Destinations In View (Rev 14)

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Destinations In View (Rev 14)

Do you remember being a child and watching scary movies? Sometimes, when the monster was about to attack or the action got really tense, it seemed prudent to hide under a blanket, or cover your eyes, or suddenly get interested in something else until the tension eased in the story. Who am I kidding…I’m still like that. However, as a young tyke, I can remember my mom noticing my worry and reminding me: “it’s just a movie, it’s not real”. If it were a movie she had already seen, she would sometimes let me know how it ended: “It’s okay, they’ll stop the monster, I’ve seen this”. I don’t think people cared about spoilers then as much as they do now.

Anyway, as we are returning to our study in Revelation, we’ll be reading chapter 14, where we’ll be getting some reassurance in the midst of some really tense images. The chapter intends to remind those who follow Jesus about their destination. (spoiler) There’s a good ending for those who believe.

In v 1-5 we are greeted with some familiar characters – the Lamb and the 144,000 followers of the Lamb. We first met these 144K back in chapter 7, and we concluded that they were most likely a symbolic representation of God’s redeemed people throughout time. They showed up as an interlude between the 6th and 7th seal…a quick look at God’s protection of his people, right before we saw the finale of history.

As we look at how these people are described in v 4-5, what significance do we assign to each of these symbolic characteristics?

Verses 6-12 has a vision of three angels, or messengers, each declaring invitations and warnings. The first angel has the invitation of the gospel. To whom is that gospel offered? What similarities do you see between those people and the people of chapter 13? What does this tell us about God’s heart?

This chapter is pretty loaded with disturbing pictures and forecasts – most of which we’ll try to unpack on this teaching. 

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Things Get Beastly (Rev 13)

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Things Get Beastly (Rev 13)

We’ll also be returning to our study of the book of Revelation! We’ll be reading chapter 13.

This is probably one of the most famous chapters of this whole book because it contains the infamous and mysterious sequence of numbers: 666.

In order to really get the full effect that John’s vision is seeking to evoke, it would serve you well to read Daniel 7, because it contains very similar imagery. Daniel’s dream of a series of beasts rising from the sea is usually, and certainly by John’s day, considered a forecast of the successive empires that ruled the ancient world. Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and finally Rome.

Given that idea – what do you suppose the beast from the sea in John’s vision might represent? What similarities are there between Daniel’s dream and John’s vision? Who is it that is said to give this beast his power and authority? What main characteristic of the sea-beast stands out to you?

John then sees a monster from the earth. He has horns like a lamb but the voice of the dragon (chapter 12). Who can you think of that is described as a “lamb” earlier in this book? What significance to you see in having the appearance of a “lamb” but the voice, or words of a “dragon”? What is the earth beast’s mission? Count how many times the word “worship” is repeated in this chapter. Do you find that significant? What is it that is withheld if a person does not worship the beast?

Politics, religion and money. It appears to be a toxic combination, doesn’t it? If you were to read this as an encouragement in following Jesus, what message would you take from it?

The number 666…..what does it mean? I’ll get into my thoughts on that during this teaching.

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A Birth And A Battle (Rev 12)

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A Birth And A Battle (Rev 12)

As we approach the celebration of Jesus’ entrance into our world this Christmas season, we’ll find interestingly, in our study through the book of Revelation this week, the birth of Christ from an apocalyptic perspective. Well be reading chapter 12:1-17.

Once again in our study we’ll see that things aren’t always as they appear. As the curtain is pulled back behind the serene scenes of a baby lying beneath the stars in a manger, we’ll find a sinister character lurking in the shadows. We’ll see the birth of Christ as the invasion it truly was into enemy occupied territory.

Is the red character described in vs 4 the one that comes to mind this time of year? When you think of Christmas do you see it as the turning point of an epic battle? Could recognizing our world as a war zone help bring any comfort as we walk through the trials and difficulties of this
life?

Verses 7-9 Clearly identify the dragon as Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. Who else might we wrongly or unwittingly mistake as our enemy? Have you ever found yourself in the midst of life’s difficulties wondering or feeling like God was against you? Our text gives us a glimpse of the battle that was going on behind the scenes of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It says God’s angelic army lead by Michael, defeated Satan and his cohorts. Does that victory bring any comfort or clarity as to the source of our troubles? Remember in Matthew’s gospel (12:24-25) when the pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the devil? He said a kingdom divided against itself couldn’t stand. Could our God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, be the source of both good and evil?

