Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

This is one of my favorite services.
Christmas Eve to me is a meditation on the darkness and the Light that will not be consumed by the darkness. That for me is what I stake a lot of my faith upon. That Christ coming in this world turned away that was wrong, evil, and unjust in the world. Of course those things do get their days, but the final word is the Word of God, Jesus Christ. It is beautiful to me.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Irony of the apocalypse seal 5&6

vs. 9-11
The saints who died in the faith under persecution ask God, "How long will it before you avenge the spilling of our blood?"
The response is rather odd.
"Calm down rest, because there are more that are going to die."
As a church in the first century imagine hearing that. I have had friends die and John is telling me that more are going to die.

It is a reminder that God's justice does not work on my time. I recall being very angry with God, because there was this woman who died. Her husband had cared for her and this woman's sister had come to help in the caretaking of her end life. The sister in the last day's of this woman's life changed all of the accounts that the beneficiary at her death would be this woman's daughter not the husband. There are those moments when I have to let go and let God take care of the justice.

vs. 12-17
The kings of the world wind up hiding in the caves that the church has hidden.
They scream, 'Hide us from the face fo the one seated on the throne and the WRATH OF THE LAMB."
Can you imagine the wrath of a lamb? When you wake up at night in cold sweats has it ever been because a lamb is going to inflict punishment upon you? It is a very odd four words WRATH OF THE LAMB. In fact, John might be the first person who put those words together. What does the wrath of a lamb look like?

Merry Festivus,

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The fabled four horsemen

chapter 6:1-8

"I looked and there was a white horse and there was a white horse! It s rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he cameout conquering and to conquer."

In Genesis, God takes his great bow in the sky and places it where it is no longer aimed at earth but is aimed at heaven. So, the first rider who rides a white horse, is symbolic of Christ crowned and he brings the bow back to earth to conquer. This is a symbol of hope for a folk who are persecuted. Let me be honest. I as a Christian in America am not persecuted. That crap that some folk spew out would fertilize death valley. In the first century, Barbara Walters, CNN, and other news outlets did not do specials on Mary or Heaven. Christians are not killed for their beliefs and trying to keep all religions with equal voice is the mood in America. So as Christian, I need to walk this fine line of caring for others who have no voice, Jews, Sikhs, and Muslims. Why? Because I read in this letter what it is like to be persecuted and persecution is not a Christian ethic. However, I must confess that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus' coming into this world is more special than anything that has happened. How do I do it? Not very well some days, but that is where i work from. I work from that point of view, because I keep my feet in the tradition of the church and that gives me empathy.

Second horse
"And out came andother horse, bright red, its rider was permitted to take peace from teh earth, sot hat people would slaughter one antoher; and he was given a great sword."

Man, I read this and if I was one of those folks like LaHaye and Jenkins...I would believe that this is a sign. However, Revelation is not a roadmap for the end of time. It is a message of hope and for folks who see war all around. This is a reminder that God is in the midst of it. When you have no power over stopping war having the faith that God is in the midst of it can give one hope.

Third horse vs. 5-6
I looked and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of hte four living creatures saying. "A quart of wheat for a day's pay and three quarts of wheat of barley for a days pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!"

This is an image of famine. Famine always follows war. A time of war there is usually less. My generation has not suffered much from war. WHen the elder Bush went to war in Iraq. He called Venezuela to keep the oil coming. This time around, we suffer a bit. However, I go to the store and I get Oranges from SOuth Africa, Tomatoes from Mexico, Shrimp from Vietnam, and every good I want from China. In London during WWII, Hyde Park was converted into farm fields to feed folk. I was in Haiti in January of 2004 before Aristide was sent ousted in a Coup. As an American we ate 3 times a day and we learned a couple of days into the trip that the Haitians ate once or twice. We had lettuce and lettuce was a luxury. Perhaps the closest we have been to famine is the evacuation of Katrina and Rita folks. People who moved with nothing. Those folks when they read about the third horse, they might get it.

Fourth Horse
I looked and saw there was a pale green horse! Its rider was name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they wer given authoirty over a fourth of hte earth, to kill iwth sword, famine and pestilence, and by teh wild animals of the earth.

John shares that the last rider DEATH is bringing sword, famine, and pestilence.
Sword-Blood-Red-second horse
Famine-Disease-Black-third horse
Pestilence-Death-Green-Fourth Horse

Death is the enemy of people and people fight death. John is saying that even death as powerful as it is does not come first. The one who conquers death is the first rider with a crown who is the true King, Christ. In fact there will be a battle against death in the final chapters.

