Alf – Strangers in this World

John 14

emoyer alf

In 1986 Gorden Shumway, more familiarly named Alf, crashed into the garage of the Tanner family.  Each week the Tanner’s had challenges to disguise Alf and teach him about planet Earth. He would hide in strange places or put on all types of costumes when nosey neighbors and friends would pop in.

 

In the show, the Tanner family knew and actually saw Alf.  They always had to hide and disguise him when company arrived. In contrast, the disciples and people in Bible time are the only ones who have seen and experienced Jesus.  But we as believers need to hold firm to what is unseen and have faith in knowing that Jesus will be coming again.  We know that the Tanner family hid Alf from the outside world in the 80’s sitcom.  We don’t want to hide Jesus from others.  We want to share his love and the promise of his Father’s coming Kingdom.  We want to spread his love over and over until we hear the last trumpet sound. Jesus promises us so much as long as we are loving and obedient to his call.

-Emily Moyer

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Victorious God

Revelation 8-12

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Wednesday July 19

Seven is the number of completion, of fulfillment.  The number seven appears repeatedly in Revelation:  seven Churches, seven seals…. and now seven trumpets.  A trumpet is blown to get people’s attention- something important is about to be announced.  The seven trumpets here announce the judgment of God upon the earth.  God is about to bring this evil age to a close to make way for the age to come, when the Kingdom of God replaces fully the kingdoms of this world.
Each of the seven trumpets are blown by an angel of God followed by some great disaster.  There is hail, fire, blood, large burning rocks falling from heaven (a meteor or asteroid).  Then stars fall from heaven, the sky becomes filled with darkness, more heavenly bodies fall to earth opening deep pits in the earth which release demonic creatures.  There are plagues and wars and all manner of destruction heaped upon the earth.  Here it’s important to remember that much of this is symbolic language.  The point is that there will be calamities which bring about destruction on the earth, some are ecological, some are interstellar, and some are man made.  This Summer there’s a t.v. show on called Salvation.  The premise of the show is that NEO object is heading toward earth and is likely to cause massive death or even total extinction.  In real life, under Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming there is a super volcano, which, if it erupts, would place nearly all of the continental US under a cloud of darkness that would result in massive famine.  Of course, we hear regularly dire predictions about global warming, rising sea levels, the melting of the Arctic permafrost etc…  And don’t forget the expanding nuclear arsenals of places like North Korea and Iran.  There are any number of ways that global destruction could occur.  This is a part of our human consciousness… and it was a part of human consciousness in the first century as well.  There has always been the understanding that there is much that is outside the limits of human control: drought and famine, earthquakes and fire from heaven.  These events were usually linked to belief that whatever gods that community worshipped were angry.  Destruction was linked to judgment, which was linked to human sin.  The normal response was to bring sacrifices to the gods and a promise to stop doing bad things.
In this section of Revelation, we see that the one true God is behind these disasters, but there is no willingness of the people to repent. In Rev. 9:20-21 the people refuse to repent of their idolatry, of their murder, of their sexual immorality.  The people will not link the calamities that befall them and the earth with their own bad actions that violate God’s word.
Revelation 12 gives another picture. It’s an overview of the history of the earth and it shows the cosmic dimension of the battle that’s taking place.  There is a spiritual warfare. Behind it all is this picture of evil described as the dragon, or the ancient serpent, or the devil or Satan.  Evil is making war on God’s people.  Yet, evil will be brought down and God’s people who refuse to submit to evil will be victorious.  Even though they may be killed by evil, yet will they ultimately be victorious.
Remember, when John received this vision, Christians were suffering at the hands of the powerful evil empire of Rome.  It seemed like a powerful or insurmountable monster that was able to impose his will on God’s people.  Imagine how hard it would have been to stay faithful to Jesus Christ during such a difficult time.  Yet here is a message of hope, a message of victory.  Evil and the human faces of evil will not win.  God has far more power available to him than evil does.  Those whose hearts are turned against God and refuse to repent will not be swayed by these displays of judgment and power, but those who are faithful to Jesus Christ and remain faithful, even to the point of death, will emerge victorious.
There are always events that happen in our lives that tempt us to doubt God or to turn away from Him.  These apocalyptic texts in Revelation serve as a vivid reminder that, no matter how bad things may get in the world, even for believers in God, God will be victorious.  Let us stay faithful and keep trusting God and our faith will not be disappointed.

