God’s Holy Humor and Provision


God’s Holy Humor and Provision

Genesis 29:15–28

Jacob Marries Laban’s Daughters

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

Psalm 128

The Happy Home of the Faithful

A Song of Ascents.

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,

who walks in his ways.

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;

you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine

within your house;

your children will be like olive shoots

around your table.

Thus shall the man be blessed

who fears the Lord.

The Lord bless you from Zion.

May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem

all the days of your life.

May you see your children’s children.

Peace be upon Israel!

Romans 8:26–39

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God’s Love in Christ Jesus

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Follow God, go to church, don’t drink, smoke, or have sex before marriage, and you will marry a beautiful spouse and have lots of beautiful, healthy, talented kids and at least twice as many grandkids… and if you are worried about how you will pay for all those birthday presents, never fear… God will provide!

Does that sound familiar to you? Maybe no one ever said it quite that bluntly, but did you grow up getting that message communicated to you on some underlying level from church, from grandma, and from your parents?

Sometime our hopes and dreams for those we care about become some of the greatest stumbling blocks to preaching and teaching the gospel. The end of Ecclesiastes tells us pretty clearly that there are no guarantees in life. So, making big promises about smooth sailing in life is often tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment to those we are trying to encourage. I don’t think we need to go into predictions of divorce, job loss, and cancer. I just think it is wiser, and ultimately kinder to be upfront about the challenge that real life is.

Paul tells us like it is. Expect to be wounded for being faithful. Expect to be teased and taunted, picked on and persecuted. It is not just about preparing for the worst. Jesus Himself taught that a student is not above his master and the world ran Jesus right up a cross. How can we expect better treatment than the Son of God?

But Paul continues on… it is this very persecution which unveils our faith, and ultimately God’s faithfulness to us. While we are not promised prosperity, God promises to provide what is truly necessary. Some days that is money to pay the bills. Other days it is a free dinner at a church. On rare occasions it may even mean a night spent in prison to give us the time to pray and examine our priorities, because the truth is, we often draw closer to God in times of loss than in times of gain.

Jacob is a perfect example. He did not live the perfect life, but he thought he found the perfect woman to be his wife. Then, as it turned out, he got a double blessing by being tricked into marrying two sisters. Now, I don’t believe in multiple spouses (polygamy) and I sorta think you’d have to be completely off your gourd to even attempt two relationships that take more than everything you have each… but marrying two sisters would top even that. Not only would there be the normal amount of jealousy and family conflict to deal with… you would inherit some 20 years of their family conflict before you even met them. Jacob may have initially thought he was getting the best deal out of this, but that prosperity would become the heart of conflict for the rest of his life. All those children only means thinner rations when there is famine in the land. Multiply your blessings and expect your challenges to go right along with them.

But that is just God’s sense of humor isn’t it? He teaches us to be content in and trust ultimately in Him, and Him alone. It is only God Himself who will never let us down. Everything else is meant to be the icing on the cake.

What blessings have turned into struggles for you in your life?

How do you return to a place of gratitude for one of the challenges?

How is God providing for you today?

Wrestling with a Name


Wrestling with a Name

Genesis 29:31–30:24

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord”; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.” So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son”; therefore she named him Dan. Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed”; so she named him Naphtali.

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune!” so she named him Gad. Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For the women will call me happy”; so she named him Asher.

In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband”; so she named him Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons”; so she named him Zebulun. Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah.

Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach”; and she named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”

Matthew 12:38–42

“The Sign of Jonah1

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

Naming was done in such a way as to present hopes or to express sentiments of the parents, especially during the birth of their children. With the importance and danger of childbirth in the ancient world, and the way, even today, childbirth has a powerful way of creating the social construct of family.

Just doing the role call at a family gathering would recount years of family conflict. The twin acts of deception and jealousy, which had characterized Jacob himself, through much of his life, flows through the pages in our hands, trickling down across the generations, through marriages, and raising children like a generational curse. This plot twist became a generational curse that would take God’s chosen people from their life in Canaan, ultimately into slavery in Egypt, due to their own jealous and deceptive acts, taught by their parents, and given to them in their very names. If you want to see all the mess that family can be, you will find a buffet of problems in the first book of the Bible alone.

Names can be blessings as well. For the most part, names themselves are not guarantees for either good or bad. The blessing of a name, and really any blessing for that matter, usually comes with the possibility of a downside if we do not handle it well. This may be why we struggle to be as thankful for these gifts as we perhaps could otherwise.

What about the name Jesus? What does it mean? The Bible tells us that it means “Savior”. I think our understanding of ‘savior’ is often a little shallow though. Jesus as our savior does more than just pull us back from the fire at the last moment. His work in saving us reflects God’s work in creating us from the beginning and the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us today. The name of Jesus, the name of our God (to me at least) is the One who makes something good out of nothing. This was the name that Jonah knew God to be, and the reason he wanted to stay away from Ninevah. He wanted to keep God for the worthy, at least in his own regard, and Ninevah had no one who qualified. Solomon, on the other hand, knew he was nothing when he was made king. He made his first act as king to be seeking out this God who makes something good out of nothing and God did not disappoint Solomon.

