Worthy is the Lamb

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“Worthy is the Lamb”

[1] Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. [2] And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” [3] And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, [4] and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. [5] And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

[6] And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. [7] And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. [8] And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. [9] And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,

[10] and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,and they shall reign on the earth.”

[11] Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, [12] saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

[13] And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

[14] And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

(Revelation 5 ESV)

Consider this…

Consider who is writing this book of Scripture.  Consider what this man is seeing before him…

This is John… one of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  One of three who were in the inner circle of Jesus.   The one whom Jesus loved.  Jesus was one of John’s closest friends.  John was one of Jesus’ closest friends.

For almost three years John followed Jesus, listened to him teach, heal both Jews and Gentiles, turn the religious system upside down, and die a criminal’s death on a cross.

John saw Jesus resurrected three days after he was crucified and he watched Jesus ascend to the heavens.

Did John get it?  Did John understand the cross?  Did John understand what Jesus was teaching in the synagogues and on the mountain side?

When I read this passage from Revelation I often put myself in John’s shoes.  I try to consider… “what would I have thought?”  “What would I have done?”.

John is watching heaven unfold before him.  He sees Jesus, the slain lamb, broken, bruised, and bleeding standing before the angels of God as the angels declare that he has the only right to open the seal of God’s scroll.

The angels worship this lamb, John’s friend, and they cry out “Worthy is the lamb that was slain!”

As this is unfolding before John, a man walks to John and whispers, “Weep no more.”  This lamb, this Lion is the conqueror.

I can’t read this story and not reflect on my own life and what Christ has conquered.  The sin that enslaved my heart, my body, and my mind was too much for me.  It was stronger than me and it wanted to destroy me.  If given a chance the sin would ruin my marriage, my family, my friends, and those whom I loved most in this world.

But Christ, the lamb, the lion, the conquerer looked at me with compassion.  The darkness in my life, the sin, and the hopelessness could now be done away with.

As I gaize upon the slain lamb it brings understanding of what has been done.  What I could not do, Christ did for me.  Where I was without hope, Christ gave me hope.  Where there was darkness, Christ gave me light.

John looked upon the lamb… slain, broken, bleeding and I believe in that moment it all made sense.  This is why he died.  This is why he was born.

He was born to suffer. He was born to die.  And in his death lies the hope of humanity that was lost in the Garden so long ago.  Christ died that we may have life.

Look at the picture posted on this blog (Sr. Grace Remington)

As Eve stands before Christ’s mother… she places her hand on her womb and there is a breath of peace… of hope… as I picture Mary saying to Eve, “Weep no more. The lamb has come for us.

REFLECTION FOR FAMILIES

  1. Read Revelation 5.  What stands out to you in this passage?
  2. Read Ephesians 2:1-10.  Do these words portray how you typically think of yourself?  Why or why not?
  3. Think about the greatest Christmas gift that you ever received as a child. What was it? Where is it now? Spend a few minutes thinking about the various gifts that God has given you. What are some of your most precious gifts?
  4. Read Revelation 22:7-20.  What does this promise about the future for those who are in Christ?  What does this say about the promises from Christ for us now?  How does this call us to live today?
  5. What comes to your mind and heart as your reflect on the picture of Eve and Mary?

5 Reasons Why Prosperity Theology is Bankrupt

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1. The Bible Never Promises a “Financial Blessing” After Tithing in the Way Prosperity Theology Teaches

When we think of financial blessing in terms of prosperity theology, a divine pyramid scheme comes to mind. If we place $1,000 in the “storehouse” of so-and-so’s ministry, God will bless us in abundance for our faith.

In fact, many so-called preachers tout verse after verse in order to bolster their message that God wants you to test Him in this. One popular passage is Malachi 3:10…ish. (By …ish, I mean they conveniently leaves some parts out.)

 “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse…and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing…”

Sounds good, right? Bring your tithe to the storehouse (ministry) and put God to the test to see whether or not He will bless us (give us a bunch of money). The problem with this, as with many passages prosperity theology teachers use, is that the passage is far removed from its context.

Malachi 3:6-8 is a chastisement against Israel for disobeying God in His command to care for the needy. He then challenges them to bring their tithes and contributions of food (not only money) to the storehouse in order to witness His blessing of seeing the poor’s needs (not wants) completely met. Here again is Malachi 3:10 in full and proper context.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

The Bible teaches us that we are given to so that we can give. We aren’t given to so we can hoard and become rich for our own gain. Whenever we come across passages throughout scripture that speak on God’s blessing us, it’s meant for us to return that blessing.

2. Jesus Never Taught Prosperity Theology

Jesus never once taught anything that remotely resembles prosperity theology. In fact, the prosperity “gospel” teaches that if you have enough faith in Jesus you don’t have to live like Him.

To the contrary, Jesus was a homeless itinerant rabbi who didn’t have enough money to pay his taxes. But, He was blessed enough by God to feed thousands of people!