-Jeff Fletcher

Looking into the Future

Revelation 4-7

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Tuesday July 18

If you had a chance to look into the future and see what was going to happen, would you want to?  If you had a chance to get a peek at God’s throne room in Heaven, would you want to?  John is given that chance.  While he’s physically in exile on the Island of Patmos in the middle of the Mediterranean sea around 90 A.D. during a time of great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire, he is given a vision of the throne room of God Almighty.  He is able to see God seated upon His throne, surrounded by angels.  He sees seven scrolls that have been sealed by God.  The question is, who is worthy to unseal the scrolls and reveal their contents?  The answer is: the Lamb that was slain.  Jesus is the only one worthy to unseal the royal scrolls and reveal their contents.  The scrolls reveal what is about to happen.
Notices that there are 7 scrolls just as there were 7 churches.  In the Bible, 7 is the number of completion.  It took God 7 days to finish creating the earth (including a Sabbath rest).  The number 7 will keep occurring through the book of Revelation.  It’s completion, God is finishing the new creation, bringing this creation to an end.  7 scrolls reveal God’s plan to bring this world with it’s evil to a close.
As the scrolls are opened they reveal war, famine, earthquakes and other disasters resulting in wide scale death.  God is beginning to bring His judgment upon the earth, and He is vindicating his people who have died as martyrs at the hands of the evil empire.  (it sounds a little bit like Star Wars- Empires and those who suffer at the hands of the empire).
Imagine that you are a Christian living in this time and you want to be faithful to God, but it’s hard when you see a powerful empire destroying your fellow Christians by the sword, or burning in the fire, or throwing them to the lions or the gladiators in the arena.  It might be tempting at times to give up and give in to the seemingly overwhelming force of the empire.  But then you are permitted to look into the future and see that, eventually, the empire is destroyed, and those who died the death of the martyr are brought back to life and end up the true victors.  That is what is happening here.  The Christians are given a boost of confidence by seeing the ultimate victory of God and his people.
The trials and temptations that you and I face today may be different from those of 1st century Christians in the Roman empire.  We may be tempted to turn away from our faith in order to be popular among our peers at school, or to fit in at the university.  We may be tempted to abandon our morals in order to have fun.  We might be tempted to cut corners in our jobs to get ahead.  We might be tempted to abandon our allegiance to Jesus Christ for any number of reasons.  But what if we could see into the future, what if the curtain that separates us in time and space were peeled back enough for us to see a glimpse of God, of Jesus, of the future… how everything ends, and realize that God is victorious and those who oppose God will be defeated, and that the rewards to following God and being faithful to Jesus Christ are great.  Would that help during times when we are tempted to turn away and abandon our faith?  I think they would.  And that’s the value of Revelation.  It helps us to see beyond the here and now and base our decisions not on what’s happening today, but to see the BIG picture…. the grand and glorious victory of God over evil.  Whose side do you want to be on?

-Jeff Fletcher

(Photo Credit: https://www.versaday.com/Months/05/0516.aspx)

Unveiling the Past, Present and Future…And Then Repent!

