That's the Book: Revelation
Recently I had the great joy of spending a day at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there we saw all the greats; the beautiful ballerinas of Edgar Degas, Waterlilies by Monet, the bright eyes and cheeks in Renoir. The Homer Winslows reminded me of the bits of the Bible which tell history. Lots of color and detail which help readers - or viewers - to understand a culture and how humanity moved within it. Pretty. And factual.
We wandered through my favorite gallery where the lovely impressionist paintings live. These Van Goghs, Manet, and Monets evoke beauty and move my soul. These remind me of the books of the Bible which are full of songs and worship and poetry. Think the Psalms. Or Isaiah. Pretty Pretty Pretty. More symbols, fewer facts, still truth.
Then we wandered through the abstract art gallery. These paintings are interesting. They make viewers reflect and see things in a new way. They cause questions, challenge assumptions, and are full of symbols. They aren't supposed to be viewed the same way as the realistic paintings and they don't have the same effect as the impressionists. But they are still powerful. Just like the book of Revelations.
The book of Revelation is likely the most misunderstood and confusing books in the entire Bible. It's written by John who was one of the disciples of Jesus. He had a vision about the future and wrote it down for people to have some clue as to how the rest of human history would play out. I have a little hint for you before we dig into the book. Jesus wins.
Some of the themes which sink into my heart when I wrestle with Revelations carry me in hard days. I've got these verses posted about and when life seems too hard I read them out loud. Because the truth screams.
Jesus is the only one able to touch the problem of pain. He's perfect. Lovely. Holy. He stays the same.
And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME". Revelations 4:8
"Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED." Revelations 15:4
Pain and destruction and darkness and death loses. Justice wins. Grace wins. We win.
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Revelation 20:10
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 21:4
God is not done with the church. Even with her flaws and hypocrisy. He loves her. He still calls her, uses her, loves her, restores her.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Revelations 3:15-19
Endurance is a large part of what the Christian faith preaches. Don't quit faithful one.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10
Revelations is a big, sometimes scary, powerful book with relevant messages to share with believers today. Life can be complicated. God is not simple. So the book of Revelations with all its abstract symbols and grand language gives us a glimpse into the mystery in ways the other books simply can't touch. Abstract is still truth.
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5
You'll find this walkthrough especially useful. The team at the Bible Project are the very best. I told you Revelations is complicated - it takes two videos to sum up.
That's the Book: 3rd John
When I was about 12 my family took a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My parents had been there previously and had befriended a family who lived nearby. So we were thrilled this trip to have personal tour guides and help with translating Spanish. Kind friends always make things more fun. We got to go horse back riding out in the jungle, take a ride across the bay and then climb up to a gorgeous waterfall and generally see some sights not on the normal tourist itinerary. Our friends owned an apartment in Guadalajara so their children could attend college and they invited us to stay there with them over the weekend. One epic night we rode through the old town in a horse drawn carriage and they hired a mariachi band to serenade us all during dinner. Such good hosts!
This kind of cheer reminds me of the joy with which John writes to his friends in the book of 3rd John. This one chapter book is the third in a series of books to encourage and challenge his friends. John's main points this book where to cheer joyfully on their faith and to encourage them to practice hospitality for follow believers.
It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John: 2-3
Our trip to Mexica was fantastic. And then near the end of our time there, my family all got sick. Barfing, way too much time in the bathroom, thought we were gonna die Montezuma's revenge kind of sick. And this is when our hostess really kicked in.
I'll never forget the care of this sweet mama. She welcomed us into her home, made us the most lovely tea, went to the local pharmacy for electorolite drinks so we would not become dehydrated and generally comforted this lot of pitiful travelers. We felt better. Not so much in our bodies - that took a few days - but we immediately felt better in our souls.
This is what good hospitality does. It makes you feel welcome, included, comforted and known. This mama made me feel better 30 years ago and I still am grateful.
John was a traveling pastor - as were many of those believers in the early church. And the local people who gave them room and board made all the difference. So John spends the rest of this chapter reminding them to show hospitality - and to call out those who don't.
We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth. I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. 3 John 1:8-10
Over my life I've had other times when friends and believers made me feel welcome. When a meal made all the difference between hope and despair. When I wasn't sure how to continue and someone had a cup of coffee, made me laugh and encouraged me forward.
