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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And The Beat Goes On (Matthew 28:16-20) Rob Woodrum

Well – we did it. After a year and some change, we have come to the final study in the Gospel of Matthew. We will be finishing up chapter 28, reading verses 16-20. This is Matthew’s abbreviated account of Jesus meeting up with his disciples after his resurrection. It’s a brief passage, but there is a lot of stuff to consider in these final words.

Jesus gives several imperatives in his final instruction. Go to all nations, make disciples, baptize, teach, obey and trust. This is what will be going on until, as he puts it, the end of the age. Which of those imperatives are easy for you to jump in on and participate in? Which ones are more challenging for you? How has our study of Jesus’ ministry help to shape our understanding of what this will look like?

I hope you’ve gotten as much out of Matthew’s gospel as I have. I hope we all gain a clearer focus of God’s kingdom and heaven meeting earth to make all things new.

Bearing Our Consequences (Matthew 27:32-66) Rob Woodrum

I was doing my usual research for our teaching this week and came across some differing views about policies of capital punishment in the Roman Empire (yes…I’m that boring), which led me to investigate historical evidences of crucifixion, which led me down a very long path of looking at all the various ways in which the crucifixion of Christ has been represented in the arts. (None of this, by the by, made the cut for my teaching…but it was fascinating for me)

What struck me was how much the crucifixion of one Middle Eastern man two millennia in the past has persistently and relentlessly invaded the imagination of humans right up until this present day. That cross emanates something we vaguely intuit. There is a key there and we can’t shake it.

The New Testament has the crucifixion of Jesus as a central theme from which the hope of the gospel flows out. While a robust theology of this event was still in it’s primitive stages in the minds of the NT writers – one thing is crystalline clear: Something VERY important happened in relation to the human condition and the future of the world when Jesus died on the cross. That much they unflinchingly declared.

This Sunday we’ll be reading the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in our ongoing study of Matthew – we’ll be reading Matthew 27:32-66.

Over and over again the NT tells us that Jesus died for sinners – for us. The picture they present is that Jesus, as our substitute, the righteous for the unrighteous, took the consequence of our sins onto himself in that death.

As we consider him, hanging naked and surrounded by enemies who mock him, we see him bear our shame.  In what ways does that effect us now? How can Jesus bearing our shame help us in understanding ourselves in relation to God. How does it effect our understanding of God’s view of us?

Jesus quoted Psalm 22 from the cross – most likely wanting to connect himself with the suffering servant of God from that lament. On the cross he takes our forsakeness – our despairing aloneness and separation from the Divine onto himself.  Not just to identify with us – but to take that away. What do you think that looks like in your life experiences? How can we apply this to times when we do feel alone or forgotten by God?

I love the image of the curtain which separated the holy of holies being torn from top to bottom. What significance, if any, do you see in the direction of that tear? Christ’s sacrificial death has now cleansed us and re-united us with God. What implications does this carry for us, especially in light of understanding who we are in relation to God?

As you read over the passage – what other consequence of sin, if any, do we see Jesus bearing in our place?

This, again, is a brutal yet beautiful passage – a window into the heart of God towards you and I

The Wonderful Cross (Matthew 27:1-31) Rob Woodrum

This Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 27:1-31. It describes the preliminary stages of the cross experience of Christ. We’ve stated before that the cross is the central revelation of God’s character. So, we’ll be focusing on the cross in our teaching, discovering what it reveals and provides for us. It’s a very painful section to read and discuss, but it is also beautiful when understood as a picture of God’s heart towards humanity. That’s one of those strange, delicate tensions that the Gospel is full of.

In v1-10, we have the set up for the trial before Pilate, but then a parenthetical account of Judas’ fate. Judas went to the temple and the temple leaders because his heart was burdened by the sin he committed. What response did he meet there? What does that tell us about what had happened to the temple system of that time? How does that contrast with Jesus’ ministry and the cross experience he undergoes in this section? What warnings do we discern when it comes to our own framework for the practice of our faith?

