God wins

We are currently working through Revelation in our evening services at Trinity CRC. Revelation is the last book of the Bible, penned by the apostle John as he received a remarkable vision from Jesus himself. For many people it is a “closed” book, very difficult to read and understand. That’s both sad and ironic, considering how the word revelation itself comes from the word revealGraphic found at crosswalk.comand God very much wants to reveal things to us as we read Revelation!

I admit that Revelation is not always the easiest part of the Bible to read. But it’s not as terribly complicated as you might think. The message of Revelation can be summarized in two hope-filled words: “God wins!” Knowing that God currently reigns and will reign forever, his people confidently follow him and serve others. Granted, this is not easy, and Revelation acknowledges that in its vivid descriptions of the forces that distract us from purposeful living grounded in Christ and guided by the Bible. Thankfully, Revelation also shows how God is stronger than all those bad influences combined. What’s more, he is always present with his people, even in the toughest times.

One author who’s helped me understand Revelation a bit better is theologian and preacher Fleming Rutledge. I love this part from her book The Bible and The New York Times:

The book of Revelation has taken a bad rap. Once you get the hang of it, it really isn’t all that difficult. It shouldn’t be left to the David Koresh’s of the world. Almost all reputable interpreters today recognize that Revelation is poetry and liturgy. It is not a Rand McNally map of heaven. It is not a timetable for the end of the world. It is not a “Bible Code.” It is by no means as weird as we have been led to believe. It is full of encouragement, hope, and comfort, especially for oppressed people. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was fighting the good fight against apartheid all those decades, he used to say, “Don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged! I’ve read the end of the book! We win!” The celestial vision arises out of the Revelation of Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God who reigns in heaven and who has drawn back the curtain just for a moment to allow us a glimpse of God’s future. (page 17)

In Christ, we win in the end, no matter how bleak things might sometimes look. My mistakes, brokenness, and sin – even my death – will not have the last word. God will. Personally, that fills me with a lot of hope and gives me purpose today. The next time you have an open Bible in front of you, find some of that hope and purpose for yourself in Revelation.

I wrote this column for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
I’ve shared the quote from Fleming Rutledge
before.

In good company on a mission

Clouds picture found via Google

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are Good News. This is a season in the church calendar for joy: I’m filled with joy that Jesus lives and reigns; I’m filled with joy that sin and death no longer have the last word.

But this is also a season emphasizing mission: As Dale Bruner points Matthew - A Commentary (Vol 2) The Churchbook by Frederick Dale Brunerout in his commentary on Matthew, every appearance Jesus makes to His followers after His resurrection includes a call to mission. The Holy Spirit of the living Lord sends me on a mission to where I work, go out for ice cream, and even travel on vacation.

When this sounds overwhelming to me, I remember I’m in good company with the first followers of Jesus.

Maybe I don’t feel bold enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Well, I’m in good company then. Jesus first gives His commission to go and tell that He’s alive to a group of women who have been (understandably) frightened by a dazzling angel. He later commissions scared disciples hiding in the dark and sad disciples who will watch Him ascend to heaven. The truth is that Jesus equips and sends fear-filled people to free people from fear of alienation, sin, death, and hell.

Maybe I don’t feel qualified enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Well, I’m still in good company. Jesus appears to and commissions 11 disciples – an incomplete number following Judas’ tragic death. In the Bible, 12 is a perfect number, not 11. But the truth is that Jesus equips and sends imperfect people to do His perfect work.

Maybe I don’t feel official enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Guess what? I’m in good company. The Gospels refer to the disciples being commissioned by Jesus – no mention (yet) of specific leaders, church officers, or even the more official title of apostles. It’s simple people known as disciples who Jesus sends on mission. And that is all a Christian should ever want to be – a disciple. So the truth is that Jesus equips and sends ordinary people to do His extraordinary work.

Maybe I don’t feel spiritual enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. By now you’re not surprised to hear I’m in good company. Jesus first commissions a group of doubters. It’s not just Thomas, but a bunch of them who have doubts mixed in with their worship. But Jesus remains patient and forgiving: He does not divide up His disciples into two groups – commissioning those who believe and worship while telling those who fear or doubt to come back later when they have their acts together. No, in the Gospels, all are commissioned, leading me to see how Jesus’ sending power is far greater than His disciples’ faults and failings. The truth remains that Jesus equips and sends unsure and uncertain people to do His sure and certain work.

Maybe I don’t feel authorized enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Again, I’m in good company with those feelings. I think about how the very first people to be sent on mission by Jesus are women. Today that’s no big deal, but in Jesus’ day, a woman’s testimony did not count in the law courts of the land. Women were not allowed to stand as witnesses. Everyone would’ve said that as women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are poor choices as the very first witnesses and testifiers of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet the women are the first ones commissioned by the angel at the tomb to go and tell. Then they meet Jesus Himself who again confirms they are indeed the ones to go and tell the Good News. Throughout the Gospel, Acts, and the letters, we see women serving and proclaiming the Good News in wonderful ways. Still today the truth is that Jesus equips and sends all His sisters and brothers of all ages and cultures to do His work that enfolds everyone regardless of gender, age, and culture.

