Archive - October, 2011

Worship in the Book of Revelation

A revision of an assignment for one of my classes, this blog is a reflection on the role of worship in the Book of Revelation. I found it interesting, so I thought I would share. The two books referenced are Charts on Revelation by Dr. Mark Wilson and The Revelation to John commentary by Stephen S. Smalley.

Since God is worthy of all honor and praise,  it should be no surprise that worship is a major theme of the book of Revelation. The four living creatures, the elders, the angels, the heavenly voices, the great multitude, the saints, and the nations are all depicted worshiping God. The seven hymns in Revelation declare that: God is Holy (Rev. 4); worthy (Rev. 5); the source of salvation (Rev. 7); powerful to reward and to judge (Rev 11); marvelous, true and righteous (Rev 15); just in his judgments (Rev 16); and holy, victorious, reigning, and glorious (Rev 19) (Wilson, 74). Utilizing a combination of doxologies, acclamations, amen choruses, victory hymns, hymns of thanksgiving, praise hymns, and other songs, the book of Revelation lays a foundation of worshiping God both in heaven and on earth.

One of the things that is most striking to me about the book of Revelation is the variety of worship.  The text gives us glimpses of a number of actors worshiping God in a number of ways.  There is not a set liturgy, even if the prayers or songs may seem a bit liturgical, but a varied and creative worshiping of the Lord.  The worshipers sing, shout, play musical instruments, and speak forth declarations of God’s worthiness and character. The things for which God is worshiped for are also varied. He is worshiped for His rewards as well as His wrath. The saints and the angels praise God for the entirety of who He is, not just the seemingly favorable qualities. Even in the midst of wrath, they see his just character and testify to His righteousness. 
“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come”- Rev. 4:8  [see video below for the story of the modern worship song that draws from this passage”

It is important to note that worship in the book of Revelation is always directed towards God. Twice in the text, John attempts to worship and angel, and twice he is rebuked. In Revelation 1:17, John falls to his feet in awe of the Jesus, but is not rebuked because it is an appropriate response. Throughout Revelation, worshipers fall down in awe or in reverence to God. Then in Revelation 19:10 and Revelation 22:8, John falls at the feet of an angel “to worship him” and is rebuked and told only to worship God.  In his commentary, Smalley suggests that this doublet is offered because John is trying to correct the churches’ tendency to worship angels (Smalley, 486).

“The rejection of John’s attempt to worship the angel… and the command to ‘Worship God’ instead, is more likely to be related to one of the main themes of the Apocalypse. The seer is conscious of the insidious danger to Christian witness of idolatry, which has been in mind during the visions concerning Babylon…  A clear choice must be made between ‘Babylon’ and ‘Jerusalem’; and true worship means obedience to the one God, not to those like the beast who claim divine status, or even to God’s heavenly agents.” (Smalley, 486).
This theme of idolatry is prevalent. Time and time again, the text warns not to worship the beast or the dragon or Babylon or anything other than God Himself.  In Dr. Wilson’s charts, he contrasts worshiping the emperor with divine worship (Wilson, 91).  Imperial worship stands in opposition to God, and one cannot worship the Great City or anything else and still be divinely worshiping God.  I think one of the most important contemporary applications of Revelation is an understanding that worshiping civil religion or tradition stands in opposition to God. While our modern day patriotism and national pride may not echo the orders to burn incense for or sing praise to a political figure, there is still a very real danger of worshiping a city or a system. Likewise, churches and believers may worship a religion or a doctrine instead of God himself.  Even in this passage, John may have been worshiping the words of God spoken through the angel (Smalley, 487). Still that is idolatry; and it makes me wonder how many people are guilty of biblioidolatry today- worshiping the words of God.  The book of Revelation, and the totality of scripture, leave no room for worshiping anything or anyone but God Himself.
It is also interesting to note the relationship between worship and witness.  Right after John is rebuked for worshiping an angel in Revelation 19:10, the angel says “Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”. The link between worship and testimony is important. Witness is crucial in Revelation as the victors overcome by “the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11). It appears that to worship God is closely linked with being willing to speak of God and to be a witness to who God is. After all, how many of the hymns are simply declaring God’s character and proclaiming who He is? Granted posture of the body and posture of the heart are also aspects of worship, but the emphasis seems to be on the profession of a sincere belief that God is holy and worthy of praise.
To close, as I read through Revelation several times this semester, I was reminded of how many worship songs were written based on this book of scripture. Churches everywhere repeat the aspects of the hymns of the saints and the heavens on a weekly and even daily basis e.g. “Revelation Song”, “Overcome”,  “We Fall Down” – just to name a few. While many people may read the book of Revelation focusing on the End Times,  it is clear that John is emphasizing worship and witness in the here and now as well. Revelation is an encouraging reminder that God is truly worthy of our worship, now and forever.

