The Grand Sweep

As a church we are reading through the entire Bible in 2018 using "The Grand Sweep" by J. Ellsworth Kalas as our daily reading guide.  ("The Grand Sweep" can be purchased from online bookstores.)  In addition, CUMC staff will be posting thoughts regarding some of the day's readings.  See below for the last five posts.  Follow CUMC on Facebook to access older posts or see new ones immediately as they are posted.

Scripture Reading: Rev. 14-17

These chapters in Revelation are all about judgment of sin and lawlessness, and the victory of the Lamb of God (Jesus) over the evil in creation. More victory will follow in the last chapters, but this section begins to really paint a picture of just how complete and awesome the victory of Jesus will be for those who love Him and look forward to His appearing.

We see Him first standing on Mt. Zion, a real mountain in Jerusalem today, with the 144K. These are Jews, taken from the 12 tribes, and are men of impeccable purity, dedication and devotion to Jesus and His call on their lives. We see angels flying in midair, doing something they have never been permitted to do since the beginning of time- proclaim the gospel- as one cries out, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”(14:7). Even at the very end, the hope of salvation is still offered to any who would receive the Lord and worship Him alone! What a merciful God we serve!

And yet, wrath must come. Justice must be served on sin, evil and the source of it all- the devil and those who serve him. Armageddon is pictured (fully in 19:17-19) as scene of great destruction, death and bloodshed for the enemies of God....a sure encouragement to choose who will be the victor in the end! And yet, many will not, so the last set of judgments must come, known as the bowls of wrath.

Seven judgments, all terrible and destructive, come upon the earth and those who refuse to repent and choose to follow the devil. People are afflicted, sea life is destroyed, potable water is affected, the sun's temperature increases and scorches the earth, and then darkness, war and earthquakes culminate the judgments upon the earth.  

Babylon, long a symbol of evil and rebellion against God, is pictured in chapter 17 as a woman prostitute, guilty not only of idolatry, sin and rebellion against God, but also of killing those who serve much so, that she is literally "drunk" on their blood. She is a picture of the great city (17:18) that rules over the kings of the earth- a symbol, most likely, of the concentration of sinful man's power in the last days that many call today the "One World Government".  

In any case, Jesus will as the Lamb of God "overcome them because He is King of King and Lord of Lords- and with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers" (17:14). All this will culminate in the great battle of Armageddon, to be fought in the Valley of Megiddo in Israel, seen in its finality in our reading tomorrow.

We can take courage and hope that Jesus will overcome and reign one day without evil or death. We must also be on our guard against the evil of this world for all those who bear its mark will have to worship the beast, the false prophet and the evil structures of those last days.  

May the Lord preserve us and keep us, and lead us to everlasting life as those days coming are nearer than they were yesterday. Come Lord, Jesus- maranatha!

Scripture Reading: Revelation 1-3

Here we are, CUMC the end of a year long journey, in the last book of Bible... REVELATION! I hope many of you are proud of yourselves that you have kept reading all this year...what an amazing time in God's Word to grow and get to know Him better as our loving Father, as our Savior in Christ, and as our power and comforter through His Holy Spirit.

This book is a mysterious one, no doubt about it. It opens with John, standing on the beach in prayer, exiled from his Christian friends and family on the Island of Patmos. Rome, at the time, was trying to stamp out Christianity and John was spending time, even in an incarcerated state, with the Lord "in the Spirit on the Lord's Day". That should show us that no matter what we are going through, no matter what our circumstances are like, we can always find God's comfort and presence in His Spirit. Hallelujah!

John is overcome with Christ's presence, glorified and powerful. He is told to write down all that he sees, even though He is afraid. John is told to write down not only the events and images that he sees, but also to send it in letter form to seven churches. Why these seven? Weren't there also churches in Rome, Jerusalem and other places? Yes. But the Lord had a special message for these seven churches. Some think these seven churches describe seven distinct periods in history, while others believe these seven letters were just letters to seven churches who were not unlike communities of faith today.

The church in Ephesus was a powerful one, one that worked hard and did not put up with evil and compromise. 

But they were also a church that was drifting...doing things for God to serve instead of loving Jesus through their service and worship. How often do we do the same thing, and let "religion" replace our "relationship" with Jesus?

Smyrna is a church that is being persecuted...and they receive no rebuke at all from Jesus. They are told to stand firm for 10 more days, and they will receive the crown of life. Pergamum is a faithful church, known as the city where the "throne of Zeus", a shrine to this pagan god, was located. They have been faithful, even to the point of losing a faithful brother to martyrdom named Antipas. And yet, they still need to repent, for they are falling to the temptations of sexual immorality and idolatry, and Jesus calls them to turn away from these things and to Him.

Thyatira is a church, again, that works hard, is full of love and faith, and their growth in service to others. And yet, they allow people who practice sexual immorality to be in leadership and to entice others to follow them. These leaders will be judged and removed from leadership along with all those who follow them. If you see a common thread of "holy living" being expected by Jesus of His people, you are not wrong. Jesus refuses to compromise on His sexual standards and purity, and there is no way He will allow His church to function any other way except as holy people! Sardis, the 5th church, is small and seemingly dead, but there is a remnant of people who still love Jesus and can help bring the church back to life. All is not lost! How many churches need to hear that word?!?

Philadelphia is a church that has endured amidst a terrible struggle. They are struggling with persecution from Jews who are still trying to kill Christianity and they are weak from all the fighting for their faith. And yet, Christ has help, justice and salvation for them from worse things to come.

And finally, the church at Laodicea...a church full of wealth, power and arrogance. They have all they need physically yet are "poor, pitiful, blind and naked" spiritually. Their service and actions are lukewarm...neither hot for Jesus or cold for the world and so they literally make Jesus nauseous. They will be judged unless they come to Him for mercy, healing, forgiveness and revelation.  

