A Deep Longing

Romans 1:8-17 (NLT)

Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.

One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

From personal experience, I would say that until you have really studied Paul’s letters, it’s easy to stereotype him as cold and disconnected, a logical and doctrinaire man. He did, after all, spend a lot of time defining the nature of sin and exhorting holiness.

There was a burning passion in the man, however, an inner fire driving his lifetime of ministry. We might say he had a mission. Not coincidentally, it is our same mission today. Oh, for us to exhibit the same fire, the same longing!

Paul initially said he longed to visit the Roman Christians, a longing indicative of a greater desire. They constituted a church he had never seen gathered in one place. During his travels, he likely had crossed paths with some of its members, but he wanted the full experience of being with them.

He was specific regarding why he wanted to be among them. First, he said, he believed he could help them grow in their faith. They knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but Paul believed he could contribute in a particular way with his spiritual gifts, and that their giftedness would encourage and lift him up, too.

When I was in public relations, I grew to hate the word “synergy.” Everyone wanted to use it to describe every business transaction under the sun, hoping to convince investors that the sum of two business interests joining together would be greater than the parts. It didn’t hurt that the word rhymed with “energy,” and I worked for an energy company.

Paul was talking about synergy in its truest sense, though. When Christians bring their unique gifts together as a church, they do accomplish much more than what was possible separately. Among the group, the Holy Spirit is more fully expressed as new people and new gifts enter the mix.

Newness and change can be frightening for a group, but as long as the newness is rooted in God’s will, there is nothing to fear. That’s why a healthy church’s members always look to new Christians in their midst and excitedly wonder, “What possibilities do you bring?”

Paul revealed what he thought his primary contribution might be once in Rome. He was eager, he said, to preach the Good News. We’ve already identified “Good News” as meaning word of Christ’s death on the cross, a work that makes salvation possible for even the worst of sinners.

Perhaps the church in Rome did not yet have anyone gifted in preaching the Good News. Perhaps they did have capable preachers, but Paul thought he could contribute to the effort in a new way. Regardless, Paul wanted to help the church live into its mandate to bring people to an understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

I can call it a mandate because Jesus gave his followers clear, indisputable instruction regarding what they were (and are) to do. This instruction came from Jesus after his resurrection from the dead, and is recorded at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

It’s a mandate we still own as a church today. Here at Luminary, all you have to do is look on the front of a worship bulletin to see that we own it, at least on paper. We say that our mission is “to draw people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The question for us is whether we have Paul’s passion for the task. I think it is still the key question for every church today: Are we passionately trying to bring people into that relationship with Christ?

The last thing we want to be is Laodicea. Remember Laodicea, one of the churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation? The risen Christ said this about Laodicea: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Rev. 3:15-16)

To be a church passionate about our primary mission, some of us have to preach the scriptural truth, from a pulpit and in other places in our community. The word does have to be spoken.

It is a given, however, that not all of us are gifted in ways where we can comfortably preach in the traditional sense. I’m sure all of us have seen the old study showing many people fear public speaking more than death. Such anxiety does not relieve us of our responsibility to play a part in the mission, though—we are all called to play a role in declaring the Good News.

It is not as hard as it sounds. All of us are capable of establishing loving relationships. Showing love toward others is the first step toward helping people understand how much God loves them.

People are needlessly afraid of the word “evangelism.” If that word bothers you, just remember to love others. As your loving relationships grow, opportunities will arise for you to explain the source of all that love. God is love; the cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love. At that moment, you’ll be evangelizing and you may not even realize at first what you’re doing.

Out of genuine love for the people we engage, I think we do have to get to the point. We do eventually have to offer them Christ.

Sometimes I hear people say, “Well, I try to be a good person and let my life be the witness.” Sorry, but that’s a bit of a cop-out.

Jesus didn’t say, “Show everyone you’re a good person.” Your behavior may draw people to you, but Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” He was pretty specific.

As individual Christians, we need to be sure we’re getting to the point with those who need a deeper relationship with Christ. As a church, we need to be sure all of our programs and ministries ultimately help people discover the point, too.

