Thursday, May 17, 2007

Reflections on Two Wonderful Lives

I attended the funeral of my Uncle Bob (not his real name) today. He was the husband of my father's youngest sister, Sue (not her real name). Bob wasn't yet seventy when pancreatic cancer took him. Bob and Sue were high school sweethearts, both a decade-and-a-half older than me.

When they were married, I was there and I vividly remember Bob emerging from a doorway on the side of the church sanctuary to wait for his bride to process down the aisle. The reception was at my grandparents' home. There, I shook Bob's hand numerous times, thinking myself very grown-up for giving him my congratulations. I guess I thought that the more I did it, the more grown-up I was.

My aunt and uncle settled into the small home they purchased just one month before their wedding. After the births of my cousins, they made a modest addition to the place, doubling its size. Later, there would be a garage. But, they've stayed in the same place for nearly fifty years.

In fact, they've lived their whole lives in a small Ohio town. Bob worked for only two employers his entire working life. His passions were few: his wife, his kids, his grandkids, golf, fishing, and mushrooming. He had no enemies and, as the attendance at today's funeral demonstrated, he had lots of friends of all races and creeds.

Some may consider his stability boring. But as I considered it and the impact his life has had on others' lives, another word came to mind: inspiring!

Both he and my aunt have always been unfailingly kind to others, but never in ways that called attention to themselves. Bob's eulogist today commented that whenever snow covered the sidewalks on my uncle's lengthy street, Bob pulled out his snowblowers and proceeded to dig out every one of his neighbors' homes.

And today, after the funeral, when family and friends gathered at the small and wonderfully overcrowded house, Aunt Sue did as she's always done...seen to it that everyone had coffee and food. She made sure that they felt welcomed and she thanked everyone for coming. Just like her mother, my grandmother, who was the chief cook in my grandfather's restaurants, my aunt has a servant's heart.

To tell you the truth, the whole experience chastened me a bit. As a preacher, I talk an awful lot about things like neighborliness, love, and servanthood. But I know few of my neighbors in this development, where I've lived for seventeen years. And I spend entirely too much of my time being concerned about other people's impressions of me, rather than concerning myself with what I might do for others. Worse than that maybe, I've always been concerned with what's over the next horizon, instead of living in the now moments and the here places of my life.

My aunt and uncle have never made that mistake and I'm sure that they've been happy for it. And even today, though I know that the grief will at times be almost unbearable for her, I feel sure that my aunt will be happy once and loving and serving among the same people she's lived with, loved, and served all these years.

I'm too tired and lazy to look it up right now, but I remember that in an interview appearing in Leadership magazine some years ago, Eugene Peterson said that his goal as a pastor had never been to jump from one church to another. Instead, he wanted, he said, to stay in one place and keep loving it and loving its people and learning to love it all more and more.

As I drove across Ohio today, passing two of its largest cities, numerous small towns, farms just sprouting with the new crops of spring, and the state's varied topography, I asked myself if I could ever imagine or ever wanting to live anywhere else? Or, would I want to go to some other community? No was the answer I had to both questions.

As long as God wants me to be here, this is the state where I want to live and the community in which I live is the place I want to stay and keep loving it and loving its people and learning to love it all more and more. This lifestyle of staying in one place worked for my uncle and my aunt. Maybe if I learn to be half the servants they've been all these years, I can be a more useful person. And maybe if I let His love show in my life, I'll let my neighbors see just how much God loves them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Why Has ABC's Evening Newscast with Charlie Gibson Vaulted to Number One?

In The New York Times' profile of Gibson, we read:
Asked if he knew why ABC was up and NBC was down, Mr. Gibson said: “I don’t have any answer.”

Pressed to offer some theories, he ticked off several possible reasons. The most important, he said, was “stability.” Specifically he was referring to how he had sought to calm the program’s employees after a turbulent year. Mr. Jennings’s death was followed by the departures of his designated successors (Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas) last year after Mr. Woodruff suffered injuries in Iraq, and Ms. Vargas then decided to step down because of her pregnancy.

He also suggested that the program had “caught some breaks” in recent months, including Brian Ross’s early reporting on the Congressional page scandal that would claim the career of Representative Mark Foley, a Florida Republican. ABC News also received an extra half-hour in prime time on the night of the midterm elections in November. And finally there was the return of Mr. Woodruff, who reported not only on his recovery but on the treatment of wounded veterans.
To me, the answer to why Gibson's newscast has shot up to number one since January is far simpler than the anchor's answer suggests. It's this: Evening newscasts are, in some ways, dinosaurs, favored by the over-60 crowd. Those in other age categories aren't tied to these traditional news venues. They're going to the Internet, cable news channels, and even late night talk shows for their news and information. In the era of the twenty-four-hour news cycle and long commutes to the suburbs, younger people just aren't as acculturated to the evening newscasts as most were in the era of Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley.