What does God’s name mean to you?

What kind of meaning does your name have to those around you?

  1. (Lk 11:29–32)

Life-Changing Moments – Part 2


Life-Changing Moments – Part 2

Genesis 29:9–14

While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.

When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.

Acts 7:44–53

“Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,

and the earth is my footstool.

What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,

or what is the place of my rest?

Did not my hand make all these things?’

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

What makes those special moments so powerful? Plot twists.

Plot twists? Well maybe plot turns is a better expression. They are moments though when we make decisions, even if we don’t feel like we really have choices to make. Not just choices about what to eat for breakfast (at least on most days). Choices that reshape the path we walk on for the rest of our lives.

Want to find out what yours are? Take a moment and write down the top 5 things you would do differently if you had a chance. Next write down the top 5 things you would definitely want to do the same. Those are likely the 10 major plot turns in your life.

Jacob had one such the day he met Rachel. Another the day he married her. Yet another, in between those two, on the day he thought he married her. Can you imagine the conversations held in that family, reminiscing on the “good ol’ days”?

Stephen, had a similar experience reminding the Jewish leaders who had handed Jesus over to be crucified. He reminded them that this was not the first messenger of God they had killed. In fact, the very fact that they had rejected Jesus was actually part of the evidence that He was indeed the true messiah they had been waiting for… irony of ironies. Plot twists.

How do you handle those plot twists in your life?

Where do you see God at work in those plot twists?

Life-Changing Moments – Part 1


Life-Changing Moments – Part 1

Genesis 29:1–8

Jacob Meets Rachel

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.

Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?” They said, “We do.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” “Yes,” they replied, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.” He said, “Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”

1 Corinthians 4:14–21

Fatherly Admonition

I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church. But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

Those powerful life-changing moments happen to us all. Many of them require preparation, but some of them sneak up on us. Either way, the greatest success stories all share one thing in common: Someone was in the right place at the right time, and did the right thing.

I get all bent out of shape around these moments. Something happened to my nerves when I was young and I’m not sure exactly what or who to blame (although at this point it really doesn’t matter). I start getting nervous somewhere between a week and 2 days before I know these moments occur. Then, during them, I just go on autopilot. I talk more, faster, and louder, than I would normally do. In fact, looking back at recordings of some of these moments is a little bit embarrassing. Then, shortly after I finish whatever automatic response I had stored up, my nerves kick in again and I want nothing more than to crawl into a hole in the ground and cease to exist for a couple weeks.

Psychologists have dubbed me and introvert, and I would add that I have some false extroverted coping tendencies. In a world that demands a particular degree of extroversion from us all, I struggle during some of those life-changing moments to simply fit in and feel human. Some of my most powerful, life-changing moments have been times alone, or at least alone with God. I hear more clearly from God and honestly, from everyone else as well when I am out of the crowd.

I cannot always plan time away from everyone in the middle of those important moments, and you may not need that yourself, but we all need a way to prepare for and process those moments. How can you tell when an important moment approaches? What do you do to make sure you are ready? Do you find yourself fighting against automatic responses that are unhelpful or do you find it better to simply rely on your instincts? These are things that are not often taught in life, but the whole of life tries to teach us.

It is, in many ways, the blessing of the Law. It prepares us for handling those important moments well, by training us throughout our lives in responses that are meant to become automatic – part of who we are. It is like parents who train their children to wash every day and brush their teeth, knowing full well, that most of their days they could probably get by without it… but one of those days young Jacob is going to meet Rachel, and the smell of his breath could change the course of his life forever. A long string of romantic relationships may keep you from being alone for a handful of years, but they may also keep you from a soulmate you have yet to meet. Learning to rein in your temper may be frustrating, until the one time you catch yourself before throwing a punch keeps you out of jail and helps you land that dream job you’ve been working towards your whole professional life.

God’s Law is not the end all and be all of spiritual life. It simply helps us recognize those important moments and successfully navigate them. It is not meant to just be read, it is meant to be lived out and modeled. That is why Paul sent Timothy back to the Corinthians – a church full of people on with untrained autopilots. They needed to see the Law in action and be lovingly corrected before the harsh consequences of life corrected them permanently.

What have been the most important moments of your life so far?

How did you know how or learn how to respond in those moments?

What important moments do you see coming up ahead?

The End of Glory


The End of Glory

Genesis 35:16–29

The Birth of Benjamin and the Death of Rachel

Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.” As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

The Death of Isaac

Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had resided as aliens. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years. And Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Matthew 12:15–21

God’s Chosen Servant

When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,

my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,

and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

He will not wrangle or cry aloud,

nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

He will not break a bruised reed

or quench a smoldering wick

until he brings justice to victory.