This is a clear example of a biblical blessing from God. Our Father gives so that we may, in turn, reflect His charitable character. He gives so that we may give; He blesses us so that we may bless others.

Furthermore, the Bible warns us against the possibility of money becoming our object of affection and worship. Jesus teaches us in Luke 16:13 not to let money replace God in our lives because,

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

This is not to say having money is wrong, neither is the accumulation of wealth evil, but the selfish withholding of what God has given us to bless others is infuriating to Him.

Bottom line: If you are the leader of a multimillion dollar “prosperity ministry” , have your own personal jet, and stay in hotels that cost $10,800 a night, then you’re far from following Jesus.

Remember, if you come to Jesus for money then He’s not your god, money is.

3. Prosperity Theology Gives False Hope

If the Bible never promises a “financial blessing” in the way prosperity theology claims and Jesus never taught it, then prosperity theology gives people false hope. In fact, it’s helpful to view such a system of theology (along with its teachers) as predatory towards the poor, elderly, and needy, since it is generally these three groups that contribute the most.

Essentially, there is no difference between a prosperity theology “ministry” and title lending or payday loan businesses. The fact that Benny Hinn’s ministry website does not end in .biz should be a crime.

4. Prosperity Theology is Wholly Unknown to the Early Christians

In fact, they seemed to have objected to the acquisition of personal wealth for greedy purposes. In the early days of the church, we see Christians selling their belongings and property in order to ensure the needs of the down-and-out were met.

Acts 2:42–45 gives a clear picture of the church as an institution which proclaimed the gospel and helped out the poor. Nowhere do we see them giving a tithe and expecting ten-fold in return for their own gain.

Likewise, we never see an early church leader rolling up to a village on a Merdeces-Benz donkey wearing a Louis Vuitton tunic. They were more concerned with the needs of others than with the needs for themselves. The second-ever church position created (after pastor) was the office of deacon, whose responsibilities included the daily distribution of food for widows. One early church not only gave above their means during extreme poverty, but begged to be part in the relief of the saints.

The early church gave, not expecting in return. They gave and saw God’s blessing, just not the way prosperity theology teaches. They saw the blessing that God promised in Malachi 3.

Imagine the world if we postured ourselves like the early church! Did you know it would cost $30 billion for everyone in the world to have clean drinking water?[1] That’s less than how much Americans spend on gambling per year.[2]

If we stopped going to Vegas for one year, the entire world could have clean drinking water. Now that would be a blessing.

5. You Have To Wear A White Suit To Teach Prosperity Theology

As a general rule, any theology which is preached from a pulpit by a guy in a bright white suit is always wrong.

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[1] Laurence Smith, The New North: The World in 2050 (London: Profile Books, 2011), 92.

[2] American Gambling Association, 2013 State of the States: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment (Washington, DC: American Gambling Association, 2013), 5.

What Rob Bell Talks About When He Talks About God

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Rob Bell’s latest work What We Talk About When We Talk About God is his first book after the controversial Love Wins

Bell, former evangelical pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, moved to California after Love Wins became too divisive of an issue within the church.

Since his departure from his pastoral role, some individuals in the evangelical community have questioned his relevance. Does he even matter any more? Others argue that he does still matter.

I tend to agree with the latter – Bell still matters to our culture, and we need to be keenly aware of his sway over the spiritual matters of our day. So, when Rob Bell writes a book about God, I think it’s important to give it a look and separate the good from the bad and the ugly.

Others have already given much better reviews than I could ever give.  There will no doubt be many more reviews coming, but there are a few things that crossed my mind as I read through the book that I wanted to share.

So, what does Rob Bell talk about when he talks about God?

SUMMARY

First, a quick summary of the book. What We Talk About is a quick read – don’t let the 207 pages fool you. In typical Rob Bell form, the book is

empty and

white and

small and

bite-size and

filled with run-on sentence after run-on sentence to give you a sense of urgency! followed by calmness and reflection because Rob Bell is avant-guard.

So, if you choose, pick up a copy and skim through it in a couple of hours.

But, when it’s all said and done, What We Talk About argues that science is slowly proving that God exists. The God that science is discovering is a God who is for us as humanity and will save the world by pulling us forward through history to a more evolved, enlightened, and better future.

So, Bell invites (or warns), join in the trajectory that God is pulling culture or be left behind.

THE GOOD

There are good aspects to What We Talk About. Like most of Bell’s writing, I agree with about 50% of what I read. I want to like him for his amazing communication skills and boldness to maintain (if even loosely) a Christian identity, but it’s that other 50% that makes me cringe at the thought that people might be influenced by the theologically baneful aspects of his writings. Especially because of that Christian identity.

So what was the good?

Bell kicks off the book by bringing to the reader’s attention current scientific discoveries that are forcing us to realize that the universe is much, much weirder and unpredictable than we ever thought. He argues that there is plenty of room for God in science. Indeed, science is actually providing evidence that such a being could exist.

