Luminescence

We can’t resist it.   It draws us without fail.   Light was the first element of creation — the first thing spoken by God into the visible world.   Though sinful men love darkness, we were made for light.   We may scoff at the foolish moth, incapable of resisting it.   But we are the same.   Light draws us.  We can’t resist it.

Light reveals what the darkness conceals.   When we are afraid, we turn on the light.   When we are lost, we look for lights.   When we need safety, we find a well-lighted place.  All life on planet earth depends upon light.   And we are comforted by the fact that with God, even the darkness is light.   We are counseled to walk in the light as He is in the light.   Jesus described himself as the ‘light of the world.’  “If any man follows me,” he said, “he will never walk in darkness.”   And the Bible describes heaven as a place where, “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.”

Light brings life, comfort, clarity, truth.   But it sometimes brings danger as well.   For there are counterfeit lights, lights that are not what they seem.    When someone says they finally see the “light at the end of the tunnel” the pessimist opines, “I hope it is not a train.”   The Bible warns us of counterfeit lights when it tells us that the devil “masquerades as an angel of light.”   Ironically, the name Lucifer means ‘light-bearer.’   But the light he bears brings darkness and death to everyone who approaches.   He is like the deep-sea anglerfish.

The Deep-Sea Anglerfish is a deceiver.  In the deep dark places of the ocean, it attracts both prey and mates with a bioluminescent lure.   Unsuspecting victims are drawn to its light and beauty in a place where darkness makes all else invisible.   Yet this light is not a place of beauty or refuge, but a place of death.   Enormous teeth and a cavernous maw make this ‘Black Sea-devil’ a grotesque and lethal light post.    

Through trickery and deception, they lure and devour their prey.   Like many things in the physical world, the devilfish mirrors the spiritual world.   Satan is like the devilfish.   He appears as an angel of light only to devours us.   He draws us with subtlety and rationale.   Consuming us with his lies.   And when temptation and deceit falter, he tries despair.

The devil, tries repeatedly to overthrow God’s redemptive plan.  He fails at every turn.   Yet his failure never wearies his fury.   Revelation 12:17 warns us of his attacks.

Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

Revelation 13 then unfolds what this fury looks like.   Two beasts emerge.  One from the sea and one from the earth.  An unholy Trinity of counterfeits to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit emerge in the persons of the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the Beast from the earth.   They are poor counterfeits indeed, but they lead the world astray and mobilize the cultures to make war against the Church.

In this well-known narrative, the Lord Jesus calls us to endurance and faith.   Conquest belongs to the Church, but it comes at a cost.   Satan’s fury is intense.  His warfare unrelenting.  When we face his rage, it is easy to despair.   Revelation 13 drives this home, but makes it clear that this counterfeit trinity will never conquer.  Martin Luther put it well.

And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God hath willed, His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him
His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

That Word above all earthly pow’r, no thanks to them abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever!

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

We are all afraid of the dark, but sometimes what appears to be light is even darker.  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 13:1-10 and unpack God’s comfort for trying times.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Gospel Faithfulness

The Apostle Paul is often referred to as the greatest missionary in the history of the church.  It is also clear from the Scriptures that Paul was a loving pastor.  There were many churches with whom Paul had a close pastoral relationship, and the church in Thessalonica was one of these churches.  In chapter one of 1 Thessalonians, we see that Paul was possessed a gospel thankfulness, and in chapter 2 we see something of Paul’s gospel faithfulness. 

As Paul proclaimed his message to the Thessalonian Christians, he recognized that he was not ultimately bringing his own words to them, but God’s Word (see verse 13).  Faithfulness to God and His Word drove his ministry to them.  And, as noted in chapter one, this was effective because God’s Word is indeed powerful, and because the Spirit of God worked through the preaching of the Word to awaken the Thessalonians unto the grace and mercy of God.  We see this even more clearly displayed as Paul recounts not only his ministry to them, but also the fruit of that ministry among them.  The Thessalonian Christians had received Paul’s message and lived according to it.