And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

If we begin with the end in mind we can find a better path to achieve those goals and experience real success in our life. However, life is generally not just one goal, but rather a series of goals, some bigger and some smaller. We do not often think about this until we experience it firsthand, but the very fact that goals have beginnings and ends means that there will come a high point in our lives, a moment of achieving success by our own standards (hopefully), and somewhere shortly after that moment, everything will begin to fall away and our end will approach. I have heard of preachers actually dying in the middle of preaching or leading worship services – perhaps most notably Archbishop Romero, who was killed while serving mass.

Others set a goal to live to be a certain age and often pass away shortly afterwards. Still others seek to finish a particular task or work before they die. The one thing that draws us all together though, is that we all have an end, and for the most part, do not have control over when it will be. Even someone like Terry Pratchett who sought to end his own life through physician-assisted suicide, died before he had planned… and some might say that his glory, his moments of success had since passed as he had fallen victim to the devastation of Alzheimer’s Disease. The fact is, we never know what moment may be our last great moment in this lifetime.

I wonder when Jacob’s last truly great moment was. Was it when he wrestled God? Was it when he was reconciled with Esau? Was it when his first child was born by Rachel, his beloved wife? Perhaps it was later, when he was reunited with his estranged son Joseph… we won’t know until we get to ask him. Regardless, we need to recognize up-front, that this life we live has to be about more than success and achieving goals, or else, once all is accomplished, there is nothing left to do but lay down and die.

How many people did Jesus meet who had passed their prime and were ready to cash in the few chips they had left? Those who were old, sick, paralyzed, filled with leprosy, cast out as demon-possessed, sinners despised by their neighbors? What was His response to them?

He loved them. He reminded them that life is about more than what we can accomplish. He showed them that they were loved because God created them, not because of what they had done with that creation. Jesus saw an immense value in us, below the surface, that we never be able to understand, the way we cannot comprehend a mother’s love for her own child. We only come close in knowing love for our own children. Yet it was here, at the end, not at the moment of conquest, that these people truly saw God for Who He is.

What moments in your life have you been most proud of?

What moments in your life have you most experienced God’s grace?

Do you know someone who is experiencing the end of their glory and needs a reminder of God’s love that transcends this lifet?

Preparing for Payback


Preparing for Payback

Genesis 32:3-21

Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau

Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’ ”

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.”

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’ ”

So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.” He instructed the foremost, “When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.’ ” He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, and you shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’ ” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp.

Revelation 14:12-20

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”

Reaping the Earth’s Harvest

Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

One of the secrets of success is to begin with the end in mind. It is how we set goals, cast visions, develop missions, and break things down into manageable, doable, tasks for each day. Without this first step, we are just guessing and not even sure what success looks like, let alone how to achieve it.

I think that is why God gave us the prophets, and why He showed John the vision that has become the final book of the Bible. What would happen if we read that first though. Before we got into arguments about creation, what counts as sin, whose fault it is, etc… what if we started with a picture of the glorious perfection of the end? When I read the last several chapters of Revelation, it seems almost alien to me, like something drawn up out of a fantasy world that I have never seen and can’t imagine.

How do we get from here to there? Well, Revelation covers that too, and it’s not pretty. The passage above gives us an image of judgment being passed down upon creation and the wrath of God being used as an instrument – not only of destruction, but of redemption. A wine press is used to separate the good (juice) from the bad (pomace). In fact, if I had to pick one overarching theme of the whole vision of Revelation, it would be this: God is going to have His will done on earth as it is in heaven, and any part of us that is willing to surrender will be made new, but any part of us that refuses will be destroyed to make way for God’s plans. The gospel train’s a comin’ and you don’t want to be on the tracks in it’s way when it comes through.

So what do you do when you hear God headed your way and your house is not in order? We make like Jacob, and start doing good deeds, making donations, throwing away our addictions and cleaning house as fast as we can. At that point, we don’t just want to appear like a basically good person. We want to appear poor and humble… not worth the judge’s attention. We aren’t looking for a justification that will never come our way. We want pity. We want to make it look like we are the victim, not the perpetrator.

It never works. God sees through that every time, and those kinds of preparations are wasted efforts. To the church in Laodicea, God had John write:

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

God would rather we be honest about our sin than to try to cover it up with false humility, pretending to be faithful, when the truth is, we don’t even know how to be faithful. There is no fooling God. He is going to have His will and He is going to have it His way, and if there is any honest part of us that really knows God at all, we will hear it tell us that we should be thankful of that, because He is a far better ruler of our world and our life than we could ever hope to be.

What parts of your life do you think are obedient to God?

“What parts of your life do you feel would be in jeopardy if God were to call you to account today?