False Fronts

“He called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!  It has become a dwelling place of demons” (Revelation 18:2 NRSV)

A few weeks ago I made mention in a sermon about some of the Art exhibits I saw at the Toledo Art Museum.  One of those being an exhibit of the “Art of Star Wars” which featured actual models and costumes from the movies.  If you grew up when I did this was a “no brainer, we have to go” exhibit.

What I didn’t say was how disappointed I was in the exhibit. Oh ti was fine, as far as that goes. Lot’s of stuff from the movies. Tie fighters and x wings, Vader’s uniform.  No it wasn’t  the volume of exhibit pieces I had a problem with.  It was the cheapness of it all. The magic of Hollywood is just that.  Its able to take something built on the cheap and make it look like something spectacular on the screen. But up close one can see its simply a cheap facade, a facsimile of the real thing.

I was reminded of that a few weeks ago touring another building that also had plenty  of movie memorabilia to it. Some of it was fantastic, some of it, not so much so. One of the pieces, was a set from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It was a section of the crowd from the famous pod racing scene. It was nothing more than a very small set of stands with multi colored q tips tucked into it.  It looks pretty cheap, but run a camera by it very fast and it gives the impression of a large crowd  watching a race that is hurtling past them.  Note to George Lucas and his lawyers should any of them think I am picking on your fine product and wish to sue me, I’m marveling at your creativity, nothing more.

But again it’s a facade it’s something made to look the real thing and it can fool the eye.  But in the end it s cheap intimation of the real thing. It won’t stand up to the scrutiny.  It’s like one of those false front towns they used to put up when making old Westerns. They were no more than a few pieces of wood made up to look like a real building. Walk around to the other side and you saw they were nothing but a picture of a building, propped up by a couple of 2x4s.

This is the image John is given in Revelation concerning the world around him. The church was under great persecution.  It seemed that the evil powers of the world held all the cards. Many wondered if the church would survive.  Many wondered where is God in the middle of all of this.

In many ways  its no different than our would today. The church remains under great persecution. Evil seems to be winning the battle as we hear almost daily or mass murders and on going brutality. Depending on who you listen to the church is rapidly losing cultural ground and threatens to fall into irrelevance.

But into John’s world, and into ours, comes God’s voice crying out Babylon is fallen! It’s God’s reminder to us not to believe all that we see. In truth, while evil is still powerful our word is merely a false front for the real world to come.  While it may seem that the church is in danger of being persecuted to death, We are still the bride of Christ and He has promised us a wedding.  While evil may seem to have the upper hand, God says do not be fooled. The redemption of the world is coming and all will be set right again. I’ve already written the last chapter in evil’s book. It will be vanquished.   The church will not slip into obscurity. God has placed His mark on the church and it will be protected.

While we’ve been looking at this on  more eternal scale, it’s good for us to know this also is mean for us personally. Many of you are struggling to live out a Christian lifestyle in a world that is often antagonistic.  You are facing all sorts of evil in your own life. And your struggles are real. They are real, but they are, in the end powerless. God has already decreed that the Babylon in which you find yourself to have fallen.  God is with you.

In the end our great hope is that the cry of evil will not have the last word. Rather we will join the angelic host crying out “Hallelujah, for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult, and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7 NRSV)

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

All Of It

“16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16)

It’s amazing how similar, and yet how different a couple can be. take my parents, for instance. Both of them enjoyed cooking, but they went about it in completely different ways.

My mother is the, by-the-book recipe follower. She may deviate if, over time she has found she had to make some adjustments in seasoning, but by and large she is going to be exact, and do what the recipe calls for.

My Dad was more the seat of the pants type. If my mother was the “classical music” type of cooking, my Dad was the improvisational jazz type. I don’t think he ever followed a recipe in his entire life. He would go to the kitchen, begin looking at what we had and create something. You never knew what you were going to get but it was usually pretty good.

Two different approaches, but they came up with the same results. They were able to do this because, while they may have had a different way to go about it, they both still had to follow the rules of , the physics of cooking. They both knew if you wanted something to taste good, and to be consistent you had to have the same ingredients. Every time. Leaving out an ingredient could prove disastrous,and could be the difference between a delicious meal and a disaster.

Take for instance the time in a mandatory high school home ec class I forgot to add baking powder to a chocolate cake recipe. You wouldn’t think it was a big deal. It wasn’t a lot and baking powder seems like a small thing in comparison to chocolate and eggs and flour. But the chocolate manhole cover that came out of the oven would beg to differ. No matter how you come at it, it’s all important and it all matters.

What is true for in the kitchen is also true for our discipleship. While we may approach our relationship with Jesus and grow in our faith, we do not have the option of ignoring the “Physics” of our spirituality. Every ingredient is important. All are needed.

This is especially true when we look at our approach to the Bible. I believe one of the main obstacles we encounter in our desire for spiritual depth , as well as renewal is our approach to the word of God.

I thought about this a couple of weeks ago, while at my college reunion (As I said last week this is the last installment, about the weekend promise). While there I look across the street to my other home, away from home in Kentucky, Asbury Theological Seminary. In particular, I was again struck by the logo for the Seminary which reads, “The Whole Bible For The Whole World”.

Take a moment and re-read that. In essence, it is repeating what our Scripture at the top of the blog says. “All of Scripture if God breathed” I love that phrase. In the Bible when God breathes His spirit on something, or someone, it lives. It’s true for Adam in Genesis and it’s true for the dry bones in Ezekiel. Paul is saying to Timothy, All of Scripture is alive with the Spirit of God, and it’s all needed.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we struggle so much spiritually is we don’t take this seriously. Oh we take the parts of the Bible we like to heart, for sure. John 3:16, is always a winner. I Corinthians 13 is nice. The 23rd Psalm is good too. And they are. But in order for us to be renewed and fully alive in Christ, we must embrace the full Bible. For it’s only when we embrace the full Bible that we will truly be bale to reach the entire world of Jesus.

