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Jul 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Story of Elijah: chapter 1 – 07/21/2024

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah,
Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel,
and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years.
And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the eyes of Yehovah,
more than all who were before him.
And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat,
he took for his wife
(are you ready for it?) Jezebel
the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians,
and went and served Baal and worshiped him
1 Kings 16:29-31

A crooked king, a wicked queen, and a foreign god. You know this is going to be a great story. That’s because in literature (and storytelling), evil is more entertaining than good. We can predict a good person’s actions–they will be honest, kind, generous, and always choose what is right. The villains, however, are full of surprises. And they typically create the conflict that the heroes must overcome and resolve.

There are times when the scoundrels are at their worst, the champions must be all the more outstanding. This is exactly what we find at the beginning of our story. If Ahab was the most wicked king in Israel’s history, Elijah will prove to be Israel’s most illustrious prophet.

Like other prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, Elijah arrives on the scene without a formal introduction. He is just suddenly there. It’s not that he had no previous existence, but he has no backstory, no biography. The first information we have about him is that he had been living among the settlers in Gilead, east of the Jordan River. This, to me, is the first intriguing feature of Elijah’s story.

When Israel arrived in the land, two and a half tribes chose not to make their home with the others. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Mannaseh found that the pasture land on the east side of the Jordan River was perfect for grazing their herds of cattle and sheep. But after years of living there, it became a disadvantage, because it placed them further from spiritual center, than any other tribe. So what intrigues me is why God would choose an unknown from Gilead. God had prophets in Israel, and he also sent prophets to Israel from Judah, but it’s a surprise that a prophet–and such a great one at that, should come to Israel from Gilead.

Was there a small community among whom devotion to Yehovah had somehow survived? If so, why don’t we ever hear anything about them? Was Elijah an anomaly? Did God sovereignly choose Elijah to know him, be faithful to him, and become his most powerful spokesperson in this era?

What would it mean for us, if God will always speak to anyone who is willing to listen to him? Peter made a wonderful discovery standing in a Gentile home, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:35-36).

Elijah Steps Up
Now we know the hero and the villain. Ahab was the king of Israel for twenty-two years. A lot of damage can be done in twenty-two years. But at this time, Ahab was just getting started. Suddenly Elijah is in Ahab’s face, swearing an oath, “As Yehovah, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

Swearing an oath in the name of Yehovah will become Elijah’s trademark. Standing up for Yehovah, Israel’s one true God will be his destiny. Elijah’s identity is wrapped up in his destiny. Like everyone in scripture, Elijah is defined by his name. Eli (E-l-i) is “God,” and Yah (j-a-h) is a shortened form of Yehovah: “Elijah”–“Yehovah is God.”

The bold prophet delivers the announcement to the king. The land will suffer a severe drought, and it will continue until Elijah says it is over. It seems that Elijah’s voice is still ringing in the air when the awesome word of Yehovah came to him, Leave here, head east, back across the Jordan River. Make your way to Wadi Cherith and hide there. Drink from the wadi and I have commanded ravens to feed you there.”

Elijah did not plan his own travels, nor did he speak his own words. His actions were driven down the inexplicable path of God. So . . .
he went and did – according to the word of Yehovah.
He went and lived – by the Wadi Cherith – east of the Jordan River.
And the ravens
brought him bread and meat in the morning,
and bread and meat in the evening,
and he drank from the wadi – water while it was there.

We are allowed, once in awhile, to pause the story and ask questions. For instance, what did God mean when he said that he had commanded ravens to feed Elijah? Certainly, it was not that he spoke to them in Hebrew or even in Raven caws and cries. Nor did he spend endless hours training them to fetch food and drop it at Elijah’s feet. I doubt the ravens knew they were being commanded to provide food delivery to the prophet. Like everything else ravens do, they followed their instinct.

Elijah’s Next Move
The drought was ongoing, so naturally the wadi dried up.

Elijah receives a new itinerary. The word of Yehovah directs him to a city in a country to the north, Sidon. Jezebel came from Sidon. Her father was the king of Sidon. If Ahab was trying to hunt Elijah down, he would never think of looking there.

Sometimes God sends his servants to the strangest places. Those environments may feel natural to the locals, but so alien to us that we wonder whether we have actually heard from God or got our signals mixed up. The first question many missionaries ask when they arrive in a foreign land is, “What am I doing here, for heaven’s sake?”

As God had arranged accommodations at Wadi Cherith, so he had gone ahead to provide shelter in Zarephath of Sidon. He tells Elijah, “Look, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

Oh, this is odd! Not so much the part about a widow providing food and shelter for the prophet, seeing that widows typically struggled to survive. Yes, that is unusual. But that God tells Elijah that he has commanded a widow to feed him, even as he had commanded the ravens to feed him. Did the woman hear God’s command? No, she was as unaware of receiving the order as the ravens had been.

God’s word has a life of its own.

The movements acted out on the stage of human interactions were scripted and choreographed by unseen forces, under the direction of Yehovah.

Elijah’s Encounter with the Widow
As Elijah strolled through the city gate, “Look, a widow was gathering sticks in her arms.” Not bothering to ask God whether this was the person he was supposed to meet, Elijah called to her, “Bring me a cup of water.” In that misogynistic time and place, he did not have to ask. Even as a foreigner, he was male and she was female. So without a word of complaint, she turned to fetch him some water.

As she was walking off, Elijah gave her another chore, “Bring back a slice of bread in your hand.” At this she turned and resisted his request. Her first recorded words are almost exactly Elijah’s first recorded words. The slight difference is that her god was not Elijah’s God. She first swore an oath,
“As Yehovah your God lives, I do not have any baked bread. All I have is a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. What I’ve been doing is looking for a couple of sticks to make a fire so I can prepare a meager, last meal, for my son and I so we can eat it and then starve.”

Elijah encouraged her, “Don’t be afraid. Go on and do as you said. Make that meal, but feed me first. Then make some more for yourself and your son.” Then he delivered to her a personal prophecy, “For thus says Yehovah, the God of Israel,
‘The jar will not run out of flour,
the jug will not empty out,
not until the day that God sends rain
and the drought comes to an end.’”

Perhaps she was gullible. Perhaps she was moved by a surge of faith. The poor widow went and prepared something for Elijah, and then for herself and her son. For a long time her supplies were sufficient to keep the three of them fed.
So this episode ends on the happy note that
The jar of flour never ran out,
the jug of oil was never empty.
The word of Yehovah
that he spoke by Elijah
sustained them exactly as he said.

In my mind, I’ve lived a sheltered life
Both of my parents remembered standing in long lines
in order to get government rations of bread and butter
My grandmother would “darn socks”
(I doubt that my children or grandchildren know what that means)
She would mend socks because that was less expensive than buying new socks
I am also aware that what I consider a reasonable standard of living
is wealthy indulgence to the majority of the world’s population
And also to many people living in the US
Even to many people barely surviving in South Orange County

There’s a tremor rattling our nation
Symptoms that hard times may be coming
Indeed, hard times have already overwhelmed many families
And I wonder, if it gets worse, will we rely on the word of the LORD?
Will we listen to the prophets in scripture
and trust in what God has revealed to us through them?

Let’s say that this November our nation puts King Ahab in the White House
– King Ahab is whichever candidate it is that you think will destroy America –
Let’s say that king takes over,
and what happens next is the end of the world as we know it
Will our hearts be unshaken, because we know Jesus the Christ, the Son of God?

Another question is this: If darkness descends upon the world,
could we do even more than trust God and continue to worship him?
Could we possibly become prophetic and proclaim the word of the LORD,
giving others hope and direction?

Every once in awhile someone appears in the spirit and power of Elijah
If we are able to fix our hearts on God,
we could become the stability of our times
And wouldn’t that be something?

Jul 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Psalm 140:1-8

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Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;
    preserve me from violent men,
who plan evil things in their heart
and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s,
    and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah

Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
    preserve me from violent men,
    who have planned to trip up my feet.
The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,
    and with cords they have spread a net;
    beside the way they have set snares for me.
 Selah

I say to the Lord, You are my God;
    give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!
O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,
    you have covered my head in the day of battle.
Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;
    do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!
 Selah

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: This week a nearby church hosted a Vacation Bible School

My fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Adrianna, volunteered to help out
– on Friday, a friend sent me a video that she filmed the day before
• when I watched it, there was Adrianna on a stage in front of a crowd of kids
• she had a Bible in her hand, and from it she read a couple verses from the Psalms
◦ then she gave a brief talk, encouraging everyone to trust God’s love and faithfulness
– Adrianna was superb – as if she were a professional and had done this for years
• I was very impressed

Last week, I had also been reading in the Psalms
– reading Psalm 140, I noticed three Selah’s interspersed in these eight verses
• that caused me to take a closer look
• the poet was obviously agitated – he seemed oppressed by the actions of bad people
◦ there were evil and violent people planning crimes
◦ there were troublemakers stirring up wars
◦ others were using their clever words to deceive and ruin people
◦ the poet felt threatened by all the rampant wickedness in his world
– thinking this over, it seemed to me that the Selah’s may have been strategic
• I’ll get to that in a minute, but first . . .

What does the Hebrew word Selah mean, and why isn’t it translated into English?

Hebrew scholars tell us that no one alive today knows for sure what it means
– those who are the most knowledgeable have the least to say about Selah
– they say we can’t even be certain about how the word was formed from its verbal roots

However, there are other people who are happy to tell us what they think it means:
Church Music Directors and Worship Leaders may suggest, “Selah is a musical notation”
• it means, “Take it up a notch”
• increase the volume – pick up the pace – play the melody in a higher key
Bible teachers tell us, Selah means we’re supposed to closely study the psalm
• for them, Selah means, “Stop and think about what you just read”
Spiritual Mentors may see another purpose for Selah – that it is a signal
• we need to pause and compose ourselves, have a moment of silence,
• and then continue on in the psalm

This third option is how I decided to use Selah when reading this psalm

The poet was already “in a mood” before he began praying
– as he listed all the societal problems he saw, his blood-pressure started to rise
• he needed a break, so “Selah” – he calmed himself down then returned to prayer
• but soon he was worked up again and needed another break – “Selah”
◦ then after a few more lines he had to take another time-out – “Selah”
◦ finally, he was able to finish his prayer
– is it possible this psalm was written for me? (Well, not “me” exclusively)
• many times in the last one-and-a-half years, my prayers have begun in desperation
◦ driven by angst, bewilderment, and frustration
• the closer we get to the presidential election, the more hot-heads show up
a positive outlook: many people truly love our country and care about its future
a negative outlook: no one engaged in the conversation can remain rational – they all go looney

I wrote these words yesterday afternoon,
before I learned of the attempted assassination of former President Trump

My meditation: “What odd creatures we are, that when we turn to God with a list of concerns, wanting his help, wanting to see his hand move in our world and put an end to crime, greed, and violence, our very prayer churns up all the anxiety we’re trying to release. We need to learn how to practice Selah, so we don’t spoil and undermine our prayers by increasing our anxiety rather than diminishing it.”
• we learn from St. Paul that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit
◦ self-control includes the self-regulation of our feelings and emotions
• those people who have the most unrest in their souls,
◦ are precisely the ones who rile up the souls of others
◦ I’m convinced Jesus wants us to have the opposite influence on others