Jesus is raised from the dead and now reigns over all. This fills me with joy. It also sends me and all Jesus’ followers on a mission. The command “Go and tell” is for each of us. That’s joy and the mission of this resurrection and ascension season.

My neighbor, the immigrant

I am an immigrant. I was born and raised in Canada but a religious worker visa allows me to currently live and work in the United States. My visa expires later this year so my family is working on becoming permanent residents of this great country.

My parents are immigrants. With their parents (my grandparents) they left the war-torn Netherlands soon after the end of World War II. My grandparents arrived in Canada with only a suitcase or two of belongings and began working for the farmers who sponsored them.

Perhaps it is because I am an immigrant and a son of immigrants that I watch with interest news that has to do with immigration, whether it has to do with deporting people who are here without proper documentation or creating barriers (literal and ideological) to keep foreigners out. I realize that not everyone advocating for these measures holds to a Christian worldview as I do; however, removing foreigners and turning away people who need our help should dismay those who follow Jesus and take the Bible seriously.

The Bible says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” In the New Testament, much of Jesus’ ministry is with “foreigners” – Samaritans and others rejected by the society of his day. And it is Jesus who says that when we feed the hungry, give those who are thirsting something to drink, and welcome in the stranger, it is as though we are doing these things to Jesus: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I realize that immigration is a complex issue. I cannot condone breaking the law and it is prudent for a country to have secure borders. However, I believe it is possible for immigration laws to be both just and merciful, characterized by both common sense and compassion. More fundamentally, I believe that as a Christian, while I can recognize immigration as an issue, I am compelled to see immigrants themselves as my neighbors – people God has given me to love and perhaps whom he will use to bless me.

Immigration graphic found via Google

It turns out that in God’s eyes we are all immigrants regardless of the name of the country on our passports. According to God’s law, my sin should have expelled me from God’s presence. However, in Christ, God welcomes me into his family and makes me a citizen of a Kingdom that knows no geographical or political boundaries. Many of the Bible’s commands to help the fatherless, the widow, and foreigner have attached to them the reminder that God’s people were once foreigners – foreigners in Egypt, foreigners cut off by sin. But by grace, I am welcomed into God’s family and Kingdom. If I really “get” this, I will have a similar posture, one of hospitality and kindness, whether it’s toward my family or coworkers, my neighbor who has always lived down the street or the one who recently moved into town from another country.


This was my column in last week’s
Rock Valley Bee.
Websites and articles I’ve found helpful in thinking about this topic:
justice.crcna.org ::
evangelicalimmigrationtable.com ::
Think Christian: “A Theology of Immigration” ::
The Banner: “What Does It Mean to Love Your Neighbor?” ::
Relevant: “We Are Called to Serve Immigrants” ::

Falling asleep while praying

Sleeping cat photo found via Google

From time to time, Monica or I (you’ll have to guess who) am asleep by the time the other is done praying at bedtime. Sometimes we chuckle about it. Sometimes it makes us feel guilty.

Then I read this in Kevin G. Harney’s book Seismic Shifts (it’s a long quote but worth reading)…

Seismic Shifts by Kevin G. Harney[This is] a picture that captures the heart of prayer. It comes from a confession I have heard many Christians make over the years: “I feel guilty because there are many evenings I try to pray but end up falling asleep right in the middle of my prayer time.” These people feel they let God down each time they doze off be­fore uttering their official Amen for the day.

This is what I tell them, and I hope it speaks to your heart.

Imagine a mother cradling her 5-year-old girl in her arms. It is the end of the day, and the two are talking. The mom is telling her about the plans for tomorrow. The little girl is talking about the fun she had that day. As the daughter talks, she yawns and rubs her eyes. They keep chatting, but the little girl is fading quickly. The mother looks down at the one she loves so tenderly. As they are talking, in midsentence, her little girl falls asleep, right in her arms.

How does the mother feel? Is she angry? Disappointed?

As the mother looks on her precious daughter, she smiles and rejoices. There is no other place she would rather have her little girl fall asleep.

When we end our day with God and we happen to doze off, he is not angry or disappointed. He holds us in his arms, embraces us, and gives us a kiss on the forehead. God loves to be with us, to speak to us, and hear what is on our hearts. And if we happen to fall asleep in his arms, it brings joy to his heart. There is no better place for us to end a busy day.
(pages 95-96)

Granted, if I consistently fall asleep while praying because talking with God has become boring or I consign him only the final few drowsy moments of a too-busy day, it might be a good idea to rethink my prayer habits. However, if I fall asleep in the loving and familiar embrace of our Father’s love, well, what father won’t be filled with deep satisfaction and joy?

I think also of how sleep (and sleeping securely in safety) is a gift for which the psalmist prays (here and here). I like imagining God answering that request even before the psalmist is finished asking for it!

I wrote this column for The Rock Valley Bee.
It combines a couple of popular blog posts I wrote
soon after I started blogging.