Read Revelation like a symphony. There are many lines going on. Perhaps read it like a Seinfeld episode...Kramer, Elaine, Jerry and George all have stories happening and they intersect with each other. However they are different. Or it is like the movie TRAFFIC, drug dealers, Mexican Federales, DEA guys, and Drug Czars are in the same story together intersecting with one another.

Christ is coming folks...and he will come in unexpected ways...most likely the way he did in the powerful force of a manger. Only astrologers and guys on the late night shift caught it. Everybody else was so self absorbed that they missed Stars in the sky and heaven opening up.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Worthy is the Lamb

John plays with us a bit.

I have not study enough C.S. Lewis to really know the answer to this thought. Aslan the Lion who is the Christ figure in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE why is he not a lamb. I know that within the scripture that a Lion is representative of kingship and authority. John will even use a triumphant image of Christ in chapter 19 of Revelation, but here in the beginning of Revelation...the one that conquers the depths of hell is a lamb. Not even a bighorn sheep type of ram, a slaughtered lamb. I like Aslan, he is cool. Liam Neeson, my Irish brother, is a pretty cool dude himself. However, I come back to this image.
There is a scroll with seven seals that cannot be opened, John weeps, and there is a voice of an elder who says, "Do not weep. See the Lion of Judah." Then John looks up and he sees a lamb, a slaughtered lamb.

I used to raise sheep and came to the conclusion that they were absolutely stupid. I began to despise them a bit, because they were a pain. But I know a bit of sacrifice. I raised the sheep to show in the local stock show. So, I spent August to March raising this lamb. If I did not finish in the top three in my division...then I got 70 dollars for my lamb. The lamb cost 60 dollars and bags of feed were 12 dollars a piece. That made the whole enterprise a net loss. So, one late winter's evening the sheep go off into the packing trucks to head to the slaughter house. When we sent the animals on the truck, there was a sense of seriousness that the men forced upon us boys. A lot of work had gone into these animals and now it was over. You did not goof off that night.

John in this image says that the only one worthy to open the scroll is a lamb, a slaughtered lamb. Those lambs heading off into the trucks that is the image of power for John. I know brought up great issues on the role of violence in L, W, and Wardrobe on December 7. I think this text reminds us that John's vision of heaven begins with a slaughtered lamb as the strongest part of creation.

That changes how I order the world. Might does not make right. What now has value is not power, but those without power. You know in this season of advent and Christmas that reminds me that is why Christ came into the world.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A vision of heaven

Chapter 4
As a pastor, somebody will ask "what is heaven like?" They are interested in the management of heaven. Is the payoff what we have been told. I am on the sales side of the equation, so I don't know who gets in and I don't know the quality of the robes or what is for dinner.

So, I turn folks to this vision of heaven. I mean John is taken up to heaven in this vision and he gives us a first hand account. The funny thing is that most folks are not satisfied with this account. I don't think the curious questions are answered like "Are there bathrooms in heaven?"

However, John has this vision and it is important. It gives a sense of the awe and majesty. To be honest, I think John falls short of the description. I sense in reading this story that it is like an excited 6 year old running around and telling you about the circus. "The elephants, the clowns, then there was this guy who was shot out of cannon and this family swung from the roof on a swing, but it was not a swing....." It is like John has ADD so we don't get the full picture only a snapshot from a writer who lacks the vocabulary to talk fully and extensively about heaven. John shows us that he is human.

4:1 "After this I looked and there in heaven a door stood open"
I love this image, because it is a reminder that God has the last word. I may try to close the door between God and I, but God keeps the door open. I may turn away from the door, but the door is open. You may try to shut the door, but God keeps the door open for you. Powerful image for a society who keeps the door closed. In fact, many of us use the backdoor through the garage and shut the door constantly to keep the world. The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the door is open. God's kingdom stands out in our world of closed doors.

vs. 6 "in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal."
The sea was a terrifying place for the ancient world. The Jews hated the sea and that is why the story of Moses leading folks through the Red Sea is powerful. God defeated Pharaoh and his gods and then God controlled the sea. Powerful message to folks who are aquaphobic. The image of a smooth sea is that statement that God rules all of creation. This past year with Tsunamis and hurricanes...that image of God in control of the ocean is a little more accessible.

vs. 6b-11
The four living creatures. The four living creatures are used in the tradition to represent the gospels. John did not have this in mind, but some scribe in a monastery put these two together. That is the tradition and it does not harm the faith, so let's keep it.