In order to be God’s agents of peace in a troubled world,
– we need to be able to soothe our unregulated feelings and emotions
– can we learn to do this? Can we tame and train our souls? With the poet can we say,
“Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you”? (Ps. 116:7)

That brings me to another psalm I read this week

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore
(Ps. 131)

The poet begins with a confession of being overwhelmed
– he’s given up trying to comprehend things that are over his head
• what did he do with challenges that required more than he could muster?
◦ he self-regulated the disturbance that boiled within
• How? By doing what he tells others to do in verse 3
O Israel, hope in the LORD
◦ that is, focus attention on Yahweh our God and find hope in him
– and what if a fresh round of upsetting circumstances bombarded him?
• he did the same thing – as many times as it took – over and over again,
“from this time forth and forevermore”

The poet imagined his soul to be like a small child
– the first few times I read this verse, it threw me
• I thought that a better metaphor would have been “a nursing baby”
• anyone whose seen a hungry infant, anxious to be fed,
◦ has also seen its repose at its mother’s breast
– after learning about need to form secure attachments in infancy and early childhood,
• I realized why the weaned toddler is the better metaphor
◦ it is in this period of life that we first learn to regulate our emotions
◦ and we learn it from our parents
• the weaned child is not with the mother because it needs to be fed,
◦ but because it needs to feel her touch, hear her voice, and be reassured and loved
◦ it’s not enough to receive that sort of warm affection and attention;
we must have hope that it is always there when we need it

What we have learned about self-regulating our emotions,
– is that we get a lot of help doing this from others
• and, of course, this implies that we can become a shelter of calm in the storm for them as well
• but that requires us to first find that calm garden within ourselves
– in our Reflexion community, we’ve learned the value of the breath of life
• that slowing our breath can quickly change what’s going on in our minds
◦ we receive each breath direct from God – and we return each breath to him
• slow, deep breathing is “nice,” but it’s not enough to bring us to a calm state
◦ there are two more things we need to do:
1.) Relax your body – most the time, we don’t know where our tension is hiding
◦ it’s sometimes necessary to do a body scan
2.) Focus attention – for many of us, a word or phrase can do the trick
◦ inhale “here” and exhale “now”
◦ inhale, “O God, come to my assistance” and exhale, “O LORD make haste to help me”

Once we recover the sense of our closeness to Jesus, and our hope in him, we are at peace
– and frequently that’s enough for us to become a calming influence to others nearby

Conclusion: Today and through this coming week,

News broadcasts will be flooded with stories of yesterday’s events in Pennsylvania
– the reaction of millions of people will range from moderate to wildly extreme
• earlier this morning, Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson advised Americans,
◦ that “everyone needs to turn the rhetoric down”
(he was referring to all the name-calling, insults, and threats we find on social media)
◦ we hope that he and all of Congress (where there have been recent brawls) and the Senate will be able to do that, and set an example for the rest of us
• but it’s not just the wild, outrageous, and inflammatory speech that must end,
The adjustment must be made at the source of the anger, hostility, and violence
and that is the intense feeling–the fear and the hate–in our hearts that must be turned down
And our God, through his word–and especially here in the Psalms–has shown us how we do this

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (1 Cor. 9:15)

Jul 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation 22:6-21 – 07/07/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community! Grace and Peace to you!

One of my very favorite worship songs is called “Is He Worthy.” It was
written by Andrew Peterson and recorded by several people, but Andrew’s
version is my favorite. He wrote it after reading Revelation and was
captivated by the scene in Chapter 5 where the Lamb is praised. The lyrics
remind us of the praise-worthiness of Jesus Christ. If you don’t already
have “Is He Worthy” on your playlist, I’m commending it to you. We’re not
able to play it here, but I printed out the lyrics, and I thought we could read
it as a Litany this morning. It is written in a Call and a Response form. I will
read the questions part, the Call, and you all get the most important part,
the Response (in Bold). Sound good?
Now remember, none of you have mics, so Facebook won’t hear you unless
you proclaim your response!

Is He Worthy?

Do you feel the world is broken?   We do
Do you feel the shadows deepen?                                                    We do
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?                     We do
Do you wish that you could see it all made new?                                                                   We do
Is all creation groaning?                                                                                                          It is
Is a new creation coming?                                                                                                       It is
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst?                                                       It is
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this?                                                                           It is

Is anyone worthy?  Is anyone whole?  Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?  The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave–He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave.  Is He worthy? Is He worthy?  Of all blessing and honor and glory, is He worthy of this?           He is   

Does the Father truly love us?                                                                                 He does
Does the Spirit move among us?                                                                                            He does
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves?                                                   He does
Does our God intend to dwell again with us?                                                                         He does
 
Is anyone worthy?  Is anyone whole?  Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?  The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave–He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave.  Is He worthy? Is He worthy?  Of all blessing and honor and glory, Is He worthy of this?           He is


From every people and tribe.  Every nation and tongue.  He has made us a kingdom and priests to God to reign with the Son.  Is He worthy?  Is He worthy?  Of all blessing and honor and glory.  Is He worthy?  Is He worthy?  Is He worthy of this?                                                                                          He is!
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?                                                                                                   He is!  He is!

Come Lord Jesus, Come Quickly!
Amen

Lyrics written by: Andrew Peterson, Ben Shive
Album: Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1
Released: 2018
Lyrics provided by Musixmatch

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: In this final chapter we come to the end of the vision

To me, it feels like waking up from a dream
– just before I woke up yesterday morning, I was enjoying a pleasant dream
• I heard someone call me, and I was immediately awake
◦ the house was completely silent
◦ I then realized it was my dad’s voice in the dream that called my name
• for me, this chapter unfolds in the same sort of fuzzy way
– four times, the voice of Jesus breaks into the flow of the chapter
• however, it does not feel like an interruption
• perhaps we could imagine the chapter flows like a documentary
◦ John is narrating, then the camera shifts and Jesus delivers a live quote

I’m going to stay for a moment with the analogy of waking up
And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place Revelation 22:6

Waking up, we return to the real world of our everyday experience
– sometimes we bring something from the dream with us
These words are trustworthy and true
• “You’re awake now, and you have new insights and information”
• this is the central message of this last piece of the Revelation
v. 6, these words . . . v.7, the words of the prophecy of this book . . . v. 9, keep the words of this book . . . v. 10, the words of the prophecy of this book . . . and again in vv. 18 and 19
– here is the difference between dreams and visions
• dreams come from the weird stuff floating around in our brains, both conscious and unconscious
• visions communicate a message from God

The message of Revelation is true and trustworthy, because it is from the Lord
– in this context, the Lord who speaks is the God of the spirits of the prophets
A. T. Robertson, “Probably the prophets’ own spirits enlightened by the Holy Spirit.”
• this where the book of Revelation begins
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John (Rev. 1:1)
• Jesus breaks in here to add his blessing–“And”
And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book Revelation 22:7
◦ this also returns us to where the vision began; that is, the first benediction in Revelation
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near (Rev. 1:3)

John’s voice is the next one we hear–and his confession is surprising
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” Revelation 22:8-9

John already made this blunder in the previous chapter
– if I put myself in his place, I could imagine doing the same thing
• after all, I’m standing next to an angel!
◦ I’m hearing Jesus’ voice, and he pronounces a new beatitude
◦ I am so overwhelmed and thrilled, I react impulsively,
• and then the angel is telling me, “Stop doing that!”
– John’s vision takes him to heaven, but he’s not heavenly, yet
• perhaps that’s why he makes this confession to us
◦ wonderful things lie ahead, but for now, we’re not out of danger
• this desperate note is threaded through remainder of passage ( vv. 11, 15, and vv. 18-19)
◦ at present, there is still right and wrong, and it makes a difference whether we choose one or other

“Worship God” – that is what heaven is
– a total giving of our entire self to our Creator
• a full immersion in infinite love
• receiving the love we’ve always craved and needed
◦ and returning that love in a complete devotion
– a worship leader once told me he found the lyrics for his songs in Hallmark greeting cards
• someone referred to worship choruses like this as “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs
• but the reverse is no improvement
◦ when secular love songs express a level of devotion that only God deserves
“You’re my soul and my heart’s inspiration,
You’re all I got to get me by.
You’re my soul and my heart’s inspiration,
Without your love what good am I?”

John is given specific instruction regarding his manuscript
And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” Revelation 22:10

This is significant because the instruction is opposite of those given to Daniel
But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end (Dan. 12:4)
– the explanation to Daniel was, what he wrote was for the time of the end
• and the explanation to John for keeping the scroll open is, for the time is near
• the difference between the two periods of time changes the rules
– another change, there’s no longer an invitation to repent
Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy Revelation 22:11
• it sounds like the angel is saying,
“You’ve already made your commitments, and formed your habits, now own them and face the consequences”
◦ this is a little spooky for our immediate moment in history
◦ there are many people who claim to be Christians but are absolutely “filthy” in political statements they make in social media
• like other warnings in Revelation,
◦ I believe this is intended to bring us to our senses
◦ it has us asking ourselves, “In the end, what is my current lifestyle going to cost me?”

What we experience moving toward the end is a bifurcation

The river of humankind is divided into two branches
– so when Jesus speaks again, he says when he comes he will make a distinction
Behold, I am comin soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done Revelation 22:12
• this is reminiscent of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 regarding him separating the sheep and the goats
• it’s crucial that we constantly remind ourselves of the criteria for his judgment!
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothes me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me (Mt. 25:35-36)

This week I had jury duty in the Orange County Courthouse. Monday morning I stopped while waiting for a long signal to change at the intersection of the off-ramp and Fourth Street. I noticed some items strewn in the bushes next to the side of the road. I tried to look through the brush, , wondering who lived there. The next morning, arriving again at that same intersection, I saw a small frail woman, holding cardboard sign. I didn’t bother to read it, because I already knew what I was going to do. Behind her was a taller, but equally scrawny man, both of them wearing big toothless smiles. I handed the woman some money and they responded with lots of “Thank you” and “God bless you.” The man added, enthusiastically, “If you need any work I would be happy to help you!”

– I’m not saying I’m an example, because I am not
• I’m only saying it was just that easy to do something
• maybe I helped them survive one more day, and that was all

Again we get another view of the divide that runs through humankind
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood
Revelation 22:14-15

I feel that an urgency running through this whole passage
– it is as if someone is shouting, “Hurry and board the train or you’ll be left on the platform!”
– there are two options and two choices

Jesus’s voice is heard again
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” Revelation 22:16

The entire vision is Jesus’ message to his churches
– as root and descendant of David, he is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy
– as bright morning star, he is the signal of hope and the star we follow

The great invitation
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price”
Revelation 22:17

Jacques Ellul’s remarks on this voice are more poetry than commentary: “The last word is that of appeal and encounter: ‘Come.’ . . . The gate of heaven is open. Now the return of Adam is possible. The cherubim no longer guard the gate. . . . the witness opens wide the ways of coming, of the return; it is enough to be thirsty. . . . It is enough, but necessary.” [Emphasis added]

The last warning has to do with the vision itself
 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book Revelation 22:18-19

And then the last words from Jesus, his church, and John
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen
Revelation 22:20-21

First, we are invited to come to Jesus
– then Jesus announces that he is coming to us
– and we respond, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Then, at the end, grace – because that is what makes all things possible

Conclusion: Three times that Jesus speaks, he says, I am coming soon

That was 2,000 gears ago – can we rethink this promise?