In verses 10-12 we get some insight into our role in this epic battle. They expose Satan’s age old strategy of accusing and condemning God’s people who overcome it says by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony…We overcome in other words, by accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and by how that effects our identity. When we invite Jesus’ to be Lord of our lives the word assures us we’re not the same old people we were before.(2 Corinthians 5:17) His influence in our lives radically changes everything!! How has embracing Christ changed your view of yourself? Who are you ,according to Him?

Finally we see a picture seemingly right out of Godzilla with the dragon stomping through the streets spewing water at the woman…clearly he is trying to drown her out once and for all… Who does vs 17 identify as those the dragon is making war with? Does knowing that you’re not alone as you undergo constant assault provide any sense of peace? The church has been under attack from the very beginning. What comfort have you found in our fellowship of believers. Have you ever considered those sitting in the rows beside you as allies in this spiritual battle? How could meeting together regularly with your own seal team (Navy) prove helpful as you walk out this good fight of faith?

It should be an interesting study!

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Can I Get Two Witnesses?  (Rev 10-11)

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Can I Get Two Witnesses? (Rev 10-11)

While Revelation may be the most puzzling book of the Bible, chapters 10 and 11 prove to be the most puzzling section of Revelation. The imagery is dense and the symbolism is deep and this will take some thinking as we navigate our way through this section.

We’re first introduced to an angel holding a little scroll which John is instructed to eat. If you read Ezekiel 3, it gives some context to this odd requirement. What do you think this action symbolizes for John, and what might the scroll represent?

In chapter 11, John is instructed to measure the temple, symbolically indicating it’s preservation. At the time of Revelation, the temple had been destroyed more than 20 years earlier. What do you suppose this temple represents? Hint: 2 Corinthians 2:6.

The witnesses are described as lampstands and olive trees. What else has been described as a lampstand in Revelation? What might these witnesses represent?

Wear your thinking socks for this teaching, this will be a challenge, but well worth it!

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The Trumpet Section (Rev 8-9)

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The Trumpet Section (Rev 8-9)

This week we’ll be reading two chapters in Revelation – chapters 8-9 – as we continue on our journey through this book. There is a dense amount of imagery in this section dealing with another set of 7 events. We’ll be reading about the seven trumpet judgments that come on the earth. As we’ve said many times already, there are a myriad of differing views about what these images mean and when they take place.

I am someone who is persuaded by the interpretation that says this set of seven trumpets and the set of seven seals prior to it, are describing the same events but from differing perspectives. These may be descriptions of the state of the world during the period of time between Christ’s ascension and his return.

Again, as you read these images, use your imagination to picture the scenes and consider how those images make you  feel. Revelation is a book meant to be experienced as well as read. In what ways have we seen our ecological environment negatively impacted, and how might that relate to the images of chapter 8?

Most of these images are showing us what happens when humanity gets its own way – we want to call the shots and rule the world, and the world becomes a tormenting place as a result.

All of these judgments carry that theme. And the last verses of chapter 9 show us the disheartening results. Judgement, and the threat of it, does not seem to change people’s hearts. What can we learn from this as we carry out the mission of the church?

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Sealed and Secured (Rev 7)

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Sealed and Secured (Rev 7)

Many commentators view Revelation 7 as the most comforting and encouraging vision of the entire book. That is the section we’ll be reading this Sunday as we continue our series through these famous last words.

The vision starts rather oddly, with four angels holding back what appear to be destructive winds from scorching the earth. The reason they are held back is because God’s people are to be sealed, or marked first. Read Ezekiel 9:1-4 and Ephesians 1:13-14. How would you interpret the “seal”?

The 144,000 and the innumerable multitude are images we’ll talk about more on Sunday. The main thing to notice in the section though is God marking those who are His own. How would his persecuted first readers have found hope in that, and how can we find hope from that image today?

The rest of the chapter has some of the most tender imagery we’ll find anywhere in the Bible. In V 15-17, read over what it is the One on the throne and the Lamb will do for the people who belong to God. Use your imagination to envision the scene, then transliterate it to experiences you’ve had in this life that are similar. For instance, the One who sits on the throne will give His people shelter. Literally, provide a tent for them. In Near Eastern thinking, this is saying “bring them as family”. What does it mean to you to belong to a family – to experience the provision and protection that extends well beyond what you can achieve alone?

