Original Works Night

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And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. Revelation 14:3 (NIV)

One of the cooler things my local church does is a semi-annual event called Original Works Night (O.W.N.). The idea is rather simple. Creative types are encouraged to bring their original songs, dance, poems, scripts, paintings, photographs and etc. Our church’s auditorium is transformed into a relaxing coffeehouse atmosphere complete with free food and drink. People gather and for a couple of hours to take in the artistic expressions.

O.W.N. happened to be this past Saturday night. While the artists were all over the map in terms of their own personal faith journeys, there were two themes that emerged. First, there those who, upon placing their faith in Jesus and experiencing salvation, felt compelled to write songs to express their gratitude and wonder. Second, like many of the psalms we’ve read together in recent months, there was a lot of creative expression that came out of pain.

Earlier in John’s vision, we encountered angels and creatures who continually utter the same praise over and over and over again. I found it fascinating that in today’s chapter there is a new song brought into heaven’s throne room. As it happens, it is sung only by those 144,000 who had experienced the pain of the great tribulation and were saved from it by the blood of the Lamb.

I am jazzed by being made in the likeness of the Creator of all things. I love to see and hear the creation of others as they express themselves, their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in artistic ways. I love that in a vision of the end times, we find Creator God in heaven’s throne room having His very own Original Works Night.

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Neither Reactive nor Dismissive

STUXNET - strayed from its intended target (No...
(Photo credit: marsmet481)

[The beast] also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. Revelation 13:16-17 (NIV)

“Do you have any cash?” Wendy regularly asks me as we prepare to go on a trip or out for the evening. I get it. Wendy and I are perhaps the last generation to even think about asking this question. I always laugh inside when she asks. Sometimes I do have cash on hand. Often, I don’t. My silent retort when she asks the question is, “What do I need cash for?” The world is increasingly operating on a virtual currency exchanged via cards, smartphones, and electronic transactions.

In nine years of being together I can only remember one instance of being burned by not having cash on hand. It happened a month or so ago when Wendy and I went to an event in downtown Minneapolis and for that event the parking garage took cash only. I happened not to have cash that night. Wendy certainly had her “I told you so” moment though she was very gracious. The fact remains that it has happened once in nine years which suggests to me the greater truth that hard currency is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

I have long rolled my eyes at the many fanciful theories I’ve heard over the years regarding connections between the visions of Revelation and particular current events. I’ve long since given up on trying to make such conclusive exclamatory connections while choosing to remain alert and discerning about the spiritual implications of what is happening around the world.

This said, I do find it fascinating that John’s end-times vision alludes to a global economy based not on paper or coin currency, but on a “mark” required for monetary exchange. For nearly 2000 years such a thing was ludicrous, yet in my lifetime the possibility of such a thing is not only possible, but some economists say is probable. I’ve seen several news reports discussing such a thing in recent years.

I find it equally important to point out that the very next words John writes are “this calls for wisdom.” So it does. It calls for wisdom to be neither over reactive nor dismissive. I feel no compulsion to build a backyard bomb shelter and fill it with supplies in anticipation of the apocalypse. At the same time, I grow more and more certain that history is the unfolding of a story that God has been authoring since the beginning and will, I believe, bring to prescribed conclusion. I hear Obi-wan Kenobi’s aged voice warning: “We must be cautious.”

Ultimately, no matter what I read in Revelation or see on the news feed, my role does not change. I am to faithfully traverse the journey laid out for me as it is revealed on a step-by-step, day-by-day basis. I am to love God and love my fellow human beings with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

Everything else will take care of itself.

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So, I Wrote a Play. Here’s Your Invitation to See It.

Ham Buns Poster

So, in case you haven’t heard, I wrote a play and it’s being produced by Union Street Players here in Pella. If you’re in the area I would love to have you come see it.

Pella Community Center
712 Union St.
Pella, IA 50219
Thu-Sat April 10, 11, 12 @ 7:00 p.m.
Sun April 13 @ 2:00 p.m.