Then there are 24 elders and 4 living creatures casting crowns....that is where the Contemporary Christian band got the name.

This is just a full image and I have put an image by William blake that you can find at the Tate in Britain.


Monday, December 19, 2005

A hot letter for lukewarm folk

"So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of mouth." vs 3: 16

I was listening to an African-American Christian talk show on the radio this weekend. I bounce around channels all the time looking for something. I get to hear good stuff when I do that like yesterday, a guy said, "America was really defeated in the Civil War." Man, what a nutjob.
However, there was talk on the Christian talk show about whether gospel performers should talk about worldly issues. Like Hip Hop stars talking religious issues. The discussion led to whether or not the church was luke warm.

It is a great insult to be called Lukewarm in the faith.
It means that I am taking my faith seriously. It is a hobby. It may mean that I am some hypocritical. I am not authentic about my faith.

I have become more comfortable with my faith. I felt that I needed to say a lot of Jesus' earlier in my faith and every time I could point to Jesus. I have learned that it is best if I just keep my position pointed at the cross. I know who is working in me and I will share my faith with folks. However, I really don't have the energy to share with folks who are not interested. It is waste of my breath and it is casting the pearl of my faith before swine. For some folks that would be lukewarm. Alright. It maybe. Jesus will judge that and I am comfortable with him as the judge.

In the end where Jesus winds up is this place. He is all over the church in Laodicea and tells them that they need to buy garments of faith. Then Jesus says these words, "I discipline those I love" (vs. 19) In my life, I have felt that God has disciplined me. There have been times when I have sinned and my life collapsed. There I found God's grace more fully.

Jesus talks more of the open door and tomorrow, we get a little more of the topic of the open door and John's vision shifts to heaven. You want to know what Heaven looks like, John gives a vision of heaven.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

church of the open door, Philadelphia

Philadelphia. Were these 1st century folks bitter and did their chariots look like Camaros?

"Look I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut." 3:8

Philly, 1st century Philly I mean, is hte church that gets the most praise and it is the church that is under the most strain. It is the most persecuted church. However, the promise is that Jesus opens a door that will no longer be able to be shut.

I think that is a hope for all of us at times. We hope that when we are unjustly persecuted that God will settle the score. We can't settle the score, but one day and on that day God will settle the score. I think that is part of Christian hope. I recall in 1991 meeting with a group of women who were on strike in a sewing sweatshop. They had shutdown the sweatshop and freed women of bad working conditions. Only in 1991, NAFTA was on the drawing board. As we talked, we knew that the work would move from this side of the border to a Maquiledora in Mexico. The whole industry left by the mid 90's and then in a couple of more years all of the work went to China. A door that will never shut, when I meditate on that I imagine a world where all that mess is made right. Instead of that door sending jobs away where folks are exploited but where the door of justice is open. But for that to happen...I got to be comfortable paying more for a shirt. I am not sure in this advent if the Good News of Jesus making the world right is good news for my lifestyle. But, it has to be good news for my soul.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Sardis, a hard one to take

"I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up and strengthen what reamains and and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God."

Sardis is the church that thinks their poo smells like a Carolina Pine Forest.

However, upon further review they are not perfect.

I know that there are times that I do things to cover up my inadequacies. We are told to work from our strengths. However, I think in admitting our weakness that we find some strength. I don't have to be perfect to be loved by God. In fact my perfection gets in the way of my ability to love God.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Back from OS Hell

Got the computer back up and going. Long story. 10 hours of work to get the hard drive working. Sigh!! However, I am up and running.

Here are my thoughts on the the fourth letter 2:18-29

Sexuality and spirituality is a constant conversation. The problem in Thyratia is that it sounds like somebody who was tied to the temple prostitution ring, how else are farmers to ask gods for the fertility of their crops and animals except through a sexual act at the temple? But sexuality really messes up one's spirituality. Sex was to bring a farmer better crops, but does it. Sex is supposed to bring the most satisfaction to any person. However, as you walk through a store today look at folks. See if you can tell which person had sex in the last 24 hours. Everybody looks the same, so sex is not a cure all.

The New Testament is pretty clear that Jesus is the provider of all our needs. That means all of our needs. It is said that Jesus brings us the greatest pleasure in life. If Christians believe that then that means that the pleasure that Jezebel brings is nothing to be compared with the pleasure that Christ can bring. The pleasure of a relationship with Jesus is greater than any sexual relationship...

Do you believe that? Have you experienced that?