Some people are intimidated by hospitality. They get caught up in a cycle of comparison, self doubt and shame. My guess is this is partly fueled by too many instagram posts of perfect dinners and the predictable Pinterest fail.
Listen. Hospitality doesn't have to be fancy. My friend in Mexico gave us hugs, looked us in the eye, made us a cup of tea. She didn't need fancy to show love. And neither do we. This is work we can all do. And its joy giving.
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. 3 John 1:11
That's the Book: 1st John
My first car was a 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with a 350 engine. The car was brown with tan interior. The headliner had lost integrity so hung down until I get sick of it rubbing my head. I ripped it down. Then instead of a drooping headliner, I had orange foam above my head which periodically would rain down. The car also had a minor coolant issue so most of the time it smelled like maple syrup. This was a very fast, very brown and orange slightly smelly car. I was grateful my parents gave me a car to drive and so I didn’t complain. Much.
After a while the car developed an issue with headlights.There was some sort of short in the high beam / low beam controller. As a result the headlights would randomly blink off. If I held the control stick very steady the headlights would come back on. I always forgot to mention this problem to my parents. Likely because I was always just sliding into the house at curfew and the relief of making curfew would kick any thought of car maintenance out of my head. During the day I didn’t use the lights so I didn’t think about it. And of course I’m old enough I didn’t drive around with a cell phone.
The problem was getting worse. Instead of always staying on when I held the light now it would only mostly stay on. Mostly having headlights is not ideal. Especially in the dark country roads I traversed on my way home. Light is important. The
The book of 1 John is a letter to the early churches from the apostle John. The book has two main messages. God is light - so stay in it. Second - God is love - so love one another. Not complicated. But important.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you; God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifiers us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful nd just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1: 5-9
I finally had a night where I could NOT get the headlights in my car to stay on. Quite stupidly I inched home in the dark. The next morning I finally told my father. He’s an electrician. He knows all about lights. He immediately got the car into the shop and the lights fixed. The fact that my father was an electrician did not solve my light problem - because I didn't bother to stay in communication with him. The second I did so - the light problem was resolved.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. I John 2: 8-10
The wonderful thing about my parents is they were thrilled to fix my car. They wanted me to be safe driving. They didn't want me to crash in the dark. And here is one of my favorite verses about God the Father - He has great love - and He lavishes it on us.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1
I suppose the logical question is why does it matter that God loves me? What do I do with this information?
Think about my car again. If I had never gotten the headlights fixed and had continued to drive in the dark - death or paralyzing fear would be next. Once the car was fixed I could trust the headlights to do their job. So what I did next was drive. I moved forward. And that's what happens when we have the light and love of God. We move forward. Without fear. We can go into our future and love as we've been loved.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19
Any kid who grew up in church in the USA during the 80s knows this song. The rest of you might as well join in. It's as good a summary of 1st John as any.
And this one. Straight from 1st John - and the 80s. Kids Praise Psalty style. We sang this all lined up in front of church. These words are written on my heart after hours of practicing this round. Fancy. Listen in - you'll feel like you are five again.
And if you still don't understand 1st John - here are the guys at the Bible Project with their walk through in Read Scripture. Check it out This video actually includes 1st, 2nd and 3rd John.
That's The Book: 2nd Peter
The family and I went camping last week. My husband is a master packer. He manages to pack a week's worth of camping gear, several tables, tents, chairs, food and two bikes into the back and top of our LR3 Landrover. This time we each had items tucked in around our feet. Well. Not the driver. But the girls and I had blankets, towels and a friend's birthday present to hold us in place during the 3 hour drive to camp.
My husband is an awesome packer. He's not great at waiting patiently in traffic. We all have areas in our life to grow right? At any rate, several times we passed people driving slower. One little slow Hyundai hybrid we happily left in the dust.
About a half hour away from camp we came around a corner and saw the traffic ahead was stopped. Cars turned off, people standing on the side of the road kind of stopped. My spouse groaned and slowed. Stopped with a grimace and turned to me.
"Why don't you get out and see if you can find out what happened?"
So I untangled myself from my nest and took a stroll up the road. I stopped by a little crowd of people and asked what was going on. I'm not sure why I thought they knew. They were parked up maybe five cars ahead. No cell service. What did they know?
