Friday, April 20, 2007

'Uncomfortable with Evil'

That's the title of the best piece on the Virginia Tech events I've read. Predictably, it was written by Charlie Lehardy.

Words We Need Today!

[This brief and powerful bit of inspiration came as an email today. Each day, my friend and colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot from Faith Lutheran Church in Springfield, Illinois, sends subscribers great inspirations like this. If you'd like to subscribe, send an email to; put SUBSCRIBE on the subject line.]

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A Thought for the Day

The spiritual disciplines of 2 Chronicles 7:14 are not
just conditions for a true revival;
they are the revival itself!

Lewis Drummond
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2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV

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.


Lord, help us prepare for revival by practicing the spiritual
disciplines of humility, prayer, and repentance.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Governor Declares Statewide Day of Mourning in Ohio on Friday

From Governor Ted Strickland's office:
Governor Ted Strickland today declared Friday, April 20, 2007, as a statewide day of mourning for the victims of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

At the request of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Strickland joins with governors across the country in designating tomorrow as a day to remember those involved in Monday’s shooting.

“Ohioans are grieving for the students and faculty members whose lives were tragically taken at Virginia Tech,” Strickland said. “I encourage everyone to take a few moments Friday at noon to offer their heartfelt prayers and support for the victims of this tragedy and their families.”

Strickland asks Ohioans to observe a moment of silence or ring a bell at noon Friday in honor of the victims.
(Thanks to the excellent for drawing attention to this story.)

What Was NBC Thinking?

Yesterday, it was announced that NBC had received a mailing from the Virginia Tech shooter and that the network had immediately forwarded the materials, including a video, photographs, and writings to investigating authorities in Virginia.

I cheered when I heard about NBC's response. In what appears to have been exclusive possession of a mass killer's last will and testament, the network chose not to air any of it. They'd opted, I thought, to be responsible by refusing to give the killer his wish for additional attention and more importantly not giving encouragement to other twisted people to go out in a blaze murderous glory.

But it didn't take NBC long to reverse itself and begin airing the video, displaying the pictures. What were NBC decisionmakers thinking?

It's a good bet they were thinking about ratings. Unfortunately, tabloid journalism pays. With The Nightly News now supplanted by ABC's evening news program and with MSNBC in a quality tailspin since Dan Abrams, he of the true-crimes doc-block fame, took over that network. (Except for Chris Matthews, who is excellent, and Tucker Carlson, who is good.) NBC appears to have weighed the reasons for and against showing the killer's video and his disturbing pictures and decided that rating points were more important than civic responsibility.

I've been a fan of NBC and MSNBC news for years. But where have they mislaid their consciences? Apparently, I'm not alone in my revulsion, either with NBC or all the other editors who, after NBC made its decision, then felt that they "had" to showcase the rantings of a madman.

[UPDATE: Read the outstanding thoughts of Deborah and Charlie in the comments section.]

[UPDATE: Brian Williams' defense is a variation of the child's "everybody else is doing it" argument. Nonetheless, Williams is to be commended for making himself more accessible than most anchors do.]

How to Help Your Grieving Friend, Part #2

[This is the second of two columns I first posted here and submitted to the Community Press newspapers back on May 18, 2004. It seems appropriate today.]

There are four more lessons I've learned on how you can comfort your grieving friend.

Lesson four is this: Let your friend be angry with God. A deeply faithful Christian man whose granddaughter had recently died told me, "Sometimes I get angry with God. I know it's horrible; but it's true." I assured him that what he was feeling wasn't horrible. I reminded him of such people in the Bible as David and Job, who always believed in God, but also got angry with God when dealing with grief or the threat of death. And I told the grieving grandfather, "The fact that you're angry with God proves your faith in God. You would never be angry with someone you didn't think was there."

Most of the time, when we respond to people's anger, no matter its source, with condemnation, it only makes them dig in their heels. God says in Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Letting your friend get angry with God will prevent their anger from becoming an ongoing feature in their life.

Lesson five: Don't avoid talking about your grieving friend's loss. Often, friends fear that if they do so, they'll only make their friends feel sadder. But a grieving friend already is sad and if it seems natural to mention a friend's dead loved one, for example, or if your friend mentions that person, you should be willing to talk about them as well.