And remember, a little passion for who we are and what we do always helps. If you lack passion, it may be time to hear the Good News for yourself again. God loves you—God has given you eternal life!—and that truth should excite anyone.

In the City

Revelation 22:12-21

What is the greatest city you’ve ever visited? Not everyone likes them, but cities certainly have their allure.

Last week, I talked about a couple of intertwined metaphors, focusing on the one where God is groom and the church is his bride. This week, I want to focus on how our future with God is depicted as a great city. Actually, the way it’s described, this city is almost ridiculous, until we remember John of Revelation is giving us a symbol to describe what our sin-clouded human minds cannot fully grasp.

Let’s look at how the city is described, not only in our text today but in some other descriptions in Revelation.

The city:

  • Occupies the same space as a cube, a really big cube. It would cover most of the United States; imagine a Rubik’s cube balanced on a soccer ball. One mathematically minded-person points out that the city being a cube, and the earth being a sphere, the center of the city’s base could touch the earth—but the bottom corners of the city would hang miles in the air above the ground! The top corners would be 800 miles beyond where earth’s atmosphere ends.
  • Shines with God’s radiance and is clear as crystal, although made of gold.
  • Has streets paved with gold, again, gold so pure it is clear.
  • Sits on walls adorned with precious jewels.
  • Has 12 gates, three to a side, each made of a single giant pearl. These gates always stand open. (I want to hear more about the oysters!)
  • Is constantly lit by the glory of God.
  • Has a river flowing from beneath the throne of God, watering the tree of life.

Lesson 1 in interpreting all of this: Stop being so literal. John probably thought the earth was flat and was communicating to people who also likely thought the earth was flat. We also can assume they didn’t have a clue how far the earth went, or the atmosphere. (I do have to be careful with some of these assumptions; by the time of Revelation, some philosophers and mathematicians, particularly in Greece, had been arguing for centuries the earth was a sphere.) The symbols John chose simply reflect his understanding of the world.

My first symbolic takeaway is that God is expecting a lot of people to turn to him by professing faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There is room for all!

Also, “purity” is a key word to describe life with God. We’re told rather directly that “nothing unclean will enter [the city], nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” For things not pure, where they ultimately end up is debatable—will it be eternal torment or annihilation?

The lake of fire is scary to consider, but since we plan to be inside the gates, perhaps we’ll just dwell on the joy of a life free from sin and its pain and distractions. It clearly is good to be right with God, made right not through our own work, but because of Christ’s sacrifice.

The city sounds inviting, right? It is. The presence of our loving savior and his holy light make it inviting. That’s why the gates are always open, which reminds us of another Bible story—in fact, John has pointed to that other story before. After Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, the way back in was closed, guarded by a mighty angel with a flaming sword. But now we get to Paradise and find the gates wide open.

And yes, we are to see the Paradise of Genesis in this vision in Revelation. The tree of life is there, Revelation tells us. We are to eat freely from the tree God denied Adam and Eve after their descent into sin.

The image of God’s garden within the city means a lot to me because I’ve always enjoyed the more pastoral images of life with God. In my mind, there will be trees and mountains, rivers and lakes—all of those places that give us joy now, except more so.

That’s the real lesson of Revelation. Life with God is perfect joy, the final, complete fulfillment of all of this life’s holy desires, which simply are cravings for the presence of God. We are called to live a life of holiness and purity as much as possible now, knowing we will experience the full joy of such a life for all eternity.

God calls you to this place, this life. Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

See you in the city.

The featured image is “New Jerusalem,” a folio from The Bamberg Apocalypse, c. 1000.

Bride and Groom

Revelation 21:1-6

As we move toward the end of Revelation, from chapter 7 all the way to chapter 21, we’re jumping over a lot of powerful imagery. I would encourage you to take time to read it.

We’re skipping the tales of the dragon and the two beasts, the number 666 (or is it 616?), the fall of Babylon, and all sorts of other images and events more suitable for a long-term Revelation study than 20 minutes of preaching.  I’ll sum up what we’re skipping by saying the battle between good and evil has long raged, is raging, and will continue to rage until God says, “No more.”

