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  • HOW ADVENT AND EASTER CONNECT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him…

    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made use kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory, dominion forever and ever.  Amen.

    Revelation 1:1a, 5b-6

    Christians are a people rooted in Easter — rooted in the resurrection of Jesus and rooted in the hope of the resurrection of our bodies to future glory.  However, Christians are also an Advent people.  We grasp onto the Incarnation and how God-enfleshed suffered alongside humanity.  We also cling to the hope of Christ’s Second Advent– when he will come again to right the unjust powers and principalities.  When he will send the rich and powerful away empty and fill the portion of the powerless and poor, as the Magnificat reminds us.  Until then, we wait for when he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

    Yes, as an Advent people, we wait.  We wait in humility knowing full well that God’s time is not our time.  We wait in humility knowing full well that we sound like fools, claiming for centuries that Jesus will return.  While God might have waited for the fullness of time for the Incarnation of the Word in Bethlehem centuries ago, he also waits longing for all to come to faith.

    Yet in all of this we wait.  We wait.

    O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
    Our spirits by Thine advent here
    Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
    And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
    Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

    __________

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  • THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD AND THE KINGDOM OF THE MESSIAH

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    “and He shall reign for ever and ever…King of Kings…and Lord of Lords…Hallelujah!”

    It wouldn’t be quite the Christmas season if we didn’t hear a rendition of Handel’s famous “Hallelujah” chorus.  Perhaps you heard it on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation recently or from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, this tune is pretty familiar within the Western world (and rightly so!).

    But do you know where these lyrics come from?  They don’t come from Handel’s mind. They actually come from the Book of Revelation.

    Wait, that book?  Yes, that one.

    It comes in the middle of the judgments associated with the Trumpets in Revelation 11.  We read that the 7th Angel blows his trumpet at the beginning of the 3rd woe and the loud of voice of heaven exclaims,

    “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”

    Why, you may wonder, would this glorious exclamation be categorized under a woe?  After all, this is the same tune that helps Clark Griswold christen his home!

    This can be considered a woe because the kingdom of this world (read: all our corporate and personal kingdoms of power, prestige, reputation, and wealth) is overshadowed by the kingdom of the Messiah.  Those who want to be kings and queens of their own “castle” will one day have their false reign overthrown, as the rightful reign of the King of Kings is made fully known.

    Yes, my friends, the kingdom of this world and all the injustice therein will be removed and the Kingdom of our Lord will be completely known.  And he shall reign forever and ever.  Hallelujah!

     

    (This post was originally seen on December 23, 2014)

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  • LOOK! LOOK UP!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk

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    “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood opened!”

    Revelation 4:1

    When we read Revelation responsibly (and I would urge you to neither be afraid of it nor read it with the lenses of the dispensationalist Left Behind series), we need to understand that things are not as they seem.  There is more to this world than meets the eye.  The ruling powers of that time (Rome) might have brutally persecuted the Church, but the Throne was/is occupied by God.  It is through this apocalypse (unveiling) that we are given new glasses to view the broken world.

    This is the prevailing undercurrent that theologian Darrell Johnson’s puts it in Discipleship on the Edge.  According to Johnson, the pivotal scene in the vision of Revelation 4 and 5 is:

    …the Lamb on the throne, and the ‘new song’ sung to him.  That scene is the single-most important scene in the whole of The Book of Revelation.  Everything else must be understood in its light.

    The entire narrative of the book of Revelation will simply not make sense if we don’t grasp the vision of the Throne Room found in Revelation 4 and 5.

    Eugene Peterson points out that we are not “being taught any new truth beyond what we are given in the other sixty-five books of the Bible.  We being taught the truth in a new way, in a way that stays with us, and transforms us.  Revelation 4 is a powerful summary of the message of the Old Testament.  Revelation 5 is powerful summary of the message of the New Testament.”

    Friend, can I remind us both to “look?”  Look, the door is open!  Look, there is a throne!  And the Lamb that was slain has power over the chaos, evil, and death ensnaring the cosmos.  Look!

    What keeps you from looking? 

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  • THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD AND THE KINGDOM OF THE MESSIAH

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    13910255369_4f5a963e6e

    “and He shall reign for ever and ever…King of Kings…and Lord of Lords…Hallelujah!”

    It wouldn’t be quite the Christmas season if we didn’t hear a rendition of Handel’s famous “Hallelujah” chorus.  Perhaps you heard it on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation recently or from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, this tune is pretty familiar within the Western world (and rightly so!).

    But do you know where these lyrics come from?  They don’t come from Handel’s mind. They actually come from the Book of Revelation.

    Wait, that book?  Yes, that one.

    It comes in the middle of the judgments associated with the Trumpets in Revelation 11.  We read that the 7th Angel blows his trumpet at the beginning of the 3rd woe and the loud of voice of heaven exclaims,

    “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”

    Why, you may wonder, would this glorious exclamation be categorized under a woe?  After all, this is the same tune that helps Clark Griswold christen his home!

