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Posts Tagged ‘tribulation’

the-churchThere are so many definitions of the church–from a local body of believers to the Church universal (implying all believers). In Greek, the work is ekklesia which was used by the first testament church as the society of the Lord Jesus Christ but eventually was accepted as the Lord’s House, a derivation of kyriakon, this then separate from the term synagoga. 

In Ephesians 1:22-23, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” the implication is that the church has even deeper relevance in that the “ekklesia” is no longer just a body of believers who meet together but is part of the ultimate mission of Jesus, to bridge a gap between humanity and God through the ultimate sacrifice. What Jesus did in microcosm, the church is to do in macrocosm. There are a number of scriptures that speak of this sending out of the “church” into the world (http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Mission,-Of-The-Church has a strong list), most notably is Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

At Restore Church, where I attend and serve, this message is embedded in the church’s mission statement: “We exist so that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ.  Our mission will be unleashed by: Meeting people where they are. Connecting people to life changing relationships. Serving people with no strings attached. Fulfilling the mission of God will not only result in new ministries or programs, but a movement of disciple makers, impacting the world.”

What does this then look like? Mostly, it’s in the church structure (multiple campuses), the culture-relevant messages, the contemporary music, multi-media included in the services, and a conscious effort to welcome all people into the space without judgment. It takes about 120 volunteers each weekend to successfully support four campus workshop experiences.

Outside the walls of the church, there are a number of annual community events that are intended to broaden the appeal of Christ’s message through familiar and non-threatening events such as a massive Easter Egg Hunt, movies in the Park, Single Mom’s Spa Days, Mom Swaps, free clothing give-aways, concerts, and more.

Personally, I have been at Restore Church since it’s inception about five and a half years ago. My roles have evolved from hosting campus services to behind the scenes production work and special services. It would be my hope that my daily life would reflect my faith and commitment to a loving God, and my part of a living and breathing church.

But of course, that doesn’t always work out in some perfect way. I can remember going through so many different programs in churches throughout the years, programs of evangelism and outreach with the intent of “saving” people. It was well intentioned but with little heart for the individual. It’s one of the more realistic and powerful messages of the more contemporary churches: relationships as core to sharing Christ, sharing Holy Spirit, sharing life. The early church, gathered in homes and small spaces, seemed to get this piece of it but over the years, we have become too unwilling to engage in the lives of others.

Am I a good example of relationship discipleship? Not really. I participate in church activities when my work schedule allows, but the very essence of the new way, I have embraced in theory and not in practice. This is a kind of disappointment in myself. I know my mission field is not far afield, but here in my small town. And my mission is to love out of the box. I could build a case for my lack of relationships, but honestly, that’s not the point. My faith and love for God is known. But I am not a very good friend to many.

There is only one cure (for lack of a better term), and that is to step out–one person at a time. The “assignment” for the ministry school is identify one thing to do. But for me, it’s not a “thing” but a person. It is upon me to reach out to one person. This I will seek to do, with no real goal in mind, merely to “do life” a little with someone new to me.

For the story of the world is reflected in what we call the “end times” and when those days will come, it is not for us to know, but there will be trials and tribulations. For this reason, we are called into unity with others. This will not be a time to be alone. Family, extended family, church family, all of these will be a buttress to lies, and fake Messiahs, and hardships. (Matthew 24: 1-28)

Scripture does give us some information about these times, most importantly that we cannot know the time of Christ’s coming (Matthew 24:32-41). As in the time of Noah, people did not expect the flood, and yet it come. The story is a warning for us all. Not that we’ll have a flood, but that we must understand that our human time is finite.

There are some indicators of Christ’s return (although many have misinterpreted the signs again and again). Some thought Hitler was a sign of these times for the great damage that he did in the world. And yet, the end was pushed back. Some thought the Great Depression was a sign, but it too was not the end. Even today, there are fears that the great weather changes and storms are indicators of the end. But we will not know, not really.