And let’s never forget that Christ’s willing sacrifice on the cross makes “no more” possible.

This week and next, we will focus on what life will be like when there is a new heaven and earth, all reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. Sometimes we talk about this moment as a remaking or reordering of all things. Anything that is to continue to exist will be aligned with God’s will. It is also important to note that God will be fully, undeniably present, seen constantly with the heart as well as with the eyes.

Revelation’s author—and the Holy Spirit, I suppose—must drive rigid English teachers crazy with the use of mixed metaphors. Life in the full presence of God is described as both a marriage and a beautiful city (the city at one point is clothed as a bride), and each metaphor reveals something special about God’s relationship with humanity.

This week, I want to explore the idea of the “new Jerusalem” adorned as a bride for her husband. This metaphor is one of the major reasons Revelation is so appropriate as the closing book of Christian Scripture. Throughout the Bible, there has been a thought running along like a thread from nearly front cover to back. It is the idea of God as the spurned husband and humanity as the unfaithful wife.

From the beginning of our Bible story, it is clear God wanted to be fully available to his creation. When God discovered the first act of disobedience, he had gone for a stroll in Paradise in the cool of the day, looking for the people he made. Sin brought on a terrible separation. Rather than a close companion, our maker by his very nature was forced to become distant, while at the same time beginning the plan to overcome sin and restore what once was.

The prophets in particular picked up on the image of God as spurned husband. Jeremiah did. Hosea certainly did, at God’s command taking a prostitute as an unfaithful wife to symbolize Israel’s unfaithfulness.

But in the end, bride and groom are restored. The Holy Spirit works within the church, healing its members and restoring them through faith in Christ. The bride is being adorned and dressed as we gather in worship and live out the church’s mission.

The metaphor also says much about the value of earthly marriage. When I take couples through premarital counseling, I make a point of reminding them that the union they are about to enter symbolizes the great work Christ is doing.

The husband stands in for God; the wife stands for the church. And to keep the husband from getting a big head, thinking this metaphor somehow puts him in a position of power, I remind him of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

In a culture where marriage is less and less valued—we are so much more about instant gratification and so much less about commitment—we need again to emphasize the symbolic value of marriage. The Roman Catholic Church has seven sacraments where we have two; if I could add a third sacrament to our Methodist practice, it would be marriage. Perhaps we would better understand how we participate in God’s grand scheme for creation when we take our vows before God.

Next week, we’ll explore what it means when our future with God is represented by a huge, cube-shaped city. We will stroll streets of gold, drink life-giving water and eat from a very special tree. In the meantime, treasure the always faithful God who calls you home.

The featured image is of an unknown Turkish Cypriot bride and groom in 1941. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

Your Tribulation

Revelation 7:9-17

For the first couple of weeks of our series, we’ve focused on scenes of glory and worship. This week’s text shows us some now-familiar heavenly imagery, but in the process we are reminded of what we experience in our time and place.

I suppose the key word for the day is “tribulation,” what is called “the great ordeal” in the NRSV. People hear that word in very different ways. A lot of American preachers talk about it as a time to come, a time of disaster to fall upon the earth after Christ’s followers have been removed in what is sometimes called the “rapture.”

Problem 1: That view is very hard to reconcile with Revelation and other biblical end-time imagery. The first audience for Revelation would have found the removal of the church from this ongoing suffering a strange notion, indeed. They were being persecuted, saw themselves in the midst of a great ordeal, and in this letter from John were receiving words of comfort that they would be rewarded for their resilient faith one day.

This whole idea of a raptured church was unheard of among Christians until the 19th century, when an Anglo-Irish theologian named John Nelson Darby proposed the idea. We still hear about his theory in the United States today because of preachers and writers who latched onto the idea. There also is the influence of the Scofield Reference Bible, which heavily promotes the notion in its footnotes.

The more standard, historical understanding of the “end times” is simple. We are in them. We have been since Christ ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit fell upon the church. Christ could return any moment, bringing this time to an end.

