Jesus’ message to the Church in Thyatira (and to Christians today)

“Only hold fast to what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:25—read Revelation 2:18-29).

Like the congregation in Pergamum, the congregation in Thyatira was too tolerant. In this case, they were tolerating a woman whom Jesus calls Jezebel. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was queen of Israel, the northern kingdom. She was married to King Ahab, but she was not an Israelite. She came from Lebanon (Phoenicia) and was devoted to the Canaanite gods, especially Baal. The showdown Elijah prompted between the Lord and Baal involved Jezebel, who vowed to kill Elijah after he humiliated and destroyed the priests of Baal.

The Jezebel in Thyatira, according to Jesus, was seducing his servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul addressed the topic of eating food sacrificed to idols in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians. On the one hand, food is food, and the fact that it had passed through a pagan temple made no difference to the Christian whose faith in God was secure. On the other hand, some Christians are insecure in their faith. Seeing fellow Christians appearing to conform to pagan beliefs could damage their relationship with Christ. Therefore, Paul resolved—and advised others—to do nothing that would damage the faith of the weak. A Christian was free to eat food offered to idols privately. Out of love for others, the same Christian would not eat such food in the presence of someone whose Christian faith might be damaged by such eating.

The applications for today are numerous. A loving Christian would not drink beer in the presence of a recovering alcoholic, let alone offer that person a beer. Certain kinds of music trouble the consciences of some Christians, as do certain entertainments such as dancing or playing cards. Each Christian makes up his or her own mind about whether to do these things privately or to give them up as a sacrifice to the Lord. To encourage a Christian to change his or her personal rules, to end a voluntary sacrifice, neither honors God nor shows love for that fellow Christian.

At the same time, no Christian should confuse his or her sacrifices to the Lord with the sacrifice of Christ. Only Christ’s sacrifice removes sin and reconciles a sinner to God. The sacrifices we offer the Lord are only thank-offerings. They earn neither God’s forgiveness nor our place in heaven. The Christian who gives up drinking or dancing in the belief that such a sacrifice earns forgiveness of sins should be gently and lovingly corrected.

Sexual immorality is always wrong. God created us male and female so we could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Also, we are male and female so we can be loving partners, supporting and upholding one another. Every marriage is a picture of God’s love for his people; he is a husband to us all. Every thought, word, or deed that tarnishes marriage is an insult to God as well as a sin.

Christians today are being asked to tolerate many insults to marriage. The spirit of Jezebel is as active today as it was in ancient Thyatira. Jesus knew many good things about the Christians in Thyatira. He mentioned their good works, their love and service and patient endurance, and the fact that their latter works exceeded the first. They had not lost their first love, as the Christians in Ephesus had lost. But tolerating Jezebel and her seduction of the saints was a blot on the record of this congregation. Jezebel was drawing them into what she called “the deep things of Satan.” Jesus does not want us to blend truth with falsehood. He does not want us to try to please both the Lord and Baal, both Christ and the sinful world.

Therefore, Jesus says that he has no additional burden for them. They are to hold fast to what they have until he comes. Jesus will come in judgment to strike down false religion and to punish all those who pervert his teachings. We do our best to warn others against the corrupting influences of the world, but we cannot defeat evil. Only Jesus can overcome and provide the victory. Because Jesus has already won this victory, we rest securely in his arms, finding strength in him to do what is right and knowing with confidence that we belong to his eternal kingdom.

From “Unveiling Revelation,” a work in progress. J.

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A watched pot/making ragout

They say that a watched pot never boils.

That is, of course, a figure of speech. Set on a working burner that is turned on, a watched pot of water will eventually come to a boil. In fact, two pots of water—one closely observed and the other ignored—will come to a boil at the same time, given that all the variables—amount of water, starting temperature, and so on—are identical.

But the meaning of the expression is this: when you are waiting for a change to occur and you are paying attention to the process and watching for the change, it seems to take a lot longer than if you keep yourself busy with other matters and do not focus all your attention on the change you anticipate.

But that literal statement is far less poetic than, “A watched pot never boils.”

When I was a boy, I used to love to watch a pot of water come to a boil. First come the wisps of steam that indicate that the water is getting hotter. Then small bubbles begin to form on the bottom and sides of the pot. They grow bigger, until some of them rise to the surface and pop. More and more bubbles form, bigger and bigger bubbles, coming faster and faster, until finally the entire pot of water is at a roiling boil.

As a man, I don’t generally have time to watch water come to a boil. Usually other tasks need to be done—tend to the sauce, put away the spices, set the table—so when the water is boiling, I can drop in the pasta and know that the meal is just a few minutes away from being served.