When President Ronald Reagan left the White House, he and Nancy Reagan settled in their ranch in Santa Barbara. One day he was entertaining a guest, but every once in a while Reagan would get up and go look out a window to the driveway in front of their home. He explained to the guest, “Billy Graham is coming to visit me today.” His guest would nod and say, “That’s nice.” Reagan did not realize that the guest in his room was Billy Graham.

Jesus tells us that he is coming soon, and we’re looking out the window for his arrival
But “soon” is literal, because the Lord is always arriving
Every day he tells us, “I will be there soon”
and if we’re awake and have come to our senses,
every day we respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
And for that entire day, he is with us

Jul 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapters 21-22:5 – 06/30/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community!        Grace and Peace to you!

Have any of you read the book Proof of Heaven, A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Dr. Eben Alexander?  We read it with our Chaplain a few years ago and went to hear him speak.  It’s come to my mind a few times since we’ve been in the Book of the Revelation.

Near-death experiences, or NDEs, are controversial. Thousands of people have had them, and many in the scientific community have argued that they are impossible. Dr. Alexander was one of those people.  He was a highly trained neurosurgeon who had operated on thousands of brains, and he “knew” that what people of faith call the “soul” was really just the fantasies produced by the brain. Then his own brain was attacked by a rare bacterial meningitis, and the parts of the brain that control thoughts and emotion shut down completely.  He was on a ventilator and in a deep coma for seven days, his imminent death was predicted, and then he came back.  A medical miracle—perhaps, but here’s the real miracle.  While his body was in a coma, he tells that he journeyed beyond this world, encountered an angelic being, and was guided into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. 

We may or may not believe it; it is his experience to tell.  But here’s the bottom line, before he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul, because he was only trying to understand with his intellect, his brain.  But then he had a different experience that changed everything for him.  He wrote, “True thought is not the brain’s affair.  But we have been so trained to associate our brains with what we think and who we are that we have lost the ability to realize that we are at all times much more than our physical brain and our physical body.” 

We have another RefleXion friend who experienced Heaven and has found a deep, deep sense of love.  Maybe you know Michael, or someone else who has experienced an NDE.

Maybe, since we’ve been visiting John’s Revelation Vision, we’ve become more open to the contemplative mind and  to more of what’s here and what’s Real and what we’re invited to know about ourselves and God, and not only what we know but how we know.

Back to Dr. Alexander—his latest book is Living in a Mindful Universe. He says that direct experience is key to fully realizing how we are all connected through the binding force of unconditional love and its unlimited ability to heal.  His experience certainly changed him; our experiences will too.  Richard Rohr says , “Contemplation gives us access to our birthright waiting within us.”  Let’s keep at our contemplative practices.  Pray with me:

Thank you, Lord, for being with us and for us.  Let us know our rightful place in the family of things and let us be conscious of your call to us.  We call to you, too.  The Spirit and the Bride say “Come.”  Thank you for welcoming us in to your presence this morning.  We will keep our eyes on you.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more Revelation 21:1

Intro: Once again, John begins to describe an event with “I saw”

We are reminded that this entire book is a mystical vision and uses the strange language of images and symbols
– however, we could be tempted to read last two chapters differently,
• as if John were describing events in a literal future
• but when, once again, he says “I saw,” we know this is the same as the rest of the book
– so we turn our imaginations toward what he saw;
• namely, something that had been predicted in prophecy of Isaiah
For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind (Isa. 65:17)
◦ “heavens and earth” refer to all of creation
“In the beginning God created the heavens and earth” (Gen. 1:1)
• but now what John saw was a transformed landscape, entirely different than what it was before
◦ sky and earth have been totally renovated
◦ they have become new and uncontaminated
according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13)

John adds something that upsets surfers and sailors “and the sea was no more”
– Israel’s feared regions were haunted by unknown and unpredictable powers
Deliver me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up . . . (Ps. 69:14-15)
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and you waves
have gone over me (Ps. 42:7)
– in dream symbols, the sea can represent the unconscious mind
• we cannot see into its murky depths
◦ the unconscious is perhaps the greatest mystery of human beings
◦ our dream reservoir, forgotten memories, fears, conflicts, and the source of all of our nightmares
• can you imagine no more need for a separate substrata of the mind?
◦ nothing so horrible it has to be stashed away
◦ instead, we could be in a constant state of awareness

A moment when God’s dream comes true at last
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And i heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be their God.” Revelation 21:2-3

[God to Moses] let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:8)
There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting . . . . I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God (Ex. 29:43-45)
– from the time God chose a people for himself, he wanted this; to be near them, to live among them
• they would then have God, not exclusively for his gifts, but for God himself
– everything is perfect in this new environment – there are no residual effects of the curse
“He will wipe away ever tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” Revelation 21:4
• I do my daily reading of scripture in my iPad so I can add my own notes
• here is what I wrote last year when I came to verse 4:
“He will wipe away every tear”—this lovely statement is so down to earth that we may fail to see its actual depths. The physical gesture of wiping tears expresses themes of caring, comfort, and consoling, but the literal act in this instance is a symbol of something far deeper. God will not be running around heaven with a hanky wiping tears off of cheeks. Instead, what will be wiped away is every cause of pain and sorrow. These deep and relentless and excruciating feelings of loss, emptiness, loneliness, futility, meaninglessness, and hopelessness will be removed from our being, our existence. We will not weep tears of grief or sadness, because, as James Brownson has written, “all our experiences of intimacy, fruitfulness, and communion in this life will be seen as only hints and foretastes of a deeper intimacy, fruitfulness, and communion that our present experiences of faithfulness, love, and intimacy in this life can only suggest and prefigure, as the old creation gives way to the new.”

God explains the scene John has just witnessed
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:5-8

There are two “I am” statements in these verses and two “I will” statements
“Behold” refers to the previous verses
• I follow Jesus’ ministry in the gospels and everything he says and does is new, is surprise
◦ new wineskins and new cloth; new teaching and with authority;
◦ a new covenant and a new commandment;
◦ a new life, and a new world that is yet to come
Jacques Ellul, “Grace establishes new moments in each life.”
And, new “implies, a love that does not wear out, does not fall into habit, always as full, as stirring, as surprising as on the first day.”

The vision rewinds to verse 2, but with more detail
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb Revelation 21:9-14

The original founders of Babylon (at Babel)came together to build a city,
– and in the city a tower on earth with it top up in the heavens
• now God delivers the city, New Jerusalem, down from heaven to earth
– culmination of all the centuries of preparation
• first with the twelve tribes of Israel, then twelve apostles
(twelve is a key number throughout this section,
including the measurements of the city)

There is another contrast with Babel worth noticing
– the people began as one, but were divided and scattered
• in New Jerusalem, the divided people of the nations are united
Ellul, “. . . in this New Jerusalem all races, peoples, nations, tribes meet. But while the tendency was always toward unity by the disappearance of diversities, now unity appears (in God) in the communion of existing diversities, and human plurality is maintained.”
• the New Jerusalem is the end of all racism

Unlike old Jerusalem, there’s no temple in New Jerusalem
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. Revelation 21:22-26

No one needs to go to a certain place at a certain time to seek God or worship him
– in New Jerusalem God is everywhere and all the time
• I wonder if this moment reminded John of Jesus and Samaritan woman?
◦ first, there is the promise of a spring of living water
◦ second, there was her question about the correct place to worship God
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:21-24)

This incredible stage of the vision concludes in chapter 22
Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever Revelation 22:1-5

I’m going to shift gears here, and present my thoughts differently than I have been
Jacques Ellul was a brilliant scholar and his writings are profound
– he was not what we would consider a “popular” author — he did not write for the masses
• I want you to keep that in mind
– in going over these verses,
• Ellul made a couple of observations that I want to emphasize
◦ first, something he perceived about heaven: everything is living
◦ second, everything is love
Ellul, The New Jerusalem “is not a museum but an integration into a living whole and a re-creation for development. Because everything here is living and not closed preserved.”
• regarding the river that flows from the throne:
Ellul, “this is a river of living water, a river of life . . . . This is not life that flows (and disappears) like a river. This is a continual giving of life effected by the river . . . it is a springing up of life itself. . . . There is a continual current of life, the very clear symbol of the immediate relation of ‘God with men.’”
• Ellul perceives New Jerusalem as a city without mayor or city council
“There is no directing authority. There is only and exclusively Love. . . . [because] each is with and with all in a perfect relation of love . . . . And there is no repetition because love is permanent, constant invention, and there is no limit to freedom, because love is freedom and freedom cannot exist without love.”
◦ we’ve got this, right? Everything regarding heaven is life and love
– I have a friend who survived a near death experience
• I am certain that Michael Herbert has never read Ellul
• but as a result of a motorcycle accident at eighteen years old, he was left in a coma for a month
◦ during that time, he had an experience that he describes as being escorted to heaven
“. . . I noticed everything within and around the City was alive. We think of stone, bricks, and mortar as inanimate objects, but nothing in Heaven is lifeless. . . . Imagine approaching a stone wall and realizing that it recognizes your presence, knows your voice and emits the warmth of a smile as it welcomes you.” “Merely being there was sufficient to feel as if life itself flowed into and out of my being like a river . . . .”
“It ‘seemed’ that I could now hear Love living, flowing, vibrating in everything as the very life of Heaven.”
◦ for him, as for Ellul, everything in heaven was life and love

Conclusion: Isn’t this strange?

Two very different people living ten thousand miles apart, arrived at identical conceptions of heaven
One reasoned his way to those conceptions from his rich background of law, logic, and history
The other who traveled to heaven in a comatose state
This doesn’t prove anything,
but it does make me less concerned about the things of this world
And, it fills me with hope for our future

Jun 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapter 20

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome RefleXion Community!      Grace and Peace to you!

Well, as you know, spiritual maturity is a process—and it is a partnership.  When you tell God you’re sincere about growing in Him, about seeing what’s Real, He honors that intention by shedding light on a few things.  And, well, it’s not all like, “Look at that miracle!  Delight in that!  Recognize your gifts!”  To see the Real, we must, in honesty, see ourselves more clearly. If I want to be in awareness, I need to notice and disengage with what’s preventing that, taking up the space.  If I’m awakening to seeing the Real, I will want to release my cloudy, out-of-focus view, like putting on new glasses.  That will be a welcome change.  But it doesn’t happen without a bit of surrender of what else is in the room.  We can call it the false self, the small self, or the ego self.  First, we consent to this work.  Then we engage in it.  God will give us opportunities to awaken.

I had a few awakening moments this week.  I caught myself saying, “Oh darn I forgot to put on my Fitbit before I walked out there.”  I was really telling myself that it wouldn’t count if my steps weren’t recorded.  I mean I was still doing the walk and would benefit from it, but “what?” no record?  I also caught myself noticing a patch of beautiful flowers and my first thought?  “Oh, I’ve got to take a picture of that.”  Well, I did, and that’s OK; but I took the picture and then kept going instead of enjoying the flowers for a bit!  All ways I’m realizing my lack of presence and clues as to what my ego self might deeply believe about what really matters.

Another awakening moment, and you may have heard it said that “expectations kill relationships.”  Well, I hope not.  There was a challenge in a relationship this week, I was able to observe my ego self needing to blame, to fix, to run—but as I waited, I could see it more clearly:  we just had different expectations—no one could be blamed.  Noticing and becoming free from the ways the ego self wants to have the power allows me the recognition that the real power, as with the Trinity, is in the capacity for relationship, for communion.  There is no space for that capacity with an overwhelm of the ego.