Some of these churches got harsher words than others, but Jesus is clear..."Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent."(3:19). He is always there to help His bride, the Church, become all she was created to be, even when we sin and fall short of His glory. May we have ears to hear, as He says, to follow His voice!

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1-2 (Monday) 3-5(Tuesday)

This book is written by Peter to persecuted Jewish Christians that have spread throughout the Roman Empire. His writing is primarily to give them encouragement during these difficult times but he also adds in practical tips for Christian living in a Pagan world. One of the things I like best about this book is all of Peter’s references to Old Testament Scriptures. If you have kept up with our Grad Sweep readings thus far, you may have noticed as you read through this short first letter of Peter how familiar it sounded.

Peter encourages his fellow believers that even though they may suffer trials in this life, they have a “living hope” and an inheritance in heaven. Because we have received such great gifts, we should be holy in our Christian living just as Christ is holy. Being holy means to be set apart, living very differently than those around you. We still struggle with this today. If a non-believer looked at your life, would they be able to tell you are a Christian? Even though the temptations of the world are constantly attacking you, we are called to live differently than those around us because of the great gifts we have received from Jesus. 

Peter goes on to encourage believers that you are being built into a royal priesthood and priests have a servant’s role and heart. Therefore, we should submit to any ruler or authority in our life because ultimately God has placed us where we are at regardless of our station. So he encourages people to submit to the government and laws of the land, slaves to submit to their masters, and wives submit to their husbands while husbands are to love their wives. People can get really caught up on these passages. I think if we look at Peter’s message as a whole, he is not trying to say any one person should dominate over another. Rather, his message is quite the opposite of humility. We should defer to one another with mutual respect, working together without quarreling to set a good example and show the world we are different and set apart. In chapter 4:8 Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love cover over a multitude of sins.” This is how we as Christians today are go about Godly living. Love deeply. Treat each other with humility and respect. Because love covers a multitude of sins.

Scripture Reading: James 1-3

IF you were just starting out in your Christian walk, and wanted to know how to live as a follower of Christ in real, practical ways, then the book of James would be for you. If you've walked with Jesus for years, and want to know how to practice your religion in a pure and undefiled way (1:27), then the book of James is where you should focus.

The book of James is one of the most practical books in the entire New Testament. As Dr. Kalas points out, half of the verses, literally, in this book are commands. Things to do! Sometimes our faith seems to be more of the head than of the hands and the heart, and James pushes us to put our faith into action.  

Nowhere does our faith need actions than in the trials and tribulations we go through in this world. So often, we are tempted to think that God causes the problems and difficulties we experience in this life, but this is not so. He is here to help us, and to even use the hardships we endure in this life to refine our character and help us to become more like Christ Himself. God doesn't waste even the smallest amount of our pain, and He calls us to ask for wisdom with faith and believing, so that we will not be led astray by the hardships we go through.

James also reminds us that we all have a difficult time with making our faith become action. We so often are good at being listeners, but terrible at being doers. Putting what we understand of God's truth into action is the best choice we can make, because caring for others who are in great need and refusing to participate in the sins of this world is a faith God accepts and blesses with His presence and grace.

James reveals great hope and blessing even in poverty, and deceptiveness and warning for those who are wealthy. Wealth has the tendency to pull us away from God, and even those without wealth often want to favor those who are more prosperous. James calls us to see this from Christ's perspective, who saw neither physical riches or poverty but always addressed the person's spiritual condition and whether riches were hindering someone from walking in faith. Favoritism is not of God and is evil in is intent because it assumes a wrong spiritual judgment based on a person's wealth and possessions.

Our faith is proven by our deeds, James tells us(2:14-26). Have we ever known someone who was theologically and biblically knowledgeable, but all that knowledge had no real connection to how they lived their life? Maybe that describes us? In any case, James tells us that our actions literally prove our faith is real, much as it did in the lives of Abraham, Rahab and others. Without actions, our faith is just an idea, and ideas don't have life until they become actions. 

Finally James reminds us, practically, that our mouths are the most wonderful and at the same time, most dangerous part of us. Our mouths are capable of so much blessing, but also of so much evil and hurt towards others. God in His power can deliver us, James alludes, and help us to keep our mouths in check, which will in turn keep our whole body in line with God's will and favor. It is hard to accept how much power our mouths have to bring blessing or curses into our lives, but James is true. So much of the direction of our lives is determined by what we say to others and how we respond to what is said to us.  

Lord Jesus, in all my steps with You, help me to see the troubles of my life as an opportunity to let You do something beautiful in me. Help me to not only hear truth, but live truth in all my actions. Help me to see others with Your eyes, and not through the world's standard of riches. And most of all, guard my mouth, and may my words always point others to my hope in You and my love for You. In Your Name I pray...AMEN.

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 10-11; Proverbs 18

What does “faith” mean to you?

How often have you heard these statements:
1. “I have faith in you”
2. “My faith is wavering”
3. “The weather is bad, but I have faith my car will get me there.”

From a secular perspective you might think this “faith stuff” is powerful and something very desirable.
And you are right!!! Just look at the 3 statements above and what “faith” infers….
#1 – Confidence, encouragement
#2 – Uncertainty and failure when it is missing
#3 – Strength, assurance and safety

But faith in God encompasses all of this and much more!
The Amplified Bible really breaks it down in Hebrews 11:1…
“Now faith is the assurance …” - it’s like holding the title deed – even to the point of confirmation;
“… (assurance) of things hoped for…” – these things are divinely guaranteed;
“…and the evidence of things not seen” - the conviction of their reality.

Faith comprehends as fact that which cannot be experienced by the physical senses. 

Faith – desired, needed, required.