A woman once told me, "My friends avoid speaking of my late husband like a plague. What they don't seem to understand is that when they do that, it makes me feel as though they think he was unimportant or that they want to pretend he was never there." Through the years, I have heard that grieving woman's words echoed by other grieving people. You honor your friend when you're willing to discuss with them the people or circumstances they grieve.

Lesson six: Pray for your friend. You should pray that God will bring them comfort, for sure. But you also should pray that God will use you as a conduit for the blessings you want your friend to receive. Whenever I visit people who are dealing with grief, I always ask God to fill me with His Holy Spirit, allowing God's love for my friend to flow through me. Jesus says that the world will know Him when His love is visible in us. Pray that God will love your friend through you.

Finally, if you're a follower of Jesus, your friend will probably eventually want to know what has allowed you to be so helpful to them. You can honestly say that it isn't you who have been helpful, that you have prayed over every step you took with them and that God has guided you. You can tell them that you belong to an eternal God Who has destroyed the power of death and that anyone who trustingly follows Jesus Christ has hope beyond the grave. At the right time, after you've lovingly taken the journey of grief with your friend, that will come as very good news for them!

How to Help a Grieving Friend, Part 1

[In the wake of the recent Virginia Tech tragedy, this seemed like a good time to re-post two columns designed to show ways we can help grieving friends. I first posted this column on May 18, 2004.]

How do we help friends who are grieving?

Over the course of the years, I've learned some important basic lessons about this, both from personal experience and from my reading of the Bible.

If you have a friend who is grieving, whether over the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, or a move that has taken them many miles from familiar faces and places, they can use your help. Fortunately, the principles I've discovered can be used in face-to-face conversations, over the telephone, and even, I have learned, in internet instant messaging. So, to help you help your grieving friend, here are three of those lessons I've learned. In my next column, I'll share four more such lessons.

First and most importantly, listen to your friend. Frequently, whether it's because of our own discomfort or a penchant for wanting to "fix things," we can go to our grieving friends and shower them with torrents of consoling words. But what grieving people most need is to be listened to. Their pain and grief need to be acknowledged.

In the Old Testament book of Job, a man is aggrieved when he loses first, all his sources of wealth and then, all of his children in a natural disaster. Three friends come to visit Job (pronounced with a long "o"). One scholar has pointed out that the friends do something very wise at first. They let Job "vent," allowing him to give full expression to his agony, his questions, his anger. Then, they make a mistake: They open their mouths. My biggest mistakes in life and in trying to help hurting people, have never come from listening. They've always come from talking.

Second, don't try to talk people out of their grief. Grief is something which, over time, follows a more or less natural course. Sometimes more time and sometimes less is required. It depends on the person, their level of faith, and their particular grief. You can't truncate grief with words.

Some people think that they need to give the aggrieved person a "pep talk." But such talks are really designed more to make the talker feel that they've done a good turn than to do any real good for anyone else. A woman's husband died. At the funeral home viewing, a man decided to "cheer her up." He said, "I know you feel bad now. But you'll get over it. My wife died. But I immediately went out and found another wife. You can find another husband." That's a true story and it's truly awful.

Thirdly, don't try to explain what you don't understand. When people grieve over their losses, they wonder, as all of us do, why this has happened. The person who wants to help the friend who is asking this question must resist the temptation to answer it. In all honesty, your friend doesn't want to have a rational explanation anyway. They simply want to be able to say, "This isn't fair!"

And it isn't fair. Life often isn't fair. At the end of Job's forty-two chapters, we're left with this answer to the question of why grief befalls us: We live in a world where bad things happen. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that bad things rain on the good and the evil alike. Why that is so, no one living on this planet is wise enough to say. Only God knows the answer to the question of why and you don't need to play God by pretending to have that answer.

I'll present the other basic lessons I've learned for helping your grieving friends in my next column.

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Revelation 5:11-14

[You can find the first two passes at the lesson here and here. The first link will explain what these posts are about.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments
11Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,
(1) It's typical of apocalyptic literature to speak of looking, then hearing.