Through the rest of the section we’ll cover we read about the trial before Pilate. Pilate had political aspirations and clearly wanted to protect those, but he also had difficulty with the apparent innocence of Jesus. The crowd and their leaders wanted blood and Pilate wanted to avoid a riot which could further tarnish his reputation as a competent leader for Rome. He offers a trade – he’ll let one prisoner go as a gesture of good-will for the Passover – who will it be? Barabbas, a condemned insurrectionist and murderer, or Jesus, the hopeful messiah. He likely expected they would choose Jesus over a brigand, but he was wrong. Barabbas, the guilty goes free and Jesus, the innocent, takes his place for crucifixion. Matthew is pretty heavy handed with the telling of this – it’s obvious what he wants us to see. What do you see?  What is this a picture of the cross providing for us all.

When the soldiers mock Jesus, they dress him up like a clown king…a parody of what a ruler should look like. They fashion a crown out of thorny brambles to put on his head. The Creation story comes to mind, and the curse pronounced because of sin:

Gen 3:17…”cursed is the fertile land because of you;
        in pain you will eat from it
        every day of your life.
18 Weeds and thistles will grow for you,
        even as you eat the field’s plants.”

Considering that curse, what does Jesus being crowned with thorns mean to you? What can it be picturing about what the cross of Christ is providing for us?

As I said – it’s a heavy and painful section of Scripture to read – but beautiful beyond comprehension as well. Hope to see you Sunday.

When Faith Is Falling Apart (Matthew 26:31-75) Rob Woodrum

I think one of the most common questions that gets posed to me is: “What is God DOING to me?” – or variations on that. “Why God? Why is this happening?” seems to be a regular refrain in the song of the redeemed. The reality is, life is painful and difficult and being a follower of Jesus doesn’t insulate us from experiencing that. That’s one of the reasons I love the gospel so much, because it never presents a triumphalist view of the world where the good guys always win. No, it clearly presents us with suffering, in all of its ugliness; but also reveals that pain as the very stuff that God works through to bring about his ultimate good.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 26:31-75 – covering a lot of territory, but all of it goes together, trust me.

Obviously, Jesus is the focal point of this section – but there is another character that reoccurs over and over through the entire section. Who is it?

We’re going to look at what we can learn from Peter’s miss-steps. By observing what he does, we can discern what NOT to do when our world starts to fall apart and our faith beings to fail.

Read it over – consider what the opposite moves are to Peter’s movements and attitudes, and you should be tracking with what we’ll consider this Sunday!

The Wonderwhat Podcast #4-Spoil The Child

Join us this month as we get you up to speed with Eastgate happenings and more.  In this episode we delve into a marriage and family minute, Cubs updates and some more Eastgate history.  We also discuss Eugene Peterson, cuss words in worship songs, and thoughts on corporal punishment.

A New Exodus (Matthew 26:17-30) Rob Woodrum

For the people of Israel, the Passover Meal was and is the central celebration of the Jewish faith. It is a special meal, with special food and special prayers – all of it rich with meaning about the national heritage and covenant they enjoyed with God. In our text this Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 26:17-30, where Jesus and his disciples share the Passover Celebration together. Jesus, however, veers from the normal traditions and reshapes the celebration to reveal something amazing about his mission!

The Passover meal was instituted during the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt where they had lived as slaves. It commemorated their deliverance from slavery, as well as their protection from judgement, as the angel of death passed over the houses where the blood of the Passover lamb was sprinkled. The exodus of Israel revealed the distinction between the systems of this world (Egypt) and God’s Kingdom. Israel enjoyed a unique relationship with God – a covenant – and those are the things the Passover celebrated.

Jesus chose Passover as the timing of his sacrificial death. What does that tell us about the nature of Jesus’ messianic mission? What is it recreating. What are the parallels, on a worldwide scale, between the first exodus and Jesus’ mission.

Why do you think Jesus cryptically states that one of their own will betray him? Why do you think he didn’t just point him out and condemn him on the spot?

If Christ’s body and his blood, given sacrificially on the cross, is the basis of our unique relationship with God (a new covenant, in Jesus’ words) – what will that relationship look like in light of its basis?