Revelation Week 8

Standard

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” – Revelation 10:8-9 (ESV)

Fear and a false sense of humility often keep us from loving our Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – and it keeps us from following His commands. We read about the saints, heroes, and heroines of the faith and tell ourselves that we could never be like them. In truth though, we have far more in common with these legendary servants of God than we have setting us apart.

We know what it is to be human: to be breakable, corruptible, frail and failing… sometimes when we can see the right and good, yet are unable to do it. We know the brokenness of the world in which we live: filled to the brim with sin – an invisible disease that pulls apart everything it touches, leaving us desperate, wounded, and dying. Perhaps we know the pain of trying to stand against the tide in a flailing attempt to do what is right. Most importantly though, we know Jesus: God in the flesh, our savior and redeemer, our hope in desperation, our light in the darkness… and it is sweet indeed.

It is sweet to know Jesus and to have His grace in our lives. It can be sweet to share that grace with others. Yet sometimes we find ourselves standing back against the tide, sowing the seeds of God’s love for sinners upon hard hearts, in vain, and what was once sweet seems bitter. It seems bitter when our attempts to save souls are thrown back in our faces, humiliating us. It seems bitter when others take advantage of our mercy upon them and seek to use our generosity for their own gain. It seems bitter when those whom we hold dearest refuse to admit, refuse even to see their need of God’s grace in their lives and through this all, we find there is nothing we can do to change them, or the world.

The difference between a prophet and a witness lies only in the audience. It is like the subtle difference between a king and a parent – both have authority over the lives of others, and responsibilities for their nurture and protection. While you may not be called to tell seven churches in Asia Minor about God, you are called to testify on His behalf with those whom God has placed in your life… and to do so not in your own strength, but in Gods. We do well to remember that the prophets almost always faced rejection trying to give life and soul-saving wisdom to those to whom God brought them. All of them, from Noah to John knew the bitterness of seeing their words fall on deaf ears and hard hearts. However, we do well to remember that Jesus taught that only God can send the rains to make seeds grow, and only God can open the eyes of the blind and soften the hearts of sinners (Mark 4:26-29). The bitter truth is, you may never see the fruit of your labors as a witness to Christ in this life. However, we continue to bear witness because in doing so we show our love of Christ, and sometimes, not always, but sometimes, God turns our struggles and pains in loving sinners who reject us, and pours it upon their hearts like rain – which softens them, and causes those formerly dead seeds to sprout to new life, that others may come along and harvest later. Imagine how Jesus felt, being rejected by all… pouring out his lifeblood literally, and forgiving them with his final breaths – only to have his disciples be the ones to welcome those sinners into the kingdom afterwards. Jesus, the source of all this sweet grace, baptized no one, but humbly faced rejection throughout his whole life, so that those following after Him might reap the fruit of His labors.

So, let us not get so lost in the sweetness of God’s grace that we forget to take up our cross and share it with others. Nor let us despair in the bitterness of labors that seem to bear no fruit. Rather, let us press on and persevere, for God is with us. Let us live as more than conquerors because God goes before us. Let us remember that the bitterness will not last because God is still working and sending His harvesters in the fields we no longer tend.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

Revelation Week 7

Standard

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. – Revelation 8:1-5

I have heard it said that God always answers prayer, but that He does so in one of three ways: Yes, No, and Wait. As disheartening as the No’s can be, I think the Wait’s may be the hardest to live with and the answer that makes me feel most powerless and distant from God. Wait was the answer given to the martyrs crying out for justice from the altar in Revelation 6, and God followed it with an answer that may be even harder to deal with… silence.

However, it is in the darkness that light shines brightest, and in the silence that authentic faith is most felt… often as an ache. It is in this time of waiting that we count the sacrifices of our love and discover just how invested we are in our relationship with God. The altar was a place for sacrifice, not just obligation, and these martyrs had given their all, poured out their very lives to express their love of Christ, and there they waited for God to make good on His promises to them and the Scripture tells us that they did not wait in vain. An angel of God fills a censer with the fragrance and fire of those prayers on the altar and throws it to the earth where it is received by “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” Even greater though, than just creating a storm that shakes the very ground we stand upon, those prayers herald the seven trumpets which announce the reign of Christ on earth.

A famous Christian and mathematician, Blaise Pascal wrote, “God instituted prayer to communicate to creatures the dignity of causality.” This is not to say that if we say certain words we can make things happen supernaturally – the power is in God’s hands, not ours. Sometimes though, our prayers get the honorary position of leading the way in the parade of God’s redemption of the world… and sometimes it is our prayers themselves, guided by the Holy Spirit who teaches us to pray, that are an answer in and of themselves. Jesus prayed a prayer once, beginning “Our Father…”, and the way the world looked at God changed forever.

