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The Real World

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When I got back to my office for the first time after my 6th day on campus during the fires, my Bible was right where I had left it on my desk. I had come to campus on Sunday and had been helping my supervisor operationalize her to-do list from the emergency operations committee. On Sunday there were still many active fires, but our student health center was in desperate need of medical staff since we piece our staffing together with many part time professionals, many of whom had already been on campus for three days straight and others couldn’t get to campus. I had to go through a still burning Malibu Canyon with a police escort to bring critical service personnel with me. Six days later after sending out students on shuttles, cleaning residence halls, planning activities for stranded people, and sending endless correspondences to staff both on and off campus for various logistics I came back to the office for some quiet time. There was my Bible.
I had really needed my Bible earlier in the week because I had woken up the Thursday before and saw via multiple messages and social media that there had been a mass shooting in my town. I quickly got ready, grabbed my Bible and headed to campus where my boss had told me to go to DeBell hall. She didn’t explained why—just go to DeBell hall. I was dropped off there by a Public Safety officer and met the President of our University who was just walking out. He stopped and said that confidentially “it didn’t look good.” That’s when I realized the Freshmen student who was killed at the Borderline the night before had lived in DeBell hall and I was being sent there to spend time with the students, many of whom had been out with Alaina Housley the night before. Some of the students were bandaged from wounds they received from escaping through a window. All were shaken up. At the time, Alaina was officially “missing” but her phone was still sending signals from inside the restaurant and we knew that the only people left there were emergency personnel who had the grim task of identifying victims and notifying families.
We stayed with the students, cried with them, fed them, prayed with them. Occasionally, I would just stand up and read a few scriptures. Around Noon, we were getting everyone moving to go to the University’s prayer service, and it was right then we got the official confirmation that Alaina had been killed. Everyone broke down all over again and no one wanted to go to the service. I led a little impromptu thing, and a colleague from the Counseling Center led the group in some sharing time. We stayed there all day until the students sort of faded away. Some fell asleep on the couch in the lobby, some went to their rooms in shock, some left with their parents. I went home and woke up to the most destructive wildfire in our history.
I heard the word “apocalypse” many times this week. Certainly with all the smoke, the sun and the sky were blood red and there was sometimes an eerie glow in the mornings and evenings. After all the students left and the city of Malibu was evacuated, there was a certain “Zombie Apocalypse” feel (without the zombies!). We drove on PCH with no traffic at night with the power out and no street lights or stop lights. We hunkered down in the cafeteria and ate whatever the minimal kitchen staff could throw together since no supply trucks could get in. Power was out in certain places and internet was down in the faculty and staff condos. We took it day by day. But it was more than this setting. Evil had visited us. A depressed, PTSD-stricken former Marine killed 11 people in Thousand Oaks, consistently billed as on the short list of safest cities in America. Fire consumed the hillsides of Ventura and LA counties, many we knew were evacuated, homes and student apartments consumed. A colleague was sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation. In the army of locusts who devour everything in their path are likened to a destructive fire because the consistently advance, the never waiver off course. Before them lies the garden of Eden, behind them a desert wasteland. That’s a pretty accurate description of the hills around the Eden that is Pepperdine-desert wasteland.
The “apocalypse” is actually “the Revelation.” What John had been invited to see and hear is what he writes for us to know and to strengthen our faith. John shows us not what evil wants us to see and believe, that its in charge. John shows us the “Real World.” In , John watches as the Lamb opens the seals of the scroll that he took from the right hand of the one who sits on the throne. One of the living creatures calls forth four riders who ride different colored horses. A white horse whose rider seeks to conquer; a red horse whose rider sheds blood; a black horse whose rider brings famine; a pale (or green) horse who brings death. Conquest and war, bloodshed, famine, and death. Fairly accurate description of our life here on earth. Three of the riders had objects of death: a bow, a sword—instruments of conquering, war and death--scales that represent the injustice of famine where the basic necessities of life wheat and barley cost a day’s wages. The prices quoted here would be many times the normal price making it that so other foods (oil and wine) were unaffordable. Two horsemen also had great powers: power to take peace from the earth, power to kill large numbers of people with sword, famine, plague. The white rider wasn’t given “power” per se but a crown which certainly indicates strength and power.
The cumulative effect of these riders of course is to depict the great powers of evil in our world. Evil isn’t a small isolated act that we rarely witness. Evil pervades and persists. It’s widespread and world wide. Indiscriminate killing and the destructive forces of nature don’t just happen “over there” they happen in Thousand Oaks and Malibu too.
The “apocalypse” is actually “the Revelation.” What John had been invited to see and hear is what he writes for us to know and to strengthen our faith.
But we don’t despair. We don’t give up. The Revelation shows us a bigger picture beyond just the evil that visits our towns. These riders aren’t in charge. They themselves are under command and are taking direction. They’re not running amok—they do what they’re told. They arrive on the scene under the directive of “come!” from one of the powerful creatures around the throne. They didn’t bring their instruments of death and destruction from their own storehouse, these weapons and these powers were given to them from on high. In short, they’re taking directions. Everything happens and is directed from the One who sits on the Throne. One commentator has said:
The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation The First Four Seals: Christ Uses Evil Heavenly Forces to Inflict Trials on People throughout the Church Age for Either Purification or Punishment (6:1–8)