John knew that sex was not a cure all. It was not bad, it was not good. It was part of life. It was like eating, using the bathroom, and sailing a boat. There are certain practices that keep you safe, are good manners, and there is a time for it. However, the cult of sex will not bring salvation. That is Victoria's true secret is satin, lace, and angels' wings are all just empty. No matter what Jezebel, Hip Hop, Country, or Rock stars sell and confess.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Paul and John disagree in Pergamum

vs. 2:14

"so they would eat food sacrificed to idols"

Paul in I Corinthians 8:1-13 opens up the ban on meat that is used in pagan worship. Back then, the butcher worked next door to the pagan temple. A great amount of the meat eaten was meat that used in temple worship. It was good stewardship and probably fed many poor folk.

However, it was tied to the temple. Folks who had left paganism and turned to faith in Jesus Christ this was troubling. John holds a strict line and says don't eat the meat.

John sees eating the meat as going against the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. He sees it as believing in the pagan gods. Paul saw the idols as dead. Perhaps, John was a pagan before he became a Christian and had a different experience to inform his faith.

A few months ago, there was an election to make our town, a wet town. It meant that a person could pick up a six pack of beer at Wal-Mart not have to go 3 miles to get it. Initially, I was glad to have that pass since a beer and fajitas taste good together. However, as I thought about it. Not having beer and wine in the store is helpful for some folk. Perhaps what kept some folks sober was not having beer and wine in the store. Now, everywhere they go they have signs. There is nothing wrong with beer or wine, but I am not one who struggles with alcohol. For the sake of my brothers and sisters who do, I am not sure if it is more helpful to be John or Paul at times. That is why we need to listen to both of them.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Smyrna's Smallness

Yesterday, the second sunday of Advent. Peace. My life has not been very peaceful, and many times when I come to advent...I look to advent as a promise. I will get hope, peace, joy, and love. I think this year, I am looking at them as demands or charges. You will need to hope. You need to gain peace. They are not gifts but steps towards the light of Christ.

In all my years of doing advent, I have never approached it that way.

Now to Smyrna

2:9 I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich...vs 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested....Be faithful until death.

Though you are rich, you are poor.

I recall playing golf with some friends of mine, and they all got into the numbers game. "How much are you running in worship." Steeple envy, a pastor's problem. I said, "How many addicts gave up the drugs that plagues them in your presence yesterday? Did a wife tear up the divorce papers? Did a family get engaged with each other after your presence? Did a mother make a phone call to reconcile?" It is all numbers, big numbers, but in the end is the grace of Jesus being presented, represented in such a way that lives are being transformed for by and for the glory of God? Is the Holy Spirit growing folks?

I think we can be rich, but poor. When I travel I will tell Amy, "We got a credit card, we can get whatever we need when we get there. Now stop packing and stop asking if we got everything."
But this is a reminder that even though we may have richness, we can still be impoverished in the Spirit side of the balance sheet. I run deficits at times and the pain of being spiritually in debt or bankrupt is painful. Money does not solve that problem.

As the serenity prayer reads, "Hardship is the path to peace."

May you make some deposits in to your spiritual bank account today.

Grace and Peace,

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A note to Ephesus

Listen folks, I need you to let you know how I come to scripture.
Scripture does not come to me in a vacuum. I bring baggage to the scriptures and I try to drop my baggage at the door. However, I cannot get rid of all of it. So, sometimes I must remember that I am a Middle Class American with education...that is sure different from a pastor in cite soleile in Port Au Prince. We all do.

Some days we bring a great amount of baggage to the scriptures. Family is sick, those who are supposed to be helpful are not that helpful, work has piled up, computers break down, phone calls interrupt life, and all of that comes when the scripture is open. Sometimes it is such an awful noise for me that i can't get beyond it. I need to recognize that and work through it. Sometimes I can and sometimes it is foolish.

Now John in Patmos was in jail, friends had suffered, and he has this vision. God spoke to John where he was at. He spoke in language that John and his friends could understand. It is unintelligible at times to me, but to John it was clear and powerful.

Here is the first letter to the first church/lampstand. Ephesus. We know Ephesus from Paul's work but John knows it as well.

Christ through John says, "I know your works, yoru toil and your patient endurance."

This is a group of folks, a church, that gets things done. They have stamina but they are so caught up in doing that they have forgotten something. They are strident against heresy and false teaching, but they are missing something in their life.

I think Jesus lays the harshest of accusations against them.