What do these images convey about the heart of God towards us?

I love this section – I hope you will too!

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The Crisis of Resistance (Rev 6)

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The Crisis of Resistance (Rev 6)

We’re going to be reading Revelation chapter 6 on this study. The first 6 seals of the scroll will be opened and we’ll look at the conditions of this broken world that are the result of God’s kingdom breaking in. Also…you’ll get to see a drawing of how I envision John’s description of the infamous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Read the passage over if you get a chance before Sunday and use your imagination to see and feel what John describes.

What are conditions like for a world that resists God’s rule?

What encouragement do we take from the souls under the altar who were martyred for their faith? What are they told and how does that shape our own response to unjust treatment by this world?

What does the final cataclysmic description tell us about the result of resisting God’s rule? Who is described as trying to hide under the earth? What kinds of people are they? What does that tell us about the source of this broken world’s problems?

Stuff to ponder.

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All Things Visible and Invisible (Rev 4-5)

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All Things Visible and Invisible (Rev 4-5)

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.

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Enduring In A Hazardous World (3) (Rev 3)

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Enduring In A Hazardous World (3) (Rev 3)

Have you ever watched the show "The Walking Dead"? If not, don’t watch it for my sake. It’s not for everyone, and it is certainly in the horror genre of shows – but as a die-hard comic book fan I feel it’s my duty to watch it. Zombies have certainly made a cultural impact lately. I’m not sure what the appeal is or why it seems like the rage, but a rage it is nonetheless. The premise of the show is that a mysterious virus has infected the earth and re-animated corpses – so that dead people walk around and seek to devour living humans. Oddly…Jesus sort of makes that kind of picture for us in the text we’ll be reading this Sunday, albeit, he’s speaking spiritually.

We’ll be continuing our study of Revelation, reading all of chapter 3 and finishing up the letters to the seven churches.

Jesus’ complaint against the church in Sardis was that they had the reputation for being alive…but they were the walking dead.

What sorts of things can you think of that would give a church a name for being alive and vibrant yet spiritually disconnected? How can we as the church and as the people who make up the church avoid such snares in our own communities and spiritual pursuits? As we read this letter, what do we discern that Jesus is expecting from the church in the last days?

The church of Philadelphia receives no correction – just encouragement to hold on even though they little influence (strength). Jesus promises vindication for them – but how does he envision that vindication coming about?

The church of Laodicea receives what is probably the most recognized rebuke. Being neither hot or cold, their lukewarm condition elicits the threat of being spit out. It’s harsh, right? They claim to be rich and needing nothing, but Christ sees them as poor, naked and blind. In what ways can we start drifting into a sense of self-sufficiency? How would we correlate Jesus’ offer of pure gold, white clothes and eye medicine with what he offers us in a redeemed life?

We’ll cover the promises made to the faithful on this study – but they are very encouraging to me.  Hope you think so too!

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Enduring In A Hazardous World (2) (Rev. 2:12-29)

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Enduring In A Hazardous World (2) (Rev. 2:12-29)

In this study we’ll be continuing through the letters to the seven churches in our study of the book of Revelation. We’ll be reading chapter 2:12-29, where the cities of Pergamum and Thyatira will be the recipients. Jesus follows the same pattern: commendation, correction, warning and promise.

We’ve been considering Jesus’ corrections for the churches to discern what it is God is expecting from the church as we live in these last days – what is our emphasis to be? What should characterize our ministry? As we looked at Ephesus and Smyrna, we learned that prioritizing love and minimizing fear were our expected attitudinal priorities.

Pergamum was a capital city in the Roman Empire – the ruling city of the province of Asia. Jesus refers to it as the city where Satan’s throne is…and Satan’s city. Jesus certainly does a little name-calling in these chapters. What do you think he means by this, considering that “satan” means enemy or accuser?

The church there had some good things going on, but Jesus addresses their tolerance of teachings that bear similarities with the actions of Balaam, the Old Testament rogue prophet. You can read about him in Numbers 22-24. Clearly, the symbolism is meant to indicate that the church in Pergamum was in danger of being absorbed by the cultural influences of their day. Applying that to our own time and culture, what influences do we need to be mindful of? What aspects of our present culture flow with the values of God’s kingdom, and what aspects do not? How do we make that determination?