    This can be considered a woe because the kingdom of this world (read: all our corporate and personal kingdoms of power, prestige, reputation, and wealth) is overshadowed by the kingdom of the Messiah.  Those who want to be kings and queens of their own “castle” will one day have their false reign overthrown, as the rightful reign of the King of Kings is made fully known.

    Yes, my friends, the kingdom of this world and all the injustice therein will be removed and the Kingdom of our Lord will be completely known.  And he shall reign forever and ever.  Hallelujah!

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  • WHEN GOD SHINES IN ALL THAT’S FAIR

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    One of the most formative statements I’ve ever heard came from a class I took from Richard Mouw at Fuller Seminary.  He said that God shines in all that’s fair.

    Think about that for a moment.  God shines in every good thing.

    Think about the brilliant sunset you saw recently or the soprano nailing a solo.  Now picture the struggling musician crafting a symphony or an architect designing a structure.  What do all of these have in common?  God is glorified through their excellent work and he revels in it.

    As Mouw said, God shines in all that’s fair, whether it is sacred or secular.  Even the poem I thoughtfully crafted in an English class assignment and the hymn that was penned two hundred years ago are both beautiful in his eyes.

    Perhaps one might be more profound than the other—certainly the grandeur of Handel’s Messiah will stand the test of time against the works of Justin Bieber (please Lord, let this be true!)—and some things might be more beautiful in our eyes, but the good things we create certainly makes God smile.

    There’s a melody that you can hear in the symphonies of Beethoven.  There are lyrics to a song long forgotten etched into the chiseled statues of Michelangelo.  There are even faint echoes of a forgotten beauty found in the flawless run of the downhill Olympic skier.  The echo of the glory of God is found even in broken humanity.  The song of creation is found in all that’s fair.

    Do you find that God shines in all that’s fair?

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  • FAR AS THE CURSE IS FOUND

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Liturgy

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    “I am in love with the green earth.”  Charles Lamb

    Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 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. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 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

    Growing up in a dispensationalist church, we spoke often about the end times.  We spoke about wars, rumors of war, pestilence, and famine all as signs that Jesus was coming back soon.  While the Left Behind series might have been taken as a dramatization of these last days, I never fully grasped the hope of Revelation.

    Since leaving that tradition and mindset, I have found myself gravitating to these final chapters of this book.  It became real for me when both of my grandparents were fading away on their deathbed.  I remember reading to them about the hope of the New Jerusalem and the River of Life.  After all, where else can we turn to when loved ones are so close to crossing the River Jordan?

    Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
    Let earth receive her King;
    Let every heart prepare Him room,
    And Heaven and nature sing,
    And Heaven and nature sing,
    And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

    In Christ, there is hope and there is a measure of peace in the face of loss.  The incarnation points us to this new reality, this hope that God not only made us but he also came for those who were lost.  He came not for those who believe they were never lost, instead he came for those who desperately needed to be found.

    The weeks leading up to Christmas is not just about pondering his birth, or about finding a peaceful time of year.  As much as I appreciate the great Charles Dickens, it is not just about generosity and kindness toward our fellow men and women.  In Advent, we look to the promise penned by Isaac Watts that Jesus comes to spread blessing as far as the curse of sin is found.  He comes to bless and restore the broken things of this world.

    No more let sins and sorrows grow,
    Nor thorns infest the ground;
    He comes to make His blessings flow
    Far as the curse is found,
    Far as the curse is found,
    Far as, far as, the curse is found.

    How do you see God righting the world through the return of Jesus?

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  • WHEN I’M CONSUMED BY MY WANTS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Liturgy, Theology

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    30 сентября 2013, Божественная Литургия в Воскресенском Новодевичьем монастыре

    Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying,

     

    “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,

    who is and who was,

    for you have taken your great power

    and begun to reign.

    The nations raged,

    but your wrath came,

    and the time for the dead to be judged,

    and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,

    and those who fear your name,

    both small and great,

    and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

    There are times when I forget about the big things.  I choose to become consumed with material needs and perpetual passive consumption.  It’s not that these things are unimportant or that I should never think through small daily matters, God truly does care for our needs.  But I become fixated on them, where I simply cannot place my mind on other things.

    It is there in that place where the words of Revelation cry forth as crisp as the December air.  The chorus of heaven sings forth,

    “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

    It is through these moments when I am reminded that evil will be crushed, oppression shall cease, sickness shall be rooted out, and death will die.  Life will flourish eternally in the renewed heaven and earth, for the “destroyer of the earth” will itself be destroyed.  Cancer, war, famine, malaria, and hatred will be gone forever.  For “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

    What brings you out of living only for today?