So, what do we do? Remain faithful. Build relationships. Honor God. Love others.

 

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The locust attack from the Abyss comes after the sounding of the 5th trumpet. The first four are equally devastating, from “hail & fire mixed with blood” to a huge blazing meteoric object as big as a mountain to comet-like star (or person?) that turns water to Wormword and a consuming darkness to follow. Not a good time to be hanging out on Earth.

Revelation 9:4
They [the locusts from the “shaft of the Abyss”] were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

Of course, no one really knows what any of these images or trumpet blasts really mean. It could be representative of things to come, things that have already happened, or things happening now. I do think it’s a little amusing to read the various interpretations that specifically write with great sounding authority. But really, these are just ideas and “plausible” explanations. I don’t really believe anyone today has the inside track on these symbols and images.

And yet, I am intrigued by the idea of the seal of God. This, too, has many interpretations, some believe it’s an actual mark on a person’s forehead while others claim it’s a mark of obedience to the laws and words of God in the mind. Some view it as the antithesis to the “mark of the beast” which is described in some detail in Revelation 13.

But here’s all that matters to me: the seal of God is a mark of ownership. No one (and I believe this wholeheartedly) can “earn” the seal of God. It’s a gift. It’s a grace.

I have that. Now. Whether I will suffer or not suffer in some time of trial and tribulation, I don’t know. But I know I am God’s own, a follower of the Christ, in communion with the Holy Spirit within. There is no 666, no barcode, no QR code, no tattoo, no other mark that will change the God-mark on my heart. Amen. So be it.

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From this point in the book of Revelation and forward, there is a flurry of activity, none of it good. But the “white robed ones” are the survivors. Like most God events, I believe this tribulation multitude stands outside of time.

Revelation 7:14
And he said to me, These are they who have come out of the great tribulation (persecution), and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
[Amplified]

My slow walk through the book of Revelation is becoming more and more difficult. Yes, this book is rich with symbolism but it is also filled with confusing texts and “timelines” that have been peeled apart by the most studious of scholars. As noted before, I am totally out of my element. And yet, I want to get something from the book that I can use and apply to my life, that I can engage in my heart and embrace. I am not interested in the controversies of pre-millennial or post-millennial; pre-tribulation or post-tribulation. I just want a nugget of understanding, a glimpse of truth.

The multitude referenced in verse 14 is huge, uncountable. This is no special group of 144,000, but another collection that represents the peoples of the earth. These are people who have known deep affliction, persecution, and sorrow. Are the tribulations or grievous trials referenced here, are they the ones to be described next (linearly). Or, are we simply seeing the “survivor benefits” on the front end, or, is this some huge group of people that has already had enough pain and are being given a reprieve? I don’t know. Does it matter?

In my “earthly time,” I’m not in this group on either score.

But there is an inherent promise to the verses, 15-17. Extrapolating from the description, I see these promises:

  • to experience close proximity to God;
  • to have opportunity to serve and interact with God;
  • to be protected from any subsequent dangers;
  • to be satisfied and all needs met;
  • to be comfortable;
  • to be guided and have clear direction;
  • to be filled; and,
  • to be happy.

Some people have taken these promises as the state we will enter in “heaven.” And perhaps that’s true. These are the goals that most humans seek in their corporeal lives, aren’t they? Isn’t everything we do, particularly as believers, built on these long-term objectives?

Life is hard. Whether people are rich or poor, healthy or sick, there are challenges and tragedies which cross most human lives. Why do we bother to keep living? Because we believe in life. We believe in the evolution of the soul; we believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit; we believe in a purpose.

Or, we die. Those who have lost sight of the “golden ring,” no longer believe in human, in God, in a future, often give up and choose death over suffering.

People who dissect the book of Revelation believe the worst is yet to come. And that may true, but that should not discount the sorrows, the wars, the persecutions, the deaths, the miseries, the tortures that have already happened to many parts of the world, to many people through human history.

In or out of time, there is still the promise of the divine.

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