But as is regularly the case with faithful ministry, there were those who sought to oppose the Gospel.  The Gospel message will see many responses—there are those who respond in faith.  There are also those who respond with apathy.  And there are those who respond with hostility.  It is in the context of great opposition to the gospel that Paul writes this letter, to encourage the Thessalonian Christians to remember his faithful ministry.  But again, it is not ultimately because it is his ministry that Paul writes this, but because he comes as an Apostle set apart by God, given a true message from the living God. 

As we consider this context of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20, consider your own response to the Gospel message.  Consider what role that message plays in your life.  The Bible is the very Word of God.  Have you believed it, and have you seen the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in it?  And do you rest on Him as your eternal hope? 

Join us this Sunday June 13 as we gather for worship this Lord’s Day,  We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube.  Click here for the Order of Service.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash.

Gospel Thankfulness

The Apostle Paul was known as a thankful person.  This is undoubtedly due to the fact that he was aware of the grace of God shown to him in Christ Jesus.  He had been a persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ and an enemy of the Gospel, and yet by grace God had opened his eyes and his heart and made him an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s attitude of thankfulness flows through many of his letters and especially his greetings and introductions.  Paul and Silvanus and Timothy send greetings and write, “Grace to you and peace.”  (1 Thessalonians 1:1, English Standard Version)  The grace and peace of which they speak is that which is found in Christ Jesus.  Jesus Christ, the gracious Savior, has given His people peace with God by His work on their behalf.  It is by knowing the Person of Christ who has done this work that the people of God have grace and peace. 

The introduction to the letter goes on to commend the Thessalonians, with Paul noting his thankfulness.  While Paul is thankful for these believers themselves, we may note that the thanks he expresses is ultimately based upon what God has done in the lives of the Thessalonians.  This is a Gospel thankfulness, a thankfulness based on the Good News of Jesus Christ and the ways in which God Himself has transformed these believers.  Paul writes in verse 4, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you…”  Paul is thankful for what God has done.  The Thessalonians are faithful and an encouragement to the Apostle Paul because God has chosen them.  This is the same choosing grace that Paul himself knew well. 

As Paul had at one time been opposed to Christ, God chose him and drew him unto himself.  Paul next references the way in which God has specifically saved and worked in the Thessalonian Christians in verses 5-7, writing, “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”  When the Thessalonian Christians heard the Gospel preached by this Pauline company, the Lord called them irresistibly to Himself, changing them from the inside out.  Paul rejoices at their conversion that God wrought and also at their continued growth in grace. 

Are we marked by Gospel thankfulness?  Are we thankful for the work God has done in our lives and also in the lives of fellow believers?  Do we long, as did Paul, to see the lost converted?  Join us this Sunday June 6 as we gather for worship this Lord’s Day,

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Here Be Dragons!

I confess! I am not adventurous.   I like things predictable, manageable, consistent.   I see no reason to add colors to my wardrobe.  Blue and khaki always coordinate.   And while menus have options, the ‘old favorites’ are favorites for a reason.  Sure, mystery might be exciting, but I am not a huge fan.   Especially when it comes to travel.  

The internet is a boon for the non-adventurous traveler.  Every detail can be examined, anticipated, and planned.   Not only can I plot every course — and every alternate route — but with GoogleEarth, I can view the landscape and landmarks as well.   Travel should be like a Swiss watch — smooth and accurate.  No broken cogs or gears, no unexpected cancellations, no alternate routes, no field retrofits.  And certainly, no uncharted territory.

I completely understand the anxiety of ancient mariners whose maps ended short of their destination.   No comfort comes from drawings of beasties labeled, “here be dragons!”   As if the prospect of sailing off the edge of the world was not enough.   Thankfully, most places we travel are now mapped.  And despite the History Channel’s best attempts, no dragons have been found.   Or have they?

Some journeys do, indeed, boast dragons.   The Bible, the map that guides our spiritual journey through this life, does indeed warn of a dragon.   A vile beast who appears as an angel of light.  Jesus described as “a murderer from the beginning, [who] does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” 

He is no mere abstract idea.  He is described as real and personal.    He prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.  He longs to enslave us with a lifelong fear of death.  He plots our ruin.  He seeks to lead us to sin, then accuses us before God’s justice.   He is the enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy.   He hates anything that gives glory to God, and everything made in God’s image.  He is at enmity with all mankind and at war with the people of God.