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  • WHEN GOD IS MONSTROUS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    Hommage à Robert Doisneau

    Do you want to know who God is?

    I know that I do, I want to know who he is.  Yet, God is so other, he is so foreign from my finite mind that there is no way I could ever comprehend him this side of Paradise.

    Though I might only know in part, I look to I John where we are told that God is light.  He is everything that is pure and good.  But this light is not soft and pleasant all the time,  this light is so brilliant that it scares me.

    Eastern Orthodox thinkers do not initially describe God as light.  Instead, they start from a place of darkness.  God is other.  God is different.  God is not like us.

    God chose though to reveal himself, he chose to unwrap his mysterious nature in part through his word.  He chose to reveal himself through the ongoing story captured in Scripture.  We are given glimpses of his character through the stories of Abraham, the Exodus, the prophets, and kings.  Finally, we are given the ultimate unveiling of what God looks like through Jesus of Nazareth.  God chose to become man and dwelt among the First Century people of Ancient Palestine.  We can know who God is through the person of Jesus.

    Christianity Today posted a story with the shocking sentence, “The God of Scripture is monstrous, utterly other, and I worship as I say that.”  Think about that for a moment.  God is monstrous, totally transcendent and different.  If angels caused people to have bowel movements and freeze in terror, how much more will the Creator of the cosmos?  As Paul Pastor wrote in the article,

    “I am sad, but not surprised, that popular Christianity tries to tame God, to muzzle Christ and the dangerous, burning Spirit. We try to place him like King Kong, in cunning cages. Scholars do it with theology, Christian bookstores with kitsch. Worship leaders do it with catchy melodies designed to make us feel like God’s just an accessory to our feel-good salvation moment. Pastors, charged with shepherding Christians as this dangerous Christ would, often call believers to a thin faith focused on penny-dreadful meager ministries designed to put butts in seats and keep them satisfied.”

    I urge you, please don’t domesticate God and see him as all warm and fuzzies.  God is not tame, but he is good.

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  • READING THE FINAL CHAPTER

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Theology

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    Thanksgiving at the Trolls

    When I’m worn down and feel drained, I like to remember an end scene.  I like to think of a big party where I am personally invited to be with friends and loved ones.

    In fiction, there are often closing scenes in great stories that draw us into a celebration, when evil is vanquished and good prevails.  I remember the coronation scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings, where the city of Gondor is renewed by the return of the rightful king.  I also think about the scene at the end of the Star Wars saga where all the worlds celebrated the defeat of the Empire and look towards a renewed peace.

    Why do these endings strike me?  

    Because they echo another party, one that will come at the close of this present chapter and mark the beginning of a new dawn.  John saw this party and recorded it for us, writing:

    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.
     
    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.
     

    I picture this scene with loved ones, with friends, and departed saints.  Not only are my grandparents there, but all those who I have read about from throughout the ages.  This party is a future reality, a hope that will be there and an encouragement when things go wrong.  This feast full of laughter, wine, and unbridled happiness is coming.

    I know it’s not always easy to believe this, it can be a pain to place hope in something down the road, but as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, this feast will get here.  The best Thanksgiving dinner you ever had pales in comparison to this one.

    Why am I confident in this?  

    Because the risen Messiah promises it.  The dead don’t typically rise, and if they rise bodily, then we ought to listen to them!  And the one who conquered death will come to right the world, it might be next Tuesday or the next century, but he will return.

    Until he returns, I will place my hope in his promise, for where else can I go?  Only Jesus offers the word of life.

    What gives you hope?

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  • TOWARD A CIVIL PUBLIC SQUARE: POLITICS AND PERSPECTIVES

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Culture, Guest Posts

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    While I am out preparing to spend time with my (soon-to-be) newborn daughter and wife, I have the great privilege of introducing a college roommate and friend to the blog.  Jesse Segrist has brought a lot of laughter and joy to my life, and he is also a really sharp thinker. 
    Learn about him more following this post.

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    Recruiting some pigeons

    I’m a fan of politics. I love reading political news, opinion pieces, and wrestling thoughtfully with the real issues of our day. But I’ve noticed something over the past few years, and that is a growing rise in hateful and inflammatory rhetoric. The comments on many of the political/current events articles I read end up turning into an endless array of president bashing posts and calls to revolution in order to restore the US to its supposed glory days. And to top it all off (not to mention the thing that irritates me to no end), most of the posts have some type of reference to God, and or Jesus, in them. I started to wonder then, because I had seen the same thing during the Bush administration (only the posts were coming from the other side of the aisle), why was there was so much fearful and hateful rhetoric, especially from Christians? Why were people so angry about all this stuff? So I began to think back into my own life, what happens when I get angry? What are the root causes of this anger and what do I do to quell those feelings?