John has said already that Christ has begun to reign over earthly kings (1:5; 2:6–27). Now in 6:1–8 he explains that this reign extends even over the situations of suffering in which many Christians find themselves. Examples of such suffering have been alluded to in the letters in chs. 2–3. Some Christians may have wondered if Christ really was sovereign over disastrous circumstances, such as Nero’s cruel mass persecution after the fire of Rome in A.D. 64. They may have asked the same question about broader disasters such as the destructive earthquakes in 60, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79, and the calamitous grain famine of 92.

Rev. 6:1–8 is intended to show that Christ rules over such an apparently chaotic world and that suffering does not occur indiscriminately or by chance. This section reveals, in fact, that destructive events are brought about by Christ for both redemptive and judicial purposes. It is Christ sitting on his throne who controls all the trials and persecutions of the church. As already argued, the opening of the seals begins the actual revelation and execution of the contents of the “scroll” of ch. 5. The command for each of the four destructive horses and riders originates from the throne room, where Christ opens each seal. The cherubim around the throne issue commands to the horseman in response to the opening of each seal. Only then do the horsemen wreak their havoc.

The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation The First Four Seals: Christ Uses Evil Heavenly Forces to Inflict Trials on People throughout the Church Age for Either Purification or Punishment (6:1–8)

John has said already that Christ has begun to reign over earthly kings (1:5; 2:6–27). Now in 6:1–8 he explains that this reign extends even over the situations of suffering in which many Christians find themselves. Examples of such suffering have been alluded to in the letters in chs. 2–3. Some Christians may have wondered if Christ really was sovereign over disastrous circumstances, such as Nero’s cruel mass persecution after the fire of Rome in A.D. 64. They may have asked the same question about broader disasters such as the destructive earthquakes in 60, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79, and the calamitous grain famine of 92.

Rev. 6:1–8 is intended to show that Christ rules over such an apparently chaotic world and that suffering does not occur indiscriminately or by chance. This section reveals, in fact, that destructive events are brought about by Christ for both redemptive and judicial purposes. It is Christ sitting on his throne who controls all the trials and persecutions of the church.

Whoa that’s heavy. Christ controls our trials and persecutions? Of course he does. What is the alternative? Christ doesn’t control? There’s a power outside of, beyond his ability? A powerless Christ against the more powerful forces of evil? Don’t forget the cross. Christ submitted to evil on purpose and was seemingly defeated but it. Philippians says “obedient to death.” John records:

17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Whatever Christ does he does it of his “own accord.”
The question from scripture isn’t “why”? Why does Christ allow all this evil and suffering to be unleashed on this world? What is the purpose and meaning of suffering? It’s “how long”? In vs. 9 of , the Lamb opens the 5th seal, and those who have been waiting under the altar—those faithful ones who had been slain because of the Word of God and their testimony—their question is how long? How long will we have to put up with this? When will you judge? When will you avenge? Just like the horsemen they’re given something—a white robe, a symbol of purity, faithfulness, victory and are told to wait just a little longer. A little longer to deal with evil, a little longer to be persecuted, a little longer until the full number of servants are killed.
So Rev. shows us the “Real World.” Often after a vacation, a camping trip, a time of crisis where things are topsy turvy and crazy, we say “and now it’s time to go back to the “real world.” But this past week, despite every crazy thing that happened— no because of every crazy thing, I witnessed “the real world.”
Everybody pitching in and doing great acts of bravery and service.
People caring for their neighbor and offering assistance. Several in the Sierra Madre church reached out to me offering help, a place to stay, prayers, support. My friend Tim Horton is on the Malibu Community Emergency Response Team, and he spent several days in a row volunteering arranging for supplies, clean water to be brought to people in need. Malibu Surfside Navy (roads closed).
The question from scripture isn’t “why”? It’s “how long”?
People prioritizing others, being selfless, sacrificing.
This is the real world. Christ directs and commands us too. He calls us forth also, and gives us tools and weapons and great power as well--not to wield evil, but to unleash love and service. Where there is hatred and bloodshed we are people of peace and justice. Where there is famine and need, we offer food and services, shelter and clothes. Were there is death we are called to be salt and light, carriers of hope and faith, not despair. The real world reminds us of what’s really important when we get so busy with daily stuff and our eyes are on the earth and not fixed above.
Several in the Sierra Madre church reached out to me offering help, a place to stay, prayers, support.
Switchfoot: “When the House Burns Down Tonight”
The smoke tries choking the pacific sun We rocket down the road like we're shot out of guns And if the house burns down tonight I got everything I need with you by my side Holding you and the wheel and it occurs to me We're driving down the edge of eternity And if the house burns down tonight I got everything I need when I got you by my side And let the rest burn
And now it’s back to the “real world.”
And now it’s back to the “real world.”
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