I think these are God’s ways for me to awaken so I can be in awareness, the capacity to hold what is actually here without judging, labeling, or fixing.  I’ve heard it said that being is the ground for doing and the quality of our being informs our doing.  We’re on our way, friends.  Let’s present ourselves to this present moment and to the presence of Jesus right here, right now. 

Dear God, Let us heal deeply, let us free space for the Real to receive the deep love of Jesus.  We present ourselves to the present hour, your presence with us.  It is enough, more than enough.  Welcome Lord. 

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Revelation 19:1-3

Intro: When Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son,

He did not expect anyone to come to him afterward and say,
– “Lord, I’d like to visit that family. Where do where they live?”
• it was just a story – a made-up story meant to make a point
• if all the crowd heard was a heart-warming story, they missed the point
– here in Revelation 19, John describes a vision – Satan is imprisoned
• then, after 1,000 years he is unleashed on world again
◦ if that were meant to be taken literally, it makes no sense to me
• of course, John wasn’t worried about it making sense to me
◦ he knew that behind the vision there was a bigger truth

From the beginning of Revelation, we’ve been bombarded with symbols
– here in verse 1 are two evocative symbols: a key and a chain
• these are classic images in fairytales that can represent
◦ freedom and confinement or knowledge and foolishness
• symbols give us more than information
◦ they give us a feeling of what they mean
◦ working in our imagination makes stronger connection in our brains circuitry
– but we also have less control over symbols
• solid facts give us a sense of control
◦ we have no control over symbols — they work us in ways we don’t even realize
• so I am not going to treat the millennium as a real thing, but as a story within the vision
◦ I respect your belief if for you it is real thing

The other theme of this chapter is judgment
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom [judgment] was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God ad of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years
Revelation 20:4-6

There are two judgment scenes, and first here seems like an award ceremony
– three groups are identified:
• judges who are seated on thrones and make the decisions
• those who were beheaded for their witness and the word of God
• those who had been through the worst of the beast’s reign
– their reward is that “they came to life and reigned with Christ”
• they have the privilege of enjoying the thousand years of peace
◦ in regard to the resurrection, they are given priority
This is the first resurrection

What is the significance of resurrection occurring in two stages?
– I’m not at all certain, but my best guess would be,
• God’s people have always held a special regard for martyrs
◦ we will all exit this world
◦ some will be killed because of their loyalty to Jesus
• that’s who we find here – and they’re given a benediction in verse 6
– so there are two resurrections and two deaths
• perhaps we’re to be inspired by two resurrections
• and perhaps we’re meant to be terrified by two deaths

Some years ago when I was giving serious thought to suicide, I would imagine the exact moment that I died. What if in that instant I was shown all the good God would have done with my life had I not taken my life. More than once that dreadful thought turned my mind away from self-destruction as a solution to my depression. That’s what first comes to mind when I read of two deaths. (We’ll see there’s another possible meaning for the “second death.”

The vision quickly passes over the idyllic thousand years

Before we go there, let’s probe this hiatus in the devil’s absence
– whatever insight is revealed here is meant for us
• not because we live at a special moment in history
◦ or because we’re living in this part of the world
• but because the message is for people who know and follow Jesus
– for now, the best I can do in finding a reason for the break from Satan is a list of “maybes”

Maybe we all have seasons when the devil doesn’t pester us
– I assume that we all have moments of intense temptation
• but then also stretches of relief when there’s no temptation
• after Jesus’ temptations in the desert, Luke says,
When the Devil finished tempting Jesus in every way, he left him for a while (Lk. 4:13 GNB)
◦ maybe we get breaks like that too, before the devil returns
Maybe there are times when our spiritual development flourishes
– when it is easy to pray and practice the disciplines necessary for spiritual growth
– perhaps we’re meant to exploit those opportunities
• maybe they will be the most productive times of our lives
Maybe we need to discover what’s in us and what we do when we have no excuse
– Jacques Ellul suggested this thought
• when we have no one else to blame,
◦ how do we handle our wrongdoing or failure to do what’s right?
• the classic example of the “blame game” is Adam and Eve
The man said, “The woman . . ., she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”
◦ ultimately, they were blaming God; e.g., The woman whom you gave to be with me . . . .
– if I am ever going to be a better person,
• I have to face the flaws and sink holes of my nature that are mine alone
• the miracle is, that as soon as I discover and confess them, I am given help

So the devil was again set loose

But he did not last long
– he immediately returned to doing what he’s always done: deceive the nations
• this is his first and greatest weapon – and hugely successful
• but no sooner does the army he rallies surround Jerusalem,
◦ than fire falls from the sky and destroys them all
◦ after that, there is no more devil, no more evil

A final judgment
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire Revelation 20:11-15

There’s only one throne here; and what can we say regarding the Person who occupies it?
– I tried to think of the right word and couldn’t find one
• “terrifying” creates the wrong impression
• what came to mind, is Daniel’s reaction to one of his visions
I was the only one who saw the vision. The men with me did not see anything, but they were terrified and ran and hid. I was left there alone, watching this amazing vision. I had no strength left, and my face was so changed that no one could have recognized me. When I heard his voice, I fell to the ground unconscious (Dan. 10:7-9)
– what John observed was that
“From his presence earth and sky fled away and no place was found for them”
• a few times I’ve watched courtroom proceedings
◦ something I’ll never understand is when a person gets into an argument with the judge
◦ they only get themselves into deeper trouble
• John describes a scene so threatening, that no one would dare to argue

This scene passes quickly too
– I am thinking that the issue here is not only whether my deeds were good or bad,
• but what kind of person am I?
◦ Jesus said we judge a tree by its fruits
◦ someone’s deeds–good or bad–tell us the kind of person they are
• I image this judgment as a whole life summary
– “lake of fire” sounds frightening
• but I suppose John’s original audience would have understood it differently
◦ it was a common way of getting rid of rubbish or weeds

Anyway, I find it fascinating that Death and Hades are also thrown into the lake of fire
– Paul wrote, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26)
Jacques Ellul, “. . . we comprehend well why the “second death” is spoken of here: it is not at all, as most commentators think, the ‘definitive’ and ‘spiritual’ death, which would be opposed to [physical] death: it is a matter of the death of Death. Death with its action, its whole action, upon earth is the first. But when it itself is condemned to the nothingness of the fire, to the abyss of fire, this is a new phenomenon; it is the Second Death. That which acts upon Death itself.”

Conclusion: Let’s revisit one last time Satan’s incarceration and release one last time

People who work in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction,
– tell us that the greatest danger to recovery is relapse
• but they also tell us relapse is frequently a stage of recovery
They say this because they don’t want to discourage the person who has relapsed;
like one slip and they’re doomed to be addicts forever
They want their relapsed friend to get up and return to the program

Perhaps we enjoy times of spiritual freedom
Everything goes well – relationships, daily routine, a richness in prayer
Inevitably, we’ll hit another spot in our journey that is hard again
Perhaps the devil has returned
But no matter, you’ll make it through
The battle for your soul has already been won,
because he who is in you than he that is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4)

Jun 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapter 19 – 06/16/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion.                       Grace and Peace to you!

Happy Father’s Day to those who are celebrating.  A blessing of Peace to those who aren’t.  I know many men who were not raised by good fathers who have somehow become wonderful fathers themselves.  Congratulations!  You are overcomers.  Isn’t it remarkable that we know what a good father should look like even if we didn’t have one?  It must be because our Heavenly Father put his image in us all.

How are you feeling about the last few chapters of Revelation?  Is there an image or a sense that is staying with you?  For me, I’m just getting an image of Yellow Flashing Lights…like Warning, Slow Down, Proceed with Caution!  It’s like when you’re traveling at a safe speed, keeping up with traffic on a straight road, but then you see these lights indicating that there’s a turn ahead, or construction, or a detour.  That’s what I’m sensing.

In reading Revelation, it seems like, in Chuck’s words, there’s “a threatening closeness;”  and we hear the constant admonition to endure, to wait, to be patient, and to be faithful to Jesus. 

Jim, thank you for your talk last week.  We especially appreciated your filling in the context of the passage in John 18.  The question Pilate asked, “What is Truth” may very well be the question for our time.  It requires us all to deeply ask and discern our answers.  The Truth about the two kingdoms, the Truth about who we are, the Truth about the Church, the Truth about what love looks like, the Truth about what we are putting our faith and trust in.  The Truth about life and death. 

When the disciples asked how to pray, Jesus told them to “pray like this” and then gave them what is called “The Lord’s Prayer.”  I’m praying this morning the prayer as it is in the King James Version, which is what I grew up with.  Join me if you will.

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name. 
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
“Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
     for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they cried out,
“Hallelujah!
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying,
“Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
you who fear him,
    small and great.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Revelation 19:1-8

Intro: This is a fascinating chapter

It is complex, and it is put together well
– the chapter divides into two parts:
• in the first half, heaven reverberates with praise
• in the second half, Jesus leads heaven’s army in a final battle

The praise in the first half progresses like stair steps
We want to watch where these stairs lead
First: a great multitude, crying out
– they begin with a Hebrew word not translated into Greek, “Hallelujah”
• this word will be sung three more times
– their song is praise to God for his judgment against Babylon
– a second verse, praise for the smoke rising from her ruins
• forever and ever – literally to the eons and eons
• in other words, Babylon will never again be a problem
◦ this is the end of humans ruling over humans
Second: the familiar faces around God’s throne
(twenty-four elders and four living creatures)
– they do not add a new verse, but simply affirm what’s been sung already
– they add another untranslated Hebrew word: Amen
Third: the mysterious voice from the throne (that we’ve heard before)
– a call or invitation for God’s servants to worship
Fourth: the great multitude again, – the crescendo
– Babylon is in the rearview mirror
• there’s something new on the horizon
– now we can see where the stairway leads:
• from the great prostitute, to the Lamb and his Bride
• from one woman to another

The marriage about to take place is a surprise

There has been no mention of this until now
– we find hints of it in the gospels and Ephesians 6
• the Bride is given something
◦ the opportunity to prepare herself for the wedding
fine linen, bright and pure
• at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, the worship leaders,
◦ (musicians and singers) were dressed in fine linen (2 Chr. 5:12)
◦ this reiterates what we learned in first chapter about Jesus making us priests to his God (Rev. 1:6)
– fine linen are the saints’ righteous deedsreminder: righteousness is relational

The excitement doesn’t end here
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy
Revelation 19:9-10

Worship is for God exclusively
– worshipers are servants of God – witnesses of Jesus (Acts 1:8)
– the spirit behind all prophecy gives witness to Jesus
• and Jesus gives witness to God – Whoever has seen me has seen the Father

Before we move on . . .

