Truth is under attack in our culture today, but not in the way we are all hearing from the media.  News stories are full of more and more lies coming from every sector of the world – entertainers, government, sports, religion, etc.  Faith in our own judicial system is at an all time low.  People manipulate facts and figures to make them whatever they want reality to be.

But this current attack on Truth goes much deeper than this.  It is not that people are ignoring Truth in favor of opinion – if this were the case, we could call them out of it and back to the truth.  Instead, we are dismantling the very idea of Truth.  Phrases like “my truth” have more than simply reflected the reality that opinion matters far more than truth and has become the basis for how we deal with this world; they have changed what “Truth” means.

If I try to debate with someone over a topic, the debate does not end with one person convincing the other of the Truth of the thing but with each sharing their opinions about it and going away happy that both of them are true.  This cannot logically be, yet we do it every day.

For Amos, this idea of Truth was represented by a Plumb line.  Before the days of levels, which told you if a wall was straight up and down, they simply put a weight on the end of a string and called it a plumb line.  Since the line would hang straight due to gravity, they could know whether a wall was “true”, or straight.  But Amos’ image is not about a measure for a wall but for God’s people.  God would supply the measure, the “Truth”, against which His people would be judged.  And that Truth still holds today, however we manipulate our own language and concept of truth.

Oh, that the world might know the measure, the plumb line, of God’s truth.  Life would be so much easier then.

The sealing of the 144,000 has been the subject of debate for a long, long time.  For some, these 144,000 are God’s people, and only they are God’s people.  In all of history, in all of the world, only 144,000 belong to God.  The rest?  Doomed.  So who are the 144,000?  Those God predestined to be His.  Are we part of them?  Maybe, maybe not.  But if we are, we have to behave like it, so we should all behave like it “just in case.  This seems not only depressing but not very biblical in my opinion.

But there are other interpretations.  The one that makes the most sense to me is that these 144,000 are God’s army sealed for the last battle.  This entire episode happens between the breaking of the 6th seal and the 7th and is surrounded by military imagery.  And later in the book, we’ll see a similar hoard standing against this army of God with a similar look.

These 144,000 have to be sealed, a common mark for a military officer in John’s day and age, before the “4 winds” can be released from the “4 corners of the earth”.  These four winds (in greek, pneuma which also means spirit) or spirits were believed to be destined to blow through and scour the earth of all life.  The release of these spirits means the end of life as we know it.  This is why the Army of God has to be ready first.

We then rejoin the heavenly worship service, “already in progress” and find a multitude who have survived the turmoil on earth and have brought their good deeds (“white robes”) with them.  And all heaven joins the song, “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever.  Amen!”  May we join this song ourselves today even if we do not join the Army of the Lord.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse have been used time and again in popular as well as religious culture.  From the X-men to horror movies to End-Time dramas, we’ve seen them enough that most people know this image.  But few know what it was about at the time of John’s writing.  And while they are prophecy and represent what will happen as Christ returns, they were also a very specific message to the people of John’s day; specifically, the Romans.

We often read about all that happens in Revelation and fear it happening to us.  But we have to remember the context of Revelation: Domitian and the Imperial Cult.  Domitian was the ruler of the day and horribly persecuting Christians.  Seeking to be worshiped as a god, Domitian continued the Imperial Cult, a religion of the people with himself as supreme deity.  So as we read about these four horsemen, we need to remember that all that they do, they do to the Romans, the dominant and dominating power over God’s chosen people.

The first horse is white and on it rides a conqueror.  This image would have struck terror into the heart of any Roman reading it.  Why?  Romes primary adversary in that day was the Parthians, known for their unique white horses, which they worshiped.  The idea of a conquering white horse rider would have presaged the conquest of Rome by the Parthians, something they feared without prophecy to tell them it was coming.

The second horse is red with a sword-wielding rider.  This is warfare to the extent that even the horses are splattered with gore and so red.  The lack of mention of any other enemy leads some to think this is the promise of a Civil war, the worst kind of war there is according to Roman philosophers.