Tickets are $8 in advance for adults ($10 at the door) and $6 in advance for students ($8 at the door).

Tickets are available on-line by clicking HERE, and can also be purchased at the door of any performance. If you need assistance contact USP’s virtual box office 641.204.1094.

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“Realize that You’re Already Dead”

lamb tatThey triumphed over [the dragon]
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.
Revelation 12:11 (NIV)

Over the past several years the television miniseries Band of Brothers has become one of my all time favorites. This morning while reading I was reminded of a character in Band of Brothers, Captain Ronald Speirs, played by Matthew Settle. Captain Speirs becomes notorious for risking his own life and taking outrageous chances in battle. In one of my favorite scenes, there is a night that Speirs finds himself talking to a young soldier who, unlike Speirs, admits to fearfully hiding in a ditch to avoid battle. “The only hope you have,” Speirs tells the young soldier, “is to realize that you’re already dead.”

Along the journey I’ve come to recognize that there are many truths of the Spirit realm that run counter to the physical realm. Captain Speirs actually made a profound statement that points to a spiritual truth. When we consider ourselves truly dead to our own self-centered motivations, desires, words, and actions we find ourselves free to experience a fullness of Life and a courage to move forward that would not otherwise be possible nor seem reasonable. Jesus said that there was no greater love than when someone lays down their life for others. I’ve come to realize that “laying down your life” sometimes means making the ultimate sacrifice like a soldier in batter, but it also means a day-by-day choice to lay down self-centric motivations for the service of others.

In today’s chapter, the loud, heavenly voice proclaims that the ultimate triumph of good over evil was made possible, not by might or power, but by sacrifice: the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) who laid down His life for all, and those followers who did not cling to their lives or shrink from death.

Coincidentally, I have the verse above tattooed on my left shoulder. It serves as a daily reminder to me to, moment-by-moment, live in such a way that I sacrifice myself so that I might be able to pour a greater share of love and life into others. Some days I do better than others, but I’m still pressing on.

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A Hint of Heaven

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Revelation 11:15 (NIV)

Those who follow along with these chapter-a-day posts will recognize the fact that I’m not delving into the prophetic interpretation and meanings of John’s Revelation. This is a conscious choice. Having studied and taught the book on multiple occasions, I find that a brief blog post on each chapter would never offer enough time and space to adequately address the often complex world of prophetic writing and imagery. In addition, my chapter-a-day posts have always been intentionally devotional in nature. My primary motivation each morning as I read the text is: “What does God have in the chapter for me today?” These posts have never been an in-depth study, but simply a spiritual thought for each day’s journey.

One of the things that has piqued my interest this time through Revelation is the scenes of heavenly worship that John witnessed and recorded. In particular, I find the verses and words of praise and adoration used by the angels, the elders and the creatures fascinating. I have also been pleased to read some of these words and to connect them with songs both ancient and contemporary that are familiar. It’s had me thinking about what I can do with this in my own personal worship.

Today I ran across the verse above and, of course, the familiar sounds of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus immediately popped into my head. Each year at our high school Winter concert, it is the last piece presented and anyone who wishes to join in can step on stage with the high school choir. There’s always a crowd. It had been a few years since I’d been to the Winter concert, but with Suzanna living with us this year I found myself back on stage with the high school choir this past December. I don’t know if there is something special and powerful in the heavenly words from John’s vision, or if it’s the combination of words and inspired music from Handel’s score, but I can never get through the whole thing without tears.

Reading again John’s vision of God’s throne room these past two weeks, I get the sense that the Hallelujah Chorus is a hint of heaven’s majesty.

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The Sour Feeling in My Gut

source: stickyii via Flickr
source: stickyii via Flickr

So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Revelation 10:9-10 (NIV)

As artists, Wendy and I love stories that are honest and well told, even when the honesty includes characters acting and speaking in ways we would find unacceptable for ourselves. Some people are offended when they hear a single profane word uttered in any context, but it typically doesn’t bother us when a truly profane character in a movie swears on the screen. Profane people say a lot of profane things. We usually roll with it without thinking much of it.