At times, this praise to God’s for judgments has bothered me
– judgment seems like something that should be mourned
• it is a cause for deep sorrow and not enthusiastic joy
• what was I not seeing?
– we have to imagine ourselves in their situation
• these are the voices of people who have been oppressed (like Israel in Egypt)
◦ nations became great by riding on the backs of the poor
◦ they were exploited, abused, held down, and mistreated
• other nations had shed the blood of many of God’s people
◦ so, when they see their oppressors taken down, they rejoice

Perhaps you’ve heard of the troubles of the Southern Baptist Convention over the past three years
– widespread instances of pastors sexually abusing women and children
• two women in particular, spoke out courageously
◦ they were accused of lying, told it was their fault
◦ warned not to harm the ministry of “God’s anointed”
◦ they were ridiculed and threatened
• but eventually the truth came to light
– Tim Alberta interviewed of these women and one of them, “told me that her trauma had brought her into a closer relationship with God–and fundamentally changed the way she reads scripture. Whereas she once primarily studied the teachings of Jesus, she had, in recent years, developed a fondness for the front of the book.”
“I used to have a hard time reconciling the God of the Old Testament–all that doom and gloom and anger–with the idea of a loving God. But now, having lived this hell with the SBC, I like God’s anger and judgment. I understand it. I relate to it. I can see how betrayed God must have felt watching people mock His name with the way they treated each other.”
• that helps me to understand and appreciate the joyful side of justice

God’s judgment is not as personal as we tend to imagine

Though it looks to us like he’s sending fire and hail,
– most of the pain that comes from doing wrong is a natural consequence
• God did not have to launch an assault on Babylon
• the great city fell under the weight of its own sins
– the great prostitute was the epitome of world systems
• she served the gods of materialism, warfare, and sensuality
◦ she had persecuted and martyred God’s prophets and witnesses
◦ she collapsed because she was spiritually and morally bankrupt

The second half of the chapter records the last rebellion of humankind
(and it’s short-lived)
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in[b] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:11-16

The vision uses the analogy of warfare, but I don’t think we should take that too literally
– we just need to realize that Christian development is over against forces of resistance

Notice that in this section Jesus is not referred to here as “the Lamb” !!!
– he enters the scene prepared for battle
• in fact, what to call him is something of an enigma in this section
– in verse 11 he is “called” Faithful and True – titles that speak of his character
• in verse 13 he’s called The Word of God, which tells us something about his person
Long ago, at man times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . (Heb. 1:1-2)
◦ and, of course, John’s gospel
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14)
– John says that this is the name by which he is “called”
• it isn’t his true name, but a name that defines his ministry
• in verse 16, he has another name written, King of kings and Lord of lords
◦ these are titles that identify his new relationship to world
– the mystery is in verse 12,
he has a name written that no one knows but himself
• it seems that he has just been named several times!
◦ but as I pointed out, most of these are titles, not names
• what is John getting at?
– Jesus became human, but he was always more than human
• he is something that we are not – that we’ll never be
◦ if we heard his name, we wouldn’t know that we heard it
◦ it belongs to another dimension – that larger reality
• for us, the divine nature of Jesus is unknowable
◦ there is no science that can discover it
◦ there is no rational argument that can define or prove it
• when we embrace Jesus, we surrender to a mystery

The battle itself is over before it begins

Robin Robertson, “This is a battle which is really no battle at all, because the reactionary forces have long since lost. They have merely been allowed their short period of rule.”
The sword in the Lord’s mouth is, of course, symbolic
– he speaks the word, and its creative force makes it a reality
– here is a second invitation to a “supper” in this chapter (see vv. 9 & 17)

We witnessed the fall of Babylon in chapters 17-18
– here we witness the demise of the diabolical powers behind world empires
• first the political beast empowered by the dragon (Satan)
◦ and his spokesperson, the false prophet who published the beast’s propaganda
• I read this and feel a great sense of relief
◦ the world will not always be what it is now

Conclusion: This chapter illustrates God’s victory in our lives

We come to him, and he frees us from the invisible powers
One day we rebel–maybe not big, but just a little–
and then God wins another victory in our lives
Along the way, we become what he has called us to be:
Servants: What does this mean for me? To whom am I a servant?
Worshipers: Praising God for who he is and what he does
There is a spiritual sensitivity that notices every trace of God in one’s surroundings
and responds with thankfulness and praise
It can become like a reflex
and though a reflex, no less heart-felt and true
I want to be that worshiper
I’m thinking that it is practice that makes it a reflex

Jun 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jesus Before Pilate – 06/09/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community!    Grace and Peace to you!

There was a meme going around this week.  It read, “What I thought was age-related memory loss was really just a failure to turn off auto pilot.” In our study of The Book of Revelation (the unveiling), we are learning how to learning to say “no” to the world’s systems and practices (political, financial, social).  Another thing I’m saying “no” to is auto pilot.  Well, I need auto pilot for brushing my teeth and washing my face, but there are so many other experiences where I don’t take the opportunity to be fully present.

Desire, Intention, Invitation–these concepts have been bubbling up for me this week as I’ve been re-reading Gerald May’s The Awakened Heart  Dr. May says “Seek your own experience; try to trust in your authenticity and in what love seems to be calling forth from your heart.”  My heart?  Is it awake?  Do I really know what I deeply desire or am I on auto pilot, and have I expressed my intentions to God, and well, to my own self?  What am I invited to do by heart?

I’m also listening to a podcast covering The Way of the Pilgrim, a little book by an anonymous Russian peasant in the 19th century.  In the pilgrim’s case, though a was a faithful Christian, a little phrase from scripture awakened a longing in his heart, and he began his ”journey to love.” 

We have always had desires (or we may call them longings), and intentions, and most certainly fulfilled them in a way that seemed right to us at the time.  We made our way, or as they would say, “You make the road by walking.”  I followed a lot of invitations for the wrong reasons, fulfilling shallow desires.  And through all those dead-end roads, mysterious, amazing grace has seen me and led me. So, now, do I consider myself a pilgrim on the journey to love?  Well, I am making space now to become more aware of my deeper longings and to make my intention the way of love and then to follow invitations that align.  Can I discern God’s invitations to me at this stage of my life?  A road that recognizes and trusts the abiding, empowering presence of God…that is what I deeply desire.  Or will I keep myself too busy, too noisy, on auto pilot?  If love is as Dr. May describes it, “the fundamental energy of the human spirit, the fuel on which we run, the wellspring of our vitality,” then love is the beginning of and the reason for everything.”

We keep refining.  What do we really want?  What are our intentions?  The invitations come.  Do they align with my core longings?  If we let the Spirit awaken our hearts to his way for us, we might just find that our longings are but an echo of God’s own longings for us.  Love has found us and is drawing us toward itself.  We make our road by walking a journey to love.

Join me to pray:  Father, you are generous and patient with us.  Let us see what our hearts are truly longing for, what your heart is longing for.  We look into our hearts not only as the center of our emotions, but as the very place where your ongoing, self-donating, empowering presence dwells.  Let us settle ourselves now in the Presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus as we are together this morning. Open our ears.  Open our hearts.  Amen

Morning Talk: Jim Calhoun

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
John 18:33-70

I want to start by filling in the context of this story in hopes I can show why it is so compelling to me at this moment. Why what Jesus has said is so needed just now.
The Pharisees were the backbone of Jewish society. They were, at least to their own minds, the protectors of the Jews.

After the Exile
The people of the land and the Samaritans
Oral Torah
Theocratic nationalists

For many years the Jews and the Romans got along well. There was trade of course. Mostly the Romans had a hands off policy until there was a civil war that needed to be settled.
Removed the royal family from power
Became increasingly involved in religious affairs taxing a vassal state.

The Sadducees were a class of priests that believed that sacrifice at the temple was the primary religious duty of the Jews. They were supportive of adapting and adopting Roman customs and perspectives largely okay with the Romans. They were more connected to the power and wealth brought by Rome. They rejected the oral Torah
They helped reduce resistance to Rome
But there was resistance to Rome.
Judas of Galilee and the census
The zealots were just like the Pharisees with the added belief that decisive action was needed
Theocratic nationalists
Believed in the violent defense of the law of God

So the Sanhedrin drag Jesus to Pilate
Both Pharisees and Sadducees
A governmental body Rome allowed to settle inter-Jewish disputes.
But they can’t condemn Jesus to death.
They can’t enter the Praetorium because it will make them unclean.
Can you feel the cultural, political tension here?

The Sadducees see Jesus as a threat to their power and status and gladly hand him over to the Romans.
The Pharisees see him as a threat to their system of keeping the Jews safe.
So they collude together to have Jesus killed by telling Pilate that he is a zealot, an insurrectionist, a king.
Pilate interviews Jesus and Jesus interviews Pilate.
Pilate firsts asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus asks a clarifying question “Is this your opinion?”
Pilate explained he holds no opinion but that his own people have handed him over.
Jesus answers with “my kingdom”
Pilate responds, so you are a king?

Pilate’s job is to administer the state.
To see if there is a threat to the state
To see if Jesus is an insurrectionist, a zealot or a revolutionary.
He sees that Jesus is no threat in the ordinary sense. He is concerned about truth and other worlds and that is no threat to the Roman Empire. Pilate sees no threat and intends to set him free. But these things, truth and kingdom of God are an existential threat to the Jews. Jesus challenges every aspect of their lives and they want him and his teachings and his point of view silenced.

Pilate offers to set him free and the Jews won’t have it.
In the end they prefer to release a real zealot, Barabbas.
Falsely accused of being an insurrectionist Jesus is swapped out for a real insurrectionist.
What is truth?

Political expediency dismisses the discipline of holding fast to the truth. Political operatives play fast and loose with the truth. They will resent you for elucidating the truth. They will apply pressure on you to change your stance on the truth. The truth often stands between them and what they want, most often more power or more money, and it is quickly swept aside.

This is the way of politics. And it is the way of power. It is a trap. Even when you win this way you build distrust and resentment.

When someone, anyone is dismissive of verifiable evidence that goes against their claims, if they are unwilling to make the adjustment to best evidence, when they endlessly muddy the waters, then you can be sure there is a quest for power or money or both and you should be very cautious about them, their plans, their claims and their efforts to persuade you to join them.

Jesus came to bear witness to the truth
He was and is the living truth.
So it is our calling as followers of Jesus to also bear witness to the truth.
We cannot just say things because we like them, or wish they were true, or because we don’t or won’t get our way.
We will bear witness to the truth even when it is to our disadvantage. Even if we lose an argument. Even if our pet project dies. Even if we lose face or status or power.
If we are followers of Jesus

Jesus said:
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. We know this right? But it is a challenge. It is at this point I feel like this talk is a footnote to Chuck’s talks on Revelation. Especially last week’s reading of chapter 18

I’ll try to explain
Babylon is the image (the symbol) of the state, the forces of this world, the power, the wealth, the trade and merchants, the distraction and opulence and entertainment. Of every time. Of every place. The kingdom of this world. In this way, even Christendom, in all of its iterations are just outposts of Babylon.

We should make note here about those who call themselves Christians. Many use the term as a cultural identity in one of its many iterations. Or that they prefer and support Christendom one of the outposts of Babylon.

Some mean that they are followers of Jesus which is a whole different level and an important distinction. By the way, my job isn’t to line people up and decide who is in or who is out. I’m not even to do that for myself. I am not in the place to judge another’s servant. Nor can I judge myself.

My job is to set the intention of my heart and to make every correction I can along the way to the call of the one who loves me. As God calls me, and prints me and heals me and instructs me and grows me and corrects me I become better able to serve well. And for you too.

This, Babylon, is where we live, it makes endless demands upon us, it controls many of our thoughts and actions. It limits our possibilities. It binds up our hearts and minds and holds us captive. It is all consuming.

From Revelation 18:4-5, Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.

Jesus is calling us to His kingdom
That is the whole point of the sermon on the Mount.
That is the whole point of the signs and wonders.
That is the whole point of the parables and hard teaching.
Jesus’ kingdom awaits us.