Revelation portrays him as an enormous dragon, with seven crowned heads.   He is the Great Pretender to the throne of the universe, a vicious tyrant who hates all his subjects.   He is a defeated foe, but his defeat has only made him more malevolent.  Revelation 12:7-12 describes his current condition.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

He is defeated, but not to be ignored.   The futility of his conflict has not led him to surrender.  He is the enemy of the church and is at war with her.  We read that “the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” 

Revelation is a book of comfort, not discomfort, but “forewarned is forearmed.”   Christ has broken the power of the Devil.   Satan cannot triumph, but he is carrying out a war of terror.   Revelation 12 paints this picture with vivid colors and bold brush strokes.   Using a palate from Exodus, Daniel, and Zechariah, the Holy Spirit creates a stunning spiritual view of the persecuted church.   Satan tries to destroy both Christ and His Church.   But fails at every turn.  

God’s word tells us that our journey is marked with “here be dragons!” But that is not the last word. The Bible tells us that, “the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8) and that God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ].” (Colossians 2:15) Join us this week as we examine Revelation 12:1-18 and consider a call to vigilant, yet victorious life in Christ.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube For the Order of Service, click here.

Thy Kingdom Come

“Son, always know what your signing – a man’s word is his bond.”  My father’s advice was sage.   And I tried to live by that maxim.  That is, until, I purchased my first house.   The number of pages to sign appeared greater than the number of dollars borrowed.   I was overwhelmed.   My settled conviction to read everything before signing ran headlong into practical reality.   Sensing my crisis, the loan officer quipped.  “Let me to make it easy.   If you pay you stay, if you don’t you won’t.   It all boils down to that.”   With that abridgement, I signed like an author at a book signing.  And we were done by lunch.  

This experience prepared me for the digital age.   Every website, download, and upgrade come with a cornucopia of legalese.   It’s all there in black and white — all terms of use, privacy agreements, and obligations.   Of course, we are free not to sign, but then we are also not free to use.   We all agree that we should read, but do not.    Virtually every part of our digital life demands the sacrifice of my father’s maxim.  We check the box and click “I agree” in a New York second.   Then Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and the NSA have us dead-to-rights.   But we did get free email and shipping.

Failing to pay attention to what we read has consequences.   But so does failing to pay attention to what we say.    We are quick repeat what we hear without careful reflection.  With a single click we can ‘share’ our lack of reflection in a dozen ways.   And what is a problem for conversation is deadly for prayer.  How much do we reflect on what we pray?  Jesus warned us about “vain repetition” in prayer.     

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…’” 

Matthew 6:7-10

Many Christians pray this regularly.   Perhaps you pray it each week in worship.   And though the Lord’s prayer is both a prayer to be prayed and a pattern for be followed, it can easily be vainly repeated.    How serious are we about the Father’s kingdom coming?  Not some time in the distant future in a galaxy far, far away but here and now.   How eager are we for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven?    Sure, we want our daily bread and forgiveness for our debts, but how about the reign and rule of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our day-to-day life and the world we inhabit.  Has this cry become a vain repetition?  A word we utter, but pay no attention?  

In Revelation 11:15 the persistent prayer of the church is answered.  “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” In this answered prayer we are reminded that God delights to answer our prayer.   Even the most remarkable request.   The vision of the Seventh Trumpet declares that we are not forgotten by our God.   Our prayers are not in vain.   Therefore, we ought to pray boldly, earnestly, and expectantly.   Not vainly or carelessly.   Join us this week as we examine Revelation 11:15-19 and consider the prayer God delights to answer – that His kingdom come and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

PPE

Every crisis has its jargon, and COVID has not disappointed.     Social events are ‘superspreaders.’   Breathing, ‘aerosolization.’   Everyone who asks for your temperature and symptom history, suspect you are ‘asymptomatic,’ but positive.   Our great longing is for ‘herd immunity.’   And in the place of batting averages and points per game, we pour over ‘rates of transmission.’   Everyone dies of COVID, but we all know they had ‘comorbidities.’   We are not really sure if we want to ask for an ‘antigen’ or an ‘antibody’ test.   The calculus of ‘quarantine’ is more enigmatic than proving Fermat’s theorem.   We ‘social distance’ in order to avoid the dread ‘second-wave’ lest we have to go into ‘isolation’ because we were ‘contact-traced.’   If only we had ‘PPE,’ maybe we would feel safer.

