Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Tale of Two Scrolls

The Book of Revelation talks about two scrolls. One is sealed and no one is initially found worthy to open it until finally Jesus is deemed worthy to open this important document. It is closed by seven seals, and as each seal is opened the long-foretold events of prophecy will be realized in our world. The first four seals are often referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which I understand as: the peaceful victory of the Antichrist in establishing a global government, followed by war, famine and death. The fifth seal is a global massacre of the saints that continues “just a little while longer” until the remainder are martyred, followed quickly by the earthquake I believe will occur in the middle of the seven year tribulation period that marks the Rapture, the end of man’s rebellion and the beginning of God’s wrath upon the rebellious. The seventh seal is then broken as the Lamb has now reclaimed the earth for God and His people, and there is a great and solemn moment in heaven, which is completely silent for a half hour. Shouldn’t there be exultation rather than this great solemnity? 

But hold that thought for a little bit while I talk about a second scroll in Revelation. It’s small and open for anyone to read, yet the contents are a bit of mystery to the reader. The scroll is announced loudly and echoed by seven thunders, yet when John starts to write down what has been said, he’s told not to write it down. The mystery is meant for the last days, when the angel is ready to blow the seventh trumpet. So John is told to eat the scroll, warned that it will taste sweet in his mouth yet will be bitter in his stomach. What could taste so good and yet leave him feeling so unsettled? 

In our brokenness, I’m sure there are many things that might be like this scroll, things such as revenge or justice dealt to our antagonists. It feels good at first, but would it feel as good if we knew the full story? Stephen, the first Christian martyr, set an uncommon example as his tormentors were stoning him, crying out: “Forgive them! They don’t know what they do!” And wasn’t he just imitating Jesus’ words on the cross as He slowly died: “Father forgive them! They don’t know what they do!”.

So what is the significance of the silence when the final seal is broken? And what is this small scroll that is open for anyone to read until it melts like honey in John’s mouth? I believe the silence and the bitterness of John’s stomach are related. Once that seventh seal is broken, no one else will enter heaven. We think of Christ’s return as our long-awaited victory, and it is certainly all that and more! But heaven has patiently waited millennia to pull in the harvest. It has tolerated the sowing of weeds next to the wheat, harvesting carefully so that nothing would be lost. While I’m grateful for this, I’m not nearly grateful enough… without God’s gracious patience I would be lost!

But what about this small scroll, the one that open for anyone to read, carried by a loud angel whose words are resounded by seven thunders? It’s obviously no secret yet the words spoken about the small scroll are stricken from John’s record. Could it be the list of people who still could have been saved? If so, I’m grateful that the list is small! I’ve no doubt the list is filled with all sorts of reprehensible people, perhaps even some of our past, present or future tormentors, people so reprehensible that heaven would be better without them, right?

Some of the most beautiful believers I’ve met were once totally depraved. Hearing the stories of how God redeemed their lives always fills me with such awe in God as well as a surprising compassion for person for all the events that led to their original depravity. As the saying goes: there but for the grace of God go I. Can you imagine what it would be like to see your worst tormentor die without being redeemed by Christ’s love? I bet it might taste pretty sweet at first, but in the light of eternity how will we feel. When we understand fully how our enemies are a product of how they were wounded, I believe it will leave a bitterness in our stomach and a regret for how we may have contributed to that wounding. Or maybe we’ll feel the shame for how we withheld our hand from helping them out of fear of being bit. 

No man knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return, but the time is short, shorter than it’s ever been. We can see the signs that Jesus gave us, that his disciples and the prophets have given us, so how shall we respond? Will we act the part of His Ambassadors to this world or pretend to be residents of this foreign kingdom? Will we continue to be willing to witness in love to the people who ridicule us, torture us, and someday martyr us like Stephen, or will we shirk away in fear and weakness? 

When Stephen died, there was a man standing in approval of his stoning. A rising star among the religious authorities of his day, this young man actively sought to destroy the early Christians, but his life was turned completely around as he met the risen Jesus on the road to Tarsus. We don’t know how Stephen’s testimony affected Saul as he meditated for 3 days in blindness, but I look forward to hearing Paul’s story from him directly one day. Likewise, we don’t know what seeds are sown through our faithful suffering, but we will one day! 