    Well, if I’m brazenly honest, when I get angry it’s usually because something deep down is causing me to be stressed out, and usually whatever is causing me to be stressed out is some type of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of dying, fear of not having enough finances, fear for my physical safety, so basically, fear. Something deep inside stresses me out so much that my mind becomes clouded with anger at whatever person, object, or thing I believe is causing my discomfort, or allowing it to happen . But, I will argue that this is not the way that us Christians, are supposed to live. So I began to look at many of the posts and many of the arguments that I saw online, and it seems that there’s one central theme to almost all of them, and that seems to be that people are afraid of losing their way of life. They’re afraid of losing the comfort that they have grown accustomed to. And honestly, that’s completely understandable! But, I think that as Christians we should maybe have a greater perspective on the world and our life than just our present comfort. In fact I think as an American church we’ve forgotten some of the great meanings behind passages of scripture found in books like Revelation, Hebrews, and Acts.  For example, the Christians that Revelation was written to were suffering under the persecutions of Nero and other Roman leaders. It was written to say that while this life may have joys and pleasures, heartaches and depressions, there is one coming who will not only destroy and defeat all pain and sorrow, but who will restore, redeem, and resurrect our physical world and bodies and universe, into something new and so good that we are told one day there is better than a thousand elsewhere. So those under this persecution could look towards a hope that was bigger than the terrible circumstances they found themselves in.

    We find in Hebrews chapter 11 stories of Biblical figures who were,

    “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11: 35-38, ESV)

    And then in Acts (yeah, I’m a Pentecostal, I had to go there) we see so many stories of Paul and other early Christian leaders escaping death, prison, and just generally bad situations. Sometimes Christians were sent to prison, or accused of doing something wrong, or shipwrecked, or being sent to Prison, or surviving snake bites, etc… And I mean Paul wrote many of his letters from a prison cell in Rome, he did not live a “cushy nerf life.”

    So what am I saying through all of this? Well first off, I am saying that I think churches need to preach a little more about perspective. Now, I am not advocating that we remove ourselves from public discourse or stop having a righteous anger over the great injustices in this world (take abortion for an example), but I think that through a proper kingdom based perspective, we can reframe our arguments in public discourse and use less fearful and hateful rhetoric, realizing that this world is not final, and in fact this country is not final. We are not called to defend a posh and comfortable American life. And that life sure is nice, don’t get me wrong. I love being able to wake up on a Saturday morning, play video games, go out and get coffee, and hang out with friends in the afternoon, grab some dinner at a trendy downtown restaurant, and end the night with a good movie from Redbox or on Netflix. But this is not what God has called us to defend. God has asked us in fact to lay all these things aside. So I think that if we remember some of these base principles next time we hear something about the government coming for us, or some conspiracy to take our rights away, let’s stop for just a moment and consider it reasonably. Let’s respond with peace and in a well thought out manner: because the Kingdom of God is not concerned with the success or failure of any one nation. God can continue to work whether Stalin is in charge or George Washington is in charge. We must keep our sights on this fact that God is in control in any and all situations. Christ has called us not to defend or to seek after a comfortable life but to seek after Him and His kingdom.

    Our mindset should be eternally focused. Not so much that we lose sight of helping those in need in the present, but in fact so eternally minded that all we want to do is bring forth the real Kingdom of God into the here and now by loving the poor, helping the widows, and providing for the orphans and aliens. Again, I want to make sure that what I am saying is not misconstrued as me advocating an isolationist or non-politically active mindset. On the contrary I love politics (as I mentioned earlier) and I think that Christians should be involved in their community and world. But I just think that our perspective should be larger and greater than just focusing about our one lone country or even time period that we exist in. God is God throughout this time and throughout all time. No matter what happens on this planet, come hell or high-water, God will still always be God. And yes, we should stand up for truth and justice when at all possible, but it should be done in a way that always keeps the kingdom of God in mind and in perspective, not the nation of America, China, Japan, Australia, or any other country (however much we think that their political system or economy aligns with scripture).

    Ultimately, if we profess Christ as King, we are citizens of heaven and under an economy of grace, and it is that country which we truly serve, and I believe with that in mind we can approach a national debate on health care, immigration reform, gay marriage, and whatever else we’re discussing at the time, in a much more reasonable light. We should absolutely stay away from conspiracy theories and vindictive and fearful language/rhetoric because we should be a people of peace and of confidence. Christ has won the victory, and we can discuss anything knowing full well that whatever happens, or whatever anyone says, God is still in control.

    Photo: Stéfan via Compfight

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    Jesse R. Segrist earned a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Vanguard University and an M.A. in Applied Anthropology from Macquarie JS PhotoUniversity (Australia). He is currently pursuing an M.Div at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO. He also works full time as a Word Processor at the Assemblies of God World Missions and hopes to one day work in the fields of diplomacy and international Christian missions in Washington D.C. Follow him in the twittersphere @JRSegrist.