Saturday, June 10, 2017

Revelation Nonsense

Although I've done my best to write about Revelation in a historically and Biblically literate way, it's a tough subject to research. There's a lot of nonsense about Revelation on the internet. Some of it is intentional nonsense, pernicious misinterpretation to attain power and money for the purveyors of misinformation. Some of it is somewhat innocent - true believers who have a laser like focus on the nonsense and can't keep track of God's character and love anymore.

Either way, it's harmful.

Here's a video which exemplifies this sort of nonsense.


The passage of concern here is Revelation 13:18 "This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666."

I realize this passage is intriguing to conspiracy theorists, because it's a secret code. How fun! Now you can feel like the hero of The Davinci Code as you figure it out.

A better question to ask: Why tell this story in code?
Apocalyptic stories are all told like this. (It’s a lost genre.) We can’t fully understand spiritual realities- so they are told with images and metaphor.
It isn’t safe to speak freely: freedom of speech is not right for author and audience in this story. Saying “Nero” is wicked would be a crime. But saying “The Beast is wicked” gives a little room for interpretation. However, for people living in that time period in that area, most of these metaphors and symbols would be clear and not confusing at all.

Six-six-six could be code for Euanthas, Lateinos, or Nero Caesar. These were wicked Roman kings who caused great harm to the people they were supposed to rule wisely.

Or, 666 could be empathically short of the perfect number 7. Don’t get obsessed with interpreting it. Some things that were perfectly clear at the time don’t make sense now, and people will start seeing 6’s everywhere if you are looking for them.

Here's a few of the examples I've found online of people obsessing over 666:

Obama! For sure a secret Muslim, also the antichrist.

Math! I've always said it's fun

Anything can be a 6 if you work hard at it

Working hard to keep this updated - any "new" thing is the Mark of the Beast, but any old thing is  The Good Old Days
What's said is how quickly these things become dated. It's not hip to say Obama is the antichrist anymore- since he's out of office and power, you really need to get over it. But young people don't know how long the antichrist game has been going on. (By the way, there is NO character in Revelation called "The Antichrist")

The Pope is an ongoing favorite for accusation:


Every US president (or potential president) gets a share of accusation:

1990s: President Bill Clinton

2000-2008 George W. Bush

2009-2016 President Barack Obama
Presidential Candidate Hilary Rodham Clinton 2016
President Donald Trump 2017 - present

When my mom was my age, Gorbechev was a popular contender:

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
1985–1991
Islamic leaders are also common options

 Saddam Hussein President of Iraq, 1979-2003
 Or, just combine a hatred of Islam with a hatred of Catholicism and smoosh them together.


I also found two accusations which frankly shocked me:

Billy Graham: world famous evangelist from 1940s to 2000s
The Apostle Paul: major New Testament character and writer 
 One could argue that all of these people have done wrong things, perhaps even things that were again (anti) Christ. However, calling any of them "The Antichrist" - a one singular evil person who would bring about the end of the world- is both selfish and silly. All it takes if for that person to die or to lose power for your prediction to be worthless. That's why they keep writing new books and pretending like the old ones never happened.

However, if you took the time to simply criticize what that person did wrong- why their beliefs, teachings or actions were contrary to God's love and God's will, you may accomplish something useful.

You can take anything you don't like and apply Revelation symbolism to it

Let's return to the Monster energy drink video.

This woman focuses on secret symbols. She imagines that someone's soul is damaged by turning a cross upside-down by accident. She suggests that satan gets some sort of benefit by a symbol that looks vaguely like a Hebrew letter. What benefit could it possibly be to satan? Here's how satan benefits: when people hurt each other. When people hate. When people misuse God's name to ignore the suffering of others.

Monster energy drink is not a Christian company, as she observed. There are potentially harmful things about using cursing and sexualization to market a product. There's much harm in capitalism in general: greed, false advertising, oppression of workers, promotion of unhealthy consumption, waste, lack of care for the Earth. But she doesn't focus on any of that.

Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur and inventor, CEO of Apple until his death in 2011
I can summarize this into two main problems:

  1. A nonsense interpretation of the history of Revelation- thinking John of Patmos looked into the future, saw Monster Energy Drinks or Barack Obama, and felt the need to tell his contemporaries about it.
  2. A nonsense interpretation of the present: that rather than considering the good and bad deeds of world leaders, we focus our attention on secrets and conspiracies.
The symbolism of 666 is not the most important thing. The most important thing about the Mark of the Beast is allegiance. The real question is: Is our allegiance to God, or to wicked rulers? We can use secret symbols to justify following bad leaders, or being distracted from having good discernment about leadership. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What is Worship?


