Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Revelation the Book

The lectionary moves over into the Book of Revelation for a few weeks; so, I have been trying to preach from those texts. I am aware that there are many people who interpret the Book of Revelation as a predictor of the future. Some see the Bible as this acient book in which God has put "secrets" for us to find and look our for. It's a view of Revelation that goes way back. In my life it found expression in a man named Hal Lindsey, who is still on TV, by the way.

In this book, The Late Great Planet Earth, he basically says that the earth is going to hell in a handbasket and it's all God's plan. Certain nations, whom he names, will rise up and fight and cause havoc. Some interpreters have tried to name dates and times for God's actions. People have made movies about the end-times showing all kinds of horrific things happening in God's name.

So, even preaching on Revelation is an awesome task. I think I am in the mainstream of scholarly thought when I interpret the Book of Revelation pastorally and not as a predictor of the future. That is, at its inception, as near as we can tell, Christians were suffering for their faith, being put to death because they refused to kneel in worship of the Emperor. The Jews were equally mistreated. So, we believe that John a leader of the church in Asia Minor is exiled on the Island of Patmos for his faith. On Patmos, John sees this vision of God's work.

It is meant to be heard pastorally, that is, as an encouragement to Christians as they go through the great "tribulation"- the suffering at the hands of Rome. The message is that God will act in his good time and will bring those who suffer and die to his eternal kingdom and those who are on the other side (the side of the devil) will lose the war eternally. God wins.

So, as I continue this series of sermons, I have reminded my congregation to remember one thing if they don't remember anything else from Revelation. In Revelation, everybody is singing. Those in heaven, on the earth, and below the earth are singing praise to God. All creation breaks out into song for the one, the lamb, who has conquered.

Whatever tribulation you're facing, hold up your head, keep your faith, if you're on God's side you ultimately have nothing to worry about. One day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. When God is ready, we will join the great chorus in the great church singing with full voice: "Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive honor and glory..."

Dave Nichols

Friday, April 16, 2010

Empty Nest?

My wife and I are facing a new milestone and it comes as a surprise to me. I thought we had already gone through the "empty nest" experience. Our eldest daughter is a teacher in her late twenties and has been out of the house for a while. Our second daughter is married and has been gone and graduated from college for several years. Now, our baby daughter is about to graduate from college and she will go on to seminary.

Doesn't it seem like we should have already gone through the "empty nest" thing? Actually we did. When baby daughter left home for college, we went through some grief over it, but after a while we got used to it, as most parents do, and we kind of enjoyed our marriage again.

What is surprising to me is that I am feeling grief all over again. You see, our baby daughter, while away from home in college for four years now, was in college only forty minutes away. She was home often, and in the back of my mind I knew that if she needed us, we could get to her in short order.

Now, that she is about done with college and ready to move over four hours away it's hit me again. Am I a sap or what?

Here's what I'm learning about myself. (I know it's not rocket science)

1. Life is a process of growth and development. That means that everything changes sooner or later. Just recently I watched "A River Runs Through it"- a great story about a Presbyterian Minister and his two sons. The story is told from the older son's point of view. The story ends with everyone dead, except the older son who is fishing. At the end of the movie I was crying. Mary thought I had lost it. I was crying because of the passage of time.

2. Life is filled with grief because of the passage of time. No given moment lasts forever. It all moves or we move or things move. Nothing stays as it was. On the whole that's a good thing. There are people who are really glad that life in America is not now like it was in the 50's for them. Many things change for the better. For the better or not, it hurts. It pinches. It grieves us.

3. I like the prayer of AA which says: "Lord give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know one from the other."

Where are you on this great movement in life? I'm further along than I care to admit, but faith in Christ tells me that there is still much to experience and go through. Jesus said: "I have come that you may have life, that in abundance..." It's all about living a full life which means living it all fully, in the joy that we are being moved along by the Spirit.

Dave Nichols

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Christian Faith and Pressure

I was pleased to be at my daughter's senior presentation at her college. She is a religion major and several classes and professors of religion come together each year for this presentation of the seniors. Of course, my daughter did an oustanding job.

I was reminded just how much I enjoy the intellectual debate and discussion that is a part of an academic setting. Many of these people were in religion class because they were moving on to some form of ministry or the other.

One student gave a paper on missionary outreach to China in a previous century. My daughter talked about John Wesley and Social Justice. Another student gave a report on what is called the "emerging church". I have looked into this myself. Defininig the emerging church is like nailing jello to the wall.

A fourth student gave a paper on salvation. He talked about it biblically and theologically, from his own perspective, of course.

I heard it again, this time from a Christian who is recovering from a fundamentalist background. He talked about being pressured into believing. He grew up in an environment in which the Bible was seen, and Christian faith, was seen as a rigid thing. He told about people who believed that they knew everything and had answers for everything.

He left that background and started to search- nothing unusual for a young person. In fact, it can be a good thing.

I have a friend who grew up in that kind of fundamentalist background. He felt oppressed by people who were claiming to be Christians but were very harsh in their practice of faith.

The young man presenting his paper said that he left this rigid background and that God brought him back to faith. Now he knew God to be a god of love.

Where we live, we are located close to a fundamentalist university that regularly sends out people to witness, as if their life depended on it. So, perfectly good Methodist Christians are often harrassed as if they are Christians. Therefore, any talk of evangelism turns them and others off.

Ok, I hear. I don't know any Methodists who do anything like arm-twisting, or pressuring. For us, Christian faith is about grace that comes from God in Christ. But, this grace doesn't just drop out of the sky. It is embodied in the church, in Christians in the world.

We are living in a culture is pressuring us toward unfaith, and toward a life of self-centeredness. We are pressured to this lifestyle every time we turn on television or read the paper or drive down the street.

Evangelism for us Methodists means that we use mouth and heart, body and spirit, all that we are and all that we have to bear witness to the love of God in Christ. Sometimes it means that we need to talk about it. Other times it means that we live it out in practice. At every time it means that we the way that God in Christ makes his appeal to the world. (2 Corinthians 5)

Dave Nichols

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