Monday, July 17

revelation1-8

Revelation 1-3

The final book of the Bible is known as the Book of Revelation.  It is also known as the Apocalypse.  Apocalypse mean “unveiling”.  It has the idea of that which was hidden has now been unveiled or brought out into the open to be seen.  There are other passages in the Bible that contain apocalyptic material (parts of the book of Daniel and Ezekiel are two) but this is the only book of the Bible that is fully apocalyptic.
Revelation can be a little confusing (ok, a lot confusing).  A big part of this confusion comes from the challenge of pinning down the proper timeline.  It contains material that was past, present and future to the writer, John, who wrote toward the end of the first century.  The angel who gave this revelation to John said: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”(Rev. 1:19).  There are different “schools of interpretation” that see Revelation as mostly focusing on John’s time period (end of first century in the Roman empire), others see it as being fulfilled progressively over the past 2000 years of the Church, and others see it as still to be fulfilled in the future.  This is compounded by the use of symbol and imagery that fill the visions of Revelation.  A lot of time can be spent trying to discuss and debate these issues, but for our purposes I’d like to focus on basic principles found in Revelation that can be of value to our lives as followers of Jesus today.
In chapters 1-3 a focus is on letters written to seven Churches throughout Asia.  John is writing to them as a pastor who at the time was living in isolation on an island in the Mediterranean sea.  He can’t be physically present with his churches, but he is with them in spirit and wants to encourage and instruct them, to help them stay strong during a time when many believers were suffering persecution by the Roman empire.  Imagine what it would be like to try to encourage Christians today living in places like Pakistan, or Egypt, or Sudan or Syria, where Christians were being killed because of their allegiance of Jesus Christ rather than to Mohammed.  What kinds of encouragement would Christians whose family members, friends and fellow believers were dying for their faith need to help them not lose faith?
In the Roman Empire during John’s time of writing it was required by law for citizens to declare allegiance to Caesar by publicly declaring Caesar to be Lord.  Jewish people were largely exempt from making such declarations (but not always).  Often Christians came under the umbrella of the Jewish exemption, but now always.  Thousands of Christians died as a result of religious persecution during the early Roman empire.  John writes to offer encouragement to keep faithful to their commitment to God and to Jesus Christ in the midst of such persecution.  The challenges we face today may not be the same type that first century Christians faced, yet we still have challenges, struggles and temptations.
Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain words of exhortation and correction to the various Churches to which John is writing.  Each Church had many good things happening for which they were praised, but several also had not so good things going on for which they needed to be corrected.  One of the common themes of each letter to each Church was a call to repentance.  To repent means to turn around or change direction.  To the Church at Ephesus, John said that you have “lost your first love.”  They were just going through the motions of their faith, without the passion.  Perhaps you can relate to that.  Anyone who has been a Christian for a while has to be aware the danger of “just going through the motions” and losing their passion for God.  John is trying to get them fired up again.  John says: “repent” and do the things you did at first.  Most Christians, start out enthusiastic… they read the Bible a lot, they pray a lot, they tell their friends about God and their faith a lot, and they consciously seek to get closer to God and do things to please God.  But over time, they lose the passion, lose the drive… become complacent.  John says- get back to the love and passion you first had for Jesus.
Maybe this is you.  If it is… let it be a wake up call.  If this isn’t you, then keep reading through Revelation 2 and 3.  Look at what is said to each of the seven churches.  Is there anything that rings a bell?  Is there anything there that applies to you?  I’m guessing there is.  Read it… and then repent.
-Jeff Fletcher

Love, Obedience, Truth

Sunday, July 16

2john1-6

2 and 3 John, Jude

Congratulations, you were born at a time when society rejects the notion of absolute truth!  The world of the late 20th and early 21st century is characterized by a movement known as Post-modernism.  It’s the age of skepticism, of subjectivity.  It’s the age when society has been systematically doing away with notions of absolute, objective truth.  The Post-modern notion is that reality is socially constructed.  A good example of this is the idea of gender.  Back in the olden days, before Post-modernism, you were either a male or a female.  The way that you knew this was fairly simple and it was based on your physical anatomy.  You were objectively a male or a female depending on how your body was equipped.  But we were so unenlightened back in those days.  Now we know that gender has nothing to do with the objective reality of your biological make up or even your  D.N.A.  It is determined by how you feel… it’s subjective and it’s fluid.

Along with the death of absolute truth in favor of subjectivity has come a change in notions of what is right and wrong.  It used to be that right and wrong were measured against a set of standards given by authority.  That authority was either God, or the laws of society.  So things like murder or stealing, or adultery were wrong.  Now, it seems,  the far greater wrong is to tell people that they are not free to do as they please.  It’s wrong to tell a man that he’s not free to marry another man or to tell a woman that she is not free to marry another woman.  It’s wrong to use the masculine pronoun “He” to refer to God… or to even say that there is a God who makes rules about what is right and what is wrong.

These changes in our worldview are troubling to older people like me, and they should be troubling to younger people, too.  However, this should not come as a surprise to any of us.  For the Bible predicted, nearly 2000 years ago, that such things would happen.  In fact, it was beginning to happen in some places even then.