But how far can my ‘Personal Protective Equipment’ protect me and those I visit?   Let’s face it.  Isolation gowns hardly offer comprehensive coverage.   Though admittedly, the dual effect of a total face shield and N95 mask does protect parishioners from every word I speak.   No doubt, donning glove, gown, mask, and face shield will reduce ‘rates of transmission,’ but is it fool-proof?   Absolutely not.  When it comes to COVID there are no guarantees.   As one hapless interviewee noted, “the virus is just gonna virus.”

We are vulnerable and we know it.   Whether we deny the virus or hunker down, “the virus is just gonna virus.”   As with every other uncertainty and danger in life, we are vulnerable.   We do our best to protect and prepare, but in the end we do well to remember that “the mercy of the world is that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”  Yet, it is often precisely that uncertainty that paralyzes us.   And so, we circle the wagons, shut down, isolate and live in a cryogenic state.   Wise King Solomon once noted, “he who builds a high gate invites destruction.” (Proverbs 17:19)    Fear easily creates paralysis.

We see this in our spiritual lives as well.   Christians have a Great Commission.   We have one job, just one job — to make disciples of the nations.   But fear of rejection, persecution, suffering, privation, and even inconvenience repeatedly derails us.   Judgement from God is raining down on unbelievers all around us.  Friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and those we see every day are facing the righteous, eternal wrath of a Holy God.   We have walked in their shoes.  We were once in the same danger, but God showed mercy to us.  He sent someone to share the gospel with us — someone who loved us, more than their own safety or comfort.   What about us? Do we love others more than our own safety and comfort?

Sharing the gospel is frightening.  It is dangerous.  It can even be deadly.   It is sweet, but it is also bitter.    We find this in Revelation 10.  Judgements unfold against those without the seal of the living God.  But judgement alone will never bring men to repentance.  John sees a vision directed to the church.   He is instructed to take a little scroll and to eat it.  Though sweet in the mouth, it is bitter in his stomach.  And in this vision, we have a picture both of the nature of the gospel and our duty to proclaim it.  

Like a lamp on a stand, the church shines the grace of God into a world that knows only the darkness of the fall.   The truth sets men free.  But first it makes them mad.   It exposes their condition before applying the remedy.   And to worldly men, this exposure is torment.    They will never be grateful for this exposure until grace opens their eyes.   They will hate the one who dares expose them.   Sharing the gospel is a deadly, dangerous business.   But it is a deadly, dangerous business that God calls us to take up.   What PPE is there for us against the world’s hatred for the truth of the gospel?

In Revelation 11, John sees a second vision.  A vision of the two witnesses.    Witnesses who symbolize boldness and power.   Witnesses who faithfully finish their testimony.   And witnesses who meet abuse and death for their message.   But their suffering is short-lived.  Death is not the last word.   The God who protected them in life, gives them eternal life and calls them home.   And a world so eager to be rid of them, realizes too late the terror of a world without the gospel.  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 11:1-14 and consider God’s protection and care for faithful witnesses.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Sweet and Sour

Money was scarce when I was ten.   An ‘allowance’ was not a part of my parent’s parenting theory.  They were firmly in the ‘pay-for-performance’ camp.   And there was too little of either – pay or performance.   The few chores my father considered pay-worthy were indexed to his Depression era pay scales.  

If I was going to make any serious coin, I would have to look elsewhere.   But without a mower, my options were limited.   While there were always the odd neighbor jobs – moving gravel piles, feeding dogs, and clearing kudzu.   These were hit-or-miss.   Collecting glass Coke bottles from the roadside for a nickel each was my only reliable source of income.   In those days we were less conscious of the moral duty not to throw trash on the roadsides, so this was surprisingly profitable.

I was careful with what I earned.   A tenth to church, half to savings, and the rest to 7Eleven.   On summer days, neighborhood kids, young and old, would mount their spider-bikes and trek to the 7Eleven up on the highway.   I’m sure our parents assumed there was safety in numbers.  But looking back, I’m not so sure.   But as old-timers are apt to say, “times were different then.”