That means we have to take all of it. The parts of the Sermon on the Mount that tell me I must live a life that is counter cultural not only to the world, but to myself? Al that extra mile stuff, turning the other cheek? I have to embrace it. The commands to be a good steward and give all I have to God? We must embrace it. The parts where it tells us how seriously God takes sin, how He hates it? How we must love our neighbor? The parts of the Bible that hold us to standards that go against our current culture? Even the places where we are to “take up our cross and follow”? Yes. All of it.

Even Leviticus. Poor Leviticus so often maligned and lifted up as a reason why we don’t really have to live by God’s laws. But Leviticus is nothing more than a reminder of God’s Holiness and His call for us to live Holy lives in the midst of an unholy culture or world. We ignore its lessons at our own peril, just as if we ignore the Psalms.

Little wonder that John Wesley, when speaking of the Bible, called himself a “Man of One book.” it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t well read, because he was. Or that he didn’t have a scientific curiosity, because he did. What Wesley meant was that in the end, if he wanted to be fully Christ’s and fully reach the world for Christ, he must cry out “Oh give me that book at any price”. Do we dare do any less? The Whole Bible, for the Whole World.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

How Honest Are You With God?

“why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” (Psalm 44:25 NRSV)

“What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours” So goes the opening to the classic R&B song made famous by Dinah Washington.  The idea is fairly simple, a single day can make a great difference.  If that’s true what kind of difference does five years make?

As I said last week I recently  returned from my 30 year. college reunion.  This is, by the way the second of a trilogy of blogs about that weekend. I promise not to bore anyone or extend it any farther than that.  30 years ago I graduated from college. The idea fascinates and horrifies me simultaneously.

We gather together every five years, and let me tell you at this point five years makes a huge difference.  I don’t know if there is that much of a difference when you come to your 5th year reunion. Oh you may be married or have a job, even a child. But any are still in grad school or just starting out. 5 to 10 probably brings some changes, 10 to 15  there are changes, but they are, for the most part, exciting ones. I mean you are still in your thirties for heaven’s sake.

But with each reunion the changes become greater. I can attest the changes from 25th to the 30th reunion brought not only great changes but the changes  themselves become different. less excitement, perhaps, and more poignancy.  Now that’s not to say there aren’t exciting changes, marriages the birth of a first grandchild. But there are other changes as well.

On the Saturday of our reunion, after our class lunch we gathered for prayer. One of the tremendous perks of graduating from a small Christian college, now University, is the depth of spiritual care one continues to receive.  But as we went around, I was struck by the changes and trials so many were facing. Several had lost their spouses,many of them within the past year or two.  Several asked for prayers because of health issues. Many had battled cancer. Some had struggles within their relationships. Others voiced concerns over job situations.

I want to be quick to point out that I don’t believe  our class is under some great spiritual battle, or that we are being attacked in particular by demonic forces.  Most of this is simply the consequences of being at this particular stage in our lives. Live long enough and you experience loss. You get sick. Not every relationship is where you, or God wants it to be. As many shared, I found myself wondering what will this be like in another five years, or in ten?

But then I began to listen closer and in virtually every prayer request in the middle of the confusion and anger and sadness, I discovered a testimony. A testimony to God’s goodness and faithfulness.  Many thanked God for answering prayer. Others simply for His abiding presence, His peace He gave them as they went through their times of struggle. They gave testimony that the goodness of God is not dependent on our situations. That it transcends our situations. God is good, even if our times are not.  This gave them hope.  There was much joy as we prayed for one another, even in the midst of our struggles.

In a way our time of prayer reminded me of the lament psalms of David. David’s laments can be brutal, sometimes even accusatory of God. Read the verse at the beginning of this blog. David accuses God of sleeping on the job. He accuses him of neglect. This doesn’t mean that God was sleeping or neglectful. But it was how David felt.  One of the reasons David is a man after God’s own heart is that he was brutally honest about how he felt  with God. David wasn’t always in a good place. He felt depressed, angry , vengeful and neglected. That is to say pretty much like all of us.

Yet, just like our reunion time of prayer, In the very same Psalms David is able to give God praise and honor God’s goodness. (“Rise up and redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” Psalm 44:26 NRSV)  David too, understood that God’s goodness does not always depend on our situations.

David is honest with God in ways we often aren’t comfortable. We don’t often accuse God, we don’t often  come to God from the raw pit of our emotions. we would rather paint a thin veneer of “Christian-eze” over our prayer time. And then we wonder why we don’t experience the depth of God’s goodness in the midst of our daily lives.

But what if David is on to something? What if we can’t really get to the joy and trust in God’s goodness as long as we are afraid to be honest with God about how we feel?  What if our relationship with the Lord depended on honesty like all relationships? When we refuse to come to God out of tech depths of our despair, are we not settling for a God so small He doesn’t know our hearts? Or a God too small to handle the rawness of our emotions?

Understand I’m not saying being honest with God is a way to vindicate unchristian emotions or feelings. What I am suggesting  is when we are less than honest with God, we damper both the depth of our relationship and the  power of God to begin healing us.

What ever you are going though today, I’d encourage you to be a person after God’s own heart. Be honest with God in the midst of your despair for it is only there that we can find the anchor of God’s goodness that holds us in the storms.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><