2:4 "But I have this agianst you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

The church had become so got up in doing the right thing, thinking the right thing, that they forgot how to feel. They forgot what it meant to be in love with Christ and with one another. They were doing things out of obligation. It is a painful thing when this happens. That teaching a Sunday School class becomes a chore, instead of a delight. That singing in a choir with folks who love music becomes rote. When folks forget how to love it is painful, but nobody notices because efficiency which Americans love is gained. Sometimes, I get efficient. Alright, I have three minutes to talk with this person and then I need to move on. However, it is good at times just to linger and learn to love somebody. Remember Jesus was at times very inefficient, but the world changed through his actions.

2:7 To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life tha tis in the paradise of God.

The writer of Genesis tells the story that Adam and Eve could have had any fruit in the garden and which tree did they eat from. The tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. They could have eaten from the tree of life, but knowledge of good and evil was more tempting to them. In the end, Adam and Eve took knowing as more essential than life. In the hospital, I journey with folks who wait to know what is going on with their bodies. The not knowing is what consumes folks. Death can be handled when they know what is wrong. Dragnet, "Just the facts, Ma'am" That incessant need to know. It was curiosity that killed Great GrandParents Adam and Eve. They could have had life and chose knowledge.

Jesus says that we will be given permission again to choose. We will be able to have the opportunity to reverse Adam and Eve's decision. We will be able to rise above all of this and choose life.

I like that image.

Keep Faith and Touch somebody today


Friday, December 02, 2005

The apocalypse on my Dell

My computer harddrive had an apocalyptic vision.
So, I was not able to put in my blog this morning.
It is late this evening, so I am going to save it until tomorrow.

I got up this morning and before the house was stirring did my reading of Revelation. Thought I had some good thoughts. Went to Starbucks, they had Guatemalan coffee, my favorite.
Hit the power button and get blue screen.
"The figaro hit the air conditioner" as Dr. Reuter used to say.

Tomorrow, I will share my thoughts.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Vision to prepare

It is advent and John of the Apocalypse has this vision before he has the big vision.

He is sitting on Patmos in exile and gets caught up in the Spirit, in prayer, worship, or study. He is told to write what he sees.

His first vision
Rev. 1:9-20

In the midst of the seven lampstands. Lampstands held lamps, you put a light on a stand to provide more light for the total room. Light on a floor does not provide as much light as one on a stand. Light is what we as Christians are called to be and these lights are the seven churches that John will write to. In the midst of these seven lampstands is this vision of a Son of Man. As I try to make sense of this, it is like Gandalf in the Two Towers as he mets the hobbits in the woods. He is no longer a grey wizard, but the white wizard. Gandalf now almost glows.
This light of the Son of Man now is brighter than the lampstands. It is a reminder that we are not alone in our witness. It is a reminder that the light we reflect is part of the light of Christ. For folks going through persecution, this was a reminder of God is with us. The promises of Christ are true, he does not leave us alone.

In my life, there are some lonely moments. I remember one time when my wife had just had surgery and her mother had come to help us out. We had an 18 month old son, a wife who was recovering from surgery and a church to serve. It had snowed and thawed and refroze. My mother in law rushed out the door and fell on the ice on the back stoop. In the midst of the fall, she broker her shoulder. It was a terrible day, because the purpose of calling a person to be a caregiver is not to have them be needing care. That is just not how the plan is drawn up. That night, I prayed, held my son, and felt a calm reassurance that we would make it through. There would be folks who would help and there would be folks who give me grace at the church if things fell through the cracks.

Of course, that is not persecution, but I live in America. I ain't persecuted for my faith. It is a reminder of the same promise.

vs. 16
From his mouth came sharp two-edged sword.

I think for folks who are pacifists this is a great text.
You see the weapon that Christ took with him to battle the forces of evil was not sword but his tongue. A tongue is used to utter words. It is that reminder that which separates us is the confession of our faith in Jesus Christ. Of course, this confession moves to action. However, what divides is the very word of God. Even those who do not believe or hold to the very word of God coming from Jesus, they are divided by their words. You see when I don't confess Christ then I have divided myself away from Jesus. Not a good thing.

I love that image. It is a reminder how do we use our tongues? Do we use it to build folks up or do we use it to divide. I think Jesus does it both ways. The key thing is to know which way to use it and when.

Have a good day.

Rev Guido

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The second part of the prayer

There is a transition in that prayer.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood.