(2) The throne of God is surrounded by the praises of thousands. The thousands mentioned here have already been mentioned in Revelation 4:10. There, they cast down their crowns before God. No matter what respect or honor others may accord angels or us, we all must bow to God!

(3) Daniel 7:10 also portrays thousands serving and bowing before God.

(4) In Greek, a myriad is ten-thousand. Clearly, John sees thousands joining in with praises of God.

12singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
(1) Here, the myriads offer a sevenfold hymn of praise to the Lamb, Who gave up His life so that all who repent and believe in Christ may live. (See here.)

(2) From corporate worship on earth, John sees a vision of worship in heaven. There is a connection between the worship we offer here and the worship offered in heaven.

(3) Our term worship comes from a compound of old English words. In worth-ship, we declare the worthiness of God to be given all honor and praise.

(4) Seven was the Hebrew word symbolizing completeness. Creation, according to Genesis 1, was completed in one week and on the seventh day, God declared His work "very good" (in the Hebrew: tov tov). Total praise in response to God's completeness and perfection is being offered here.

(5) Ironically, in a Roman culture that valued violence, power, and wealth, glory was being ascribed to one whose road to eternity was marked by self-sacrifice, service, and poverty.

13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
(1) The Lamb is accorded the same honor as the Father, indicating His oneness with Him.

14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
(1) Amen means Yes! or Let it be! It's a word of affirmation for whatever confession, conviction, or prayer has preceded it.

(2) The four living creatures are mentioned in Revelation 4:6-9.

Finally: Richard L. Jeske says, plausibly I think, that the hymn of redemption found in Revelation 5:9-10, capped by a doxology--a word of glory to God--in Revelation 5:12-14, should be seen as a companion to the hymn of creation in Revelation 4:11. Writes Jeske:
The Lamb who was slain is the only one worthy to open the scroll that is held in God's right hand (5:1). In other words, the cross of Christ is the means for interpreting our past, present, and future. Through Christ crucified we are able to understand the fallen, hostil world, and in him we see it redeemed (5:9-10).

Thanks to...

Dan at A Slower Pace for honoring me with the designation of thinking blogger. I truly am the award and by Dan's gracious words. Go to Dan's fine blog each day, by the way. He too, makes you think.

Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice and Greg Williams of Hymnprovisations (love that name!) for linking to my post on Virginia Tech.

I really am honored...and a little surprised...when others link to this site. To paraphrase an old Amy Grant song, "If anything good shows up on this blog, it's from Jesus!"

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More on Imus: What About Forgiveness?

Channel-surfing a few nights ago when Don Imus's racial slur about the Rutgers University women's basketball team was the obsession-du-jour--you remember those days, don't you?--I heard one host excoriating those who had called for Imus to be yanked from the radio and cable TV. "The man apologized and asked for forgiveness and then, these people sought his firing!" he intoned.

He acted as though it was hypocritical for a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton, Christians, to seek an apology from Imus and still seek his firing. He was wrong.

Time for me to tell one of my favorite stories about forgiveness.

On May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca shot Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square in Vatican City. The pope nearly lost his life. Two months later, Agca was sentenced to life in prison by an Italian Court.

In 1983, John Paul visited his would-be assassin in prison. There, in a corner of a prison cell with bars on its windows, Agca asked for forgiveness and the pope granted it. One of the weekly news magazines featured an image of the event on its front cover with the words, "Why Forgive?" emblazoned across the top.

In the New Testament, the most commonly used word for forgive is aphiemi, which literally means release. The person forgiven is released of the debts for their trespasses of God and others. But the person who forgives is also released, freed of the terrible weight represented by grudge-holding. That's why Jesus taught His followers to pray, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." There's no doubt in my mind that John Paul really forgave Agca that day.

But as the news magazine article pointed out, even after forgiving Agca, the pope climbed into a vehicle and went back to the Vatican; his attacker remained imprisoned. Was the pope being hypocritical? NO!

Agca's assassination attempt was both a sin, a violation of the fifth commandment prohibition of murder, and a crime, a violation of human law. It's perfectly possible for a murderer or would-be murderer to seek and receive forgiveness for their sins and still be forced to face the consequence of crimes.