Certainly, suffering is depicted in powerful ways in some of the passages preceding what we explore today. Perhaps the most famous image is the four horsemen of the apocalypse, each rider on a mount with a color symbolizing what happens when earthly institutions deviate from God’s will. The white horse is power run amok; the red horse is war; the black horse is death. The pale horse symbolizes the lingering horrors that go along with death—famine, disease and decay. All of these political, military and economic abuses have been a constant somewhere in the world, and will be until Christ returns.

Problem 2: The view is very ethnocentric, popular in a privileged culture where suffering, particularly suffering for one’s faith, is quite limited. We have to remember that simultaneous to our relatively benign Christian experience, there are other Christians suffering terribly for what they believe. I wish they could somehow be raptured out of their persecution. One monitoring group, Voice of the Martyrs, has estimated there are more martyrs being made for Christ now than at any point in history. Pope Francis recently made a similar statement.

But enough about what our text doesn’t say. Again, that’s the problem with preaching Revelation. I have to spend too much time on what it doesn’t say.

Here’s what it does say:

Suffering may be widespread, but so is the impact of salvation. After having tried in an earlier passage to give us a count for millions of worshiping angels (however symbolic the number), John simply tells us that those who come through their trials and tribulations and hold onto their faith will be uncountable. It doesn’t matter your station in the world; it doesn’t matter your color, or your language. Salvation is available.

Our text makes clear it is glorious to receive that white robe and stand in the presence of God.  I’ve related the story before about the boy in confirmation class who told me he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to heaven. The language about constant, eternal worship frightened him, making him think it would be “like being stuck in church forever.”

But it’s clear from our scene in this text that the experience is something we never will want to leave. Heavenly worship is rich and complete, fulfilling every relationship we could ever want to have in this life. We are sustained in every way we could ever imagine. In this worship there is family, fun and deep, deep intimacy.

I wish I could somehow give you that experience every Sunday. We do the best we can, with the words and the music and the prayers. The best I can do is repeat what I’ve said before: Whatever good and wonderful things you can imagine about God’s promises, you are right, and yet you have not even come close to what we will experience when fully aware of God’s presence.

Here’s the best thing we can do with our text today. Let’s do what the early, persecuted church did. Let’s cling to the images. Let’s carry the hope into every situation we may face.

While we are, on average, a privileged people, I know many of you face your own suffering, your own personal tribulations. We all ultimately face dark days, and they frighten us. But we have this story and all the other loving promises of God, made possible through Christ.

We believe, and we persevere.

The featured image is “Four Horsemen,” Peter Von Cornelius, 1845.

Worshiping What We See

When I introduced this series on Revelation last week, I told you there would be symbolism. Lots of it.

This week, we’ve skipped past the letters to the churches—they in and of themselves are worthy of a sermon series—and returned to scenes of heavenly worship. Revelation 5:11-14 concludes some of the most powerful worship imagery you will find anywhere in the Bible.

In chapter 4, John begins to paint this astonishing, brightly colored portrait of worship with a view of God, who is the audience for all worship. Well, John attempts to give us a view of God, anyway. He is like a man who has stared into the sun and then, fully dazzled, tried to describe what he saw. His symbols reflect the nature of God, holy and burning inside against sin, but surrounded by an emerald rainbow. This last touch brings what New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger once described as a soothing sense of mercy to the overall impression.

Remember this one important fact about biblical symbolism: Whatever you “see” barely begins to describe the reality of what is most true and real. When God burns against sin, it is a fire we can never come close to imaging; when God offers mercy, it abounds in ways beyond our comprehension.

There are other mysteries, easier to gaze upon but nearly as perplexing. It is debatable who the 24 elders surrounding the throne represent. Perhaps they are 12 patriarchs from the Old Testament and the 12 apostles of the New Testament, standing as witnesses to the covenants God has used to bring sinful humanity home. What is important is that even though they have crowns given to them by God, they cast them down in worship, remembering the source of all goodness and power.

And then there are those peculiar beings called the “living creatures,” six-winged and full of eyes. They are your eternal choir directors, leading worship in heaven. No need for preachers here; what preachers declare on earth will be fully evident in heaven. I guess I’ll have to learn to sing.