But older viewers of these newscasts quite naturally gravitate to older anchors. That's why after the often shrill and irresponsible Dan Rather left the CBS Evening News, older viewers were attracted to his interim replacement, Bob Schieffer, a solid presence they'd known for years.

When Katie Couric, deliberately chosen by CBS execs for her appeal to a younger demographic, took over the news at the "Tiffany Network," evening news traditionalists, not wed to Brian Williams in spite of GE/NBC's typically careful succession planning, cast about for a different anchor to watch.

When Gibson talks about "stability" as an explanation for his evening newscast's ascendancy then, I think he's right. But not for the reason he cites. The stability of the production's staff is probably irrelevant to the upward sweep of ABC's evening news ratings. Instead, it's the stability that older viewers feel when seeing the face of a newscaster they've known for decades.

Me, I'm in a completely different demographic, I guess. After years of watching half of The NewsHour on PBS and switching over to Tom Brokaw, I've taken to watching the PBS offering for its full sixty minutes.

[THANKS TO: Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit for linking to this post.]

Watch Out for ZoomInfo's Inaccuracies!

ZoomInfo apparently collects information about people from the Web to create profiles of them. A blog I read linked to a profile about someone the blogger had just heard about.

For the nuts of it, I typed in my name to see what this profile said about me. Sheesh, is it off...way off!

It accurately lists me as pastor of Friendship Lutheran Church and as a blogger.

But it also says that I'm president of something called Megasports, "a fantasy sports online service," and of the National Association of Firearms Retailers.


So, I decided to contact the ZoomInfo folks to let them know their information is wrong. I mean, I don't mind them collecting public information about me. But this stuff has nothing to do with me.

The ZoomInfo site said it would be easy to change my information. I just had to click on a "This is me" button. But as you progress through the hoops needed to tell the folks at ZoomInfo that their info is whacked, they tell you what Internet Service Provider suffixes they'll accept in order to confirm things with you via email. My ISP wasn't listed...and it's AOL!

They do have an alternative: Give them your credit card number. Are you kidding me? I'm going to give my personal information to some incompetent company that can't get my public information right...and believe them when they say that they won't charge my account? I. DON'T. THINK. SO!

So, now I'm trying to straighten out ZoomInfo's inaccurate portrayal of yours truly by other methods. I've sent an email their way. I'll let you know how things turn out.

You might want to check what they've done to your personal reputation...and see if you can't straighten them out, too.

Let me know what happens. This company deserves to be watched very carefully.

[UPDATE: I just checked. (I've been out of town for my uncle's funeral today. ZoomInfo responded to my email of last night and eliminated the factual errors on my profile. I'm glad of that.]

Thanks to...

Reporters without Borders for republishing and linking to my analysis of the Blair years. I enjoyed seeing the translation of the piece in French also posted on their site.

If you go over to the RSF Blog, also look at the reactions to Blair's tenure from a Pakistani living in England, a French blogger, a Yale professor of Literature, a French-speaking Swiss who lives in London, and a Chinese journalist.

The posts linked to by the RSF Blog have varied opinions, but none are particularly enthusiastic about Blair's legacy.

[THANKS TO: Brian of for his kind words of congratulations for the Reporters without Borders link. If you haven't yet explored Brian's blog, do yourself a huge favor and do so. He does a fantastic job there!]

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Revelation 22:12-21

[Verse-by-Verse Comments, continued]

15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
(1) These are people outside the new Jerusalem. They are there by choice. (See here.) They're people who choose not to repent and choose not to rely on the righteousness of Christ and instead, stand naked in their sins before God.

(2) Dogs was a term used of anyone who was ritually impure. But, more to the point here I think, is that it was used by Judeans of foreigners who stood outside the covenant God made with His people through Abraham.

Jesus playfully uses a related term--the word He uses is actually more aptly translated as puppy--when a foreign woman He has every intention of helping makes a request of Him:
Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:22-28)
(3) God has always regarded sorcery--and that would include things like Tarot cards, Ouija boards, crystals, and daily horoscopes--as "abominations." "You shall not practice augury or witchcraft," Leviticus 19:26 says. [On augury, see here and here.]