What is God doing with your prayers?

 

 

 


 

Revelation Week 6

Standard

“Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!””. – Revelation 6:6 (NIV)

    Can you imagine a country where a bottle of wine was cheaper to buy than a loaf of bread? The third horseman, traditionally known as “Famine” brings out this message to the people as the third seal is broken. He brings them into a world where a person has to work a whole day, just to buy a little grain for making bread – one of the most basic foods, but the oils and wines remain inexpensive by comparison. This horseman’s nature has less to do with agriculture, or even economics as many these days have wondered, and more to do with priorities. You see, when we trade the essentials (wheat and barley) for luxury items (olive oil and wine) we become unbalanced, constantly trying to fill vacancies in ourselves with things that cannot do the job. Sure, if you drink enough wine, your starving stomach may quit rumbling for a little bit, or perhaps you will just cease to feel or care about your hunger… but you won’t be able to live a full life like that. Your relationships, your responsibilities, your work and eventually your health will all suffer, and, as you lose your way, others around you will be affected as well. Those who follow you will be led astray. Those who depend on you will have to pick up the slack and seek help elsewhere. Misappropriated priorities are a downward spiral to destruction.

    Wheat and barley are valuable, but not because of what they are by themselves. Whereas livestock may enjoy munching on raw wheat and barley, human beings generally don’t consume grain right from the field. It takes time, effort, and work to harvest wheat, to grind it up, to sift out the inconsistencies, and to finally have fresh, pure, flour. However, it is worth the effort because, unlike the wine and olive oil, which is consumed often by itself, or perhaps simply as an ingredient to flavor other food, the flour can be transformed into hundreds of other types of food. Unlike the very temporary and often destructive nature of wine and oil, wheat and barley are creative by their very nature and inspire us to put our heads and hands to work to make something creative – just as our Heavenly Father is creative. It strengthens us with the nutrients that we need to live, to love, to work, to play, and to be vessels of redemption in this world.

    Finally, in Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus compares people to wheat in a parable about letting the good grow with the bad until the harvest comes. Unlike wine, people do not get better simply by sitting around getting older. Rather, we, like the wheat, need to be tended, nurtured, harvested, even put under the grinding wheel occasionally to root out our inconsistencies, to be brought back to a pure state in which God, in His infinite wisdom, power, and creativity, can shape and bake us into the wide diversity of breads that this world needs to live. As Jesus let Himself be grown, ground, baked, and broken for us… so we, as His disciples must daily put ourselves in God’s hands – our most important priority of all, and let him grown, grind, bake, and break us to redeem the broken world.

Put Christ first.

-Tony

Revelation Week 5

Standard

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. – Rev 4:4 (ESV)

    There are two words that get translated “crowns” in the New Testament: diadēma and stephanos. Diadema are the types of crowns we usually think of kings and queens wearing. They usually signify authority and power and very few people have the privilege of wearing them. Stephanos, on the other hand, is a very different type of crown. The most famous type of Stephanos is the type made from an olive branch, made into a wreath, and placed upon the head of the winner of the Olympic games. It is not a crown of power, but of victory. It is the stephanos that the 24 elders wear in the throne room of God and that the believers are given in John’s vision of heaven.

    Remember what Christ said to the churches? He said “to those who are overcoming…” will be given the blessings of God, including a crown (stephanos) of life (Rev. 2:10). Paul tells us in 1Corinthians 9:24-27 “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath (stephanos), but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Life is like a marathon, and we have to keep running, keep fighting the good fight against temptation and evil, for those who quit before reaching the finish line cannot receive the prize.

    However, this is not a race where we shove one another out of the way trying to reach the rewards of heaven. We follow the example of the perfect runner, Jesus Christ, who laid aside his glory and humbled Himself to serve and suffer for others. He too received a stephanos at the end of his race, and it was made of thorns. God transformed that mockery of a crown into a crown of life as Jesus claimed victory over sin and temptation, and even death. He is the runner whose path we follow.

    In Revelation 4:10, the saints show us that even after facing their own deaths for the sake of Christ, they prize God’s presence more than their trophies of victory. They do not continue to wear their stephanos in eternity, nor does it get hung up on a mantleplace or put into a trophy cabinet in memory of their hard work and sacrifice. In Revelation 4:10, the Scripture says they cast their crowns at the feet of God, as praise and offering to Him. Perhaps they know even then that the victory they won could not have been won without God’s grace in their life.

    How then should we run? With persistence, with humility, and perhaps most of all with God. With God we can do all things, but without Him, we can do nothing.