We bring about the destruction of Babylon in our hearts by turning toward Jesus’ kingdom. Each step we take toward Jesus kingdom tears down Babylon and our allegiance, our dependence, our bond to it.

Jesus said “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting”
Isn’t this fascinating?
Isn’t it thrilling?
Jesus’ kingdom is something completely different.
But this kingdom cannot be founded with violence. It cannot be won by fighting.

Before the guards came to get Jesus as he his preparing to go to the the garden to pray, Jesus tells the disciple to buy a sword if they have money enough. They produce two swords they already possess Peter has one and likely Simon the zealot one of the twelve had one as well. Jesus says, “Oh, well that’s enough.”

Enough for what exactly? To fight a group of guards? No. In terms of self-defense or fighting it is good for exactly nothing. Even when Peter uses one Jesus is quick to heal the guard and tells his disciples to stop.

Violence is the “normal” human way to establish a kingdom on earth. But it is not possible to bring God’s kingdom by violence.

It has been tried
Lord knows it has been tried, and the results have been destructive, leaving a stain on the name of Christ.
The Crusades
The world slave trade
The treatment of indigenous people
Sadly these are the fruits of Babylon and its outposts.

But violence cannot establish the kingdom of God in part or in whole.
Christians cannot rely on it to witness to God’s great love.
How could they possibly.

Now you may be thinking he is talking about MAGA. You are right.
You may be thinking he is talking about Antifa. You are right
Or the boogaloo boys in their chinos and torches
Or animal liberationists
Or slow growth
Or Christian militia.
Or any other faction or group that encourages or practices violence
But not if you are a follower of Jesus.
Violence will only make a mess of things.

And this isn’t just daggers or guns or bombs.
It includes all forms of violence. Take time to review the works of the flesh in Galatians chapter 5. It is all the ways we tear others down.

There is a great sadness for me in this. To my mind there has been a turning away from Jesus over the past decades and what was once unthinkable behavior is happening right before our eyes. I suspect that there may be growing threats of violence in our society from every direction and people who think of themselves as Christian will be tempted to join in since it feels powerful and seems expedient. This is unbearably sad to me.

I have been reading the stories of Dostoevsky lately and one of the recurring themes in his work is the love triangle. I was confused by this especially after learning that he personally experienced this ten years after he began using it. But he was a spiritual writer in a fashion illuminating spiritual truths through everyday realities and then it dawned on me.

In the love triangle I love you, but you love another. It is heart wrenching and if you have ever been involved you know. It illustrates a situation all too common. God loves me, offers me wholeness, freedom and entry into the kingdom, but I turn to the side to love another hoping to meet my needs, my desires, satisfy my resentments maybe, to fulfill my life. I am turning away from who loves me fully and completely. This is the very essence of tragedy.

Let me clear,
the world does not need the followers of Jesus to join in whatever movement and just repeat what others are doing.
What the world needs is for the followers of Jesus to bring their unique perspectives and gifts into our concrete situation

Hear the voice of the Holy Spirit
Turn and turn and turn again toward the God who loves us
The fruit of the spirit and sacrifice
Compassion and neighborliness
Forgiveness and reconciliation
Attending to the least of these
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

The world doesn’t need us to come up with some big program, to win office, to be endorsed by celebrities. Or have a catchy tune.
It doesn’t need us to have deep pockets or find venture capitalists, or a run capital campaign or secure grants or loans. It doesn’t need us to work a PR program, a Super Bowl ad, a bumper sticker, a frame for our license plate or doodads and geegaws
It doesn’t need more evidence that demands a verdict or a master plan of evangelism or some other pyramid scheme

The world needs us to be followers of Jesus, who each day follow Jesus step-by step-out of Babylon and into the kingdom of God.

And the world, our neighbors, our individual neighbor with whom we have contact in our actual unique concrete situation, these people need the followers of Jesus to love with love that looks like and feels like God’s love in order to help them join in the migration out of Babylon.

Jun 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapters 17-18 06/02/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion!  How beautiful it is to be together in this new space!  Grace and Peace to you!

Chuck left us with questions last week.  Have you been pondering them? First, he asked, “What are you going to do about the beast?” For me, what I’m going to do is to first recognize the beast!  Chuck also said, “The beast never shows up in his true form.  He floats in like an angel of light and speaks in soft tones.  Only when he’s enslaved a person, does he remove the disguise.” 

I have heard it said that bank tellers are trained to recognize counterfeit money just by repeatedly handling the real.  Then if the counterfeit is offered, they recognize the imposter.  I think it’s the same way with the dragon and the beasts. Paul said he let go of everything to know Christ Jesus, his Lord.  Jesus said that if we abide in his word, we will be his disciples and the Truth will set us free.  To know Christ as Lord is to know the Truth of Christ and to recognize the ways of those anti-Christs (the dragon and the beasts in Revelation’s terms).  So, what am I going to do about them?  First of all, recognize them! 

And then boycott them.  We are familiar with the term boycott to mean to refuse to support, to refuse to buy their products.  Wikipedia’s definition: “A boycott is an act of nonviolent, voluntary abstention from a product, person, organization, or country as an expression of protest. It is usually for moral, social, political, or environmental reasons.  The purpose of a boycott is to inflict some economic loss on the target, or to indicate a moral outrage, usually to try to compel the target to alter an objectionable behavior.” 

I remember that the fifth bowl of Revelation was poured on the throne of the beast, not the beast per se, but on his throne.  The throne represents the seat of political power. This plague plunged his kingdom into darkness, and it wasn’t the beast who suffered, but the people under his rule.  It’s an ongoing struggle that is both within our own inner life, within our spiritual community, and within our nation.  We face the conflict with purpose, with intention, and with the Spirit of Christ.

We remember that Babylon invaded Judah in several stages before it was taken.  Can we see through the propaganda, promises and pressure to the ways of manipulation, injustice, hatred, and division?  Can we stay true to what we believe and remember who we are: disciples of Jesus?  That is how we will resist and conquer the beasts.    Yes? 

Join me to pray:  Eternal Father may your will be done.  As we move from immaturity to maturity, may we have ears to hear your voice and let us be careful to discern the spirits.  We pray for your intervention in our lives, the lives of those you love, and for our nation.  Keep us from idols.  May your Kingdom come.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk Revelation 17:1-2

Intro: I’m going to begin with a quote by St. Augustine

In The City of God he traces two cities through world history
Augustine, “Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly [city] by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly [city] by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.”
– John, the visionary, identifies the heavenly city as Jerusalem and the earthly city Babylon
• Babylon is featured in chapters 17 and 18, then in chapters 21-22 we visit the new Jerusalem
– Growing up, I was taught that in these chapters of Revelation, Babylon was the Roman Catholic Church
• this was reinforced in commentaries and books I read later on
◦ but one morning, reading these chapters, I said to myself, |
“This is not the Roman Catholic Church! If anything, it’s the USA.”
• now I realize that the city revealed exercises a worldwide and inescapable influence

One last time, we’ll review roots of spiritual Babylon

In the genealogy of Noah in Genesis, one person stands out:
Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD (Ge. 10:8-9)
– he caught God’s attention, but there’s no indication that he walked with God
The beginning of his kingdom was Babel . . . in the land of Shinar (Ge. 10:10)
• the region where the city of Babylon would be built many years later
◦ in the next chapter of Genesis we find the Tower of Babel
◦ the ambition of the builders was threefold:
1. that the top would reach into the heavens
2. that they would thereby make a name for themselves
3. to prevent them from being scattered from each other across the world
• to thwart their project, God cut off their communication with each other
◦ their confusion (Babel) prevented them from completing their project
◦ but the impulse that drove them was the same that drove Nimrod
Nimrod is a prototype
• he distinguished himself as a independent, legendary hero
• he made his own way through the world – relied fully on himself
But,
Nimrod is also an antitype
• his is the mirror image of Abraham who is distinguished by his faith
Babylon is a prototype
• it is the epitome of all cities, civilization, and human enterprise
• Babylon is the embodiment of power, self-rule, and self-determination
But,
Babylon is also an antitype
• it is the mirror image of Jerusalem, the holy city of God
Babylon is an antitype in another way
• In chapter 12, we saw that Israel was a mother who gave birth to the Messiah
• Babylon, on the other hand, is “the great prostitute”

John gets his first sight of Babylon
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman siting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus
Revelation 17:3-6a

The actual city of Babylon was destroyed 600 years before John’s vision
– but it was still very much alive in Israel’s memory
• it was the monster that devoured Jerusalem
◦ that oppressed the Jews and dragged them into exile
• Babylon is depicted as a woman, is on the back of a beast
– the beast is the true face of the invisible political powers
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ep. 6:12)
• in verse 18, the Greek word that is translated “city” is polis – like a metropolis or, by extension, politics
• here is we see the underworld of political influence without its mask
◦ it is a beast – animalistic, predatory that uses its power to dominate, oppress, and acquire wealth
– in verse 2, earthlings are drunk on Babylon’s wine
• in verse 6, she is also drunk, with the blood of the saints, the blood of the witnesses of Jesus
• the earthly city rejects and excludes anyone and anything it cannot own or can’t seduce

The angel gives Babylon a title (like sometimes LA has the title, “The City of Angels”)
– her title: “the great prostitute” – this is a metaphor we find frequently in the Hebrew prophets
playing the whore with other gods was an extreme form of spiritual adultery (Jer. 3:6; Eze. 16:34)
• the in the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek,
◦ the same word for sexual immorality is used both there and here in Revelation
◦ that is why we interpret sexual immorality as infidelity to God
(Israel’s true husband and lover–i.e., Jer. 2:1-5 & 3:1)
Jacques Ellul, “Prostitution is the diabolical parody of love”
◦ like Samson, unlucky in love, settled for sex with a prostitute (Jdg. 16:1-3)
– prostitution turns sex into a commodity
• it is business – without commitment, without intimacy, without caring for the other person
• Babylon turns everything into a commodity – chapter 18
◦ the list of her merchandise includes the bodies and souls of humans
◦ when the world has your soul, you are owned
In the context of profit and loss, Jesus asks, For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Mt. 16:26)
◦ to lose your soul is to lose everything–and Babylon always strikes deals at the cost of a soul
• again, Babylon’s influence is like “wine” – a stimulant
◦ it intensifies passions, lowers inhibitions, affects thinking, and is addictive
• her forehead is tattooed with a name – as the Father’s name was imprinted on the 144,000, (Rev. 14:1)
◦ Babylon imitates God, because she intends to replace God
◦ therefore, she has
the forehead of a whore;
you refuse to be ashamed (Jer. 3:3)
◦ Babylon wears her name like an emblem of defiance

John’s first impression of Babylon
When I saw her, I marveled greatly. But the angel said to me, “Why do your marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her Revelation 17:6b-7

If you’ve ever visited a beautiful city for first time, you understand why John can’t help but be enamored
• whether it was Babylon’s wealth and splendor, its gross consumerism, or its brutality–he marveled
– I am not able to imagine the angel’s tone when he asked John, “Why do you marvel?”
• at first it sounds like a rebuke, but may be a simple question leading into an explanation
◦ he informs John about the beast behind world powers:
◦ what he is and what he does
• his seven heads are seven mountains – okay
◦ but then the seven heads are also seven kings
Jacques Ellul, “we find here again the plurality of meaning in symbols . . . . but at times the author gratuitously complicates the situation when he writes that the beast belongs to the seven but that it is nevertheless an eighth king”
• “kings” symbolize the political power of governments
◦ seven is the fullness of that power – complete control

The world rulers receive their kingdoms and authority from the beast
– but then, when they have firm control of their empires,
• they turn around and hand their power and authority over to beast
– when the beast receives the power of the nations, he goes to war against the Lamb
• it seems odd that in this role Jesus doesn’t appear as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”
◦ from the warfare perspective, not a lamb is not very impressive or frightening
• but Jesus has never been concerned with his “image”
◦ real power doesn’t need to sell itself to the crowds
the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings (v. 14)
◦ this part of the vision ends with a full statement regarding Babylon
And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth Revelation 17:18

I am currently reading through the Psalms
– when I read Psalm 2 this week, I realized it how it is like an illustration of this chapter in Revelation
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed [Messiah], saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
. . . .
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all those who take refute in him (Ps. 2:1-3 & 10-12)
In my meditation I wrote: “The nations are world governments. The kings and rulers are the political powers that run the governments. What is this uproar about, this casting their cords from us? It’s the ancient demand for autonomy that runs through human history. It is civilizations’ ‘will to power.’ From the Tower of Babel to the present day, we have defiantly proclaimed, ‘Our will be done!’
I’m thinking we need to be cautious of every human institution. Power doesn’t corrupt; power is neutral. People corrupt the potential uses of power–even people who start out with the best and most benevolent
intentions. In this context, every church is also a human institution. The problem that haunts us is that no institution can be any more perfect that the people who run it–and every institution is run by people.”

