are talking about another. He talked about living water with the woman earlier, but she took it to mean literal water. He tells his disciples he’s got food they don’t know about, and his disciples are looking for the snack machine that Jesus got his stash from. But in both cases, Jesus is talking about something BELOW the surface. He compares his cooperation with God’s plan to rescue people with food. Why food? What does food do for the human body? What is Jesus trying to tell us about the source of fulfillment in our lives?

The question is…how is your diet? If you look at your normal idea of food/fulfillment and compare it to Jesus’ – how do our food groups compare?

By saying that the fields are white, Jesus is describing wheat that is ripened and ready to harvest. By saying that the fields are white, are ready, what does that mean to us right here and now?

This will prove to be a challenging study for us – but I think it will be well worth it! Hope to see you Sunday!

Skinny Door

We’re reading Luke 13:22-30 this Sunday.

I remember several years ago that Robbie and I had to fly out west because of a family emergency, a family member had died.  Our flight locally was delayed, and we had a very short layover for our connecting flight. We raced through the airport only to get to the gate just as they closed the door. We ran up and asked to be let on board, but the attendants were unmovable. The rules state that once the door is closed no one else is allowed on. But we begged, saying the plane is still here, the ramp is still connected! Sorry, the rules say no one gets on. There we were, tickets for that flight in hand, no checked baggage, straight from another flight so already passed through security…but still barred from entrance.

We were so frustrated…furious at the insensitivity and senselessness of such impersonal treatment.  We vowed never to fly with that airline again…and but for a few exceptions, have been pretty successful at avoiding them. Ever go through something like that and felt the incredulity of how unfair it all felt?

It’s strange, then, that Jesus tells a story that seems to carry that kind of sentiment to it in the passage we’ll be reading this Sunday. Someone asks a question about salvation…but what did HE mean by salvation?  Was it the same thing WE mean?

What does the image of a narrow door speak to you?  How would you interpret his meaning to your own life?

What is the basis for the Master of the house not letting the latecomers in? What is his reason for sending them away?  Who DOES get in? How would you interpret a saying like “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”?

Lots to think about…hope to see you Sunday!