Some Christians who read their horoscopes or play with Ouija boards defend themselves by saying, "It's harmless fun." Not according to God. Even if you think that you're being playful and even if you don't believe in such things as dark powers (though it should be pointed out that Jesus believed that they existed), such playing inherently splinters your allegiance to God. A seed is planted in your brain to rely on what the Tarot cards tell you, rather than on God alone. Your allegiance is fractured. Psalm 146:5 says:
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God...
Our "god" is whatever is of highest importance in our lives. Whenever we allow some "oracle" to tell us about our future, rather than relying totally on the God we know in Christ, we engage in idolatry. We violate the first commandment.

Thank God that through Jesus Christ, all of our sins, including the sin of idol worship, can be forgiven and because of God's forgiving grace, we need not stay outside the new Jerusalem!

(4) Those who love to practice falsehood must be those who have fallen so deeply into sin that they feel no twinge of remorse over lying. It's become so natural to them that they don't even think about it.

16“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
(1) The churches to whom Jesus gives His testimony are identified in Revelation 2 and 3.

(2) Jesus' identification of Himself as both the root and the descendant of David echoes, in some respects the description of Him as "the Alpha and the Omega." In a famous passage in John's Gospel, Jesus uses bad grammar to make an important point about Who He is, "“Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58).

I Am, of course, is a rough translation of the Hebrew word for God's Name, Yahweh, meaning I AM WHO I AM, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. The name denotes God as the "ground of all being."

Here, Jesus says that He--God the Son--designated David to be Israel's second and greatest king. He also says that it was God's will that the King of all kings, the Messiah, should be born into a family that descended from David.

(3) Numbers 24:17 said that "a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel." Jacob, of course, was the third of the Old Testament "patriarchs," fathers of the Jewish family of faith. Jesus is the bright morning star, the King Who comes to bring a new day to all who turn from sin and trust in Him.

17The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
(1) The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, third person of the triune God. (For a basic explanation of the Trinity, one God in three persons, see here.)

The Holy Spirit has always been the third person of what theologians call "the Godhead." Genesis 1 tells us that God's Spirit moved over chaos and brought life into being.

But today, we live in what might be called "the era of the Holy Spirit." After Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit to His prayerful first followers. That happened on a day called Pentecost. It's marked as the birthday of the Church, the day when God empowered Jesus' followers to fulfill Christ's mission for all who follow Him.

(2) The bride is Christ's Church. This is an extension of imagery used in the Old Testament, imagery in which God portrays Israel as His bride and Himself as the nation's husband. There are several places in the New Testament Gospels where Jesus applies this imagery to Himself as husband and the Church--which is sometimes called "the new Israel"--His bride.

Remember that in ancient Jewish custom, the bride didn't know for certain when the groom would show up for the beginning of the festivities. The bride and her party had to be ready at any time. This is what lay behind Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids.

For some, the return of Christ with the new Jerusalem is a fearful prospect. But for the Christian, whose faith is made possible by the Holy Spirit with whom the Church agrees here, it's a wonderful thing!

(3) For an understanding of the water of life, go here.

(4) Notice that the water of life is a gift. New life in Christ can't be earned. It's a gift from God through Jesus Christ!

18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
(1) One of the complaints that Jesus has against the seven churches addressed at the beginning of Revelation is how they mess with the pure Gospel. The Nicolaitans, Gnostics, and the Jezebel operating in one of the churches are all adding layers of legalism or hedonism to the Gospel.

Some say that it doesn't matter what you do; you can't lose your relationship with Christ; so, sin away.

Others say that believers need to have secret knowledge or they must manifest certain gifts or do added good works in order to be accepted by Christ.

Martin Luther pointed out that we are to rely on faith alone in Christ alone based on God's Word alone. Any time people try to make the Gospel out as "faith and....," or "Christ and...," or "God's Word and...," they're perpetrating a lie.

John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

It doesn't say, "everyone who believes in him and eats a particular diet." It doesn't say, "everyone who believes in him and tithes to the church." It doesn't say, "everyone who believes in him and votes Republican." It doesn't say, "everyone who believes in him and speaks in tongues." It doesn't say, "everyone who believes in him and knows some 'secret knowledge.'"

John is saying, "Don't add or subtract a single thing to what Jesus has revealed here." Christians could save themselves a lot of unnecessary grief if they would ignore what agenda-driven preachers say about this and other books of the Bible and remember instead to rely on faith alone in Christ alone as revealed in the Bible alone.