Holy, Holy, Holy, / Is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is, and is to come.
With all creation I sing / Praise to the King of Kings / You are my everything
And I will adore You


Today, we come together to worship, so let’s ask- What is worship?


Christians typically think of worship like this, gathering together with a community, singing songs, and reflecting on the meaning of the lyrics. Worship is also expressed through our feelings- you may be happy, exuberant, overwhelmed, moved, sad, or all of them at once.


Some of you here worship God, and maybe some of you aren’t sure if you consider yourself a person who worships.


But actually, we all worship!


We all dedicate ourselves to something. We all spend our time and our money in some focused way. We all honor whatever it is that we consider to be valuable. 

How do we worship?

  • Money
  • Time 
  • Focus 
  • Rejoicing 
  • Mourning 
  • Energy 
  • Art
  • Songs
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Prayer
  • Movement (dance, exercise, prayer postures)
  • Love/devotion/adoration
  • Trust, Obedience/submission
  • Protecting/defending
  • Taking action
  • Refraining from action
Some of this worship is personal, and some of it is communal. Today we’re worshipping communally- everyone together. We worship because our family or our community said we should, or sometimes we worship something we’ve chosen for ourselves.


Either way, we worship because we’ve decided that something is worthy of worship. In fact, “worth” is the root of the word worship.



Worship = Worth-ship



We worship what has value. We worship what we think is deserving.


In the book of Revelation, we see many scenes of worship. This may surprise you because the book is more famous for stories of destruction and death- but that’s not the point of Revelation. In contrast to despair, we witness this scene alongside our narrator John. 

Revelation 4:6b-11, 5:1-6b, 9-12

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
I know this is an overwhelming vision, and we don’t have time to break down every part of it right now.


But it is overwhelming on purpose. Imagine standing in front of this heavenly throne with this cast of characters: four creatures with wings and strange faces, twenty-four elders, and 100 million angels. This contrasts the destruction elsewhere in the story. John was writing this as a letter to a persecuted people- those who were dying for their faith in a time when Rome had conquered most of the known world.  They worshiped a goddess of victory and built statues and altars to her. Roman kings also demanded worship. They said, “I’m worthy of worship, because I’m the strongest and the smartest, and I have the biggest army.”


Many of the things Rome worshipped, we still worship today. Maybe we don’t build a statue to them, but we spend our time, money and energy focused on these things.

What We Worship

  • Athletes, sports teams, movie stars
  • Politicians or policies
  • Church and religious leaders
  • Success and accomplishments
  • Independence and self-reliance
  • Grades, degrees, titles, prestige
  • Coolness or uniqueness
  • Sex and sexual attractiveness
  • Dating, romance, romantic partners
  • Marriage and family
  • Western beauty standards (certain skin tones, face shapes, body shapes)
  • Thinness
  • Good health and able bodies
  • Strength and security
  • Patriotism and nationalism
  • Money and materialism
  • Authority figures
  • Winning/victory
  • Comfort, convenience
These things aren’t all inherently bad: but are they worthy of worship? I mentioned things like marriage and family because they can be good and life-giving, but worshipping them can also mess up our priorities and cause harm. I see that in dating too- many think they are incomplete without a significant other, that their life isn’t worthwhile unless a boyfriend or girlfriend affirms them.


For me, grades and achievements were a major focus when I was a student. I built my identity around my report card. Jesus was important to me too, but there was a wall around part of my heart where Jesus had no place. When I was 18, for the first time I decided to give my whole heart to Jesus, instead of just the places where it was easy and convenient. It’s still hard to keep giving up that part of myself. I don’t get grades anymore, thankfully, but I tend to worship being right, winning arguments, or being perceived as being right. It can be hard to let go of these things, and it’s still a long journey with Jesus for me.


The next hard step in my journey again started with expanding my heart. I hadn’t noticed how my faith was exclusively personal. I thought, as long as I have a personal relationship with Jesus, it doesn’t matter if my family, my church, my people group, or my country have a broken relationship with God. But in Revelation, we see that it matters to God when our communities worship things which aren’t worthy. Most of the stuff on this worship list are things our culture ingrains in us- how many times do you see media for thinness and certain beauty standards? How often do we see leaders escape consequences for their wicked actions because we worship their power?


Like Rome, we have leaders who say - “I’m the strongest and the smartest. I have the power. I’m worthy of your devotion and obedience.” We live in a world where we are encouraged to worship leaders and power, or seek the victories of our group at the expense of others.


So when John says that God alone is worthy of worship, he’s promoting a revolutionary act. In the midst of wicked rulers, he tells us to disobey their commands and give allegiance to God instead.