It's even possible for someone to be forgiven for both crimes and sins and still have to deal with the consequences of their wrongdoing. In the Old Testament, Israel's greatest king, David, committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his dedicated soldiers, Uriah. Uriah was off in battle when David took up with Bathsheba, who soon became pregnant with David's child. Eventually, David arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle, hoping then to take Bathsheba into his home to live happily ever after. But a courageous prophet, Nathan, exposed David's wrongdoing and to the king's credit, he took responsibility for his actions. David repented. (His prayer of repentance can be found here.)

Eventually, much of David's former authority was restored, a tribute to God's gracious willingness to forgive and restore repentant sinners. But there were, nonetheless, consequences to David's rebellion against God. Most notable was the death of the son born of this illegitimate union. And there were other consequences as well, which you can read about in the Old Testament.

The head coach of the Rutgers women's basketball team says that she is trying to forgive Don Imus. No doubt others slandered and dehumanized by his remarks are involved in the same process.

But even if Imus is forgiven by God and others, it can't necessarily insulate him from the consequences of his racial slurs. Responding to the loss of revenue from advertisers, CBS and MSNBC became the agents by which those consequences were meted out.

Will Don Imus work again in broadcasting? Possibly. But one consequence of this incident may be that it will be a more chastened, sensitive Imus who sits behind a microphone.

However that may be, no Christian leader who accepted the former radio shock jock's apology and still thought he should be fired acted hypocritically.

There may be dozens of reasons to criticize Jackson or Sharpton. Their actions in the Imus situation aren't among them.

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Revelation 5:11-14

[For an explanation of what these "passes" are about, go here.]

General Comments (Focused on This Passage)
1. Most commentators identify Revelation 5:1-14 as a single unit and as a pivotal part of the book. John has completed the messages to the seven Asia Minor churches, really a selection of messages for all the churches. Now will come his apocalyptic vision.

2. During worship (see yesterday's pass), John is transported to heaven. There, The New Interpreter's Bible commentary tells us:
...he hears about the one who will open the seal, the lion from the tribe of Judah. But he sees something different. In the midst of the worship and movement in heaven, John sees a Lamb "bearing the marks of slaughter," who comes to God and takes the scroll, the opening of which heralds the manifestation of the crisis described in subsequent chapters.
3. The Lamb is also the Lion of Judah, Jesus, Who conquers through submission to the will of the Father and through His death on a cross. Writes Richard L. Jeske in Revelation for Today: Images of Hope:
The symbol of "the Lamb who was slain" has various antecedents in Old Testament tradition, all of which figure in John's use of it. It recalls the slaughtering of the Passover lamb and Israel's exodus from Egypt...Isa[iah] 53:7, "like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth," is applied to Jesus in Acts 8:32. The imagery of the conquering lamb is also found in the apocalyptic [literature predating John, such as 1 Enoch, which appears in the Apocrypha]...
4. As Jeske tells us:
The symbol of the scroll is that all of world history is subject to the will and power of God. But the scroll is sealed and "no one in heaven or on earth was able to open the scroll or look into it" (5:3). No one is worthy to unravel the mystery of time and existence, of a hostile and fallen world and its future. No one, except "the Lion of the tribe of Judah," "the Root of David," "the Lamb who was slain" (5:5-6, 12)
It's tempting to believe that this Biblical image of the suffering servant destined to reign over heaven and earth being the only one worthy to break the seal of the scroll must have informed one part of the Arthurian legend in England. In a dark age of lawlessness, the legend says, there was no one worthy to be king. That's because no one was able to pull a sword from a stone on which were inscribed the words, "Whoso pulleth out this sword is by right of birth King of England." As whimsically portrayed, first by author T.H. White and then Walt Disney in, respectively, a novel and a movie, each called The Sword in the Stone, a small, underestimated orphan boy called The Wart by his guardian, was the only one able to remove the sword from the stone. The Wart became King Arthur.