20The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
(1) Jesus promises again that He is coming soon. John responds with Amen, meaning YES! Then, he writes a three-word prayer, which in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, would be rendered Maranatha, "Come, O Lord."

As Brian Findlayson says of this passage:
Our burning desire should be for the return of Christ and thus, our union with him.

21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
(1) For a discussion of what a saint is, see here and here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Revelation 22:12-21

[Here is the first pass at this weekend's lesson, including an explanation of what this is about.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments
12“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.
(1) The person being quoted is Jesus. You have to be careful not to misread this passage. Jesus isn't saying that we need to work to gain a place with Him in eternity. Paul writes in the New Testament book of Ephesians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Eternal life with Christ can't be earned. It belongs to those who repent (that is, turn away from sin as a way of life) and entrust their lives to Christ, the giver of eternal life. When we allow Christ into our life, we embrace a new way of living, a way of service that "God prepared beforehand to be our way of life."

In verse 14, John speaks of "those who wash their robes," that is, those who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, on the cross.

The "work" of a Christian is to turn from sin and follow Christ. Bryan Findlayson puts it this way:
The essential command that must be obeyed is the call to faith in Christ.
(See here.)

(2) Jesus begins this section by saying that He is planning on returning to the earth soon. These words are for us, no less than for John's original readers and hearers. Peter writes: not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. (2 Peter 3:8)
13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
(1) John uses the very term--the Alpha and the Omega--to describe Jesus in the prologue of this book. It refers to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and claims that Jesus is the first, the last, and everything. (For more, see here.)

14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
(1) Revelation 7 talks about those who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." These are all who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ, the saints. They've been made clean by Christ's death on their behalf.

(2) This is the tree of life mentioned in Genesis and in last week's Bible lesson.

[More verse-by-verse comments, I hope.]

Jane Fonda Talks About Jesus with 'Rolling Stone'

You can listen to an extended audio clip of Fonda's comments at Rolling Stone magazine's web site here.

The Week reports on some of Fonda's comments about Jesus:
I am utterly fascinated by this man. I feel what he preached was revolutionary, and it's totally what we need now. The most revolutionary statement anyone could make is, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Whew, man, if we could live what he taught, everything would change. But it ain't what goes by the name of Christianity right now.
Some Christians might quibble with what they will see as the "incompleteness" of Fonda's witness for Christ. But I tell the people of our congregation, "You can only share what you personally know of Christ." To assert as truth what you haven't experienced as truth is dishonest and phony. To be a witness for Christ is to tell how His story has intersected with my story and to help others, after careful listening and heartfelt dialogue, to see how all of that intersects with their stories.

Imagine the courage it takes for someone from Fonda's milieu to say, as she does in the clip at the Rolling Stone site, "I'm a Christian and I'm still figuring out what that means." That's honest and compelling...far more so than the "witness" of rule-makers and bigots who parade as spokespeople for Christ and give Christian faith a bad reputation!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hamilton Blogging

PBS' The American Experience aired a fantastic documentary on Alexander Hamilton this evening. If you have the chance to watch it, do so.

Here is a link to some of the Alexander Hamilton blogging that has appeared here through the years.

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Revelation 22:12-21

[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.]

This Week's Bible Lesson: Revelation 22:12-21
12“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

General Comments:
1. John, the only Gospel writer to have a prologue and a brief epilogue in his narrative of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection, appears to have the same literary devices in the book of Revelation. Our lesson is part of what most scholars see as the epilogue of Revelation.

Some say that the epilogue is composed of Revelation 22:6-21, while others leave out the last verse as a separate item, a stereotyped closing greeting in early Christian correspondence.

2. Whatever one includes in epilogue, it's clear that John intends for it, along with the prologue, to form what scholars call an inclusio, framing the major themes of Revelation at the book's beginning and end. (For a brief, helpful discussion of the inclusio as a literary device, see the second section here.)