Happy little post

Since a couple people have commented that my last few posts have been rather serious and introspective, I thought I’d pause my deep thoughts momentarily for a happy little post… just so you know I’m not taking myself too seriously. Here are two videos that have recently made me smile.

  1. This awesome video made by my friend Natacha recapping beach retreat.  
  2. This funny video by some random guy I don’t know about small groups. 

    And, though I tend to be fairly reflective and introspective on this particular blog, I also post random things that make me think or make me smile on my Tumblr – with little, if any, commentary. (if you are interested, click the link above)

    There you go, social media overload. =]

    Let it burn..

    Flames by “fir0002/flagstaffotos” via Wikicommons

    As usual, God seemingly heard my ranting and offered me a response to last night’s blog post. Okay, in all actuality, I don’t think my personal frustrations had anything to do with today’s chapel service- but I do know that God spoke to me through the message.

    I’m currently in Virginia Beach for modular week at Regent University. And, the professor teaching my Revelation class had a double duty today as he shared a message at our midweek chapel. Speaking on 1 Thessalonians 5:19, Dr. Wilson exhorted us not to “put a lid on the Spirit’s fire”. 

    Sharing the imagery of a camp fire being extinguished and anecdotes of successful ministers straying toward apostasy, Dr. Wilson reminded us that a once vibrant faith can be suppressed if we confine the Holy Spirit to operating within our own parameters. Specifically, he shared how an academic pursuit to know about God can replace knowing God. He discussed how denominations and ministries may hinder the Spirit through doctrine or practice- citing the Baptist mission board’s stance against speaking in tongues and modern Pentecostalism’s tendency to distance itself from spiritual gifts in order to become more culturally acceptable. He went on to explain how our infatuation with technology may also be hindering our ability to connect with the Spirit because of our hesitancy to unplug.

    By no means was Dr. Wilson advocating an intentional focus on manifestations of the Spirit or attacking any denominations or suggesting we stop using our smart phones and laptops…. he was simply illustrating how easy it is to “put a lid” on the Spirit and the consequences doing so have on our own faith and the work of the Church.  The next verse in 1 Thessalonians 5 warns people not to prohibit prophetic utterances.

    “…don’t hinder charismatic manifestation. To despise prophecy [or speaking in tongues or any other work of the Spirit] is to despise the Holy Spirit” - Dr. Wilson, (paraphrased excerpt)

    “Do not quench the Spirit.” Quench, as Dr. Wilson noted, has lost some meaning in our culture due to popular advertising campaigns that use the verb (hint: thirst). We are prone to think that to refrain from quenching the Spirit means to not do something contrary to the Spirit… but Dr. Wilson rightly pointed out that this epistle is written to people who have already drank of the Spirit. They already know God, and the command is not to avoid making the Spirit angry. The command is to not suppress what the Spirit is doing, and to continue to seek complete sanctification, to cling to what is good, and to draw closer to God.

    The problem is that we often seek to avoid doing something wrong, rather than seeking complete sanctification through the Holy Spirit (v. 23). We seek a myriad of other things: a degree, acquired knowledge, denominational credentials, approval from our superiors, respect from our friends/families, success, a sense of being updated through social media and the interwebs… the list goes on and on.