Topps baseball cards, packs of candy Marlboro cigarettes, and Now-or-Laters were always in the bag.  And righteousness could not be fulfilled without a Cherry Coke Slurpee and its accompanying spoon-straw.   But my go-to item was the giant SweetTart.  Unlike chewy ones sold today, vintage giant SweetTarts were hard and looked like enormous dishwasher tablets.  Only as the tart gave way to the sweet could you even open your eyes.   Eating too many would make your tongue raw for days.   They were intense – the mother of all complex candy flavors.  

But it was that complexity, sweet and sour, that made them so good.   Many of the joys of life depend upon a mixture of extremes.   Our loves often offer both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, discomfort and comfort.   We even see this in the Bible and the gospel.   Before we can accept God’s mercy, we must accept that we deserve only His condemnation.    The gospel does not make good men better, it saves the unsavable.   The words of the Old Testament prophet, Hosea, are poignant.

Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.

Hosea 6:1-2

The Bible is both sweet and sour.   Paul described it as “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)  The Bible speaks sweetly of mercy, but everywhere reminds us that this mercy comes through the bitterness of judgment poured out on Christ.    Those who reject this find that the gospel’s sweet promises bear bitter fruit in unbelief.  

John’s vision in Revelation 10 underscores this.   Judgements unfold against those without the seal of the living God.   The church is excluded, yet still present in the world.   What is her role?   In the interlude between the Sixth and Seventh Trumpets, John sees a vision directed to the church.   He is instructed to take a little scroll and to eat it.  Though sweet in the mouth, it is bitter in his stomach.  And in this vision, we have a picture both of the nature of the gospel and of our duty to proclaim it.  

Acts of God’s judgement are raining down on the unbelieving world.   But judgement alone will never bring men to repentance.   Without the kindness of God in the gospel, they will only be hardened.    Like a lamp on a stand, the church shines the kindness of God into a world that knows only the bitterness of the fall.   The gospel is sweet, but first it is sour.    The truth sets men free, but first it makes them mad.   It exposes their condition before applying the remedy.   It wounds, then heals.  It tears, then binds up.   It is sweet in the mouth and bitter in the stomach.

How willing are we to proclaim this sweet-and-sour gospel?   Every person deserves God’s wrath and curse.  This horror should ignite a sense of urgency.   Those you love, those you serve, those who serve you, who are not sealed through faith in Christ, will fall under horrific judgements.   They will seek for death and not find it.  And when it comes, it will not relieve.   Their only hope is the sweet-and-sour gospel.   How willing are you to say hard things to soften hard hearts?   Leon Morris puts this into perspective.  

“The true preacher of God’s Word will faithfully proclaim the denunciations of the wicked it contains.  But he does not do this with fierce glee.   Telling forth of ‘woes’ will be a bitter experience….  The wickedness of man grieved God at His heart (Genesis 6:6), and the true preacher of God’s Word enters to some degree into this suffering.” 

Leon Morris, Revelation.

God’s Word can be bitter, but it is also sweet.  Jesus has the keys to Death and Hades and gives these gospel keys us.   But will we use them?  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 10 and consider our calling to share the gospel boldly.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTubeFor the Order of Service, click here.

Sense of Urgency

When everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.   When every priority is the top priority, there are, in reality, no top priorities.   Management theory is awash in theories about how to “create a sense of urgency.”  Mantras such as “establish and outcome-focused culture” and “secure stakeholder input and buy-in to the strategy” add zest and sparkle to a middle-management PowerPoint, but are simply manipulation in the eyes of the managed.

When a group has a diversity of core values, it will struggle with a shared sense of urgency.   It may pull together as ‘co-belligerents’ from time to time, but this is only an illusory alliance.   Despite appearances, everyone has their own agenda.  And nothing reveals this like a disaster.   Adversity tests conviction to shared core values.  Without shared core values, each person’s sense of urgency is reduced to ‘every man for himself.’   Everyone has a different top priority – himself.  