5. But if some find the notion of Lamb slain or a suffering servant winning victory over death through submission to a cross consoling, others spurn it. This Savior calls us to take up our crosses--to confess our sin, to own our mortality, to face up to our need of God. For the Christian, the cross is a symbol of liberation and new life. For those without hope in Christ, the cross is a symbol of folly, self-denigration, and defeat. They forget that Easter follows Good Friday! They also underestimate the power to work death that comes from our sin, the sin for which the sinless Christ went to the cross on our behalf and the sin which must, as Revelation tells us, must be bleached from our lives in the blood of the Lamb!

[Verse-by-verse comments tomorrow, I hope.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Revelation 5:11-14

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

Revelation 5:11-14
11Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

General Comments:
1. This marks the resumption of these "passes" at the weekly Bible lesson. Because last weekend marked my first of six messages based on passages from the book of Revelation and I didn't present any introductory comments on that book, I'm going to do that here.

2. As I explained in my message last weekend:
It was written by John, traditionally thought to be the beloved disciple and the author of the Gospel of John and of the three letters to churches also found near the back of your Bible, First, Second, and Third John. By the time John wrote Revelation, he was an old man exiled by the Roman Empire to Patmos, a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Even today, the place is so tiny that it has only about 3000 residents. It’s a rocky place that has been likened to Alcatraz.
The map above shows the position of Patmos off the coast of what was Asia Minor and is modern-day Turkey.

3. Revelation, like the letters of Paul such as Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, and so on, was written as a "circular letter," correspondence to be carried to gatherings of Christians in various communities as they worshiped.

4. Revelation 1:4 addresses the recipients of the letter: "John to the seven churches that are in Asia." This can't be read to mean that there were only seven churches in Asia Minor. From Acts and the letters Peter and Paul, we know that there were gatherings of Christian communities in many more locales than these. But there are two explanations scholars often advance for the reference to "seven churches":
  • John's letter was meant specifically for the seven faith communities mentioned.
  • Or, far more likely, seven, the number of completeness in Jewish numerology, would have caused the original hearers and readers of the letter to see the words John writes here as being a message for the whole church.
5. Revelation is the result of John's encounter with the risen and ascended Jesus. The opening verses indicate that the context within which this encounter and Christ's revelation to John happens is community worship. John's call isn't to a spiritual lone rangerism. His call is from the Creator and the Lord of the Church and he's being called into service to the Church.

6. The literary genre of Revelation is apocalypse. In fact, as I said this past weekend:
Our English title for this book exactly translates the Greek term, apocalypsis. That’s the noun form of the verb, apocalypto, which means, I reveal or I uncover. Here, John presents a series of messages and images revealed to him by the risen and ascended Jesus.
An Old Testament example of apocalyptic literature is Daniel.

The irony of Revelation is that while it purports to clarify, reveal, and uncover, it is in many ways, the most mysterious book of the Bible.

I hope to share general comments on the lesson itself tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jackie Robinson Day

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball, integrating the game. MLB is marking the day and it's appropriate.

Robinson not only opened the door for African-Americans to play baseball, he also opened the minds of white Americans to the need of recognizing the humanity of blacks. And he set a precedent which eventually, other major sports would emulate.

Along with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech and the March on Washington at which he delivered it, along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Jesse Owens' gold medal-winning run in the Olympics held in Hitler's Germany, Robinson's major league debut was perhaps the most significant contribution to racial justice and equality in America during the twentieth century.

Robinson's fearless and dignified performance in spite of initial shunning by some of his Dodger teammates, physical abuse from competing players, and threats and taunts from racist fans, is a monument to self-control and to subordination of one's self to a higher cause. Robinson possessed a volcanic temper. But he realized that if he let the vicious racism to which he was constantly subjected incite him to respond or retaliate, he would close the door for other African-American ballplayers who deserved to be in the major leagues. In a real sense, more than a decade before Martin Luther King, Jr. combined faith in Jesus with the tactics of Mohandas Gandhi to press for civil rights, Jackson embodied non-violent social change.

Non-violent, but far from passive. Twenty-eight years old and a veteran of the Negro League by the time he reached his rookie season with the Dodgers, Robinson dazzled the baseball world with his effective hitting, occasional power, blinding speed on the base paths, and extraordinary defensive skills. Robinson's game sang, "We Shall Overcome" long before most white Americans were aware of that song.