I don’t claim to have God’s heart or to see things as He sees them, but I desire to see as He sees and to feel as He feels so that every dark cloud I pass through fades and every giant shrinks. No one looks forward to suffering, at least no one who has a healthy mindset. Yet we all enjoy the victory received when we push through momentary hardships! 
Lord make us faithful in times of trial and triumph, praising You for every victory in the past, present, and future!
copyright ©2019 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Loving without Agenda

One of my mentors in the workplace used to open certain meetings with the phrase: “Everyone has an agenda. Let’s not have any hidden agendas here.” He would then find out what people were hoping to get out an initiative, why they were participating in the meeting, and how we could possibly all work together toward a common end. I believe this is a great way to get people working together, and while I imitate my former mentor in helping others to collaborate, this is not the way we should love others. Our love should reflect God’s love and be without selfish agenda. Now it’s true that everyone has an agenda, and it’s good to strive toward worthy goals, but when it comes to loving others our agenda is simply to love. 

But what is love? In English, we only have one word for love. We use it to describe how we feel about our spouse, parents, children, pets, toys, food, activities, etc. In many cases, we use the word love to describe what we lust after. Lust is the desire to get something; it feeds a desire. It isn’t necessarily sexual. Lust continues to want with an ever increasing, never fulfilled appetite. Love is different, though. It’s a decision to give. Love is truly divine.
Agape - The Divine Love of God
Unlike English, the Greek language of the New Testament had more descriptive words for love. When Jesus asked Peter 3 times if Peter loved him, Peter always responded with a lesser form of love than what Jesus used. He loved Jesus as brothers love each other. The brotherly love that Peter had is a powerful love. It’s a bond that is far reaching, but it was still a lesser form of love than the word Jesus used. Jesus used the word “Agape”. The first two times that Jesus asked about Peter’s love, Jesus used the word Agape. “Peter, do you agape me?”. Peter essentially answered with: “Lord, You know I love you like a brother!”  Each time, Jesus responded to Peter’s reply with a command: “Feed My sheep.” The third time Jesus came  down to Peter’s level, using the word for brotherly love that Peter used. The subsequent command was the same: “Feed My sheep.” So why do you think Peter avoided responding with Agape?

Agape is so much more than the brotherly love that Peter was able to commit to. It is a love so pure, formed of a decision to do what is in the best interest of others, regardless of whether the beloved wants it or if the lover feels like doing it. It is self-sacrificial, putting the needs of others before oneself. It is the love of God, demonstrated by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the Father sacrificing His only Son out of a decision to love people undeserving of His love: us, even when we didn’t want or deserve His love. There was no selfishness in the decision to love. If no one responded to His act of love, He would have done it anyway. Philosophers and skeptics may argue over how God’s foreknowledge of the outcome was guided by a selfish agenda for companionship, but they’re wrong. Jesus didn’t know the outcome, and while He was fully God, He was also fully human, complete with our limitations. He simply trusted in the Father for the outcome. It wasn’t without suffering and it wasn’t effortless. Remember His emotional struggle in the garden before He was handed over for His tribulation. He still trusted in the Father for a favorable outcome, knowing only the sacrifice He would make. He knew that He was called to make the ultimate sacrifice: no greater love has any man than to lay down his life for a friend. (John 15:13)

As followers of Christ who are called to represent His Kingdom, we are called to Agape love. If we suffer for doing what God approves of, then like Jesus, we trust it’s going to result in our heavenly reward. He taught us that principle in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12). We don’t love others so that they will respond with Church attendance, cleaned up lives, a sinner’s prayer, or evangelistic contribution. We love others without any agenda, just as Jesus does today. If you are an Evangelical and the last two sentences bother you, please keep reading! 
Is there an agenda to making disciples? 
Ultimately, we were created with a pure, selfless agenda: to love and be loved. Each of us longs to be known, fully known, and loved despite our many flaws. While we can reflect God’s divine agape to some degree, only God can love with full, intense and eternal knowledge, extending from before our birth into the infinite beyond. Yet somehow as we bathe in His purest love, we are transformed to reflect His agape more fully, to love as He loves because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Now here’s the tricky part: we are called to love without agenda, and yet we are commissioned to make disciples. (Matt 28:19) Is there an agenda to making disciples? At first glance, these appear to be mutually exclusive, right? But consider this: can our agenda for others’ sake be driven by love and obedience without treating each person as a project? Can we create plans to facilitate discipleship without any expectation of any individual’s response? In other words, make plans that give us opportunity to disciple without any expectation for how any given person will respond to that opportunity, choosing to love people because they were made in God’s image, made to be loved? 