The third horse is black and carries famine with it.  Of course, famine is the natural outcome of conquest and civil war and so shouldn’t be a surprise.  As farmers had to take up arms to head off to war, there was no one left to grow crops and so the country starved, even if the war was won.  Prices skyrocketed, so wheat and barley cost so much they couldn’t feed themselves.  However, the wealthy with a choice of what to grow would choose olives and grapes since these would bring the most wealth (“do not touch the wine or oil”) and so there would be even less land to grow food.  The financial disparity was obvious and deadly.

The last, fourth horse is pale and carries death.  This is the final outcome of the other three.  It is a promise of death for the Romans who enslaved the Jewish people.

So do we need to fear the horsemen?  Only if we are the oppressors!  If we are the oppressed, then this is good news indeed – our oppressors will not oppress forever, or even for long.

To juxtapose the Old Testament prophet (Joel) against the New Testament prophet (John) is an interesting exercise.  We can see a lot of similarities and some themes not from their message but from their prophetic message.  We’ve seen it in the Major Prophets and now in the Minor Prophets.  It’s a movement that seems the same in each one.

First, there is judgement and fear, tears and weeping.  Whether a declaration of the sinfulness of God’s people or “weeping and weeping” over the scroll and our inability to even open it let alone read it (let alone understand it!), the opening of a prophet’s message is almost always sorrowful.  But the movement is always upward.  From there, we hear of God’s grace poured upon His people.  Sometimes it is freedom from exile, sometimes a Lamb able to open the scroll, but the movement is always from judgement to grace.

And isn’t this the gospel as well?  The gospel begins with the reality of our own sinfulness.  This is not a popular message these days and many are seeking to share the gospel without it, but it can’t be done.  The beginning of the gospel, just like the beginning of any message from God, is our unworthiness of God’s love and our inherent sinfulness.  (For more on this, come to our Wed. evening bible study where we are studying Romans!)  But if people are turned off by talk of their sinfulness and leave before hearing the rest of the message, then we cannot do our job as evangelists.  Our message doesn’t stop with our sinfulness, but moves on to grace.  We are sinful, yes, but God’s grace is always greater than our sinfulness.  His love overcomes our guilt; His mercy overcomes our punishment.  His desire for us overwhelms our fear of Him.  And the end of the message is that we are together forever.  If that is not desirable, then the message is moot.

To juxtapose the Old Testament prophet (Joel) against the New Testament prophet (John) is an interesting exercise.  We can see a lot of similarities and some themes not from their message but from their prophetic message.  We’ve seen it in the Major Prophets and now in the Minor Prophets.  It’s a movement that seems the same in each one.

First, there is judgement and fear, tears and weeping.  Whether a declaration of the sinfulness of God’s people or “weeping and weeping” over the scroll and our inability to even open it let alone read it (let alone understand it!), the opening of a prophet’s message is almost always sorrowful.  But the movement is always upward.  From there, we hear of God’s grace poured upon His people.  Sometimes it is freedom from exile, sometimes a Lamb able to open the scroll, but the movement is always from judgement to grace.

And isn’t this the gospel as well?  The gospel begins with the reality of our own sinfulness.  This is not a popular message these days and many are seeking to share the gospel without it, but it can’t be done.  The beginning of the gospel, just like the beginning of any message from God, is our unworthiness of God’s love and our inherent sinfulness.  (For more on this, come to our Wed. evening bible study where we are studying Romans!)  But if people are turned off by talk of their sinfulness and leave before hearing the rest of the message, then we cannot do our job as evangelists.  Our message doesn’t stop with our sinfulness, but moves on to grace.  We are sinful, yes, but God’s grace is always greater than our sinfulness.  His love overcomes our guilt; His mercy overcomes our punishment.  His desire for us overwhelms our fear of Him.  And the end of the message is that we are together forever.  If that is not desirable, then the message is moot.

One of the most vivid descriptions of worship in the scriptures, Rev. 4 has become a much quoted passage when it comes to all things earthly worship.  I’ve heard it used to defend contemporary worship and traditional worship, contemplative worship and ecstatic worship, corporate worship and solitary worship.  Whatever the use, this passage is well known, even by those who don’t know scripture very well.

From the Throne of God surrounded by rainbows to the glassy sea before it, from the four living creatures to their chant, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come,” we know these images.