I am going to share three thoughts from chapter 18, then read through it aloud
(It doesn’t require much explanation, and if you’re reading these notes online, you can read the chapter aloud for yourself–you will get the same feeling from it as hearing it read)

First, we are shown the wealth, glory and cultural riches of Babylon
– luxury goods, fine foods, musical entertainment
• but it appears in the context of its destruction, ruin, and loss
• both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied of literal Babylon, that it would become a ghost town:
a heap of ruins, the haunt of jackals,
a horror and a hissing, without inhabitant (Jer.51:37)

Second, notice the professions of those who mourn the destruction of Babylon:
Kings — merchants — and “suppliers” (that is, those who store and ship commodities and goods around the world)
– so this is the institutions of government, commerce, and by implication, economies

Third, some voices are telling us it’s our duty is to be more involved in Babylonian politics
– but a voice from heaven is telling us,
“Come out of her, my people
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues” (v. 4)
• there are some things you cannot touch without getting dirty
God’s promise to his homeless pioneers of faith: He “has prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:16)
• we’re also told, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14)

(Now read all of chapter 18)

Conclusion: I have been trying to live with greater awareness

I take walks with the goal of looking, listening, feeling, paying attention to my senses
Then I try to stretch my awareness beyond my senses
As I walk, I talk with Jesus – and I will keep silent too, trying to listen
I want to be sensitive to the quiet whisper of the Spirit
But I also want to discern the black holes of the earthly city
If I don’t see them, the chances are greater that I’ll get sucked into one of them
and black holes never return what they take

My counsel for all of us is beware, because
your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8)

May 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapters 15-16 05/26/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community!       Grace and Peace to you!

I’ve been thinking about the gift of the Holy Spirit this week, the week following the celebration of Pentecost, and wondering how to “Welcome the Spirit.”  When you pray or ponder on something, do you  sometimes have a memory come to you?  At first, it often puzzles me, but then I ask, “Why did this come back to me now?” 

Many years ago, my son asked if he could bring a woman to meet us.  He had met her online and he had even yet to meet her in person.  I said, “Yes, of course, she would be welcome,” but then I began to wonder how to prepare for the visit.  This is what I came up with at that time:  1) Clean the House, 2) Fill the Pantry, and 3) Find out all you can about her.

I had a feeling that this came back to me as part of an answer to how to welcome the Spirit. Welcome Holy Spirit!  First, clean my house. You know that when you are going to have company, you do a sweep and maybe a deep clean.  Get rid of what doesn’t belong.

Second, fill the pantry.  I think this means to make sure I am filling myself with what is healthy and helpful.  I mean, who knows what I’m going to need; make it available for whatever the Spirit wants me to provide.

Third, find out about the Spirit – what is he (or is it she?) like?  What are the ways I will recognize him?  What does she enjoy?

But this was years ago, and I kind of felt like this was all good, and a part of me was saying to Jesus, “But I have kept all these things since my youth.”  You know the story in Luke 18 about the rich, young ruler wanting to know about eternal life.  Jesus was inviting him to much more than following the law. I sense that he’s asking, “Do you want to go on with me?”   In following Jesus, there would be treasure in heaven, and daily living in the Kingdom of God, receiving much more in this time and in the age to come.  I felt this invitation was for me, too.  Do you feel an invitation for the much more?  There’s always more if we’re willing to continue to follow Jesus.

Perhaps this was just for me, but I think that we will all want to make space available for the Spirit’s work in our lives.  I want to make sure there’s plenty of fresh, free space, because who knows what ways he still has for each of us.

Shall we pray?  Lord,  thank you for bringing us to this Community House for this long season.  Thank you for preparing us for a new venue and readying it for us.  Thank you for what you’ve done in our lives; we offer the next chapter to you, because we are sure that you who began a good work in us will continue until it is finally finished on the day of Jesus Christ.  Nothing is impossible with you.  May we be attentive to what this day invites us to.  In Jesus Name.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Then I saw another sign in heaven, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished Revelation 15:1

Intro: A few years ago, Barry Liesch, a professor at Biola-Talbot University,
– wrote an article on worship in the book of Revelation
• he suggested that by using its examples of form, content, and splendor,
◦ we might enjoy a more meaningful, intense, and richer worship experience
• worship here on earth is already a participation in heaven’s worship
◦ our prayers are mixed with the incense that burns in heaven (Rev. 8:3)
– it will not always be a feel-good worship (that’s for sure!)
• but it would be authentic and appropriate to the moment
• that’s how I view the song of worship we’ll soon read

In chapter 15 we have the grand finale of the series of seven judgments

The last of the plagues to be unleashed on the world
– but just before it begins, there is worship
• God is praised for his justice (not only for the judgment)
• the worshipers are people who had conquered the beast
◦ their “victory” was won by not giving into the beast–taking his mark or worshiping him
◦ they sing and they provide their own musical accompaniment
– the song’s composition combines themes from Moses and the Lamb
• both of whom won victories over oppressors – both of whom were liberators
• there’s something I want to point out in first line of song
Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations! Revelation 15:3
◦ “deeds” are the actions performed by a person
◦ “ways” are interior commitments that motivate the deeds
◦ Moses asked God for a special favor
show me now your ways, that I may know you (Ex. 33:13)
◦ knowing God’s ways would be a move toward knowing God himself
◦ God’s ways are his modus operandi, and this is a privileged information
He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel
(Psa. 103:7)
◦ God’s deeds are not exclusively judgment and wrath
What Moses learned as that Yahweh is a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty . . . (Ex. 34:6-7)
• however, there are times when God’s deeds are “just”
According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies
(Isa. 59:18)

What catches John’s eye next, is the doors of heaven’s temple are opened
– the key word here is “sanctuary” (it occurs four times in vv. 5-8)
• in the first instance, he refers to it as the “tent of witness”
◦ that is because the stone tablets with ten commandments were stored in the ark
◦ it was the document of God’s covenant with Israel, kept safe in the heart of the temple
• next seven angels emerge from the sanctuary with the seven last plagues
◦ I imagine them silhouetted by the brilliance of the light behind them
◦ God’s wrath is served up on golden bowls (an elixir? ashes from the altar?)
– after the angels exit, the sanctuary is filled with smoke from God’s glory
• we see this more than once in the Old Testament – it thrills me each time
• God’s glory, filling every space – God himself, that present to his people!

The drama continues in chapter 16
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God Revelation 16:1

The plagues repeat the previous series of sevens
(the seven seals, but especially the seven trumpets)
– the difference now, the destruction is not partial like before, but it is total
• the sequence of the seven bowls moves more quickly than the others
The first bowl was poured out on the earth, causing harmful and painful sores
The second bowl was poured into the sea, making its waters “like the blood of a corpse”
The third bowl was poured on rivers and streams – “and they became blood”
– from the beginning in Genesis, rivers spread the gift of life
• a river flowed from Eden and became the headwaters of four other rivers flowing east
• the river is a symbol of peace (Isa. 66:12), joy (Ps. 46:4), life (Jn. 7:38)
◦ but here the rivers stand for death or that which kills
◦ this is almost a parody of Jesus’ first miracle in Cana!
– at this point there is a break in the action
• a new character is introduced: the angel of the waters
• the angel sees poetic justice in this transmutation and blurts out
Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink Revelation 16:5-6
◦ and a voice from the altar agrees:
Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments! Revelation 16:7
◦ the judgment is “deserved” because:
they received the mark of the beast, and now their bodies are marked by sores and burns
they shed the blood of martyrs, now they have blood to drink

The fourth bowl was poured on the sun, and people were scorched by its heat
• we note in passing, they blasphemed God and did not repent
– to this point, humans have been the target of these plagues, but there’s a shift in verse 10
The fifth bowl was poured on the throne of the beast
• not the beast per se, but on his throne
◦ the throne represents the seat of political power
◦ this plague plunged his kingdom into darkness
• it wasn’t the beast who suffered, but the people under his rule
◦ but they are still holding out, refusing to repent
◦ the implication of this refusal is there’s still time for them to repent
they still have the opportunity to turn to God
The sixth bowl was poured out on the Euphrates River
• the result here was not to pollute it, but dry it up
◦ make way for an army that would advance from the east
• what we learned earlier: the dragon is Satan,
the beast that emerged from the sea was empowered by the dragon
the false prophet emerged from land and promoted the beast with his propaganda
• now, out of each of their mouths come three unclean spirits
◦ in the gospels, an unclean spirit is synonymous with a demon, here demonic spirits
◦ they mobilize the rules of nations for a great battle
– at this decisive moment in the narrative there is another break
Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed Revelation 16:15
• the moment at which Jesus intervenes is not predictable
◦ but the building tension tells us it won’t be much longer
◦ in the meantime, he tells us to stay awake, dressed, prepared (cf. Lk. 12:35-48)
• returning to the narrative, we find ourselves at Armageddon

The seventh bowl is poured on the air
– we’re not told what that does, but I think it’s significant
• Paul referred to people who were
following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2)
• this is that window into the spirit-world, from where force of evil exercises its influence in the world

Here the chapter reaches its climax

A voice from the temple announces, “It is done!”
– again there are explosive sounds of thunder and rumbling
• and an earthquake greater than any other ever before
The great city was split into three parts . . . and God remembered Babylon (v. 19)
– the next two chapters feature Babylon–and it’s a big production!
• last week we saw that Babylon represented: all human civilizations from all time
◦ Babylon is split into three parts–maybe this refers the three pillars on which it was built
◦ in chapter 18, three are three sectors of society mourn Babylon’s fall
Kings: the political sector – rulers, heads of state, governments
Merchants: the sector of commerce – the economy and how it flows and who it favors
Ship builders and Mariners: the trade sector – the suppliers of goods
– finally, the curtain falls
And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe Revelation 16:20-21
– this continued rejection of God is as much a mystery as everything else in this mind-boggling book
Question: Who would continue doing something that caused them pain and no worthwhile reward?
Answer: Almost everyone:
◦ because we don’t see the connections between our actions and the consequences
◦ or we don’t believe we’re the cause of our own misery
◦ or we clutch what we have because we can’t bring ourselves to trust God
Jacques Ellul, They blaspheme because they have “heard absolutely nothing, received nothing, experienced nothing of the work of God, the love of God.”