Losing Jesus

Epiphany starts today. The liturgical season of Christmas is officially over.

In another week or two, our family will take down our Christmas decorations. One of our favorite pieces is our Precious Moments nativity display. Each November we carefully unpack it from a box we have specifically for it and each January we carefully pack it all back in again.

Our Precious Moments nativity set

As you can see from the picture, baby Jesus is the smallest piece of this set. And baby Jesus is the first piece I look for when I open the box and the last piece I double check to ensure was safely put back in. I mean, it would be sad if we lost a sheep or even the shepherd, but it would be nearly tragic if we lost baby Jesus!

I think there’s a bit of irony in the thought of losing Jesus: As He is fully and holy God, I never need worry whether Jesus will become lost or stray from carrying out His redemptive plan for me. He came at Christmas so that I would never be lost!

So each time I put away the nativity, I give thanks that the care I take in not losing baby Jesus is actually infinitesimal compared to the care He took – as well as the pain He endured and the victory He achieved – to ensure I’m never lost.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Flood

Cartoon found via Google

This past spring we had a plumbing problem. Our kitchen sink wasn’t draining properly so we got out the plunger, washed down baking soda with vinegar, pushed a wire hanger through the pipe, and even resorted to emptying our neighbor’s Drano Max Gel clog remover (no subliminal product placement intended) down the hole.

Unbeknownst to us while we were fighting the plugged drain upstairs, water was backing up and spurting out of a pipe downstairs.

When I went down later it was quite the shock to see water pooling in our storage room. Thankfully the floor is concrete. It only took a few hours to remove our stuff and dry the floor so I admit right away that this was nothing like the flood Rock Valley experienced in 2014 when people had water in their basement up to the floor joists and there was extensive damage in over 150 homes throughout our city. That was a disaster; what Monica and I experienced in our house was only a mild inconvenience by comparison.

An expert plumber from Oostra Plumbing, Heating & AC (not-so-subliminal business recommendation intended) quickly had our drain issue fixed. Judging by the debris that was mixed in the water, he figured our problem was connected with our garbage disposal. In the water we mopped up, we identified pieces of vegetable scraps that had gone down the drain. Those carrot and cucumber bits accurately reported what had recently been on our menu.

The pieces of food floating in the water giving evidence to what we had eaten reminds me of evidence of something else: A lot of words flood out of my mouth on a daily basis. What kind of debris is mixed in with those words? I suspect that a lot of what I read, what I watch, what I listen to, and what I think about gets mixed in. So if I’m listening to stuff with objectionable content or surfing the internet to places better avoided, eventually evidence of that will appear in things I say – whether it’s using foul language, speaking ill and inaccurately of individuals or people groups, or just having a negative tone.

On the other hand, soaking up good and wholesome things will result in me saying more good and wholesome words. Time spent playing games with family or reading a story to my children, time spent in the Bible or in prayer – these sorts of things keep my language positive and helpful.

Just as I’m going to be more conscious about what goes into the garbage disposal, it wouldn’t hurt to be more conscious about what goes into my mind. I suspect that will keep undesirable debris in my daily flood of words to a minimum.

::– –::– –::

I wrote this column for The Rock Valley Bee back in May. Since then we have received lots of advice about garbage disposals and we promise to never put coffee grinds or egg shells through one again.

The end of worship

When is worship over? With the blessing? The final note of the closing song? The postlude? When we leave for home?

I believe that just as the worship of God began long before I entered a church sanctuary, worship doesn’t end the moment I leave it. The heavens have been declaring the glory of God for millennia as have His people through all time; I join their ongoing song each Sunday in community with other travelers on the way. And even after I’m long gone, the song will continue. It never ends.

Acknowledging this invites me to learn from the worship practices of the ancient church as well as those of my grandparents. It creates within me interest of how the church in other traditions and in other parts of the world brings praise and lament to God at the same time I am. It also reduces anxiety in me when it comes to changes in music or style. In short, knowing worship doesn’t start and end with me helps me see a bigger picture.

I worship with others on Sundays because God is worthy but also to motivate and equip me to join creation and His people in glorifying God all week long at my job, in my leisure, and with family and friends at home. I glorify God when I use the talents He’s given me to do my work to the best of my ability. I glorify God when I see His artistic hand in a sunset or hear His power in a thunderstorm. I glorify God when I reflect His love to my wife, children, neighbors, friends, and even strangers I meet in town. Sunday worship helps me recognize how all of life is lived in the presence of God where He’s inviting me to see Him graciously at work in, through, and around me and others.

You could say that I see worship not simply as a once- or twice-a-week activity wedged into an already crowded calendar. I see it as a lifestyle where I dedicate my everyday life every day to God. What happens on Sundays helps me realign my orientation to God as I’m easily distracted as the week progresses. And receiving encouragement from others when we gather goes a long way, too. The “concentrated” worship on Sundays fuels worship all week long. That way I’m following the good counsel of the apostle Paul: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Graphic found via Google