    Rather than being continually open to what the Spirit is doing and actively seeking to be increasingly aligned with His heart, we too often are defined by our circumstances and our own pursuits (many times even in the name of God), and so we stifle the Spirit and place our parameters above God’s plans. As one of my classmates stated earlier today during his presentation,putting anything above God is a form of apostasy. As harsh as that sounds and as much as we don’t want to hear it, it’s true.

    Even as I type this, I want to refute his claim. I want to say “no, that’s idolatry, NOT apostasy”.  Why? Because idolatry I can live with, I can repent from and move onward.  Apostasy suggests renouncing one’s faith and abandoning God. Idolatry is just putting something ahead of God momentarily, it isn’t abandoning faith….. or wait, it is abandoning God in the moment for something we perceive to be more important or valuable, isn’t it?

    To put the Spirit in our  own box is to place our view of God above His own image. This is idolatry, and it is quenching the Spirit. To despise what the Spirit is doing or what He could possibly do is despising the Spirit Himself. And, to despise God by temporarily abandoning the Spirit by putting a lid on Him because our circumstances seemingly deem it necessary… that is a way of actively standing against our Lord. 

    With all that said, and granted I am speaking through reflective analysis not through any sort of exegesis at the moment, I once again confess that I am guilty as charged. I have quenched the Spirit in favor of my own parameters and my own pursuits. Even in the few hours since hearing this message, I have made the same mistake. And as I type this, I find myself wondering: “Is it even possible not to quench the Spirit? Will there every be a day when I, a sinner, stop renouncing my God through my thoughts, words and deeds?” As I recall the depraved condition of my own heart, I am also reminded of the character of the God that I serve and therefore I have hope. His Spirit lives in me, and He continues to refine me.

    As Paul writes to the Thessalonians just a few verses later: “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” (1 Thes. 5:24- NLT). Amen. Lord, please make it happen… thank you for being faithful, thank you for for not giving up on me- even when I fall short in the same ways repeatedly. Help me to not quench your Spirit, help me to seek complete sanctification, and help me to glorify your name in every situation and circumstance. Holy Spirit, please ignite my life and let your fire burn in any way you please…

    My prayer: “Take heed… “

    Blogging is the last thing I should be doing right now, but I am writing to publicly share a prayer request and a humbling one at that. Last week, I read “The Reformed Pastor” for one of my classes. Hundreds of years ago, Richard Baxter‘s work exhorted pastors to “take heed to the oversight of themselves” and their flock.

    At one point, Baxter warns that there are some preachers who need to preach to themselves because they do not fully know the impact of the message that they are sharing. To know, in biblical times, meant not only head knowledge, but also a posture of the heart and a ongoing profession of understanding through actions in daily life. Baxter goes on to say that the preacher who speaks on topics that he himself has yet to wrestle with is one of “the most unhappy creatures on earth”. In the next section, Baxter reminds the preacher that the success of his ministry depends on the status of his own spiritual development and the condition of his own heart.

    Friends, here is a confession, over the last few months, I have failed to take heed to my own personal oversight. Due to a series of circumstances- illness, financial setbacks, stressful relationships, and so on and so forth- I am at a place of exhaustion. However, I know that I am not yet at a place of surrender simply because of the wording of my last sentence. Let me rephrase, due to a lack of discipline on my part through that series of circumstances, I am at a point of exhaustion.

    When talking to a friend about the last few weeks, she asked “Have you taken extra steps to make sure that you are putting on the full armor of God?” “Um, no, I have taken fewer steps to be honest”. In the midst of chaos or perhaps even before the onset of the storm, my devotional life began fading, my prayers seemed less feverent, I began wondering if my faith was too idealistic, and my life slowly pulled away from being centered in the presence of God and began being centered in circumstance.

    So here I sit, in a sketchy hotel room- feeling extremely ill again, worried about the piles of late homework I need to complete, anxious about my finances, confused about my future, and insecure in myself and my faith.  As I sit here, I consciously know this isn’t me and that I need that armor of God to fight through this strange season of life. My prayer is that over the next few days, He will recenter me and refresh me and retrain me to be disciplined and armored.

