Saturday, October 19, 2013

Life and Love in the Book of Revelation

Usually the discussions on the book of Revelation tend toward end of the world themes.  You may have noticed.  This is a look at the church at Ephesus which is one of the seven churches Jesus addresses in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation.  Can it be that there is something wonderful for the followers of Jesus tucked away in this address?  Indeed there is.  Come along, if you would like, and see. 

 Jesus promises the one who overcomes, conquers or achieves victory that they will get to “eat of the tree of life.”  I am of the opinion that eating of the tree of life is a big deal and will do something huge in a person’s life.  Here is Revelation 2:7 (NASB) to see how this is written:

'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'

To eat of the tree of life is a privilege Jesus is making available.  I want to taste it just because He makes it so, but maybe the illustration of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God is worth exploring to find out more about what I am going to taste.  In the book of Genesis Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and they had an awesome relationship with God.  The relationship and all the remarkable things that went with it were thrown under the bus by their rejecting God.  Believing the lie they decided God wasn’t trustworthy, went their own way, and the result was a broken relationship and distance from all they had enjoyed before.  Banished from the garden paradise they were kept from the tree of life which was in there. 
The tree of life is explained in all sorts of ways in various cultures and among Jewish and Christian groups.  You can check it out for some interesting viewpoints.  One of the views is about the perpetuity of life.  The length of life or the quantity of years is a common view which seems appropriate since Adam didn’t live forever.  But we have more information than just Genesis available to us.  

We are looking at Revelation with its perspective on the end and of life beyond.  So, what do we discover?  People, all people live forever.  They will live with God or away from God, but they will live.  Then, I ask, what is the deal with “everlasting life?”  That expression has something to do with quality of life rather than quantity of life.  The quality is also connected to a close and dynamic relationship with God.  We can see a difference in people who are alive biologically, but dead in the head and everywhere else.  Is receiving that kind of “everlasting life” a good thing?  No.  There is much more and much better.  It is the higher quality…correction…the highest quality of life God is promising with the tree of life.  It is life with God. 

When will this taste of the tree of life take place?  Again, many views abound.  I add this one.  It is available to the one who overcomes right here, right now.  No way.  Way.  The tree of life which is in the Paradise of God is often taken as a reference to the afterlife in heaven.   Of course, it is available then, but the promise Jesus makes is to folks living on earth.  The Garden of Eden was on earth.  Angels were set as guards on the east side to keep Adam and Eve from access to the tree of life.  Paradise (another word for garden or the king’s garden) is on earth and available to whomever God chooses to make it available.    Jesus says He makes it available to those who overcome.  Real intimacy with Him in a relationship that is unmatched. 
There is something important about the person who overcomes.  What is it that a person is overcoming?  A variety of opinions like the colors of the rainbow emerge.  Many see the overcoming as the lifelong moral battle of a Christian.  As I look at Revelation 2 and the church at Ephesus I see one thing that was cause of great concern to Jesus about them.  It wasn’t theology because he notes they were protecting truth.  It wasn’t lax morals which apparently they were trying to correct in the Nicolaitans.  The one thing was that they had lost their first love.  Jesus says it this way,   But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Revelation 2:4 (NASB)  Love.  You may remember what Jesus said about the importance of loving God. 

 37 And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' 38 "This is the great and foremost commandment.  Matthew 22:37-38 (NASB)

Everything rises and falls on loving God.  Everything.  Jesus after His death and resurrection is keeping an eye on His people in the church and recognizes they are doing churchy things well, but the love of God is diminished.  Back to the topic of overcomers.  What is it Jesus wants His people in Ephesus and everywhere to do?  Love God with all you are.  Get over yourself.  Stop loving the world, the flesh and other things and love God.  When they love Him full on they overcome and Jesus says they get a bite of the fruit of the tree of life in Paradise.  Bam! They experience more of God, more of Jesus, more of the Holy Spirit.  They get the rush of His loving presence in ways beyond what they had experienced so far.  

In Revelation 22 God and the Lamb (Jesus) are central.  The river with the water of life flow from the throne of God and the Lamb.  On each side of the river there is a tree of life.  The leaves of the tree is used from medicine to heal the nations.  The nations are the different peoples of the earth gathered to God.  They aren’t physically suffering at this point.  What is it they need more than anything?  Closeness to their God.  The old curse of separation from God illustrated by the guarded tree of life changes at this point.  They are healed and there is no more curse.  The throne of God and of the Lamb will be there and God’s people will worship.  Let us be overcomers, and love God with all our heart, soul and mind. 