Perhaps strangest image is the one called “The Lion of Judah.” Surprisingly, he appears as a seven-horned, seven-eyed lamb with all the markings of having been slaughtered. This, of course, is another image of the Christ, very different from the image we had last week. His description initially makes him seem weak, but he is the only being in heaven able to open a scroll with seven seals.

All these “sevens” are marks of God’s holy completeness—remember, numbers in Revelation always have a symbolic meaning. The scroll itself is a symbol of God’s will fully expressed. Only Jesus could unroll it. That is, only Jesus could grasp the full intent of God’s will. Only Jesus could go to the cross and carry out a plan of sacrifice, a sacrifice good enough for all people, giving those who believe eternal life.

We also see something particularly glorious and meaningful to us now, right now, as we worship where we are. For we participate in this vision, too. We are told that in the heavenly worship, there are bowls of incense, which represent the prayers of believers worshiping on earth.

I find that image particularly comforting. Think about it: All your fears, all your worries, all your desires, all your pleadings, all your cries for justice, all your pleas for mercy and forgiveness—all of them make their way into worship in heaven. Heaven and earth come together in worship.

I don’t know how you each individually feel about worship. Some of you look forward to it, craving it each week. Some of you, I suspect, find elements of it or perhaps all of it boring. I’m sorry I cannot bring you the creatures and the millions of angels and the slain lamb in full each Sunday. But I do pray you can close your eyes now and then, open your hearts, and sense something greater than the world we plod through each day.

This portion of Revelation is a call to us to fully embrace what’s going on in any kind of worship. We participate in a greater glorification of God, and we prepare ourselves for the day when we are in a doubtless, overwhelming kind of worship, the kind of experience we will never want to leave.

I pray we walk away from this earthly worship with a sense of hope and of a great victory still to come.

The featured image is “Homage to the Lamb,” a folio from the Bamberg Apocalypse, c. 1000.


Seeing Christ in Full

This is the first in an Easter season series on Revelation.

Revelation 1:4-8

When I was in seminary, one of my pastoral duties was to provide support for a very large assisted-living apartment complex in Lexington, Ky.  A dozen ladies there asked if I would lead them in a Bible study focused on the Book of Revelation.

What surprised me was the reason they wanted to have the study. In short, they were afraid.

At the time, there was a lot of talk about Revelation, in particular because a set of books known as the “Left Behind” series had been getting a lot of attention. Not one of these ladies could have been younger than 80, and I’m sure most of them had been going to church most of their lives. But all of a sudden, what is essentially the end of the biblical story kept them awake at night.

That was when I first began to understand that teaching—or in this case, preaching—is a special case where Revelation is involved. A lot of Christians have poorly formed or misinformed ideas about the book, and I generally have to convince people to put their preconceived notions aside if we are going to travel to the place Revelation wants to take us.

The author’s name is John, a man we know to have been imprisoned for his faith on the island of Patmos. He may or may not have been the Apostle John; that matter is highly debatable, although ultimately irrelevant to the message the book sends. John’s point in writing Revelation was to communicate a powerful vision he had to churches who apparently knew of him.

The first thing I want to note is how, in his greeting to the churches, he used a couple of important words to set the tone for his vision. “Grace to you,” he told them. “Peace.” And he rooted this greeting in the holy, loving nature of God, as expressed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

His greeting expressed freedom, particularly freedom from the power of sin. John spoke of power and hope for Christ’s followers, not punishment. Fear was not an emotion he seemed to be trying to elicit.

John’s greeting continues to remind us of where our story is headed. Christ will return in a most undeniable way. The “tribes of the earth” may wail, but only because they failed to acknowledge a great truth still serving as the core of our faith, the truth of Jesus Christ as savior for all of humanity.

These words of hope and peace make Revelation a wonderful way to explore the continuing Easter season. Christ’s resurrection was just a beginning, a promise of more to come. A remaking is underway, and it will continue until it ends with everything in heaven and earth conformed to the will of God, made holy by the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross.

I want you to keep that good news of the ultimate outcome in mind as we go through the next few weeks. Because, again, Revelation is a strange book, and it is easy to become confused.