I love this image of salvation. It begins not with the judgment of God, but it begins with the love of God. God is not damning us, but is freeing us. For John who was incarcerated by the local authorities, hated and despised. He shows the King of Kings to be one who loves his people not fears them. Instead of enslaving people, he frees them.

Personally, I think we all walk through a lot of hell on earth. There are folks who struggle with addictions. People who are abused. Some of us are just wired in such a way that we get in our own way. So, life becomes hell. To suffer on earth and to suffer in heaven seems a little harsh. So, God's coming into earth is done out of love. As we read the rest of Revelation remember it begins with that line of prayer. "To him who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood."

made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God

Our call as Christians is not just individual. It is to be a Kingdom. Kingdoms are made up of people. We are called to be a Kingdom. Not full of soldiers, police, politicians, or slaves. No priests. We are priests.

We are connected fully with God. You know at times, I feel a tremendous disconnect with God. There is a hole in my heart and it is consuming. On this side of life, heaven, the second coming, I am disconnected from God. I am a servant, but not a priest. Not one who stands before the holy of holies, but one who works in the fields. I do not tend the coals of the sacred fire, but work in the chaff. There will be a day when that separation will be reversed, and I with you will stand before God.

With that anticipation so wet upon his lips, John says.

"Look he is coming"

So, I wait and I pray a simple prayer "Come Lord Jesus."


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Walking through Revelation

I put down my prayer book today. I am having a hard time getting into the mode of prayer and I had put a long stretch through my prayer book, "A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants." So, I picked up my Bible and sought to read something. I thought about Isaiah, Samuel, and even read the first chapter of Colossians. Good stuff Paul has to say.

However, I finally decided to go to Revelation. I don't know why, but I just wound up in the back.

I read this great prayer in Chapter 1.

John Prays...
"Grace to you and peace from who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ,
the faithful witness
the firstborn of the dead
and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

That caught me as powerful.
John was in exile and the church was being persecuted. Not exactly how severe, but it was severe enough that people were beginning to feel a little pain. Some folks were questioning their faith. So, John writes this letter to these churches to give them strength.

As Christians we look to Christ as our example and strength.

As a Christian, I hear John say Jesus was the faithful witness.
Faithful witness means that Jesus' life that I am to imitate in some way, aspire to at times, and find direction in always has this truth. Jesus was faithful and he was not faithful in secret, but publicly. Jesus' faithfulness could be seen. John is encouraging those churches and me to be faithful even when it may become uneasy. So often it is easy to take the shortcut. To not speak the truth when the truth needs to be said. I can think of countless times when I have been easy on folks when I needed to press an issue. When somebody is making a bad lifestyle choice, I will at times keep quiet, because I prefer to be nice instead of truthful. There was a couple who came to be married and they ask me to perform the service. At the church I was serving, we were using weddings as a money maker. This couple met at a conference where they both struck up a relationship. Unfortunately, both were married and got divorced to pursue this marriage. This was disclosed after I was deep into the process of putting the wedding together. So, I bit my tongue instead of saying, "You two met when married, how are you going to trust one another? What will stop you from cheating again." I kept quiet, because I lacked confidence. Being a faithful witness is hard. John encourages us to be faithful as Christ.

Firstborn of the Dead:
Christ was the firstborn of all creation and that means that he was going to die. If you are created, you will die. Sorry. So, Christ died and he was raised from the dead. So, we who are going to die will be raised like Christ. Faith was a life and death issue for John. To hear these words, that Christ has suffered and now reigns mean that I will survive ultimately. Pain is only temporary. That is good news.

Ruler of the kings of the earth
So often I forget my allegiance. Am I an American or a Christian. I define my citizenship so often by nationality, instead of by the water of my baptism. John reminds us that Jesus is the Lord of the earth and the kings, the Presidents, the dictators, the drug lords, the slum lords, and all those who exert power are not all powerful. Jesus rules over them. Our church does not have the American flag in the sanctuary which is a powerful statement. If this church was in South America, Asia or the United States...our Lord would be the same. That Lord is Jesus. Nothing on this earth is outside the rule of Christ.
Now here is the brass tack. That ultimately means that myself, the greatest god I know, is under the authority of Christ. Life stays good when I remember that and really gets screwed up when I forget.

So today hear what John has to say.
Jesus Christ who is beyond time brings grace and peace to you.
He was a faithful witness, so you be one. Fear not death or pain, because Christ over came it, and let Jesus rule your life, not governments and not yourself. For a first century Christian beaten by the city officials, these were words of hope. For me a 21st century Christian sitting in my office they are words of assurance.

Grace and Peace,