This is often vividly portrayed in disaster films.    Doomed airplanes and ships, calamitous meteor strikes, and pandemics show men at their worst, fighting to survive at the expense of others.   We like to think we would act differently, but would we?   And what if the disaster was even more dramatic – the end of the world as we know it — cataclysmic divine judgement that afflicts mankind, body, soul, and spirit.  

The Book of Revelation is often avoided, because its scenes of unrelenting, divine judgment poured out on the world are terrifying.   Its imagery is intense and unnerving.   While it declares victory for the Lamb and vindication of believers, the trajectory is described as a Great Tribulation.   It affirms what we read in Acts 14:22 that we enter the kingdom of God “through many tribulations.”  As we read through the Apocalypse is our thought for ourselves, alone?   Is our sense of urgency for our survival?  Does this prophecy awaken in us a sense of fear and suspicion toward the unbelieving world?

As Jesus opens the Seven Seals, we see the unfolding effects a fallen world where men, given over to their sin, suffer war, bloodshed, famine, injustice, and persecution.   Everyone is affected.  Believers and unbelievers alike.   The only difference is that believers endure, because they have hope.  They pass through the valley of the shadow by drawing close to the shepherd, not by fleeing from him.   For Christians, the scroll of God’s Unfolding Purpose tells a difficult, but gracious story.   And while this story brings comfort in adversity, it should evoke something else as well.

When the Seventh Seal is opened in Revelation 8, there is silence in heaven.   The constant praise which fills every vision of heaven thus far, now falls silent as the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)   Nothing interrupts a party like a tragedy.   Judgement against the unbelieving world begins to unfold.  

The seals and trumpets are not sequential, but share the same frame of history.   Yet they do so from a different perspective.   There are similarities in the cycles.   The first four in each series are directed against earth, sea, and heavens, while the fifth and sixth are in the spiritual realm.  But there are important differences as well.  The seals speak of the natural consequences of sin, while the trumpets are very clearly, acts of God.   Also, the seals effect all mankind, believer and unbeliever alike, while the trumpets, particularly the final ‘woes,’ are directed only toward those who do not have the seal of the Living God.

The physical suffering of unbelievers is great, but the woes of the fifth and sixth trumpet in Revelation 9 speak of unrelenting spiritual horror.  Those not sealed by the Living God through grace, are subject to pain that even death cannot take away.   And while there is a note of vindication at the righteous justice of God, this passage is given to the church – a church described as a lampstand to the world – to grasp a sense of urgency.   Urgency to speak the gospel to every creature under heaven.   Without the gospel the horrors of these woes await our neighbors, families, coworkers, and those we meet every day.

It is easy to read this passage with satisfaction as the enemies of Christ receive justice from God’s hand.  But does the justice of God awaken our sorrow for the lost?   All mankind deserves God’s justice and will, indeed, receive it unless they find grace in Christ.  Does the horror of this thought ignite a sense of urgency?   Those you love, those you serve, those who serve you, who are not sealed through faith in Christ, will fall under these horrific judgements.   They will seek for death and not find it.  And when it comes, it will not be relief or release, but intensification of pain.    But the Lord Jesus has the keys to Death and Hades.  And he gives these gospel keys to his church.  

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:19

Do you have a sense of urgency regarding the lost?   Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.   As his people, is that not our purpose as well?   When you read of these judgements are you relieved for your own deliverance or sorry for those who will find no relief?   Should it not be both?   God has given us this word for comfort, but also to make us uncomfortable with the condition of the lost.  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 9 and reflect on our own sense of urgency.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

04/25/2021 | “Acts of God” | Revelation 8

There are things in our lives that just happen, and then there are acts of God.   Those are the things that confront us with the deep existential questions and keep us up at night.   Does God exist?  What kind of God is he?  What does he demand or expect of me?   Is he pleased or displeased with me?   Can I know the answers to any of these questions?  If so, how?

In Revelation 8, Jesus opens the final seal and reveals the contents of the scroll.   The judgements found there move from common experiences of men to remarkable acts of God.  They provoke deeper questions than, “how do I survive.”   Yet even in the dramatic judgements of Revelation 8, we see the grace of God shining through the terror of the first four trumpets.    Join us this week as we examine Revelation 8 and consider God’s gracious warning to us through his undeniable acts of judgement.