But not to disappoint the drivers on the side of the road told me there was a wreck ahead. It had just happened. No one had cell service so no emergency responders had been summoned yet. Apparently one of the other drivers had turned and headed back to the other side of the mountain to call for help. The nice woman said she thought the best option was to turn around, drive 30 minutes back and grab the alternate highway to go around. Or sit and wait it out.
I walked back to my family. Gave them the news and the proposed plans.
My husband had another idea.
"See that little road right there? A couple of people went up it and haven't come back. The Landrover's GPS looks like it meanders around and pops out just down the road. If we follow them we'll avoid the wreck, save ourselves the back tracking and we'll be at camp soon. Should we try that?
I said "Sure."
This was not wise.
The book of 2 Peter is a last message from the great church leader Peter. He has become convinced his time left on earth is short so he wrote this book as a plea to the other believers.
I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 2 Peter 1:13
Peter's message to the church is to not be sidetracked. He wants them to stay on course. He knows hardship may come and false teachers will try to drag them off the road. But his plea was to stay on task.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 2 Peter 1: 5-9
So here my family and I were on the side of the road. We didn't suck it up and wait patiently. We didn't listen to wise counsel and stay to the main roads.
Nope. We saw the other people headed off path and we followed.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1
For a while the drive was lovely. Wide vistas. Beautiful trees. Nice gravel road following the GPS line on our screen nicely. Around one corner we came upon a view of a herd of horses galloping across a wide field. Gorgeous. We were free!
We soon saw a little Hyundai hybiyd kicking up a cloud of dust. It looked suspiciously like the one we had passed a couple of mountain passes back. He had apparently not waited as long as we had to take the less beaten path. At any rate we started calling him "car guy" and figured if a little four door could make it surely our big tough landcover would be just fine.
For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. they promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity - for "people are slaves to whatever has mastered them." 2 Peter 2: 18-19
I recognize this analogy isn't perfect. Taking a side road is not being a slave to depravity - but we weren't patient, we were boastful about the features of our vehicle and we were blindly following a clearly out of element hybrid. Did I mention this wasn't wise?
Pretty soon the little gravel road became a smaller dirt road. We kept going.
The road became a path. Large ruts appeared. Trees had sprouted in the middle of the path. Clearly this road hadn't been used lately.
We kept going.
The road completely disappeared. Our GPS said there was still a path. But our eyes didn't see the way.
We headed down a hill.
The girls by this point were poking me in the side and whispering they were scared. I had started to roll my eyes.
Large noises came from under the car.
Finally we had a pow wow with the car guy and determined we were in fact at a dead end and had to turn around.
We started to back track. The car guy was slowly coming behind. I didn't want to hear on the news in the days to come that some man had disappeared off road in a little Hyundai. So we kept his puff of dust in the rear view window.
And then the road widened out and we were on flatter ground.
The loud noise underneath got louder. I looked in the rear view mirror.
Shredded flat tire.
Middle of no where, no cell service flat tire.
We pulled over.
The spare was covered by our mountain of camping gear. We started to unload all our belongings into the dirt on the side of the road. My youngest wanted to get out. I said no. Snake country. Too much to handle.
My spouse and I do many things well together. We throw a mean party. We do not change tires well together.
I was concerned. My spouse was annoyed.
And then up pulled the little Hyundai. It was sporting some new undercarriage and front bumper damage.
The driver got out and asked if we needed help.
I said yes.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
Turns out the car guy is a very nice man named Patrick who works for Boeing as an airplane mechanic.
Praises to Jesus.
Patrick and my husband changed the tire.
I told Patrick he was a hero and had saved our marriage from a rather large roadside fight.
We repacked all the crud in the car. It didn't fit the same way as before. The girls were buried in extra gear. We threw the flat shredded tire on top of the roof and headed back to civilization.
By the time we got back to the main road the original accident was cleared away and no traffic remained. Our detour had taken hours. We hit Les Schwab with only 15 minutes to store closure and the nice team of tire guys stayed open and happily sold us an entire set of new tires. All wheel drive ya know. Have to replace them all. $1200 lesson in patience.
Our bruised spirits finally made it to camp.
Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking I them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3: 15-16
I've heard of several people lately deciding to give up the faith. They say it's too hard to understand. That God's decrees can't be right. Too much judgment. Too difficult to hold the line. They have listened to the voices in society preaching an easy freedom.
Peter's message is a simple one.
Don't believe the lie. Stay the course.