Part of the problem arises because we have no other forms of literature like it. Westerners try to read it like a story, a standard kind of narrative familiar to our culture, but it was never intended to be read in such a way.

Instead, it is:

A special genre known as “apocalyptic.” Time flows differently than it does in a standard Western narrative. Viewpoints shift from heaven to earth with little warning. Reading Revelation as a straightforward narrative can generate some bad theology.

Highly symbolic. Very little of it is intended to be taken literally, but at the same time, there’s a deeper meaning communicated by the symbols. For example, after the text we’re hearing today, John launches into a vision of Christ in heaven. This description symbolically shows our Savior’s deeper nature—his purity, his all-knowing mind, and his uttered words as the purest truth, capable of cutting through worldly confusion.

An invitation to imagine. Apocalyptic literature was written for audiences facing persecution. They were being asked to see a better day, a great Day of the Lord promised since the Old Testament. We also are being invited to imagine and work toward the same dream.

Back to my ladies in Bible study: When we were finished studying Revelation, one of the oldest ones, a lady around 90, came up to me with tears in her eyes. “I’m not afraid any more. It’s about joy!” she said.

I pray that when we’re done with this series, we will all feel the same way.

A View of Heaven

Fourth in a Sermon Series

Fourth in a Sermon Series

Revelation 4:1-11

Pay attention now. I’m going to tell you up front what really needs to be heard today.

The door is open. The door remains open.

When John of Patmos looked through the door, what did he see? Well, God, of course. And despite seeing, he could not find words for what he saw. The best he could do was describe exotic items of our world—jasper, carnelian, emerald, crystal—and say they somehow look like God and what surrounds God in heaven.

John’s vision reminds me of Plato’s allegory of the cave, written 380 years before Christ. Plato compared unschooled people to people who have lived all their lives shackled in a cave, their backs to the opening, seeing nothing but shadows against the wall before them. The shadows would be their reality.

If one of these prisoners were to break his shackles and escape through the cave’s mouth, he would find reality incomprehensible. There would be no way initially to connect the movement of the beings and objects outside with the shadows that had seemed so real. And if the man were to go back to his shackled friends and try to explain, they would think him mad.

John of Patmos was like Plato’s escaped prisoner. Instead of a cave opening, he looked through the open door of heaven. And he found it very difficult to describe in words what he witnessed.

There are aspects of his vision that remain familiar, however, and we’re reminded we can get at least a glimpse through the open door. We have moments where we’re lifted just high enough to briefly peek over the threshold, particularly in worship and prayer.

In John’s view of heaven, God is the point of worship, as God should be here on earth. In heaven, beings both bizarre and familiar to us sing of God’s holiness and exist in a constant state of pure and perfect worship.

There also is evidence in John’s vision that our worship here lets us participate in worship there. As we read on into chapter 5, we see the prayers of the saints—those of us here on earth—used as incense, our smoky praises and petitions floating before God.

We also see Christ in the midst of this vision, described as the “Lion of Judah” but appearing as a slain lamb. He passed through the door and came our way to be with us and die for our sins, and then returned through it at the ascension, carrying our humanity with him. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, he has complete power over our fates and how history is to unfold.

Yes, the strangeness of the vision is surprising, but just as surprising is how we are connected to what goes on in heaven. That’s why it makes sense that we have those moments where we feel God’s presence in difficult-to-explain ways.

Whew—that’s a lot of ethereal thinking. But the point of this sermon series is to talk about what’s in it for us now, how we benefit from church involvement in an immediate, temporal way.

Well, a view of heaven changes everything, doesn’t it? At least for as long as we can remember the view, hold onto it, cherish it, and revisit it through worship and prayer.

A view of heaven should make everything look different. People who look lost suddenly have infinite potential. Situations that look hopeless are full of promise.

This shift in thinking happens because we see those people and situations against the backdrop of the open door. The light that shines through, twinkling as if it has passed through jasper and carnelian and crystal, makes us a people who live like we are infinitely hopeful.

God’s hope, embedded in your heart, will change for the better everything that shapes your life—your planning, your decisions big and small, your relationships. A view of heaven is a constant benefit of being in the body of Christ.