Last night I made ragout. (For those who don’t know, “ragout” rhymes with Magoo.) Like goulash, ragout is a hearty stew which can be prepared in hundreds of different ways, from a planned recipe to “clean out the refrigerator and use whatever hasn’t spoiled.” My ragout recipe has developed over time and resembles spaghetti sauce, but with lots of vegetables as well as meat. I start with onions, garlic, green pepper, celery, and carrots, chopping each ingredient and then tossing the pieces into a skillet which has been heating a little vegetable oil. I add them in that order, so that the onions cook the longest and the carrots the shortest amount of time, keeping them crisp. Next I empty the skillet into a bowl and place 1 ½ pounds of meat in the skillet. I use a mixture of ground beef and pork sausage, but 1 ½ pounds of either would work too. When the meat is browned, I drain the grease and immediately add a cup of burgundy and a small can of tomato paste. I stir the mixture until the meat is coated, then add the spices: a bay leaf, a tablespoon of Italian Seasoning (a blend of oregano, thyme, and parsley), a teaspoon of chili powder, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of Worchester sauce. Then I open and drain a can of mushroom pieces and add it to the sauce; also a large can of diced tomatoes. All this takes about forty-five minutes. Stir thoroughly, bring to a simmer, and leave at a simmer for another half an hour, stirring occasionally. During that half hour, I boil the pasta. I prefer egg noodles, but elbow macaroni or just about any other pasta would do as well.

The leftovers warm nicely in a microwave for lunches the rest of the week.

While the sauce simmered, and after the table was set, I got to watch the water come to a boil. It was just like being a boy again in my mother’s kitchen. J.

Rumor control, continued

After I posted about Facebook this morning, some new information came to me which needs to be added to the previous post:

  • The name “Facebook,” said backwards, sounds like, “Kubsafe.”
  • Kubsafe was a goat-headed god worshiped by some of the indigenous people of West Africa, as well as by some of their descendants in the Caribbean islands and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • It is said that if a person walks into a dark room, faces a mirror, and says the name of Kubsafe three times in a row without pausing, the face of the god will appear in the mirror. Under certain circumstances, that figure in the mirror may try to harm the person who has invoked him.
  • People of a certain age (or a certain level of maturity), having read this information, will try that very experiment tonight.

You have been warned. J.

Rumor control

I received an urgent Facebook message from my cousin this week. She had received a friend request from me which she knew was spurious, since we are already Facebook friends. She proceeded to instruct me how to warn all my Facebook contacts not to accept a new friend request from me, since someone is obviously using my name and picture for no good purpose.

I thanked my cousin for her warning and told her not to worry—most Facebook users are savvy enough not to refriend someone who is already a Facebook friend. When she repeated her warning, I sent her a link to a Snopes page about Facebook pirates, and she then told me that she felt better and less worried.

When I was in high school and college we did not yet have Snopes. We had to rely on something which we called common sense. Mimeographed sheets were passed around schools, churches, workplaces, and the neighborhood with warnings about sinister plots in the world. The Procter & Gamble company, maker of soaps and toothpastes and many other household items, was actually a satanic organization, which could be proved by studying their corporate logo. Rock musicians were hiding nefarious messages in their popular songs by recording the messages backwards. Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had persuaded members of Congress to introduce legislation that would ban all Christian broadcasting from American radio and television. None of these messages was true, but without Snopes to discredit them, these messages continued to be shared and believed.

Somehow in the twenty-first century Facebook has become the target of these kinds of rumors. Facebook is going to start charging users for its services. Facebook has claimed ownership and intellectual control of anything its users have ever posted, even if they have deleted those posts. Facebook pirates are using the identities of Facebook users to hack into other users’ accounts and cause terrible harm and destruction.

Snopes has addressed all of these rumors and found them to be incorrect. (Of course if you Google the phrase “Snopes tool Illuminati,” you will receive nearly 42,000 hits in less than half a second.) Facebook users shouldn’t have to check with Snopes before accessing their accounts. Some old-fashioned common sense should dispel any rumors about Facebook, as I will now try to demonstrate:

  • Facebook makes a lot of money providing its free services to its users. If it was not profitable, Facebook would not continue to exist. But it’s not your money that Facebook is earning, so why should you even care?
  • Facebook does not claim ownership of the material its users post. On the other hand, everything posted on Facebook is available all over the Internet to every kind of user. Stalkers and other creepy people can see what you post on Facebook. So can people who have a more legitimate reason to care what you post. Never post anything on Facebook that you would not want seen by your parents, your children, your neighbors, your current employer, or any possible future employer. Use Instagram for those embarrassing posts.
  • Some of the people you encounter on Facebook will have beliefs and opinions that differ from yours. These people include relatives, old high school friends, and even members of your church. They will post statements that you believe to be wrong. They will disagree with things that you post. They will sometimes be rude about these differences. Life happens.
  • If you do not read the things you post before you send them to Facebook, you will sometimes be guilty of silly and embarrassing typos, misspelled words, and improper grammar. A quick run through what you have written will help you catch those mistakes, and this can affect the opinion other people have of you. Save your typos and other mistakes for Twitter.
  • Facebook is not the world. It does not deserve more of your attention than your job, your household, or your relationship with the Lord. It is possible to turn off Facebook and step away from the computer. It is possible to go an entire day without looking at Facebook. Some people live normal and happy lives without even having a Facebook account.

I hope this information has been helpful. J.