Having said this, there have been many times over the years that Wendy and I have felt spiritually soured when watching television, a movie, or when reading a book. For a couple of years we avidly watched a television program that was, and I’m sure still is, brilliantly written and well acted. It was network television, so there wasn’t anything in the weekly program which we found particularly objectionable. However, one night Wendy mentioned to me that she felt a “sourness” in her spirit watching the show. Coincidentally, I had been feeling the same gross feeling over the course of the previous few weeks, but without being sure why, I hadn’t said anything. To this day, I can’t tell you any one thing that was wrong or objectionable about the show, but in our gut we both felt spiritually gross watching it. So, we stopped.

I love the word picture of God asking John to eat the scroll in today’s chapter. The connection between God’s word and food is a recurring theme throughout God’s Message. For example, Jesus said when tempted to satiate his physical hunger that “man was not made for bread alone, but for every word that comes out of God’s mouth.”

A couple of related takeaways this morning:

There is a difference between reading and digesting. It’s one thing to have a small taste of greens, but popping a pea or two is not going to do you much good. You have to consume the green vegetable in larger portions if you want any health benefit. I have found the same to be true with reading God’s Message. For maximum spiritual health benefit, you can’t just have an occasional taste. It should be fully consumed and digested over time.

Transformation doesn’t take place without significant change, and change is often motivated by discomfort. When you get used to eating a healthier, more balanced diet you soon find that unhealthy things have a discomforting affect on your body and its functions. I don’t like the way I feel after eating all of those sweets or fats, and it motivates me to avoid doing it again. Once I changed my spiritual diet to include regular consumption of God’s Message, I found that I started feeling soured towards spiritually unhealthy things. I still can’t tell you what it was about the television program Wendy and I stopped watching, but the sourness in our spirits told us we needed to cut that program out of our entertainment diet. Call it what you want. I just know that when I something is spiritually off, the sour feeling in my soul motivates me to get things back in line.

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Rambling Thoughts of the Inevitable

source: Alyssa Miller via Flickr
source: Alyssa Miller via Flickr

During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them. Revelation 9:6 (NIV)

While I sometimes grieve the negative consequences that come with our rapidly evolving technology age, I also fully appreciate the incredible positives it affords us. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve been given the opportunity in recent weeks to quietly walk alongside some longtime dear friends as they offer palliative care to a mother who is in the homestretch of her journey. I have been touched daily by the lessons they are sharing from the experience on Facebook, and I get to offer prayers of support from afar.

My friends’ experience has brought to mind many memories and has stirred some emotional pools which have stood still for several years. I recall sitting quietly by my grandparent’s beds in the watches of the night. There are others who I had the privilege of standing beside in their final days. Watching and listening as someone expels their last breath puts a lot of things into sudden perspective.

Equally sobering to me are a few whom I knew who were anxious for Death’s visit, but not because of the joy they knew by faith was imminent. Their souls running so empty of Life, their bodies failing and in pain, they could think of little else but to plead for what they deemed would be mercifully quick finish and an end of suffering. Period.

All these thoughts and memories rumbling around in my soul this morning as I read of John’s vision of judgment when, as Bob Dylan paraphrased it, “men will beg God to kill them, but they won’t be able to die.”

Some mornings as I sit and type my thoughts I have more questions than answers. I have all these thoughts and emotions spinning around in my heart and mind like leaves in the wind, but nothing seems to land as I’d like it to do. This is one of those mornings. I think of my grandparents. I relive long stagnant memories. I remember the sound of aspiration. I think of Death’s inevitable visit for all of us, and the tragedy of longing for it, not because it leads to life, but because it simply ends the suffering. I pray for friends who are also wrestling with their own thoughts and emotions regarding such things, and am thankful that technology allows me to share in their journey.

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