“Acts of God,” Revelation 8:1-13

Acts of God

Literally anything can be insured today.   Your health, your life, your car, your house, these have long been insurable.   But now anything you can buy on Amazon comes with an optional protection plan.  Asurion and SquareTrade will sell you piece of mind for any device imaginable.   No matter what happens, you’re in good hands.   These ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ plans promise to fix anything and everything for any reason.   Once plan declares,

…you’re covered from day one for damage caused by common accidents, including:Knocking it off a table, dropping it in water,your dog chewing on it

[we] cover your device from all electrical and mechanical failures, including battery replacements if the original battery won’t hold at least a 50% charge. Drop it? Spill on it? No worries. We cover accidents caused by you and people you know.

Sounds like absolute security!   But, like all things legal and financial, read the fine print.   Theft, loss, and ‘intentional damage’ is not covered, along with other vague categories of disaster which create large liability loopholes.   And the list of coverage exceptions always ends with the coup de grace of limited liability, ‘Acts of God.’

Acts of God are serious.   No insurance can or will protect us from them.   There are things in life that just happen.   Things we expect.  Things which, though disastrous, we have come to expect.  But acts of God are those things so catastrophic and unexpected that they get our existential attention.  

For example, in 1755 an earthquake struck off the coast of Portugal triggering a Tsunami which ignited a massive firestorm in the city of Lisbon.   The consequences were devastating.   The death and destruction triggered by this act of God ignited an existential firestorm.   Enlightenment philosophers and churchmen fiercely debated the goodness of God and whether this world constitutes the “best of all possible worlds.”

There are things in our lives that just happen, and then there are acts of God.   Those are the things that confront us with the deep existential questions and keep us up at night.   Does God exist?  What kind of God is he?  What does he demand or expect of me?   Is he pleased or displeased with me?   Can I know the answers to any of these questions?  If so, how?

God has a plan and a purpose for the world.   The Book of Revelation pictures this plan as a scroll sealed with seven seals.   No mere man can open it or look into it.  The only one found worthy is the Lamb slain, who yet lives – the Lord Jesus Christ.   As he opens the seals in Revelation 6, we see a series of events that, for the most part, are a part of the common experience of men throughout history: conquest, bloodshed, famine, injustice, and persecution.    These things are devastating, but not unexpected.   They will sometimes draw men’s attention to the greater reality of God and our relation to him, but often men’s focus is more earthbound in such times.

But in Revelation 8, Jesus opens the final seal and reveals the contents of the scroll.   The judgements found there move from common experiences of men to remarkable acts of God.  While God’s providence extends to all his creatures and all their actions, some providences reveal more clearly his active agency in our lives.   Acts of God get our attention.  They provoke deeper questions than, “how do I survive.”   They provoke us to recognize God’s existence, nature, authority.  And to wrestle with our relationship to him.

But even in the dramatic judgements of Revelation 8, we see the grace of God shining through the terror of the first four trumpets.   God acts in ways similar to the plagues against Egypt, signs given to warn men to abandon their false gods and to find deliverance in the Living God alone.  Signs that also warn us not to harden our hearts and flee from the Lamb.    But to flee to Him. 

The use of trumpets for these acts of God is significant.  Trumpets in the Bible are used to signify many things:  a call to battle, a warning of impending attack, to call Sons of Israel to the feasts, but the most significant use is to declare the year of Jubilee – to declare freedom for the captive and release from slavery.  The trumpets of judgement that begin to blow in Revelation 8 are acts of God that warn us and call us to flee to and not from God for deliverance from the slavery of sin and the righteous judgement we deserve.   These trumpets call us flee to the Lamb who was slain, who “by His blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

When acts of God occur, we begin to ask questions.   But are we seeking answers?   In these trumpets, God is warning us to return to Him.   As the unfolding narrative of Revelation everywhere declares, “in wrath, He remembers mercy.”   Are you listening?   Will you flee from the wrath of the Lamb or flee to the Lamb in the midst of the throne who will be your shepherd, who will guide you to springs of living water and wipe away every tear from your eyes.  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 8 and consider God’s gracious warning to us through his undeniable acts of judgement.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube For the Order of Service, click here.

Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash