The Cross over Empire

To say I have “studied” the book of Revelation would be a gross over-statement. Rather, I can say I have spent the last four classes of this semester looking at the themes and talking about how first century people would have understood the letter and apocalyptic style of writing of the day. It has been eye-opening, to say the least, and I think for the first time I see the larger message of hope and encouragement in Revelation the way it might have been heard by its original readers.

I am struck most of all by the continuous call to endure, to overcome, to be victorious. In chapter 2, verses 17-18 it even says “To the one who is victorious, I will give… a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Seeing a decorative box of white stones at a friend’s house recently, it brought to mind some of the things I had been thinking about alongside of reading Revelation.

If you google “white stones in Revelation” you can find a plethora of articles explaining theories of what this white stone symbolizes. Two things seems to be the most widely accepted: One, referencing the black and white stones given in ancient Greek voting, where a white stone would acquit the accused and a black stone would render a guilty verdict. The other references the practice in ancient Roman games where the victorious one in a race would receive a white stone with their name on it, which entitled them entry to a banquet. Either way, the symbols were ones that first century readers would easily understand:

Hang on, you’ll get through this. You may be tried and found guilty in the world you live in now. You may be told you’re not doing what’s expected by society, or you may be limited because you don’t participate in the things of the empire. But your race is different, your “prize” is yet to come.

I know as we look at our world today – every one of us probably has different thoughts and feelings about what is going on. Not just here in the U.S. but elsewhere as well. If you’re more conservative, your perspective might be to wonder “what have we become??” when you read the headlines, or read the stuff fed to you by social media. If you’re more progressive/moderate/liberal, you might be wondering “why don’t people get with the program??”. Let’s just be honest. It’s hard to find neutral media now. Everyone has their “angle”. Everyone has an opinion.

The reality is – you are not the only generation (whether you’re Gen-X, Millenial, or Gen Z) who has had issues with their country in their day and age. Welcome to the club.

For those who walk with faith in God, no matter what discussions are being had in the halls of politics or school boards (and I know there are some heated debates going on in both) – we would be wise to heed a larger message of revelation: its probably going to get worse (however you want to define that). Who can endure?

Revelation provides the answer to that question as well: Those that know this world is not the only thing. Those that trust that something cosmic and supernatural has already said evil’s going to have it’s day in court. Not in an escapist sort of way, but in the big picture sort of way that can keep you from getting all tangled up in the myriad of issues that are out there today.

To me, the call scripture makes across all of its pages is this: We are to be wise, and we are to let our faith inform how we think about the nation and world we live in. I just hope we can all take a deep look at WHY we differ in what we think. I know I have certainly had to do that in my own marriage. I have had to ask questions like “how did you come to that understanding? What informed your thinking in that area?” — and then LISTEN.

Are we willing to admit that deep study of scripture and deep thinking of how we take care of neighbor can lead people who love God very much to different end solutions? I certainly have had to take a hard look at my own assumptions and why I think what I think. It’s not easy work. But it’s necessary.

I know there is great concern about a lot of things right now. I just hate that the church in America is so dang divided in this season. And why are we airing all this on social media, where it can get ugly and cause great hurt? That’s not exactly a good witness now, is it? When did we get so defensive about “our opinions” – as if we know exactly the ONLY ONE WAY to do things?

Sometimes I just want to put my fingers in my ears and close my eyes and go “lalalalala I can’t hear you” (like a little kid) – and ignore it all. But I no longer thing that is the responsible thing to do, so I’m trying to learn about both sides of everything.

In my searching to understand what some of the race, BLM and CRT discussion is about, I really appreciate what Tony Evans said in a teaching to his own congregation (paraphrased here, full link at the bottom of my post): We are to be about kingdom reconciliation theology. I know you used to have things against each other. I know you used to not get along, I know you have a history with each other, I know you used to think of (insert people group here) as “other”. But Paul – and Jesus – said that shouldn’t matter any more. In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, male or female. Bottom line: The things that separated us in culture cannot and should not separate us any more in the family of God.

I know those of you with younger kids are in the hardest place, trying to protect them from what you think is wrong and expose them, in your time, to what you want them to learn how to navigate. There is stuff that is maybe too heavy for them to handle right now.

Me, however – I get to watch my kids navigate all of this right now as young adults. It’s interesting to hear how they think about things we taught them, and what they are doing with what we taught them about the grace and inviting love of God….. knowing the over-arching verse in our family growing up was Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you? Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”.

As believers, I think we have to be careful how much we let what is going on influence our fear and anxiety about how things are shaking out. It doesn’t mean you have to like it (or you may be very glad about the way things are going, or you may be ok with some things, and not with other things). Living out the life of the kingdom goes on regardless of what is going on in society. That is EXACTLy what Jesus talked about when he spoke about being like salt and light. Salt adds flavor and preserves, no matter what it is added to. Salt heals wounds.

Being salt is more than just saying “but the bible says”. It’s actually applying the healing balm of knowing Jesus, being love and mercy incarnate to the wounds of those around us – and that can look a million different ways. It’s loving by action, by including, and it can and should happen regardless of opinions of issues, political party, or doctrinal differences.

That is what I think John is trying to get across in the Book of Revelation: The cross and its mercy and love has triumphed over empire, over everything that any country or government or society could throw at the people who put their trust in God.

In every generation there were traces of where government got mixed up with religion and it went very, very sideways. Yet in spite of that, there were always pockets of people who, led by the very Spirit of love and mercy, still remembered what it was like to be humble, love their neighbor, care for the poor and raise up the oppressed. They are the ones that you can only find by looking for them, they are generally not the larger narrative written about in the pages of history – but they were there – enduring, trusting, and being the embodied Christ in their time.

I’m learning to let down my defenses and let God do things His way, even if it doesn’t look like I thought it would. I think the worship song “Make Room” by Community Church says it best:

“Shake up the ground of all my tradition
Break down the walls of all my religion
Your way is better… Your way is better…
and I will make room for you…..”

Whether we agree or not, I hope this has given you some things to think about. Keep on going. There is more life to seek, more things to understand. Our God, the author of Life and Love, is bigger than we know.

Blessing my friends!

Teaching from Tony Evans I mention above is here:

By Tama Nguyen

I'm an avid reader, tea drinker, and outdoor adventure seeker. I am convinced that God is still out to fix this broken world, and He uses us to do it. Chasing after things that matter...

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