Heroes

Everybody wants to be the hero. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who would choose not to be the hero in the story if given the chance. There’s something about our make-up that longs for a battle to fight, a quest to undertake or a damsel to rescue. We might think of Indiana Jones or Iron Man or Jack Reacher, but the success of the Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games showed us that even the least likely of characters can be heroic. One of the things we enjoy about heroes is their ability to save the day. Rarely do they die in the process. And if they do, it makes for a very sad tale indeed. But as we continue in the story of Revelation, we find a surprising twist to the plot. The heroes of the story follow the example of the Hero of the Story…they give their lives for the sake of the cause.

Revelation 7-8. After the devastating effects of the seal judgments, John records a brief pause in heaven. First an angel is sent to seal, 144,000 Jews (likely converts during the ministry of the 2 witnesses around the middle of the tribulation) so that they will survive through the end of the tribulation (more on that in a later post). But then we get a celestial view from the end of the tribulation of multitudes of folks from every tribe and tongue and people and nation surrounding the throne and worshiping God and the Lamb. These folks are holding palm branches (a symbol of victory) and wearing white robes…the same robes that were given to the martyrs in the previous chapter. And now we see the full number of their brethren whose faith was forged in the fires of tribulation, who overcame by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony and who did not love their lives even unto death. And these heroes of the story have a front row seat to see the remainder of the drama played out.

And then the trumpets. In the Old Testament, the trumpet was a symbol of war (think of Jericho, Gideon, David…when the trumpet sounded the battle was engaged). And now the trumpets will signal the turn of focus from Israel’s repentance to the judgment on the nations. And we will see destruction that starts with creation and has a ruinous effect on mankind.

So what does this mean for us. John writes the book of Revelation to believers, and repent is a key term. In the midst of a culture that is constantly telling us to give up or give in, John reminds us that the fate of the world truly is at stake. There is a war raging for the souls of men. He wants to shake us out of our complacency and ignite within us a desire, a burning desire, a faith that is worth dying for and so surely is worth living for. A faith that impacts not only the way we live contrary to the culture, but a faith that can transform the culture. Are you with me? Who’s in?

Until next time…stay salty.

 

So long Danny boy!

What a ride! Twelve weeks in the book of Daniel. Terrifying visions, steadfast faith, incredible courage, unwavering commitment, a new chapter. The rules have changed during the Times of the Gentiles. Up is down, and down is up. Doing right brings punishment, while conforming to the world brings comfort. Following God will not be easy, but for those with insight and the courage to persevere, their inheritance is secure. As the divine messenger says, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” In the midst of a world seemingly out of control, Daniel is reminded (and reminds us) that God is still in control…”For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.”

A good friend of mine shared a lesson learned from Daniel that has rocked him. He used to ask the “why?” question when it came to suffering. Why, if he was following God, was he having to go through this or that trial. Then he came to expect suffering as part of the life of the believer…he became, as Kierkegaard labels it, a knight of resignation. But Daniel has helped him see that suffering doesn’t have to be faced with resignation…suffering is part and parcel to following Jesus, but that suffering can be faced with hope and even joy…not in the pain itself, but in the identification that we have with Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve. Quite the contrary. We’re called to grieve, but not as those who have no hope. He’s learning what it means to be Kierkegaard’s knight of faith. May God give us the courage and steadfastness of Daniel to face life in the fourth kingdom, and may we do it with an undying hope

Until next time…stay salty.

The Long View

This was not what Joseph expected his life to be like. The favorite son of a wealthy man, things were supposed to come easy. He even dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. He was voted most likely to succeed. And now here he sits in prison. Waiting. Let’s back up. Genesis 39-40.

Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s most loved wife, Rachel. And Jacob made it painfully clear that Joseph was his favorite, even giving Joseph a multi-colored tunic to distinguish his place of honor in the family. The LORD gave Joseph a series of dreams confirming that he would one day have prominence within the family, a prominence that would be recognized by all. He proves to be the faithful, obedient son going beyond Jacob’s express directions to find his brothers. His reward for obedience? Hijacked by his brothers and sold into slavery to traders on their way to Egypt. Not what he expected.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Joseph once again proves to be faithful and obedient, now as a slave. And we’re told that God blesses Potiphar on account of Joseph, and Joseph finds favor with him. He works hard for his master, and Potiphar prospers. His reward for obedience? Falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempted rape…thrown into prison, awaiting punishment. Not what he expected, but God protects his life.

In prison, Joseph once again distinguishes himself as faithful and obedient, now as a prisoner. And God blesses the jailer on account of Joseph, and Joseph once again finds favor with his master. His reward for obedience? Forgotten and left for another two years in prison. Definitely not what he expected. But in every circumstance the one thing the reader can’t miss is: God’s presence, provision and protection of Joseph. He has not been left alone. And although making the right decision seems to have yielded the wrong consequence these three times, Joseph held on to his integrity. He continued to trust God. Even when life didn’t turn out the way he expected…in fact the exact opposite. Instead of ruling, he was both a prisoner and a slave seemingly forgotten. But God had not forgotten him.

That’s the lesson for us…for me. It would have been easy for Joseph to give up, to blame God, to choose a different path; but he did not waver, and suffering prepared Joseph to be the leader that God desired him to be…a deliverer who would rescue his people. It also strikes me that Joseph was not content to just sit and wait for his destiny to be fulfilled, he was faithful in the situations that God put him in. He gave himself fully to serve, and God rewarded him for it.

I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. Some will realize it sooner than others…Abraham waited twenty-five years, Moses forty…and some will never realize it because of the choices they’ve made along the way. But what God calls us to is the long view, to be faithful in the circumstances He’s placed us in right now, so that we are ready when the moment of destiny comes. I pray that He finds us faithful my friends.

Until next time…stay salty.

American Dream Christianity

 

My wife asked me the other day, “When have you ever denied yourself anything?” I quickly came to my defense and said, “I’ve denied myself plenty…what about…um….well…um…I don’t know.” And that got me thinking.

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” From the very birth of our great nation, we have made the pursuit of happiness an integral part of the American Dream and what it means to be American. And I’m afraid that the desire to be healthy, wealthy and wise (Ben Franklin) has permeated American Christianity. Somehow we’ve tied success – in business, in relationships, and in all other areas of life to success in the Christian life. If my business is profitable, God is blessing me. If my marriage is a success, then God must like me. If my kids are well-adjusted, then I’m doing something right. Etc.

Folks from my theological tradition bemoan the health and wealth gospel, while falling into the same trap themselves. The bigger the ministry, the more God is blessing, right? But what about Jesus’ words, “He who wishes to follow Me must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his life, or what will a man give in exchange for his life?” What about Peter and James and Paul who all identify the Christian life, following Jesus, with suffering? Somehow the physical successes we are pursuing don’t seem to line up with the spiritual success that Jesus identifies. I think we’ve mistaken physical prosperity for spiritual progress. But the beatitudes don’t elevate the rich, the powerful and the famous; they highlight the humble, the merciful, the peacemakers…

It becomes clear that we’ve missed it when it comes to suffering. So many times we see trials, suffering, adverse circumstances as signs of God’s displeasure rather opportunities for growth and progress in the Christian life. We miss the fact that there are some things that we only learn through suffering, and that we are most aligned with Jesus when we are suffering for our faith, and that trials present an opportunity for us to show a watching world that we really believe what we say. We become discouraged by silly things like the size of our ministry rather than whether or not we are faithful with the folks God has entrusted to us. We want more…more people, more notoriety, more resources…a bigger kingdom for ourselves rather than expanding the kingdom of God.

What would it look like to return to a biblical measure of success? What if suffering for the cause of Jesus was the barometer of maturity/success rather than the size of our bank account, or our building, or our reputation? What if we chose anonymity rather popularity? What if we denied the false religion that the American Dream has created and instead embraced a dying to, a denying of, self?

Maybe then I would have a ready response the next time someone asks me, “When have you ever denied yourself anything?” Until next time, stay salty.