The road with its rules and signs and guardrails is the place to stay. The wandering path leads to destruction.
Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3: 17-18
Here you go! Helpful as always.
That's the Book: 1st Peter
When I was pregnant with my first daughter my mama gave me some great advice about labor and delivery. She said not to get wrapped up in other people’s horror stories and to face my labor remembering everyone is different. She said to try and remember the pain had a purpose and wouldn't last forever. She was right. The perspective helped. Rather than focusing on what was difficult I tried to remind myself the labor was bringing great joy.
Pain is always easier to bear when we know the outcome is a good one. Peter, the author of this little book knew something about enduring pain and then seeing the joy afterwards. He was present during Jesus' ministry and death and was one of the first to see the truth of the empty tomb. So the book of 1st Peter gives the same advice as my mama. Know your suffering is not permanent. Joy comes. It’s for great purpose.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1st Peter 1: 3-9
That was a long verse wasn't it.
I catch myself skipping over large quotes or excepts of Bible in other people's writing. I have to remind myself to slow down and read the words and absorb the truth of what God is saying. I think the devil loves it when we skip the scripture.
My words don't matter.
So go ahead and go back and read (or reread) that section of 1st Peter. It really sums up the whole book. Suffering causes you to grow, it burns out what is false, it makes the most important things clear, and suffering well draws people in.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 9 6-11
We don’t face much persecution here although our family around the world certainly does. And hardships certainly hit everyone. Cancer. Divorce. Financial loss. But what 1 Peter says is that God will carry us through those hardships. That these sufferings strip away what is lesser and reveals what is most important; Eternity. Salvation. Heaven.
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1st Peter 2: 11-12
Have you ever been around someone who was over reacting to a minor inconvenience? It’s awkward and unpleasant. Usually makes me wonder what happened in their past to trigger a harsh response.
But have you ever been around someone with a peace and joy in the middle of difficult situations?
It draws me in.
I want to know where their strength comes from.
Where their resiliency is stored.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect... 1st Peter 3: 15b
Do you see what Peter is saying? Your reaction to what hardship shows up has an eternal impact on you and those around you. Your pain is not wasted. It's not pointless. The joy is coming.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1st Peter 4:12-13
And this is the bit of the story Peter is preaching. Heaven is a guarantee. Bring people with you. Suffer well.
I was struggling with the book of 1st Peter. I usually try to read it myself first and reflect, pray, think and write. Nuthin. So I cheated and watched The Bible Project's walk through. Then I started again. Totally helped. May I recommend you watch these?
That's the Book: Hebrews
A couple of days ago I took a walk, grabbed my gear and parked myself at a favorite view. I sat and painted and pondered Hebrews. I've noticed some parallel lines.
The book of Hebrews is a visual book. It draws pictures of how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mirror the heavenly reality. Hebrews spends a lot of time explaining how the temple, priesthood and sacrifices on earth are shadow copies of the more real ones in heaven. The things on Earth, while temporary, are important because they mirror the permanent ones. The forms help us understand our situation and our need for salvation. Hebrews then details how Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the sacrificial system which gives him the authority and position to act as high priest for our relationship with the Father.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the houses of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10: 19-23.
Art mimics reality. Or reflects reality. Or it tells us something about truth we didn’t notice previously. In the same way, the temple reflected the real truth. When people get obsessed with rules, or the church’s structure or the legalism of a religious order they are forgetting that those symbols only reflect. They should point us to the real eternal truth. The symbols aren’t the valuable things themselves. And art, while lovely, doesn’t reflect perfectly. Especially for an artist in training.
However. Jesus himself reflects God perfectly.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and though who also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right had of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. Hebrews 1:1-4
Hebrews is calling us to live lives that reflect the glory of God. And faith -while not flawless- is strong enough to carry us to the finish line where it will be perfected.
Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case - the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Hebrews 6: 9-12
And then we come to one of the best sections in the entire New Testament. Hebrews chapters 11 and 12. If you feel like quitting these are the verses to read. Read them out loud to your weary soul. Shout these promises. Write them on walls. I promise God will strengthen your resolve, steady your quacking limbs and put some starch in your spine.
Chapter 11 summarizes the stories of the Old Testament and calls us to notice how these people of faith did great actions and stood for truth in the midst of hardship by holding fast to the promises of God.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that her rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
The end of chapter 11 is a great reminder we are not alone in any sort of suffering. The stories in the Bible include torture, flogging, chains, stoning, persecution and mistreatment. The world was not worthy of them.