In the back of your Bible are some letters that are so small they are almost invisible.  The letters of 2 and 3 John and Jude are extremely brief.  Sandwiched between the longer letter of I John and the book of Revelation, 2 and 3 John and Jude are short, but don’t dismiss them as being unimportant.  Each of them has some important things to say about the need for objective truth and the need for Christians to stay faithful to the truth and to fight for the truth.

“I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” II Jn 5-6.

Love is a great thing and it is at the heart of Christianity.  Jesus said that the most important command is to love God and to love others.  It’s important to understand that love is a term that is often subject to people’s arbitrary definitions.  Love has become highly subjectivized.  Love is whatever I say it is.  John here offers a corrective to this subjective, Post-modern view of love.  Love, as John defines it, is to “walk in obedience to his commands.”  Love is more than just feeling good inside about God or your neighbor.  There is objective content to love.  It’s in a different part of the Bible, but go back sometime and check out I Corinthians 13 vs. 4-7.  It gives a good, practical description of what love is… and it has very little to do with your feelings and everything to do with right actions.  Love of God and neighbor is all about doing the things that God has commanded us to do.

3” It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” – III John 3-4.  Here, John holds up the standard of truth for Christians to follow and live by.  We are to “walk in the truth.”  This has to do with obedience to an objective standard or truth.  God has things that he expects us to obey.  There is a way that God expects us to live.  Truth has objective content that we need to understand and obey.  Post-modernism has tried to jettison this idea of objective truth and replace it with our own definition.  Again, this is nothing new.  In the Old Testament book of Judges it describes a time in Israel before there were kings that’s described as follows: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25.  Just as Judges points to a time in our past history when people followed their own subjective desires rather than submitting to the objective truth of God as revealed by His word and by Jesus Christ, Jude warns of a time that was still to come when this would again be the case:  18…“In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.” Jude 18-19

As followers of Jesus, who is our true and ultimate king, we must reject this.  We must follow the teaching of our king, we must receive his instructions to us as absolute truth and we must follow him by walking in that truth.  It is sad when the people of the world abandon truth and follow their own desires.  It is absolutely  tragic when Christians abandon the absolute truth of God and fall for the subjective lies of this broken world.  And yet, many Christians have done exactly this.  Jude gives a strong admonition to all believers:3 “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”  Jude3-4

Jude wants desperately for us to not allow ourselves to be lied to by any who would distort and twist the clear objective truth of God’s word and the absolute teachings of Jesus, in order to justify their own perversions.  Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that there’s no absolute truth, no black and white or right and wrong.  There is and always will be truth, and that truth, as Jude contends, is worth fighting for.  As you go to school or university or talk at work or with your friends, or even at Church, wherever you go where some would seek to undermine the objective truth of God’s word and substitute the subjectivity of this world with its anything goes faulty belief system, stand firm, don’t give up!!

-Jeff Fletcher

(Photo Credit: https://dailybiblememe.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/2-john-16/)

 

Be Bold!

Acts 3-4

Be Bold Image

Monday, June 5

Peter and John were arrested for teaching about Jesus.  In 4:18, it says the Sanhedrin (the rulers, elders and teachers of the law,  making up Israel’s supreme court)  called them in again and commanded them to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  Peter and John replied, and in verses 19-20, they said:  “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard”  What do we do today?  Do we listen to authorities rather than what God tells us to do?  Are we too tied up in being politically correct to say this or that or just plain don’t say anything at all just to be ‘safe.’  I think many people today don’t want to ruffle any feathers so they just sit quiet.  Do you stand up for what God says, or keep your mouth shut?

 

This just makes me think about being bold and not being afraid to speak the truth.  You should pay more attention to what God would desire, rather than being afraid you might offend someone.

 

In 4:23 it says: “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”  So when we see something that doesn’t agree with a teaching from God, are we silent, or do we speak up and explain what is right in God’s eyes.

 

In verse 29 it says:  “Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”  Peter and John asked the Lord for extra boldness to speak His word.  Perhaps we should request the gift of boldness when it pertains to speaking up for what God instructs is correct.  This week let’s look for more opportunities to be bold.

-Jason Railton

 

Why Am I Reading This?