John is writing this from prison, and others who follow this act of allegiance could end up there too, or die as martyrs.


This worship is not fun or casual. These early Christians took worship seriously. They were serious because it was worthwhile. So why is God worthy of worship?
Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Holy means to be complete, whole. There's nothing incomplete about God. God was, is, and is to come because God is eternal and lives forever. God is the creator- what power could be greater?


We can see why God is worthy- someone so big and so powerful must be greater than any conquering King, right?


But there’s another aspect to this worthiness. In chapter 5 verse 2,  we meet a mighty angel. We have a cultural view of angels looking sweet and human, but this being probably looks as terrifying as the four living creatures by the throne. And it is mighty: maybe it’s the biggest of all the angels, it has forearms this big around- it could lift John up like a dumbbell. But for some reason, even this mighty angel can’t open this scroll.


Scrolls aren’t usually hard to open- it's just paper sealed with wax.


Strength isn’t enough- power isn’t enough. What is needed to open this scroll? An elder says: Don’t worry, we have someone who can do it. Look- it’s the Lion!


John looks. But he doesn’t see a lion- he sees a lamb.



What is this? A lamb isn’t a lion. It isn’t strong or powerful. It’s a baby, vulnerable.
Why would a lamb be worthy? How could a lamb have triumphed?
We hear why this lamb is worthy in a new song.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
We saw before that the lamb looked like it had been killed. Many ancient cultures sacrificed lambs and other animals for forgiveness or for seeking favor. It’s a strange image for God to become the sacrifice rather than the one receiving the sacrifice.


Surprise: worthiness comes through sacrifice, not strength. Worthy is the one who loves, not the one with power. Worthy is he who made a Kingdom, not he who conquered kingdoms. Worthy is he who makes people priests and rulers, not he who makes people slaves and martyrs.


The name of the lamb who was slain is Jesus. Jesus sacrificed himself and died out of love. His enemies though they’d won, but his sacrifice was the victory. Because of Jesus’ love, we get to gather here today- this campus represents people from many tribes and languages and peoples and nations- we get to be part of God’s Kingdom. We get to serve and we get to reign.


What would our world look like if we valued sacrifice over strength? Maybe we wouldn’t treat the poor and the refugee and the disabled and the sick as a burden, but as beloved brothers and sisters who have something good to contribute. How would we treat people if we believed that love was greater than power? Maybe we wouldn’t care about saying that our country was #1 and stop trying to put ourselves first. And what would our campus look like if we were a kingdom of people from every nation serving God? College students could model love and sacrifice for the whole world to see.


Do you want that? Do you want to be part of that?

Jesus is worth learning about- let Jesus show you why he is worthy.


Worthy is the Lamb who was slain / Holy Holy is He
Sing a new song / To Him who sits on / Heaven’s mercy seat
Holy, Holy, Holy, / Is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is, and is to come.

Wedding of the Lamb: Cake Color Symbolism

Wedding of the Lamb - Revelation Potluck party! You can have a slice of you tell me what the colors represent

1. Purple: represents royalty (purple dye is historically expensive- only the rich could afford it. In the time Revelation was written, the known world was under the control of Rome. The kings of Rome worshipped victory and conquering; they lavishly spent their wealth and oppressed the poor. They called themselves gods and killed anyone who wouldn’t worship them. The wicked “Babylon” wears purple and is covered in jewels, but she falls in the end. When Jesus arrives, it’s clear that he is the only true royalty, only he is worthy. Love wins over Power! 

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True… On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords.” -Revelation 11a, 16

2. Red: represents blood and sacrifice. Babylon drinks red wine that is the blood of the martyrs- those who died because their allegiance was to Jesus rather than to the evil kings. The Lamb bleeds from a cut throat, and Jesus’ robe is dipped in blood, representing his death and sacrifice for us. 

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” -Revelation 12:11

 3. White: represent purity, being washed/cleansed. The martyrs were given a white robe because they persevered to the end. Jesus and the heavenly army wear white, and Jesus rides a white horse. Finally, the Bride (the church) wears white for her wedding day! “ I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” -Revelation 21:2-4

4. Leaves: represent healing. The curse is broken and we can eat from the Tree of Life again. Our broken world is restored, both on a personal level and a community or systemic level as all the nations come together, bringing their glory and honor into the City. 

