Facing the Reality of Evil

“Then the dragon became furious with the woman
and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring,
on those who keep the commandments of God
and hold to the testimony of Jesus”
(Revelation 12:17)

October 1, 2015 brought us another school shooting; this time, at a community college in Oregon.  The shooter in this horrific tragedy reportedly asked his victims if they were Christian, and shot those who answered “Yes.” In all, 9 were killed, and 9 others wounded.

Setting aside all the political debate that has arisen from this, what we can say for certain is this: we are witnessing evil in this world, and our hearts are crying out for an answer. Politicians will debate this to try to find the best policy (either to fix the problem or get them re-elected); that’s what politicians do.  As I wrote in my previous post, it is the role of the pastor to stand in the middle of such senselessness and point to the end of the story, and the One who has written it.

I’m currently in the middle of reading a rather long commentary on Revelation. I realize that doesn’t sound like the most exciting reading. In the light of recent events, however, Revelation and the commentary speak powerfully to our lives today.  Consider this:

The victory won through Christ’s blood must be the basis, not only for the saints’ earthly victory, but also for Michael’s triumph in heaven. V 11 summarizes the purpose of the whole chapter and especially of vv 7-12. The single intent… is to assure those who meet satanic evil on earth that it is really a defeated power, however contrary it might seem to human experience. Christians can be assured that the serpent begins to battle against their bodies only after he has lost the battle over their souls. This expresses one of the major themes of the book: the suffering of Christians is a sign, not of Satan’s victory, but of the saints’ victory over Satan because of their belief in the triumph of the cross, with which their suffering identifies them.

If the devil’s accusations had been effective with God, then all of God’s people would have been cast from his presence and would have begun to experience the anguish of the final judgment, which would be consummated at the Last Day. Instead, the devil was cast out from heaven, because his charges had become groundless. The saints’ status in heaven has been legitimized finally by Christ’s suffering on the cross. All believers, past, present, and future, have overcome the devil because of the blood of the Lamb.

How have they overcome the devil? Through Christ’s death they have been declared not guilty of the accusations launched against them. Therefore they are exempt from the ultimate punishment. Satan’s accusations are unable to unleash the infliction of the “second death.”

Beale, G.K., The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation. (Eerdmans Pub Co, Grand Rapids MI, 1999) Pg663-4.

What you’ll hear from the politician is this shooting is evidence that we need better gun-control, better health-care, better control of such “toxic-masculinity” (whatever that is).  What we need, they’ll tell you, is for the government to fix this; we need a stronger, more powerful, state.

The reality is, Satan has been cast down, and he is raging against the church until he is finally conquered by Christ (Revelation 12). As the old hymn goes:

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure…

This is the reality of the evil we face today, but is also the reality of our conquering King Jesus the Christ.  This evil will continue to rage against His rule until the very end, and our only hope in the face of such evil is found in Christ our King, the one who died and is alive forevermore.  You won’t hear that from your politicians.

Ministry in the Middle

It’s been a few months since I’ve written anything for the blog (three, to be precise). It was not my intention to stop writing, I just got a little preoccupied and never felt particularly inspired to write. I’m sorry for those who were looking forward to the posts, and I hope I haven’t driven you away through my absence.

One of the reasons I was feeling uninspired was that I wasn’t reading as much as usual during the summer. Usually I’ve got about four or five books that I’m reading at once. I don’t say that to boast. It’s just that in the process of sermon prep, study groups, and personal development, there’s always a handful of books that need read at once.

As I was saying, I slowed in my reading over the summer. We were trying to get settled in a new home, church, and community – and there were some shows on Netflix that I just had to watch. Thus, the reading suffered, and the inspiration to write suffered, too.

Well… good news! I’m back into the full swing of reading again, and – bing! – feel like I’ve got something to say.

(How’s that for clearing the throat?)

I had the opportunity to take my older children to the Life Light Concert this year – a free, open air, three day concert with some of the leading Contemporary Christian Artists. Sunday night’s headliner was Matthew West, whose music I’ve enjoyed for quite some time.  Wests’ concert was great, his music inspiring, and the message was uplifting.

What got stuck under my skin, however, was the artist who came on before West. I’ll not share his name here, I don’t want this to become a personality thing, but in between his songs, this guy liked to “preach.” Now, I’ve got no problem with an artist sharing his testimony. I’d never discourage someone from sharing how the grace of God in Jesus Christ has saved them and transformed them.

What frustrated me was that in his “preaching” he would harshly criticize the church. He had been talking to Christians from all over the world – Christians who told of the blind gaining sight and the lame walking. “What are we doing wrong, Church?” he would ask. “How many people have you healed?” And having shamed the Church for its complacency, he would then start another song, and suggest we buy his album.

To top it all off, he called this concert “worship.” Now I get that worship can come in varying styles and formats – but I believe it should have some essential qualities: Prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, the reading and teaching of Scripture, and a call to discipleship and commitment.  Simply singing (to use the broadest sense of that word for this particular artist) and rambling about the state of the church is not worship.

The crowd might have been worshiping.  Tens of thousands of people screaming and cheering for the artists – that might actually be worship.  False worship, but worship, none-the-less.

Neither should the concert tour be considered ministry.  When you step off the stage and onto the tour bus, never interacting with those to whom you preached – such is not ministry.  It is “strafe-bombing” an unwitting audience with faulty exegesis and half-truths.  Jesus pronounced woe upon the Pharisees and teachers for such things, “For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15).

I just started reading through Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson’s meditation on the book of Revelation.  In it, Peterson describes John as a prophet, a poet, and a pastor, and in reading of his vision in Revelation, we should listen as we would to a prophet, a poet, and a pastor.

Strikingly, Peterson describes the role of the pastor saying, “The pastor is the person who specializes in accompanying persons of faith “in the middle,” facing the ugly details, the meaningless routines, the mocking wickedness, and all the time doggedly insisting that this unaccountably unlovely middle is connected to a splendid beginning and glorious end” (Peterson, pg 8).

A pastor is one who reads the Bible, mindful of the glory of God, the goodness of the gospel, and the pressing needs of his congregation. He celebrates the births and the weddings and the graduations. He weeps with the widow, the grieving father, the soul lost in sin.  He knows the fragrance of joy, the stench of despair. The pastor stands in the middle, pointing not to himself, but to the only One who can make anything good come from all the “stuff” we face. He comes with the message of the “Alpha and the Omega, the One who is, who was, and who is to come” (Rev 1:8).

Pastoral ministry is messy. It is often the ministry of interruptions. It is painful, and it is wearying. And the crowds are smaller, quieter, and the lighting isn’t as good.  But Pastoral ministry, ministry in the middle of God’s people, is glorious. There’s no place I’d rather be!