Then chapter 12! The author calls you to apply the lesson to your own life.
THEREFORE, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes onJesus, the pioneer and perfecto of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12 1-3
I’ve been trying to learn how to draw trees for years. Finally can do a passable fir tree. But my leafy trees still look like green blobs. Kinda like a large green stuffed garbage bag. Not a tree. So earlier this week I saw a post Jini77 had put on an urban sketchers Facebook page. I decided to try and copy it. Perhaps my hand and eye would crack the code to the elusive deciduous tree. So I penciled in a simliar study. Inked and water colored. And while not nearly as nice as the original artist - I think my trees look more like trees than garbage sacks. Yay for progress.
When I looked around and mimicked someone who had it down I did better in my own art. And this is what chapter 11 and chapter 12 are saying. Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Not perfect people. But faithful souls who were reflecting the deep truth of God. Since we can see their lives let’s run like them. Not because they are worthy but because they reflect God so well.
I fussed over this painting. I second guessed the color. I enjoyed the time outside and wasn’t at all crashing on myself but I also wasn’t ready to post it anywhere. I had it laying on my desk at work while I pondered how art reflects what is good. And my friend came up and said she loved it. Said it was great. Said she wanted to hang it up.
See - when our lives reflect Christ we don’t have to second guess everything or over criticize. We can be a mess and slip frequently and still the reflection is what reminds people of truth. And so its worth painting. And running our race well.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed. Hebrews 12:11-13
If I fall and get back up people around me gain more courage to get back up. When I quit their load is heavier. When you stay the course - you become a part of the great cloud of witnesses that tells others to keep their eyes focused on heaven and their feet on the narrow path. Keep on my friends. This dark time is not the end of the story. Don’t let your light go out. Don’t buy into the lie that its too hard. Too much. Too late.
I believe in Christ and His ability to carry you.
Therefore, since we have a great hight priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. h=Hebrews 4:14-16
Hebrews is a loud cry into the battle field to the other believers to NOT GIVE UP.
But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:39
Jesus is the sacrifice therefore our sins are covered. Jesus is the priest therefore we have access to God. Jesus gives believers power to persevere therefore we can be faithful. The lines are drawn and we can hold onto that picture. Isn't it just gorgeous?
When we talk about art reflecting the glory of eternal ideas then we have to mention the team at The Bible Project. Their art definitely amplifies the glory of God and expands understanding for the viewers.
The team at New Spring Church has some fairly fantastic art in their infographics. Here is one for Hebrews.
www.chetsmom.com. had this beautiful rendering of Hebrews 12:1
That's the Book: Philemon
Sometimes in life you have to backup to learn anything. The book of Philemon is one of those times. You'll see what I mean.
The book of Philemon is a short one chapter appeal. Paul is writing a letter to a co-believer Philemon. Paul is asking Philemon to grant freedom to the runaway slave Onesimus. The book is also one of the more misapplied books of the Bible throughout history. So before I summarize what I believe we can learn to apply from Philemon there is an important distinction I have to cover first.
Let’s talk about what Philemon is not.
A validation of slavery.
Especially any sort of bondage that dehumanizes another soul. The chattel slavery of the US history, the caste system in India, or any sort of human trafficking for work or sex is not Biblical and Paul didn’t endorse it. Want proof? Read the text.
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do... Philemon 1:8a
According to Paul what Philemon should do under the authority of Christ is to set free his slave. If you read the full Biblical narrative you'll conclude God's heart is for equality and freedom. Major themes in the Old Testament call for freedom. When Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, it is framed as a major sin. One only God had the power to redeem. when the Israelites were captives in Egypt, God sent Moses and most of the book of Exodus being about freedom for the slaves and justice to the captors. The requirements in the law spelled out in Leviticus require a year of Jubilee where everyone is given freedom. Most of the grief in the prophets and the promise of a redeemer center around when Israel was in slavery after the fall of Jerusalem). In the New Testament Jesus makes clear he came to set free those in bondage. And Paul's other books call for treating anyone under any kind of authority with equality.
I believe we end up in trouble with the Bible when we use any verse out of context to justify behavior outside the cohesive message of the whole text. And Philemon is no different.