Maybe Peter had an inkling of what Jesus was really asking, and like you or I he inwardly fought the idea of loving like God, knowing that it meant dying to oneself. We look at saintly examples of God’s agape and place them on a pedestal without daring to think we are also called imitate Christ’s love. We say: “I’m no Mother Theresa…” knowing that we are called to love like she did, but fighting the call because of our selfishness. The reality is that God’s love (Agape) does what is in the other’s best interest, and that is the food for Jesus’ sheep. It’s served with solid Biblical teaching that explains this divine mystery of purest love. 

Love is the only agenda in a relationship regardless of our commission to develop others. I don’t reflect that highest love as I should, but spending time with Him on an intentional daily basis, I can see His love grow in me. With intentionality, we walk a task-oriented path where our agenda to be available for mentoring others is congruent with our love for each person regardless of their response. Church with any relational agenda other than loving has decimated Christianity in America. It does not represent Christ or His teaching well, even if it was done with great intentions. Rather, when we introduce others to Jesus, it’s out of excitement for my friends to know each other, knowing that they will be enriched by their relationship with Jesus just as I have been. We are ambassadors of His grace (2 Corinthians 5:20), representing Him as best we can through our on-going relationship with Him. We are Children of God (CoG), a CoG in the framework He builds daily, unique to the time and place where God has positioned us. We are a babe in His arms, a CoG in His plan, and yet a representative of His agape love. 
Lord, help us each to join You in the work You are doing today,
loving everyone we meet as a representative of Your Kingdom.
copyright ©2019 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Friday, August 16, 2019

We Be Fools

When I went to college, I had never heard the term “frenemy”, but it definitely described people in a group I joined as a Freshman. It wasn’t exactly a fraternity, but it was a co-ed club where first year members went through a hazing period. After the first year, I had no desire to treat others the way I had been treated, and not having close ties to my acquaintances in that group, I found other interests and mostly kept a distance during my second and third year. A young man joined the group my second year (we’ll call him “Guy”), and I would often hear about his flaws whenever I attended the club events. From what little I knew about him, the criticism seemed legitimate, and so I mentally grouped him with the everyone else, keeping a healthy distance and judgmental attitude. As I entered my senior year, the leadership over that group asked for my help. The hazing had become abusive, with several of my Freshmen peers being the greatest perpetrators. The abuse had become so severe, the leadership were thinking of disbanding the group, and I became more active to try and salvage the reason why the group was formed. Guy was also asked to help, and in a few short weeks I discovered that Guy was actually a really good guy! We became friends and remain so today. 

I also discovered that he had kept his distance from me for the same reason I’d kept my distance. Our mutual acquaintances were very adept at pointing out our flaws and expounding upon negative perceptions. The truth is that everyone except God has flaws. We can focus on the chinks in their armor and start to despise them, vilify them and consequently ridicule them. Every strength can become a weakness, so it’s easy to exaggerate characteristics, pronounce judgements and repeatedly hammer away until others start to echo destructive words. Words when repeated enough start to form as “fact” in the mind of the listener, who subconsciously looks for ways to support their perception. We see it in corporate power-struggles and electoral politics. We saw it in the antisemitism of Pre-World War 2 Germany, and we see it in the depiction of Bible-believing Christians today. 

I don’t believe anyone would be surprised to know we have stark political division in America, and I hear that the political divide is equally pronounced in many other countries. I believe we’re being played as fools, creating an ever widening chasm between people who could otherwise come together and accomplish great things. E Pluribus Unum is the Latin motto for our country. It means that we have come from many and become one, but modern America is splintering, going in the opposite direction. 