3. Jeske points to common verbal similarities between the prologue, Revelation 1:1-8, and epilogue:
One can...see that a relationship...between the epilogue and prologue in terms of verbal similarities and subject matter. For instance [in the epilogue], there is a restatement of the theme of reception, that God is the source of the message that John has shared with his audience, mediated to him from Jesus through an angelic messenger (22:6, 16; cf. 1:1). There is also the reference to the entire writing as "the words of prophecy" (22:7, 10, 18-19; cf. 1:3), to be read in the church (22:18; cf. 1:3, 11). Those who keep the words of this prophecy are blessed (22:18; cf. 1:3, 11). Those who keep the words of this prophecy are blessed (22:7; cf. 1:3). There are the Alpha and the Omega theme (22:13; cf. 1:8), beatitudes (22:7, 14; cf. 1:3), a word of grace (22:21; cf. 1:4), and the announcement of Christ's coming soon (22:6-7, 12, 20; cf. 1:1, 7)...
4. It isn't surprising, Jeske says, to see certain of the entire book's themes reiterated in the epilogue:
For instance, the warning to John is repeated that he should not confuse the mediating messenger with God, the source of the message...(22:8-9; cf. 19:10). Other repeated themes include: the access of God's people to the tree of life in the new holy city (22:14, 19; cf. 22:2); a list of vices (22:15; cf. 21:8); the testimony to the churches as delivered by the messenger sent by Jesus (22:16; cf. 2:1-3:22).
[I hope to have verse-by-verse comments tomorrow.]

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Be There or Be Square!

[Click to enlarge image]

[THANKS TO: Matt Brown of Good Brownie for telling his readers about this event. I love Matt's blog, by the way.]

How God Comes to Us

[This message was shared during worship with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church on May 13, 2007. If you live or are ever visiting in the Cincinnati area, you are always invited to worship with us!]

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
A reporter spent time with a young man who was a bit of an anomaly: An honors student in an inner city school. The young man was anomalous because in many ways, his life was a sad inner city cliche. Poverty stricken. African-American. He and his mother abandoned by his father when he was small. Living in ramshackle government housing surrounded by a kids his own age getting involved with drink and drugs and crime. Most of his classmates regarded doing well in school as a waste of time.

Yet this kid continued to do well in school and kept out of trouble in the evenings, even though his mother worked two full time jobs and he, like many of his peers, had way too much time on his hands. The reporter wondered why. So, he trailed this young man for a week. The reporter didn't have an answer until one Wednesday night when he followed the young man to his church. There, in the balcony, this teen, often tempted to depart from the straight and narrow, joined several hundred others in singing praises to God. The reporter watched as this young man threw himself heart and soul into worshiping God. He perceived a change come over the young man. A weight seemed to be lifted from his shoulders. He had abandoned all his fears to take the hand of God.

It isn’t just teens trying to rise above the low expectations, the grave temptations, and the grim prospects of the ghetto who need to know that God...
  • doesn’t want to be separated from us,
  • wants to be with us forever, and
  • if we want it, God will come to us in every time of need.
Maybe the apostle John, exiled to the island of Patmos back around 90 AD, needed to be assured of these things as he lived and slaved each day in shackles.

And maybe for John, as was true for that inner city teen, it was easier to believe that God was with him when he worshiped.

Scholars tell us that whenever the phrase in the spirit is used in this book of Revelation, it signals a time when John was worshiping God. Our lesson starts out with John telling us: “And in the spirit [I was] carried...away to a great, high mountain and [I saw] the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

As John “turned his eyes upon Jesus,” God was able to come to him with a consoling vision. And it was an incredible vision! Consider what John saw:

First: He saw what he calls “the new Jerusalem” come down from heaven. God came to him. To me, this vision is about the past, the present, and the future.
  • Two-thousand years ago, Jesus came to our world where He died and rose for us. But He didn’t leave us orphaned.
  • Today, we have the presence of His Holy Spirit and the encouragement of our church with us.
  • And in the future, He will come to us bodily, too. We’ll see Him as surely as the first disciples saw Him risen from the dead on the first Easter Sunday.
Second: John describes this new Jerusalem. The old Jerusalem, you know, is a city that still exists in modern Israel. Long ago, it was the site of the Temple where pious Jews would come to worship. It was a place they had to go to if they were going to really worship, they thought. But John says that one day, at the end of the histories of the old heaven, the old earth, and the old Jerusalem, when the new Jerusalem comes to us, there will be no temple. John explains that, “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” In the new Jerusalem, believers in Jesus will have direct access to God. But even today, though we can’t see God, Jesus tells us that if we will pray in His Name, God will hear us! Many of you here today have seen the power of prayer in Jesus’ Name too many times to have any doubts about its reality!

Next: John tells us that the new Jerusalem will be a place in which the blazing light of God will illumine us. There will be no night, no fear. And, he says, the tree of life will fill us with the goodness and power and life of God forever.

John presents us with staggering images of a heavenly future. When life lays us low or death stares us in the face, these images may be difficult to see. But even in the most dire circumstances, many followers of Christ have been sustained and encouraged by the promise of the new Jerusalem we have in Christ. A few examples...

George Friedric Handel was already writing cantatas when he was nine years old. Not long after that, he presented his music to the king of Prussia. But then, things took a turn for the worse. His father died. His music, to use more modern nomenclature, was no longer at the top of the charts. Bankrupt and hopeless, Handel locked himself away for twenty-four hours and in the end, emerged with his oratorio, Messiah, based partly on John’s visions as recorded in the book of Revelation.

I learned a few weeks ago that something like 15% of all adult Americans living today have sung the Messiah at some point in their lives. Obviously countless millions have also heard it. This past Christmastime, my family and I attended something called The Candlelight Processional at Disney World. Actor Mario Lopez narrated. A mass choir, partly composed of high school and college groups from throughout Florida, flanked him. He asked all in the audience who had ever sung the Messiah before to stand and join in. Hundreds rose. Our two adult children, my wife, and I also stood, my wife sandwiched between our "kids." As my wife heard the kids sing Handel's words at the tops of their lungs, tears streamed down her face. Think of that: A work of art composed at what was a low point in Handel’s life has lifted millions of people into an experience of God!

When asked how he was able to compose Messiah, Handel said, “I did see the heavens opened and the great God himself seated on his throne.” Handel worshiped God and God came to him.

One of my favorite Christian heroes of more recent vintage is a man named Frank Laubach. Laubach was a missionary concerned with the grinding poverty in which most of the people of the world still live. He wanted to do something about it, but had no idea what it might be. So, this man of prayer turned his eyes on Jesus, asking for guidance. It was while praying that God gave Laubach a vision. Teach adults to read, God seemed tell him, and they could learn...about agricultural methods, about the importance of clean drinking water and hygiene, about the God Who loved them and could help them pursue love and justice in their everyday lives. Laubach began what became a worldwide literacy movement, one active right here in Clermont County. Laubach worshiped God and God came to him.

In the sports pages of today’s Cincinnati Enquirer, you can read the story of Katie and Josh Hamilton. Josh is the player having a tremendous rookie season for the Cincinnati Reds. Drafted first overall in baseball’s draft back in 2002, Hamilton’s skills drew comparisons to Mickey Mantle, among other greats. But Hamilton’s life went into a self-destructive tailspin when he got involved with drugs. The Reds’ senior management were considered courageous this year when they decided to sign the discarded Hamilton. But Hamilton has been clean and sober for a while now and he speaks openly about how his faith in Christ sustains him in the daily battle to stay away from drugs.

This morning’s article describes a turning point in the renewal of Josh Hamilton. His wife, Katie, disgusted by Josh’s relapse into drug use, went to stay with her home. There, she spoke with her pastor and his wife. After that, the article says, “Katie prayed God might help her and halt the misery of seeing a husband ‘completely throwing his life away.’” That prayer gave her the toughness, the emotional distance, and the commitment to push her husband to recovery and to God. Katie Hamilton worshiped God and God came to her.

Are you detecting a pattern?

I must tell you that in recent months, I’ve been praying a lot more than I had been for a time. This congregation and my extended family have been subjects of intense concern and prayer. I realized that I needed to get my brain off of myself and focus more on God in worship and on others in live. So, I’ve thrown myself in more devoted daily worship and striven to make sure that when you and I worship together on the weekends, I’m not just leading worship, I really am putting God first.

In recent weeks, in many different ways, God has been assuring me that He’s close at hand and doing wonderful things. He’s enlightened me with new visions of Friendship as a congregation fervently committed to sharing Christ with others and growing in our dependence on God, as well as in the numbers who are part of our fellowship. I’ve learned again how utterly dependent God is! When I worship God, I find that God always comes to me!

Do you need assurance that God won’t turn you away, now or in eternity?

Do you have a problem you’re trying to figure out?

Is there some need in your family, our community, or our church you’d like to address, but you’re uncertain how?

Worship, give yourself over to the praise of God. Give God the opportunity to descend to you the way He did in the new Jerusalem to John. You’ll be strengthened in the knowledge that God really is with you. You’ll know that all believers in Christ belong to God forever. And when things seem dark, God will lighten your way.

Besides, one day in the new Jerusalem, we will be constantly worshiping and enjoying God's fellowship. So, we may as well start practicing right now!