In a lesson on this passage once, a comment from a friend about this worship service struck me.  “The greatest encouragement I have for worship,” he shared, “is that I am not worshiping alone, but am joining with an eternal worship service ALREADY IN PROGRESS.”  I love that image.  When we worship, we are joining a service that has been going on from the beginning of time.  The songs we sing are not right or wrong, they are God’s.  The prayers we share are not one-time offerings but our temporary connection with the goings-on of heaven.

Youth regularly tell me, “if heaven is just one big worship service, count me out.  I can barely stand an hour a week!”   They are not alone in this feeling.  But if we truly understood and participated in worship, we would want nothing else.  And while I don’t believe heaven is just one big worship service like we know it, I wouldn’t mind that, either.

This year as we read the bible together all the way through, click here or check out the “Pastor’s Blog” tag below for daily readings and reflections on the day’s texts.

We still fallaciously believe that God owes us something.  We still heretical believe that we should be able to control God’s actions.  We still childishly believe that we hold all the cards in this relationship rather than the other way around.  Forgive us, Lord.

In today’s reading, and in the days before, Hosea has stated for God that He does not love us anymore.  9:15 says, “I will no longer love them.”  He tells Hosea to name his daughter Ruhamah as a condemnation of Israel, a name that means, “not loved.”  And we read this and cry foul!  God HAS to love us; He said so.  God loves everyone so He can’t not love us.  Isn’t that what grace is?  “Undeserved love”?  If God doesn’t love us, then He’s no God I want to follow!

But we never stop to listen to ourselves.  We never stop to think about what we’re saying.  Who are we to dictate terms to God?  Who are we to command God to do anything, let along feel anything?  Who are we to make such statements?

Since the beginning of time, we’ve ignored God, turned away from God, cheated on God, disobeyed God, crucified God… and yet still we command Him to love us.  We are like abusive spouses, who beat God with our words and attitudes and then declare that He’s not a good spouse unless He does everything we demand of Him.

What if God came to us today and told us that He is done loving us?  Does God have a right to do that?  Can He just stop loving us after the history of abuse we’ve put Him through?  Of course He can!  He’s God!  He can do whatever He likes!

But the good news, the Good News, is that He doesn’t.  He keeps on loving us in spite of our abuse and unfaithfulness.  1:7 says, “Yet I will show love to Judah… I, the Lord their God, will save them.”  Not because He has to, or because He owes us, or because we have demanded it, but out of His own well of love for us.  We need to drop the privileged children act and recognize God’s love and forbearance for what it is – mercy given by one who doesn’t need to give it.  And then, in humility, come with gratitude before Him and praise His name.

As we move through John’s Revelation, we’re going to be meeting some recurring characters.  Besides Jesus Himself, and of course John, today we meet the Nicolatians, one of John’s favorite targets.  He mentions them a few times here and they will show up again, but who were they to receive such vitriol form John?

We have to go back to Acts 6:5 and the founding of the modern day Deacon.  Seven men were appointed to be Deacons and to serve the poor and widows, freeing up the apostles to preach and teach rather than wait tables.  One of these seven was Stephen the Martyr, stoned to death for his witness as Saul (later the Apostle Paul) looked on approvingly.  Another was Nicolas, who became the founder of the Nicolatians.

Jump forward to the book of Revelation and we find these people rebuked by John the Apostle.  Why?  At the time of Revelation, Domitian was Emperor and required everyone to worship him as a god.  Christians obviously wouldn’t, so any that he noticed were persecuted.  The persecution continually increased until Domitian was rounding up Christians, dipping them in tar and then lighting them on fire to be used as torches to light his great feasts.  Loved ones were killed, children taken, and so the book of Revelation is partially a call to endure.

The only place to purchase anything was an open market called the Agora, and to enter it, one had to burn incense in worship of Domitian.  Since Christians refused to do this, they could neither buy nor sell in the Agora.  The Nicolatians decided that if they burned the incense but just pretended to worship Domitian, then that was ok.  Essentially they “crossed their fingers” as they entered the Agora and so didn’t have to suffer for their faith.  Among the rest of the church who were losing loved ones to Domitian, you can imagine the hatred they developed for these “traitors” and “pretenders”.

Are there any ways that we are living like the Nicolatians today?  Where are we giving in to our culture instead of facing the difficulty of standing against it for our faith?