This is great stuff for conversations with atheists and agnostics. It’s very compelling and begins to break down the rigid divide of Science v. Faith.

Also, along the same lines, Bell reminds his readers that the spiritual isn’t categorically separated from everything else. We don’t have a spiritual life – life itself is spiritual.

In fact, God’s creation of the human body and soul are connected to each other, which is why the resurrection of Jesus was a real, physical and spiritual event. It’s also why the resurrection at the end will be both a physical and spiritual event. Heaven is not simply a spiritual, ethereal dimension lacking any tangible matter. Heaven will be a combination of both – much like it is now – only recreated without sin and death.

But just before the reader begins to think along the lines of pantheism, that God is literally everything, Bell puts the kibosh on that (Pg. 109) and maintains that God is both separate from creation as its Creator yet intimately involved.

This is a reminder I think we all need once in a while. The spiritual and the material aren’t categorically separated. Need proof? Just look at the incarnation of God where the spiritual meets the physical in Jesus.

THE BAD

Unfortunately, What We Talk About seems to be a continued departure of Rob Bell from biblical Christianity. Of the many examples in the book, the one that stuck out the most to me was on Pg 128.

“It’s time for a radical reclaiming of the fundamental Christian message that God is for us. God, according to Jesus, is for us because God loves us.”

This sounds great, but it’s also greatly misleading. Yes, God loves us, but God isn’t necessarily for us; rather, God is absolutely for Himself and His glory.

Why? Because God, according to Jesus, is for His own glory and invites us along in a radical reformation of our lives, minds, and souls for now into eternity.

God is not on anyone’s side but His own. If we claim otherwise, we fall into the very same tribalistic trap that Bell has accused many religious institutions of falling into – God is on my side but definitely not theirs. Or we might believe that God is our own personal, divine life coach – God is on my side to make me a better me.

*cue applause from Joel Osteen fans*

On the other hand, if we believe God is on God’s side and invites us along, then we will come to understand that everything we do and are we owe to Him.

This dramatically shifts our focus off ourself and onto God. Because, at the end of the day, we were created by God to worship Him and to reflect His glory. We messed that up, but by God’s grace, we’re invited to participate in how He’s fixing it.

This is displayed in a very intimate prayer that Jesus prayed before His crucifixion. John 17:1-2 (emphasis added) reads:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to…”

Pause there for a second. What do you suppose comes after?

God gave Jesus authority over us all to be for us? To encourage us to be the very best us we can be? To pull us forward in a trajectory of an ever-evolving culture? No…

“…to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

There it is. Eternal life through Jesus to the glory of God. That is the fundamental Christian message – not that God is for us, but that God is for His own glory and invites us to experience that glory through eternal life starting now and spanning through eternity.

THE UGLY

I have to admit, Bell has four really great lines about the gospel in What We Talk About. But then later deflates the amazing point these first four make, which turns out to be the ugliest part of the book in my opinion.

“Gospel insists that God doesn’t wait for us to get ourselves polished, shined, proper, and without blemish – God comes to us and meets us and blesses us while we are still in the middle of the mess we created.”

Absolutely.

“Gospel isn’t us getting it together so that we can have God’s favor; gospel is us finding God exactly in the moment of our greatest not-togetherness.”

Amen!

“Gospel is grace, and grace is a gift. You don’t earn a gift; you simply receive it. You don’t make it happen; you wake up to what has already happened.”

Hallelujah!!

“Gospel isn’t doing enough good to be worthy; it’s your eyes being opened to your unworthiness and to Jesus’s insistence that that was never the way it worked in the first place.”

Preach it, brother!!!

But then, the ugly. Bell later concludes that the gospel accomplishes all this through Jesus, “announcing who we truly are and then reminding us of this over and over and over again (Pgs 151-152).”

This is completely contrary to the gospel.

Jesus accomplished (past tense) our liberation from sin and death on the cross, then proved it by His resurrection three days later. Now, today, God saves us by that work, His grace, and through faith. He then sustains us in our salvation through Jesus, announcing who He truly is and then reminding us of His person and work over and over and over again.

Throughout What We Talk About Bell has shifted the focus of the gospel away from Jesus and onto the individual. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect to the entire book.

We cannot take the focus of the gospel off Jesus and onto ourselves, even for a moment. The gospel is about Jesus, not about us. But the gospel is for us. If Bell wanted to write about what is for us, then he could have picked the gospel.

Bell has blurred a very fine line that can cause a lot of confusion in our lives. God is not for us, God is for His glory. The gospel is not about us, but it is for us.

Bell needs to shift the focus off of us and back onto God – that’s truly avant-guard, revolutionary, controversial, novel, fresh. In today’s modern (evolved and trajectory-driven) world, we are becoming more and more humanity-centered. It’s all about us. And Bell falls right in line with this us-centeredness.

So, what does Rob Bell talk about when he talks about God?

Us. And God is simply the supporting actor.