    I ask for prayer because I believe that God has given me a message, and it’s one worth sharing, but first I need to wrestle with it myself.  I need to learn it and to know it and to live it. And, I am unhappy right now because there is a beautiful revelation placed on my heart, but my heart, being the deceitful thing it is,  is waging war with the word of God working in my life. More specifically, when I say message, I am making a reference to two things at the moment. The first is very specifically a message for the present (literally one that preparing to speak as well as one my life should be exhibiting). Secondly, I am referring in a very vague sense to some of the things that God has revealed about my purpose and my future in ministry.

    During his sermon this weekend, Pastor Mark Batterson said that “you may be the only Bible people ever read”. I may be the only expression of this message that people ever see, and friends, I honestly am not living my life in such a way that it could be read from merely observing me. My prayer is that God does a renovation of my heart this week, so that my labor for his Kingdom is fruitful and so that His word and His name are glorified in my life.

    The first step in working through an issue is recognizing the disparity between what should be and what is. Here is that humble recognition, I feel like there is more to be said- but for now I need to spend some time with God and some time completing my group assignment that is due tomorrow (in that order because I’m reminded that priorities matter).  I have a feeling this is to be continued.. 

    Bye Old Friend

    I’m slightly hesitant to admit this, but I just cried saying goodbye to my car. Tomorrow morning a couple is coming to haul it away for parts/scrap. My beloved ’98 Hyundai Accent, affectionately known as  Mighty  has run out of steam. Or mechanically speaking, his engine is blowing out and has began leaking oil into the radiator. I always joked that I love that car like it is my child, and tonight I find myself mourning its departure.

    As I wiped tears away while sitting behind the steering wheel one last time, I realized how inaccurate that statement was. I do not love that car. The car, though it has a name, is only an object. I can love it, but only as much as one can love a material thing. What I am mourning is not the loss of a hunk of metal on wheels. I am mourning the departure of an object symbolic of God’s provision, of a dozen or so major life lessons, of hours of prayer on road trips, of long conversations with great friends, of every opportunity I had to bless someone by picking up something or offering a ride…. the car is just a symbol. And the things it reminds me of are not really going anywhere. Or at least they don’t have to.

    From the dreams I had encouraging me to buy the car onward, God has been using that tiny thing as an object lesson in my life. I purchased the car hoping it would be a blessing to others, and it has, but it has also blessed me more than I could have ever imagined.  And, I know that there are more blessings ahead- both in my life and through my life.

    Mighty has seen better days.

    As I am in a season of life where I find myself questioning lots of things as I ponder my next steps, I feel like once again this car is symbolic object lesson. As I am trying to figure out how to transition and what to transition to, I find myself saying goodbye to an old source of comfort and security. And, I realize that just as I am dreading saying goodbye to the old, that nothing really changes because God is constant- which means that the new has lots to teach me and many memories to create…  and a new car has already been provided.

    So, goodbye Mighty.  Thanks for playing a role in teaching me about prophecy, spiritual warfare, and community. Thanks for all the laughs and for all the humility. Thanks for all the roadtrips and all the memories. May you be recycled well. You will not be forgot.

    My two cars: old and new.

    Hello unnamed  98 Mustang that I acquired this week. Please do not break in any way shape or form in the near future because I hope to invite many people to travel in you. Thanks for being a powerful little beast, and for having a better stereo than my last car. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for you, especially since I hate Mustang drivers and you were the cheapest, best, and least driven car that I could find. I look forward to getting to know you and to learning how to use you efficiently.

    Finally, thanks Father God for always finding ways to teach me and to care for me. My amusing little attachment to my vehicle reminds me of how evident you are in my life. I trust that you will continue to provide, and I thank you for the opportunity to take a step of faith by purchasing a new vehicle. Please protect my heart from treating material possessions and memories as idols, and continue to remind me that you bless me so that I can in turn be a blessing to others. Please protect me when I am behind the wheel, and help me to surrender the driver’s seat in my own life. In this period of transition, I invite you to take control and to teach me and to use me once again. I thank you for the Mustang and for your sense of humor… as I offer this new vehicle to you, for your service… I, once again, offer myself to you, for your service as well.