The promise given is that of hidden manna in heaven. What did manna provide for the Israelite? What might this invisible, heavenly-sided manna be for us?

The promise of a white stone with a new name is intriguing. There are many different views about its meaning. I’m partial to the connection with the “tessara hospitalis” view. What does the white stone speak to you?

We’ll also be reading the letter to the church in Thyatira, and while it’s the longest of the letters, we’ll deal with it briefly, since it largely carries a similar warning to that of Pergamum. This time around, the false teachings being tolerated are compared to the Old Testament character Jezebel – whom you can read about in 1 Kings 18 and 19.

Committing adultery with “Jezebel” is symbolic in nature – indicating, not actual adultery, but spiritual unfaithfulness on the part of the church. Apparently they were being tempted to follow doctrines that led them away from Christ and to something or someone else. What things in our world vie for our affection or allegiance in competition with Christ? How can we examine our loyalties and see to it that Christ holds the highest priorities in our choices?

This will be a challenging study – hope you enjoy it!

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Enduring In A Hazardous World (Rev 2:1-11)

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Enduring In A Hazardous World (Rev 2:1-11)

Man…what a year 2017 has been! We’re on track to break records for the magnitude and frequency of natural disasters this year. USA today says we’ve already tied the record for billion dollar disasters. It is reasonable that people are wondering about the end of the world.

I’ve been asked multiple times if I think these are signs of the last days. My answer is “absolutely”. According to Matthew 24, all of these things – wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, storms, diseases – are going to characterize the world as we wait for Jesus to return. From the time Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, we’ve been on the final stretch of history until he returns. So, yes, these are indicators of that…but in many ways, it’s just another tragic day in a broken world. These are the labor pains as a new world is breaking in. Since labor pains usually increase as the birth draws closer, it seems reasonable that these upheavals will increase as we get closer to the end.

Given that, how should the church be responding to this? What is Jesus expecting from us as this world reels and becomes hazardous? If the world were going to end tomorrow, what does God want to see from us?

That’s what we’ll be considering this Sunday as we continue our study in Revelation, reading chapter 2:1-11.

This begins another section traditionally called the 7 letters to the 7 churches. As we stated before, there were more than 7 churches in Asia Minor, so highlighting 7 of them carries the implication that these instructions are for all churches throughout all time.

The first church addressed is in Ephesus. They are commended for an active ministry and doctrinal purity. They were hard at work, serving each other and holding on to orthodoxy. But Jesus zeroed in on something that was lacking. What was it? They were doing the stuff that most churches are always being prodded towards – but it doesn’t seem to be worthwhile without the component Jesus identifies as missing. Jesus tells them to “remember”, “repent” and then “do”. What would that look like lived out in real life?

What does that tell us about God’s expectations of us as this world rocks and reels? What is our main mission as we march toward the end of history?

We’ll also be reading the instructions to the church in Smyrna. They aren’t corrected for anything – but they are encouraged not to do something. What is it? What does that tell us about God’s expectations for the church in the last days? What should characterize our attitudes and ministries? How does that square with frantic end of the world predictions you’ve encountered?

These are some things to think about!

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Jesus In The Middle of His Church (Rev 1:9-20)

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Jesus In The Middle of His Church (Rev 1:9-20)

Do you remember those old “magic eye” posters that were all the rage in the 90’s? They were 3D images that were masked by a two dimensional pattern that could only be seen by slightly crossing your eyes, like you would to view a 3D stereogram (this is what a stereogram is, if you don’t know and actually care).

The key to seeing those visual puzzles had to do with refocusing your eyes. The picture didn’t emerge until you saw it from the proper focal direction.

That is a lot like the book of Revelation. It has a message that seems confusing and difficult on the surface reading – but when we focus our eyes properly, we begin to see that not everything is as it seems on the surface. The symbolic imagery begins to take on a different meaning which encourages us to hold fast to our faith in Christ.

We began an expository study of Revelation last week, and this week we’ll continue, still in chapter one, reading v9-20.

The first eight verses were the introduction, the last 11 are the opening of the prologue.