Conclusion: As I close my Bible and muse over what I’ve read,

Two questions surface–and I’m asking you as well as myself:
First, What are you going to do about the beast?
The beast never shows up in his true form
He floats in like an angel of light and speaks in soft tones
Only when he’s enslaved a person, does he remove the disguise
How will I resist his promises, propaganda, and pressure?
I have to fully take the mark of Jesus – be branded with his name
Paul said he let go of everything to know Christ Jesus my Lord (Php. 3:8-10)
Hosea encouraged his readers: Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD (6:3)
That is how we will resist and conquer the beast

Second, What plagues you?
Solomon spoke of everyone who knows the plague of their own heart (1 Ki. 8:38)
The inner voices that bring up our past, that tear us down, that tell us God doesn’t care
I’ve found that sitting in prayerful awareness creates space
Then rather than being immersed in thoughts, I am able to review them
I see how they come automatically, unconsciously, and obsessively
Observing them gives me space to so that I don’t identify with them
Awareness gives me greater freedom to embrace or dismiss my thoughts and feelings
They do not define me

I close with my meditation yesterday:
Paul says in Romans 8, that God’s Spirit is in us
If we make the right choices, the Spirit will assist us to live true to them
How wonderful it would be if the Spirit would just take over,
and I could just go along for the ride
If I could be a spectator in the stands
and watch God win all my battles
But that’s not how it works
I have to be the one to make the choice, and then stand by it, to act on it
At this moment, I feel like everything is up to me
That God’s Spirit won’t move with me, unless I move first
And maybe at this particular moment, that is how it is,
even as that’s how it was for Adam and Eve just before they took the bite

May 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Reflexion chapter 14 – 05/19/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to RefleXion!              Grace and Peace to you!

We’ve had special days to celebrate the last couple of Sundays.  Well, now, I get to say, “Happy Birthday!”  because today we celebrate Pentecost, otherwise known as the birthday of the Church.

When Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after resurrection, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem,  From the Book of Acts,  “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me;  for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'” And, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”   

And it was indeed ten days later, so on the fiftieth day after resurrection (and that’s why it’s called Pentecost), they received that baptism and that power.  The Greek term dynamis is the term translated as power.  Chuck mentioned that last week.  Remember when Jesus was about to arrested and he responded that his enemies had the power of darkness, and Chuck talked about power and authority as it related to Revelation, chapter 13.  The enemy had been given the power of darkness and its authority for a time, and we (the Church) have been clothed with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit for our time.

You can read Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 for the details of the power they (we) were given.  It’s our time to consider this and what it means for us, “for such a time as this.”  What power and what authority do we have?  What does it look like for you?  I’ll be thinking about that for myself.

Meanwhile, our friend Bill Dogterom wrote a magnificent piece that I would like to use for today’s opening prayer.  Shared with permission, he entitles it  “Towards Pentecost.” 

Lord,
palpable longing
textured desperation
framing desire
hunger irreducible to word
groaning unutterable
ache born of the tearing
gaping chasm between was and is
crying out for the joining
for the will be
not for the first time
we are told
Wait
dying to any other hope
not delay
not denial
preparing the vessel
pressurizing the crucible
purifying the longing
Wait
how long?
known only to One
So…
we wait
we pray
Come, Holy Spirit, Come
Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: I’ve been feeling that talking about the book of Revelation

Is like trying to practice dream interpretation
– how do I make sense out of all these foreign signs and symbols?
– of course, the bigger question is: what is God’s Spirit trying to communicate to us?

Here is what I find vital in chapter 14 – two key locations

By “key,” I’m referring to their importance in the entire range of scripture
– the first key location is in verse 1, (and this is the only place in Revelation where it occurs)
Mount Zion, and the second key location is Babylon (v. 8)
◦ Zion is a spiritual realm – God’s kingdom on earth
◦ it interacts with the city of David, but is separate from it–Zion transcends physical space
◦ Jerusalem is always a literal city; Zion is God’s dwelling among his people
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God
has made himself known as a fortress (Ps. 48:1-3)
And in Isaiah, “. . . the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy”(Isa. 4:2-6)
• Babylon is the opposite of Zion — humans built Babylon up from the earth – Zion comes from heaven
– a brief background on Babylon, which begins with the genealogy of Noah:
Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a might hunter before the LORD. The beginning of his kingdom was Babel . . .” (Gen. 10:8-10)
• Babel was the original site of the city that became Babylon
◦ he became a legendary hero – made his own way; the prototype of a successful “man of the world”
◦ after him, all of humankind aspired to greatness in the same spirit as Nimrod
Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth – that place became Babel (Gen. 11:1-4)
• these are the roots of a mighty empire, that in time conquered and exiled Judah from the land
◦ Israel’s prophets considered Babylon as the epitome of Gentile civilization
▫ it was a well-planned metropolis
▫ its hanging gardens were one of the seven wonders of the world
▫ it conquered and ruled all of the surrounding nations
▫ it was the human race “come of age” – the secular city
◦ Babylon owned the world and boasted its greatness
Nebuchadnezzar: Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty? (Dan. 4:30)
Isaiah:
Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them (Isa. 13:19)
. . . she has proudly defied the LORD, the Holy one of Israel (Jer. 50:29)
– Babylon is all the worldly social systems throughout history
• government, commerce, military, and culture
◦ behind it and influencing it were “the cosmic powers . . . spiritual forces of evil” (Ep. 6:12)
• Zion and Babylon are the two archenemies competing for humankind
◦ if Zion is the city of God, Babylon is the city of Satan

John introduces this vision, with “I looked, and behold”
Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless Revelation 14:1-5

Then opening words speak to us as if John were saying,
“I looked, now you look and I’ll show you what I saw”
– “the Lamb” –this image made a strong impression on John
• in his gospel, Jesus is first introduced into the narrative as
the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29)
• when Jesus died on the cross, John realized
these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken” (Jn. 19:36)
◦ this was in reference to the Passover lamb, “you shall not break any of its bones” (Ex. 12:46)

Is there an image of Jesus in the gospels that has made a strong impression on you?
– the good shepherd? the true vine? something more contemporary, like a Life Guard?
• we cannot become intimate with a mere concept of Jesus
• Jesus is “the image of God”
(see 2 Corinthians 4:4, where “image” translates the Greek word is eikon or icon)

With Jesus, the Lamb, we see 144,000 we met in chapter 7
– notice that the volume is turned way up in this vision
• what at first blasts like a roar, turns out to be music
◦ imagine this! 144,000 voices singing
(like one of the U2 concerts where at the end the thousands of people in the crowd were still singing acapella Psalm 40, How Long to Sing This Song?
• every major revival has had its own musical soundtrack
◦ a “new song,” because God is doing a new thing–here, the ultimate new thing
– remember, a “vision” is not a documentary, but speaks in symbols
not defiled with women. . . doesn’t mean the choir is all males
• virginity a symbol of purity, which speaks to the Old Testament theme in which disloyalty to Yahweh is treated as adultery
◦ Babylon will be introduced as the great prostitute who with kings of the earth had committed sexual immorality (17:1-2)
◦ there is a positive meaning for virginity; namely, total devotion to God
– my favorite line in this passage is follow the Lamb wherever he goes
If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also (Jn. 12:26)
• our Lord Jesus wants us to be with him!
◦ they belong to Jesus and not the world – they were redeemed from the earth
• in their mouth no lie was found – signifies their integrity
◦ there are some people from whom you cannot get a straight answer
◦ their intention to manipulate and control is the source of their deceit

Three angels arrive with three warnings

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” Revelation 14:6-11

The first angel broadcasts a message of hope
– the eternal gospel – whatever the else that means, there is always hope
• and universal! “all those who dwell on the earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people”
• the angel includes instructions as to how people need to respond:
◦ reverence God and give him glory (rather than worshiping the beast)
◦ worship him – specifically, as Creator

The second angel announces the fall of Babylon
– remember, Babylon represents all worldly institutions
• Babylon has reached the end of its influence in the world
◦ it has proven to be a failed system
◦ this is because it operated outside of the will of God
• Babylon has served the world a cup of wine
◦ addiction to sensuality, materialism, and greed

The third angel brings a final warning
– a choice has to be made, which is why angel’s begins message with “If”
• everyone is going to be marked by one loyalty or the other
◦ the forehead is like a billboard that displays the owner’s mark
Jacques Ellul, “We comprehend that bringing this choice to light is the prelude to the judgment. And this is going to be expressed in the summons not to worship the beast and its image (the State, the political power), nor to participate in the activities of the world.”
– torment can result from:
• making wrong choices
• addiction, that is, the torture of restless desire, too strong to give up
David B. Hart, “We are not free because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well.”
Bruno Bettelheim, “The gingerbread house is an image nobody forgets: how incredibly appealing it is, and how terrible the risk one runs if one gives into the temptation.”
– these who are judged have no rest day or night – exactly was said of worshipers in Revelation 4:8
◦ one never takes a break, the other is never given a break

A breather from the intensity of the angelic messages
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:12-13

The “call” is not like the previous announcements
– this is for the saints
• this call comes to us every day
• we have to endure, but to endure we have to trust Jesus
Yesterday morning my reading was in Job, where he asked God
Why did you bring me out from the womb?
Would that I had died before any eye had seen me . . . .’ (Job 10:19
Here are a few pieces from my meditation on this verse
“Early morning on this date last year, Audrey Sill ended her life. . . . I have felt the despair of both Job and Audrey. . . . Right now I cannot think of anything sadder than giving up, while there is still hope–even if we cannot see or feel that hope.”
– verse 13 tells us there is such a thing as a “good death” – a “blessing”
that they may rest from their labors sharply contrasts with those in torment who have no rest (v. 11)

Three more angels appear for the final harvest
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia Revelation 14:14-20

Again John says, “I looked, and behold”
That there will be a final clash between Zion and Babylon is inevitable
Jacques Ellul, “The conception of judgment that we find as much in the prophets as in the psalms, as much in the Gospels and in the Epistles is not a cultural phenomenon: it rests upon that evident conviction that if God is God, both perfect and just, how can the encounter between this God and the world as we know it take place without some sparks being produced . . .?”
– the symbols in these angelical actions are ultimate:
• they everyone, the choice is final, and the consequences are forever
– I cannot accept that John is describing literal events that have either occurred in the past or will occur in the future
• the Revelation is not a crystal ball that allows us to predict and locate
• John is describing an ongoing struggle that is both within our own inner life,
◦ and also within our spiritual community
it is a conflict we must face and work our way through

Conclusion: Let’s back out of the vision – wake up from our dream

There is no better, purer experience of the Christian faith
than the moment when the Jesus of scripture
makes himself present to us as the Jesus we meet in the here and now
I know that the powers of darkness must be judged and eliminated
But that isn’t my job – though I do have to resist them
The best way, and most rewarding way, to resist is to close in on Jesus
And he is already reaching to take your hand