John 20-21

Jn20

Saturday, June 3

If you are in high school, you have asked this question sometime this year. If you are in college, the question probably gives you flashbacks of finals. If you are like me, you are 300 pages deep in a 400 page textbook by the time the question comes up. By that point, you are too doggedly determined to put the book down. “By gum, I’m gonna finish it!” the stubborn, stalwart voice in my head says.
Truthfully, it is a great question. When we ask, “Why am I reading/watching/listening/responding to this?” we ask a bunch of questions at once. What do I hope to gain from this? How will this knowledge inform my future actions? In what way does this information or content contribute to my mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, or financial success and well-being? And the answers to “why am I reading this?” may be diverse. Maybe, like us college & graduate school students, you read something simply to gain the information from it for a test or project. Maybe you are reading to make wiser decisions in the future. But beyond these questions, which we ask of ourselves, this is also a question we ask of the author. We are also asking, “Why did you write this?” Why did J.R.R. Tolkien put pen to paper and craft some of the most iconic stories ever? (Lord of the Rings) Why did C.S. Lewis tell of magic (The Chronicles of Narnia), of angels and demons (The Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy), and teach through his lovable, accessible, British way (Mere Christianity)?
In the Bible, this question doesn’t get answered too often. The Book of Job doesn’t tell us why the author wrote it. Sure we have very informed guesses, like, “The good and righteous will suffer. That is the way of this world.” But never once does the author tell us WHY he (or she) wrote the text. The authors of Matthew, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, similarly did not take the time to tell you why they wrote. Again, there is a case to be made that the purpose can be found, like “to record history.” But then, why is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life so different than John’s, and why do 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles differ so greatly in their retelling of the same events? (There are answers to these questions. They are not easy answers, but they help us in understanding the text, if we are willing to do the work.)
All this is to point to two of my favorite verses in the entire Bible, John 20:30-31. If you have never memorized a verse in your life (John 3:16?), seriously, start with these two in John, because they could basically sum up the ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT. Actually, there is a case to be made that the ENTIRE BIBLE could be summed up in these beautiful words.
John 20:30-31 –  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.
The author of John completely acknowledges he left things out. It doesn’t matter to him that every single detail down the line be absolutely perfect. He does not even begin to suggest that he told the story in chronological order. There is no way to make the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and John compatible, with one single “correct order of the life of Jesus.” That isn’t the author’s point. The author didn’t write this Gospel to give us another “play-by-play” of Jesus’ life.
What the author does say, the reason why he put his pen to paper, what the Spirit was doing in him when it moved in and used him to write down words through the authors hand and brain, is so that YOU may believe. You reader. Not another “you”. I’m talking to you. These signs, these teachings, this crucifixion and death are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The author cares about how you deal with this. See, if at the end of the day you are done reading John and you say “Jesus was a really good man” or “Jesus was a wise teacher” then YOU’VE MISSED THE POINT. The point is not that Jesus was a pretty cool dude, or that he was a man who died for what he believed in. He was inaugurating the Kingdom of God by coming, and that we can choose to be a part of God’s Kingdom now; in other words, he is the Messiah. He came to live a perfect life, overcome the world, and be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; in other words, he is the Son of God. Any other reading of John is a mistake. It is wrong. Jesus is not just another good leader, good religious teacher, good dude. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Only Begotten Son.
If you end up believing in WHO Jesus is, in WHO he pointed us toward, in WHAT he was doing by ushering in a new way of being, then you have hit the point of the message of Jesus. You understand what the author of John was doing in all these many chapters, in signs, teachings, moments with the Savior. Moreover, by believing in Jesus, you will have life in his name, eternal life, abundant life now that can’t help but last forever! I hope that is where you find yourself today. The reason why I write so much about John is because I love it. I am a mess. I am a broken and sinful mess. But there are a couple things I know. I see these signs, these miracles and this death and resurrection and I have to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And because I believe, I know that I have life because of him. I didn’t earn it. I don’t deserve. But I’ve got it. Come, you who are also undeserving, just like me. You sinners like me. You broken messes like me. Jake, like John, calls out “Believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing, you too can have life in his name!”
In Christ,
Jake Ballard
(Photo Credit: https://biblia.com/bible/esv/John.20.29)