It's difficult, if not impossible, to consider the burden that rested on Jackie Robinson's shoulders on April 15, 1947. He was the repository of black aspirations, a challenge to whites who doubted that black players could compete with whites, and a "firebell in the night," awakening Americans to the long-overdue need to address racial injustice. Had Jackson been a mediocre player, the color barrier might not have been broken for years after 1947. But, fortunately for us all--all baseball fans, all Americans--Robinson performed exceptionally well.

As a fan of the greatest game in the world, it makes me happy to know that it was baseball that led America in this important social change.

The recent Don Imus controversy proves that racism is still alive in the United States. The persistence of race hatred into the twenty-first century, makes Robinson's rookie season sixty years ago, when he endured constant taunts and threats for being a black man in what was thought to be a white man's game, all the more remarkable. It also reminds us that, sadly, sixty years is just the blink of an eye.

Jesus Christ: The Alpha and the Omega

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on April 14 and 15, 2007. The three truths discussed here were identified in a message written and delivered this weekend by Pastor Paul Gauche, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, Minnesota.]

Revelation 1:4-8
For the next six weeks, the period that constitutes the Easter season of the Church Year, we’re going to look at the New Testament book of Revelation. And I want to try to take a different approach to Revelation, than two common approaches, both of which are unhealthy.

One is that of what I call the Get Your Kicks on Route 666 crowd. They read Revelation, with its use of imagery and numbers as symbols, and create elaborate schemes that they claim show us how the world will end, when Jesus will return, what we can do about it, and so on. They do this in direct defiance of Jesus Who tells us not to concern ourselves with times or seasons, but to simply remain faithful to Him until He returns at the end of history.

The other approach is that of the Close My Eyes and Maybe It’ll Go Away group. Sadly, Martin Luther, the founder of the Christian movement of which Friendship is a part, took this approach. He wanted to remove both James, which he called "an epistle of straw," and Revelation from the Bible. But this is just as faithless an approach as that of the first group. I must confess that for much of my life as a Christian, I’ve tilted toward membership in this camp.

Revelation is neither a crystal ball for Christian control freaks or an embarrassment for Christians to avoid.

Revelation is part of the Bible. It is the Word of God. It must be treated as such.

So, a few facts about Revelation. It was written by John, traditionally thought to be the beloved disciple and the author of the Gospel of John and of the three letters to churches also found near the back of your Bible, First, Second, and Third John. By the time John wrote Revelation, he was an old man exiled by the Roman Empire to Patmos, a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Even today, the place is so tiny that it has only about 3000 residents. It’s a rocky place that has been likened to Alcatraz.

Paul Gauche writes, “Historians tell us that the trip to Patmos was generally preceded by a scourging--a severe beating [involving the use of a multi-stranded leather whip laced with stone and metal chips].” During his confinement on Patmos, John would have remained constantly shackled, ill-clothed, and barely fed. He would have had no bed other than the rocky ground.

In other words, John didn’t write this book in anything like the comfortable surroundings I enjoyed at my home as I wrote this message. Our English title for this book exactly translates the Greek term, apocalypsis. That’s the noun form of the verb, apocalypto, which means, I reveal or I uncover. Here, John presents a series of messages and images revealed to him by the risen and ascended Jesus. (But ironically, the book is so mysterious that it seems to sometimes conceal more than it reveals!)

Today, I want to focus on three truths that Jesus reveals in the verse just before our lesson, and in the lesson itself.

First: There is a blessing for all who read Revelation and a blessing for those who read it out loud and for those who listen to it being read. In Revelation 1:3, we’re told: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it...”

Let me try to make this promise clear. I love Sauder furniture. It’s solid and attractive and reasonably priced. But for mechanically-challenged people like me, Sauder furniture is particularly wonderful stuff: With a screwdriver and sometmes, a small hammer, I can put together beautiful pieces of furniture. And it’s all easy because of the clear instructions enclosed in every box. A friend of mine who works at the Sauder plant in Archbold, Ohio, explained that simplicity is something at which the company works: Before introducing new products, the company brings in groups of elementary students and hands them the proposed instructions with the materials for the product. If the kids put the pieces of furniture together without a hitch, they know their instructions make sense. But one day, sure I knew the Sauder way of doing things, I got a piece of furniture put together...all wrong. I had to unscrew everything and start over, this time reading the instructions.