Feelings (something more than feelings)

When I was younger (so much younger than today), I was drawn toward Stoic philosophy. Logic and reason were guides to life; feelings were to be ignored. After all, the great virtues all involve working against one’s feelings. Courage is not lack of fear: courage is doing the right thing in spite of fear. True love is not feeling good because of someone else; true love is caring more about the other person than about one’s self. Victory over evil does not come from never being tempted; victory over evil comes from resisting temptation, from saying no to temptation.

Yes, I was Mr. Spock, but with a better script-writer than Spock had. I did not prattle about logic, because logic consists of the rules that govern reason. Loving logic rather than reason is like loving the rules of football rather than the game of football. The rules make the game possible, but the game is the thing. Reason, of course, has limits; there are things that are beyond reason, and those things are of vast importance. Having learned of the reality that lies beyond reason, though, does not diminish reason. In fact, reason can be used to study and understand even those messages that come from the world beyond reason.

But in the last few years I have learned that feelings are not to be ignored. A human being consists of body and mind and spirit, and feelings happen at the intersection of body and mind and spirit. Many feelings come from the body, warning the mind and spirit of the body’s needs. Other feelings can come from the mind or the spirit, guiding the whole being along a certain course of action or turning away from a different course of action.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” most of the time. It is rare for me to start a trip, long or short, without the feeling that I have forgotten something important back at home. If someone at home or at work is in a bad mood, I often feel that I am responsible—I must have done something wrong to annoy him or her. In shopping malls and large stores I often feel threatened and overwhelmed. I feel an eerie sense of doom, and I want to make my purchase and leave as quickly as I can. (And I am grateful for self-serve registers, so I do not have to interact with another person while in the store.)

Negative feelings have their silver linings. I never leave my keys locked in the car, because my feelings of anxiety cause me to clutch the keys in one hand while I close the car door with the other hand. In a similar vein, I never leave my magnetic pass key on my desk at work; I’m always touching it as I go through the secure door of the work area. I am probably kinder to my co-workers than I would otherwise be because of my false sense that their unhappiness is my fault. If bad feelings make me a better person, who am I to complain?

A therapist has helped me to be mindful of my feelings, to look at them and ask myself what they are telling me. Why am I especially jittery on Saturdays? Is it because of the change in routine, the one day that I don’t jump out of bed to head to work or to church? Is it anticipation of the coming Sunday morning responsibilities at church? Or is it awareness that, unless the weather is bad, I will be exposed to the noise of neighbors working in their lawns and gardens with the racket of power tools of various kinds?

In short, I’ve learned that feelings are not to be ignored. They have their place, even if they are not reliable guides for decisions to be made or actions to be taken. Feelings are part of being human. Much as I may have wanted to be a Vulcan, both my parents were human, and I am human too. And that’s not a bad thing—the Lord created humans and said that they made creation “very good.” When sin and evil entered creation, the Lord entered creation as a human to ransom and redeem humans. And the Lord has experienced the full range of human feelings, even as I do, without sinning in the process. Being human, having feelings, is good. J.

Statistics that matter only to me

In 2018 I finished reading 143 books, bringing my yearly average for the last eighteen years up to 121.

During the twentieth century, I pretty much read what I wanted when I wanted (aside for school assignments, of course) without operating from lists or keeping any permanent records. In 2001 I decided to keep a list of what I was reading and what I wanted to read, and that action set a pattern that I continue to follow today. Typically I am reading selections from four or five different books every day, not including the Bible which I read through once a year. But I read through sets of similar books: fiction, philosophy, history, science fiction, or the like. Last year I read through the Christian medieval writers, from Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy through the anonymous The Cloud of Unknowing. I finished a series of science fiction/fantasy and then turned to ancient philosophy, including Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. I finished a series of books related to the Nixon administration and Watergate. I also read novels written by Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Portis, Chaim Potok, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Pynchon.

In addition to reading, I also wrote and published. In 2018 I published a study of the parables of Jesus, a collection of essays (most of which appeared first on this blog) called My Best Friend’s Rotten Wife, a study of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, and a collection of short stories.

And, of course, I wrote for this blog. In 2018 I received 7,805 views from 5,223 visitors. I realize that many of my readers have considerably more views and visitors, but I aim for quality rather than quantity. (Who else recently said the same thing?) During the past year my most popular post was “23 Odd Facts about Man in the Moon,” which I suspect must be featured on some Andy Kaufman fan web site. The runner-up was “Hello, my name is Joe,” which I know is featured on a web site about robocalls. Next came “Did Jesus ever have a panic attack?” an essay which I included in My Best Friend’s Rotten Wife. In fourth place was “Four Heavens,” explaining the uses of the word “heaven” in the Bible, including what it means in Genesis that “God created the heavens and the earth” and Paul’s reference in II Corinthians to the third heaven. Finally, a post that I wrote during the 2016 presidential campaign—one which received more than a thousand visits that year—is still performing well. Evidently Google and other search engines consider me a reliable source to answer the question, “Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?

I hope to continue to be a prolific reader and writer in 2019. I have already finished three books which I started last month, and I have several writing projects in store as well. May all of you enjoy your reading and your writing this year. J.