I value truth, and it is truly reprehensible to me whenever I hear a lie. But there are others who can’t understand where I’m coming from. Remember Pontius Pilot when Jesus used the word “truth”? He responded with “What is truth?”. For some people, the concept of truth is irrelevant. They are all about agenda. Now everyone has agendas, and the pursuit of a worthy goal is a good thing. But agenda without truth leads away from the greater good; it is wickedness. It is in opposition to what is true and right. It is like the difference between righteousness and self-righteousness, one based in goodness and truth, the other founded on selfishness. Alliances are made to drive agendas, strengthen power, and edge out anyone that is seen as a threat who isn’t onboard. 

Their walk does not match their talk. They decry others in power to grow and solidify their own position. We have seen it in every Communist Revolution: mobilize the proletariat against the bourgeoise, take from the privileged class and redistribute the wealth… ultimately delivering that wealth into the hands of the revolution leaders! They convince people that religion is the opiate of the masses and declare that God is dead! Truth is not important; it is all about agenda, where the one most successful in advancing their agenda ascends to power. 

Crony capitalism is no better, and the financial elitists are growing their power through other means, and while each directs our attention to the other as the enemy, they collectively move toward a one-world collective alliance. They are godless globalists who arrogantly believe they are mankind’s hope for survival. After all, when the world has only one government and no religion, they will eradicate the evils of war, right? 

It is the epitome of lawlessness, rebellion against God, and an arrogant pronouncement of human-deity.  It is the new tower of Babel where the real war is a power-struggle of hell on earth. Ultimately, one person will come out on top, and when that happens who will be able to oppose him? Like the blood purges of Stalin, or the dynamic destruction of Hitler’s Third Reich, people will realize too late who their real enemy is, and the tragedy of global victory will be the end of checks and balances, where historically nations have allied themselves against a great evil. 

Yes, as terrible as war is, as terrible as any violent action can be, it is sometimes the last option to oppose a greater evil. People are not basically good, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even if you do not believe in God and what the Bible says, you should be able to see where we are heading. The advances in weaponry, informatics, and communications are leading toward a global empire, complete with a global emperor. 

This can be truly scary for those of us not in the position to secure a power base fast enough. After all, in a world with limited resources that are rapidly being depleted by a planet with too many people, the upper echelons of humanity will find a way to reduce the overall population, right? I imagine the ones that are taken out first will either be the least talented or the most talented, who pose the greatest threat to those in power. 

Yes, it would be truly scary if we didn’t already know how this story ends: God wins! However it ultimately plays out, Yahweh told us about the growth of lawlessness, where everyone does that is right in their own eyes. He told us that one man would rise to power and stand in opposition to God and His ways. He told us that Jesus would return for His Bride, the Church. He told us that in this world we would have troubles but to take heart because He has overcome the world! 

Yes, God wins. His Kingdom prevails, and He even gave us a clear sign: Israel became a nation again after a couple thousand years. The Jewish people, God’s Chosen People, retained a common culture despite the long years of exile, and once again Israel became a nation so that the remaining prophecies of Scripture will materialize. The temple is about to be rebuilt, and the Man of Lawlessness, the Antichrist, the one world leader prophesied in Scripture will do that abominable act in the temple. This is what Scripture refers to as the Abomination of Desolation.

I believe a likely scenario is that he will declare the deity of man. More likely it will be a self-professed deity, and possibly through the advancements in AI and cybernetics, he may announce the evolution and synthesis of man with his technological creation to not just build a tower of Babel, but to become the very essence of that tower. 

Yes, we be fools, the fools who have helped build this new tower through our complicit bickering and failure to learn and believe the truth of Scripture, accepting false gospels of prosperity, altruism and social justice. We be fools who refused to be the blessed peace-makers and accepted agenda-driven identity politics.

But let me give you one more sign that Christ’s return is near as prophesied in Scripture: the very ridicule this blog post will receive, because we know that scoffers will mock any mention of Christ’s return. No, I’m not declaring a day or an hour, but I can tell by signs in the atmosphere when it is about to rain, and I can see that so much is lining up for what He told us would happen thousands of years ago. I can’t tell you when the first raindrops will hit, and I haven’t heard thunder yet, but storm clouds appear to be approaching. With God’s help, I will weather the storm. Will you?

copyright ©2019 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)