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.

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Moses’ Advent song

Advent candle graphic found via GoogleFor our Advent series this year at Trinity CRC, we’re using a resource from the latest issue of Reformed Worship titled “Enter the Songs.” It’s a series shaped by the four songs found in the Gospel of Luke that surround the Christmas story. We ran into a bit of trouble, though, when we decided that we’d like to look at Simeon’s song the Sunday after Christmas (not the Sunday before as the article in RW has it). Would we start our Advent series a week later? That seemed wrong. Could we find another song from elsewhere in the Bible? Probably…

Natalie (Trinity’s Worship Co-Coordinator) and I settled on Moses’ Song of the Sea together with the song sung by Miriam in Exodus 15. While I suspected I’d be able to connect it with the start of the new church season, I was happily surprised with how well it really did fit with Advent!

Here’s the message I preached yesterday connecting Moses’ song with Advent. Please let me know if you come up with more connections!

Like a dove in the desert

Monica and I attended a Cursillo retreat at nearby Inspiration Hills over the past two weekends – a memorable experience for both of us.

One of the men in my group had a pretty rough past – broken marriage and family, trouble with the law, addictions to drinking and drugs. But just over a year ago, he surrendered his life to Christ and he’s a new man! He and his family are being reconciled; he finished serving his time; and for a year now he’s been clean from drinking, drugs, and even smoking.

He shared with our group that his favorite psalm is Psalm 55 – not one I knew right offhand. And the favorite part of his favorite psalm is this:

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
(vss. 6-8)

While broken and addicted, he yearned for the freedom he perceived in the dove. And after giving his life to Jesus, he found that freedom. The Lord is the rest and shelter for which he was longing. Alleluia!

Dove graphic found via Google

Reflecting some more on the words of the psalm, I found myself asking “Why a dove?” Why does David – the poet of Psalm 55 – refer to a dove and not a more powerful bird like an eagle, or a more colorful bird like a parrot? Perhaps it’s because, as Robert Davidson explains, “the dove nests safe and secure on the cliff face on the inaccessible sides of a gorge.” Perhaps it has something to do with the tenacity of that dove that left Noah’s ark and survived and thrived in the difficult post-flood environment. The psalmist is searching for a refuge – the kind available to common birds but that eludes David, a king and imagebearer of the King of kings.

Then I found myself asking a second question: “Why the desert?” Why does David want to fly away to the desert and not somewhere fun like Florida or perhaps back to the comfort of his home? My guess is that it has something to do with how throughout history, God consistently and powerfully encountered and guided His people in the desert. I think, for example, of the Israelites in the desert during their Exodus from Egypt. As Moses sang, “In a desert land he found him [Israel], in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” Yearning for the desert reveals David’s search for a sanctuary in which he’ll be in communion with God, his refuge and strength.

Thanks to my new friend from Cursillo, this psalm has become for me a beautiful expression of the freedom and communion for which I long to experience. God invites me to experience such freedom and communion in Him when He is my refuge and strength. The psalm’s promises are enduring: “The Lord saves” and “He rescues” (55:16, 18). My trust in Him is well placed for now and eternity.

10 years later

The preacher at Moose Jaw Alliance Church reminded us today how the message of the early church was not “What has this world come to?” but rather “Look at what (who!) has come to this world.”  It’s a hope-filled reminder.

The morning after the morning after

Suddenly Christmas is over.  I’m back in the office, planning this coming Sunday’s services.  I look around and wonder, “Did it all really happen?”  It almost feels like a dream from which I’m just waking.

But it did happen.  And “normal” has once again been redefined.