Revelation, like the rest of God’ Word, is God’s instruction manual. When we read it, Jesus promises that we will be blessed. This doesn’t mean that if we read and incorporate the truths of Revelation in our daily living, we’ll have a Maserati in our garage, a fat bank account, no health problems, and perfect lives!

The blessing that comes to us from reading Revelation includes a deeper understanding
  • of God,
  • of His love given to us through Jesus Christ,
  • of His wisdom for daily living, and
  • of the truth that all who turn from sin and follow Christ have life with God forever.
Revelation teaches us that if we will hang in there with God, there is nothing we can’t endure and that there’s no place our life can take us where the love, empowerment, and provision of God can’t reach us.

Revelation also assures us that a future devoid of sin, pain, and death is with God and that when we are with Christ, that future is ours as well.

The second truth we see in the early verses of Revelation are contained in words near the start of our lesson. It’s this: Grace and peace come to us “from Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come.”

In one fell swoop, we’re told that God is the One in control of the past, the present, and the future. This should comfort the person who believes in Jesus Christ.

Years ago, a large Old Testament professor, who was a former football player, made a presentation to leaders from several congregations in Columbus. I was one of these leaders, having just become a Christian, a kid in my mid-twenties, the youngest person in the room. “Let me show you what God’s love for you is like,” he said. He pointed to me and said, “Come up here, young man.” Once I was standing next to him, he instructed, “Push me.” I was reluctant. “Push me!” he insisted. I pushed. The professor didn’t move. “Is that the best you can do?” he asked. “Push me again. Harder.” I pushed as hard as I thought I dared. He didn’t budge. “You’re a young man,” he told me. “I know that you can push me harder than that. Now push!” This time, I took a few steps back and banged into him like a football lineman. And the guy didn’t move a single inch! I practically bounced off of him! “That’s what God’s love is like,” the professor said. “No matter what happens, God’s love for you is strong, steady, and unmoving!”

Here’s a third truth revealed by Jesus in the opening verses of Revelation. It’s found in verses 7 and 8 of our lesson: “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. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Jesus Who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, announces His intention to return to the earth and calls Himself “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.” Alpha, of course, is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and omega its last letter.

Jesus is the beginning and the ending. Jesus is everything in between. Jesus is the One Who can turn our endings, even our endings on this earth, into beginnings. This is a good place to remind you of two other passages in the New Testament. The first is the place in John’s Gospel where Jesus tells His followers, “Without Me, you can do nothing.” The second is where Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”

Where our strength, talent, courage, hope, money, reputation, resourcefulness, and family end, that’s where Christ begins. We need to rely on Christ more than we rely on any of these things. When Christ is our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end,
the past is forgiven,
the present is filled with empowerment from God, and
the future, a future spent with God forever, is assured.
Professor Werner Lemke grew up in Germany during World War Two and tells a story. The Allied forces were advancing, putting an end to Hitler’s Nazi regime. But many German families, like Lemkes, were afraid of what might happen once the Americans, Britons, French, or Russians arrived. His family packed up their things and were ready to abandon their home when one of Lemke’s older brothers said, “Wait a minute!” He went to the family piano, where they all had so often gathered and he played a bit of O God, Our Help in Ages Past. They stuck on the phrase that calls God, “our hope for years to come.” We Christians have a hope that may not be seen. Yet when we dare to lean on Christ, we find a hope for not just the years to come, but for all eternity.

So, for this week, three truths:
  • Reading and listening to Revelation brings blessings;
  • grace and peace comes to those who belong to the One in control of the past, present, and future; and
  • Jesus can assure us of these blessings when we allow Him to be our Alpha and Omega, the first, the last, the everything of our lives.
Let those soak during for the coming week. Then, come back next week as we look more closely at Revelation.