He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. Philemon 1: 16b
Paul asserts here that the slave Onesimus has equal value as both Paul and Philemon. His status as a man is one of fellow. So Paul is confirming what the rest of the Bible maintains - that all humans are created in God's image and have equal value. So any system which would undermine this truth is outside the Biblical narrative and is heresy. There is no room under the cross for dehumanizing language. So using Philemon (or any part of the Bible) to argue for slavery is flat out wrong.
We can now talk about what I believe the book of Philemon is;
A brilliant approach to advocacy and persuasion.
Sometimes a strong fight and an authoritative move is necessary. If you know children are in danger a call to the authorities is important. If violence is about to occur. you better buckle up for some action. An example would be the American Civil War. Although necessary, the fight is costly. And sometimes - especially when the one who needs to make amends is a believer - the right approach is an appeal through love. A good example is William Wilberforce's extended legislative action in England. William Wilberforce used logic, poetry, legislative bills and lots and lots of words to convince the public in England that the slave trade was a moral travesty. Paul's letter to Philemon is a good pattern to follow if you are working for change. Here are what I see as some critical steps.
1. Start with what is right.
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. Philemon 1; 4-5
2. Make a clear call to action.
It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus-- that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Philemon 1: 9b-10
3. Establish trust and invite partnership.
I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Philemon 1:12-14
4. Lay in deep. If you have the truth on your side - ask the big question boldly.
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ Philemon 1: 17-20
5. Move forward in action.
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. Philemon 1:22-23
The thing I love about the book of Philemon is that Paul is asking a fellow believer to step out in faith in a way that is expensive, counter culture and focused on love. What can you ask today?
The team at The Bible Project had some thoughts on this book I hadn't considered. Check it out.
Since this post was about slavery I want to direct you to some great organizations fighting slavery world wide right now. And sadly....slavery is still an issue in the United States.
Check out International Justice Mission HERE. This awesome organization is using courts and advocacy world wide to set free modern day slaves.
Check out Shared Hope HERE. This Vancouver, WA based non-profit is fighting for better laws to stop sex trafficking here in the United States.
That's The Book: Titus
I have been tracking a few goals for the past month. Make my bed (good start to the day, gift to my future self). Read my Bible. Do something in art. Write at least 100 words a day on That’s the Book (Eleven more books to go for those of you keeping track. Probably only me. And maybe my mom. And probably my spouse and kids but they are keeping track likely only so I’ll quit talking about it.) And I’m also trying to MOVE every day. This is the tough one.
The last ten days I’ve been getting up early to do a morning YouTube video. Just a little light tone and yoga. Mostly it’s about balance. I don’t have a ton. I tried this morning to do a side plank. Not quite gonna happen yet. I tip over.
Balance is a trick in life too. Focus too much on one side and you end up obsessing over details. Veer too far to the other side and it’s a crazy free for all with no forward motion. I sometimes tip over.
The book of Titus is from Paul to one of his co-workers Titus. The basic purpose of the book is to encourage Titus to keep preaching truth and to encourage the church he serves to hang onto the main message and avoid diving into surrounding controversy. Paul's main message is that the Christian faith is the most persuasive when the church practices the truth. The goal is to honor God and welcome the wounded world by living consistently with what Jesus taught.
Here is the extreme on one side Paul is advising people to avoid.
They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach - and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Titus 1: 11. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for anything good. Titus 1:16
And the balance he recommends;
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Who gave himself for us to redeem us from wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2: 11-14
I love some of the phrases in Titus. The book is only three chapters long so you really should stop reading this and go read it - nothing like original sources. But to persuade you to do so here are a few of my favorite thoughts.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:4-5In the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time. Titus 1:2
Hope and kindness and love. Good ways to balance a life. Imagine being Titus off in a lonely church trying to hold the faith. And imagine receive a letter from Paul which focused on the hope of heaven and the kindness of God. I bet it brought Titus back to center ready to face the challenge. This message is for you too. If you've veered off to one extreme of legalism where the weight of trying to do more or be more is tipping you over come back to center. If your life has toppled over to the other side with no guardrails and the license on your behavior has driven you to extremes causing pain can I recommend the same? Come back to center. Life is best lived there.
Why reinvent the wheel? The guys at the Bible Project know how to summarize better than anyone. Here is their take on Titus.
This is a fun song to memorize Titus 3:5. I love it and am going to sing this one with my kiddos.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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