“On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” -Revelation 22:2b

Monday, April 10, 2017

Systemic Sin

What's the difference between personal sin and systemic sin? Does systemic sin even matter, or should be all only worry about our own personal sin? Sometimes systems are hard to see, and we'd rather pretend they weren't there. Here's some examples to start thinking about it:

Individual Sin -- Systemic Sin

a teen thinks sexual thoughts about a classmate  -- women are objectified in movies and advertising

a cop commits a murder -- the cop is rewarded rather than penalized

a woman is raped -- the rapist goes free, media says she "asked for it"

a pastor has an affair -- church covers it up and sends family away

a business person cheats -- cheating is encouraged in the whole company

a prison guard abuses an inmate --the prison doesn't investigate

a school bully threatens a child -- both children are punished; teacher says "I don't care who started it."

a man sexually harasses a coworker -- victim is told to find a job somewhere else if she can't handle it

a slum lord evicts a poor person -- no one else will rent to her now

a college student says a racial slur -- his fraternity sings a song full of slurs about how they won't let minorities into their frat

an administrator tosses a resume with a "black name" -- she was told to do so by her superior

an grandmother makes a joke about another ethnic group -- everyone chuckles and doesn't speak up

a famous athlete commits domestic violence -- the sports team says his personal life is "none of our business"

a young woman is tricked into prostitution -- her religious upbringing tells her she no longer has value

a man is given an excessive prison sentence for drug use -- he never gets help for his addiction and is labeled a convict forever

a doctor insults a person's weight/size -- person doesn't get treatment for her actual illness or injury- her weight gets blamed for everything

a politician sleeps with prostitutes -- his voters justify it because they like his policies

a man emotionally abuses his wife -- her church tells her to submit and obey him

an elected official wants more power -- voting restrictions stop a citizen from voting

I tell you my story of being hurt and you don’t believe me -- and you teach others not to believe me either


Thoughts on words:

Systemic: root word is system. Although a system can't sin, sinful people create systems which propagate sin. 

Communal: root word also gives us community. Same concept as system, but could have a more personal feel. Systems can be better at hiding sin, like boxing up many people into prison. Perhaps communal sin should be easier to see. Family sins also are a very personal form of communal sin.

Sin: These are all sins related to Injustice, and can be explained as Systemic Injustice for a less religious take on the issue. 

Required reading: "My sin is not just my own"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Shalom

I want to share two pictures of Shalom with you. The world doesn't always clearly reflect a God of Justice, but the Bible teaches about perfect justice in shalom.

Shalom means peace, but it's not just the peace of a cease fire. Author Nicholas Wolterstorff says Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight, inner and outer harmony, whole and abundant life, humans doing what we were created to do, in right relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the environment.

The first story in the Bible is about the Garden of Eden. We meet a loving God who has carefully and creatively crafted a garden. God works as a gardener, taking care of the earth and the animals. God makes people, and walks with them and talks with them like a good parents. God teaches the people how to take care of the earth and how to build a family together. (Genesis 2:8,15)

I hope you have had some relationships in your life that aren full of shalom. Maybe a family member, a friend, or a partner. You know when you have a good relationship with someone- You listen to each other. You emphasize, celebrate happiness and mourn sufferings together. Your relationship makes you stronger.

We see much of the world with broken relationships right now. Some of these are on an individual level, like having a hurtful relationship with a parent or an ex. Some of that brokenness is on a systemic level, when two people are treated in radically different ways by their society or government. Systems of authority can be used to help people flourish, or to hold them back.

Sometimes churches hurt people. If that has been your experience, I want to apologize on the church's behalf. I'm so sorry for every time a church or a person who represented Jesus acted without love. Churches and Christians have often sought power rather than serving others, or sought to exclude rather than share. That is not what shalom is about.

My second picture of Shalom is the opposite of an selfish church. At the end of time, the world is restored and redeemed. Instead of a garden, we see a city in the book of Revelation.

Rev 21:3-4, 22-26, 22:2
God is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I did not see a [church] in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its [church]. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
A river runs down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

We see a restored relationship with God, a God who lives with the people and takes away our tears. There are no church buildings to facilitate a relationship- it's as personal as family.

We see a world united in love- nations are healed, people of every race and color come together sharing their unique cultures, art, food, music, everything!

Revelation ends with a invitation- Come, let all who are thirsty come and drink from the water of life. I'm so thirsty for this- are you?

We don't live in a world that looks like Revelation yet, but we can start living in the Kingdom of God now. When Jesus began his ministry, he explained what he came to do.

Luke 4:16-21
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Shalom can be a mission, the actions of bringing justice, helping feed the hungry, making homes for refugee families, listening to and praying for your friend going through a hard time, educating people about mental illness through art, treating everyone fairly, pursuing careers in education, law, or politics to make the world a better place.

I share these pictures of encouragement for what can be, but I also believe it starts today. I'm not waiting for God's Kingdom after I die, we are working to build it now. Do you want to be part of that? Let's do it together.