1 Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. 3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. 4 And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 (NLT)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

6 Decades

Upon reflection on the occasion of my 60th birthday

·         I have lived about 2/3rds of 60 years in Oklahoma
·         About 1/3rd growing up with a great family
·         I spent 1/3rd of 60 years in school
·         Over half of my years I have had with the bride of my youth
·         Half of my life as a father
·         About 10% of my life as a grandfather
·         About 10% of my 60 connected with the US Army
·         About 25% as pastor of Grace Bible Church
·         And 100% blessed by God

Regrets, I got them:

I would like do-overs...
  • I regret spending too much time worried, not listening to God, pursuing stupid stuff, being envious or mad or self-absorbed.
  • I regret not being better at communicating how much someone means to me
    • Not being able to express appreciation and gratitude well
  • I regret not trusting God more and enjoying the embrace of His love fully each day
  • I regret ugly places in my heart that kept God’s light out
  • I regret not saying “no” to my inflated self, the ways of the world and the devil
  • I regret not loving people better by loving God’s way

I Do Not Regret:

  • I Do Not Regret Time spent with family and friends
  • I Do Not Regret wasting time watching the river pass by, ocean waves roll in, the sun setting, the stars shining
  • I Do Not regret praying even though God brought things about in some way different than I had in mind
  • I Do Not Regret having a variety of people in my life.  Some close and some as enemies.  (Can’t go with Will Rogers and his “never met a man I didn’t like” cause I have)But both those for me and those against me have brought something into my life that I needed and showed my something I needed to change. 
  • I Do Not Regret having worked jobs that were hard, jobs that I didn’t like, jobs that diminished my ego.  Because it was on those jobs God showed me the dignity and value of every job and every person who does those jobs. 
  • I Do Not Regret not being the wealthiest or most famous of people.  That requires character of a type I do not possess.
  • I Do Not Regret not having a large church or well known ministry to boast about.  Things of that sort may have led me to think so well of myself and my methods that I would have stopped pursuing God and His ways while promoting and selling my own.  It may have been a distraction from what God wanted to say and do.  It may have kept me from the people God in His wisdom planned for me to share life with. 
  • I Do Not Regret limited abilities, skills and talents which remind me to appreciate the abilities, skills and talents of others.

I Have Been Surprised By:

  • I Have Been Surprised By God’s grace and mercy
  • I Have Been Surprised By God’s presence and guidance
  • I Have Been Surprised By The depth of people’s commitment to dark things, selfish ambitions and injustice.
  • I Have Been Surprised By The determination people have to ignore or reject God.
  • I Have Been Surprised By The beauty of people caring for another: husbands and wives, moms and dads, the hurting, learning, coaching, training, leading, healing, helping…
  • I Have Been Surprised By God’s way over the ways of man.
  • I Have Been Surprised By Ear hair
  • I Have Been Surprised By The Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
  • I Have Been Surprised By Cass, who still loves me though I drive her crazy at times.
  • I Have Been Surprised By Family who put up with me and keeping coming back for more.
  • I Have Been Surprised By Church folk who allow me to take them on a journey with God that doesn’t fit tradition or the text book, but is seeking God and seeing God in action
  • I Have Been Surprised By Friends new and old who make room for me
  • I Have Been Surprised By Seasons of life-it ought not be a surprise, but when seasons change I am often surprised
  • I Have Been Surprised By Expectations of life-I have pictured things in my head going one way and then I am ticked off or disappointed about things not going that way.  Later to discover my plan would have missed God’s plan and His plan is better.
  • I Have Been Surprised By My lack of growth and not getting it by this age
  • I Have also Been Surprised By My growth and getting it at this age

6 decades is not so much

I feel inside like there is much to learn, to experience, to figure out, to do.  I feel as if I am at the starting line of something great. 

My body doesn’t bend, jump, keep up or recover as it once did.  The color is gone from my hair. 

Discovering more of God has opened more insights and understanding and spiritual doors than ever before. 
Enjoying life in God’s kingdom is new every morning and full of surprises every day. 

Life is but a vapor and this one has been a grand vapor.  I thank God for 60 years.  I am grateful that He has taken me on such a journey and thankful for the people He has allowed me to journey with.