A dramatic and powerful voice commands John to write this down in a letter to 7 churches in the province of Asia Minor. When John turns to see who’s talking, he gets an eyeful. Jesus stands in the middle of 7 lamps, which v 20 says stand for the 7 churches. The number seven will be significant in this book. It’s actually a significant number in the whole of the Biblical Narrative. Easton’s Bible Dictionary says: “Seven is used for any round number, or for completeness, as we say a dozen, or as a speaker says he will say two or three words.”  Given this usage of that number – what significance do you think “seven churches” has?

The One speaking isn’t named as Jesus, but his self-description of being dead but now alive is a clear indicator of who this Risen One is. Where is he standing? Given that the lamps are the church, what is significant about his placement?

Look at the descriptions of Jesus. A long robe, a golden sash, white hair, flaming eyes, shining skin, burnished bronze feet and a literally sharp tongue (sorry, couldn’t help myself). All of these symbolic descriptors are meant to indicate Jesus’ power and ability to preserve and empower his church. What do you think these descriptions imply about Him in relation to the church?

We’ll go into more detail on Sunday – but take some time to read this passage before-hand. Get the feel of how John uses imagery. Let your imagination take flight and do your best to picture what John is describing. This is how we’ll enter into this as an experience and not just another lesson with more information to store. Let’s get stoked about “The First and the Last, the LIVING ONE!”

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Revelation-Introduction (Rev 1:1-8)

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Revelation-Introduction (Rev 1:1-8)

Well – it had to happen at some point, right? This Sunday (Lord willing), we will begin a new Bible study on the last book of the Bible – The Revelation! I know for some this has been something they’ve been hoping for for quite some time. It is literally the last book of the New Testament for me to teach through.

Now I know that the world was supposed to end a few weeks ago and some people got really caught up in the hype of that. We have had a lot of cosmic-like events happening lately, a solar eclipse cut across North America, multiple devastating hurricanes and earthquakes have done catastrophic damage around the world and a violent madman unleashed automatic gunfire into a crowd of innocent concert-goers. So many terrible things happening that we could start wondering if these are signs that the end is near.

The Revelation that John wrote will address that, as Jesus did in Matthew 24. I can tell you now, that yes, these are signs of the end. From the time that Jesus was raised and ascended into heaven until he returns again the world is in it’s last stage. It’s lasted a lot longer than anyone anticipated, but these last 2,000-plus years have been the last days. Jesus told us plainly that what will characterize the world in the interim of his two advents will be wind and waves, diseases, earthquakes, wars and rumors of wars. The world will continue in violent upheaval that are like birth-pangs, waiting for a new world to be born. So, yes, the horrible things we are seeing daily on the news are indications that we are in that time Jesus spoke of, but it’s just another day in a broken world as well.

So the natural question Christians and the church have asked throughout the ages has been, “If we claim that Jesus is Lord and ruling all things, why is all this terrible stuff still happening? Why do Caesars and Hitlers and Kim Jong-Uns still exercise their tyranny and hurt so many people? Why does the world seem like its full of monsters?”

The Revelation was written to answer that question. It was intended to pull back the cosmic curtain and remind us that there is more going on than meets the eye. God has a plan and purpose that he continues to fulfill, no matter what it may look like on the surface.

Let me warn you that I will not be offering charts of sequential events or providing formulas for how to calculate when the end will occur. We won’t be describing ways in which we can spot the Antichrist or set a date for the rapture. What we will be doing is reading The Revelation to discover what it tells us about today, and how we can find hope in Jesus in our present lives. I believe this book has a lot to offer in our ongoing discovery of Jesus! In fact…I’m SUPER stoked about this book as I’ve been re-studying it over the last several months!

As we begin our study, we’ll be reading v 1-8 as an introduction.

It may help if you have an acquaintance with the genre of Apocalyptic Literature.

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Practicing To Practice

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Practicing To Practice

In this study we’ll be continuing our short series of Following Jesus into the World – and we’ll be talking about Practicing to Practice. There are two different ways in which we use that word “practice”. It either means learning in preparation for the “real thing”, like a competition or a performance. It can also mean to practice something like law or medicine.

I believe the main purpose that we find for gathering is actually missional. Our main text is going to be Ephesians 4:11-16.

What does Paul say about the reason for the gifts that God placed in the church? Entertainment? Personal edification? What does he expect is going to happen as people gather and experience the presence of Christ corporately? How does that enlarge the idea of practice in it’s first usage? How does it relate to practice in the second way we described it?

In what ways can you imagine the church community as a practice field for our lives in the larger world?

I think this will be a challenging study!

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