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God will go before you
Exodus 23: I won’t get rid of them all at once lest the land grow up in weeds and the wild animals take over.
The Lord promises his people that he’ll not only be with them but will also go before them. Before they ever arrive in Canaan the Lord will already be at work there, preparing the way for them. The inhabitants of that land will be visited by “Terror” and “Despair.” Just the thought of the coming Israelites will cause them to withdraw, yielding the land to them without a fight. However, the Lord also tells them that the withdrawal of these heathen people won’t happen all at once. If all human beings desert the land then the weeds and wild animals will take over and Canaan land won’t be as wonderful as the Lord wants it to be for his people. While I know it didn’t work out, I can’t help but imagine a very different picture from both the books of Joshua and Judges. As I consider this passage I find myself thinking of God’s work in my life. As one of God’s people I have some precious promises. He’s with me and he’ll make a way even when there is no way. However, that doesn’t mean all the battles are already won. Like the people of Israel, I’m to trust in the Lord and to move forward, believing that, by his grace, I can face whatever obstacles might arise. It would be nice if all the signal lights in my life were permanently on green even as I sit in the driveway, but it doesn’t work that way. I have to move out in trust and allow the Lord to help me through the rough areas one step at a time.
Take Away: God’s work in my life is that of unfolding grace, him making the way for me, one day at a time.
Muddling my way through, holding fast
Revelation 16: Keep watch! I come unannounced, like a thief. You’re blessed if, awake and dressed, you’re ready for me.
The seven bowls of God’s wrath bring untold misery to the earth. Some of the miseries remind us of what happened in the limited region of Egypt during the ten plagues. In this case, though, the suffering is worldwide. When God’s attention specifically turns to the Beast and his unholy trinity they rally the nations of the earth to fight back. Armageddon is at hand. There’s so much here that I don’t understand that I’m ashamed of myself. Here I am in the book called “Revelation” and I’m constantly reminded that I’m missing whatever it is I’m supposed to grasp. Still, once in a while I’m graciously given something to which I can cling. Even if I don’t get it, I’m advised to “Keep watch!” and to be “ready.” Jesus said the same thing during his earthly ministry and now he repeats it. Even as I muddle through these pictures of judgment filled with symbolism that I’m missing more than understanding, I’m encouraged to simply hang in there. I may not understand Armageddon but I understand what it means to stand fast in my relationship with the Lord. Ultimately, it’s that that matters much more than my poor grasp on the precise meaning of passages like this.
Take Away: Even when you don’t understand what’s going on stand fast in the faith. Ultimately, that’s what matters the most anyway.
The way to die
Revelation 14: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!
In this passage the harvest of the world is about to be described but prior to that there’s another description of God’s people standing “passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus.” Then John is told specifically to write about those who finish their lives while being “passionately patient.” They serve God through their lives, looking for Jesus to return, overcoming the hardships and trials of their journey. In the specific case of this passage there’s considerable pressure on them to follow the general population in worship of the Beast. These saints resist and at personal cost persist in being “faithful to Jesus.” Now, for them, the battle ends. Their “hard, hard work” is over and “God blesses them for it all in the end.” I’ve known people such as these described in this passage. They loved the Lord and served him through their lives. When hard times came, they wished for a way out, but way out or not, they continued to trust God. Physically, they were ultimately defeated. Spiritually though, they were victorious. John is told to remind God’s people that those who “die in the Master” are blessed. Unless Jesus comes back first, my turn’s coming. I want the same kind of passionate patience, the same faithfulness to God’s commands, to be the hallmark of my life. As this passage says: “how blessed to die that way!”
Take Away: Live the right way so you can die the right way.
God’s people doing what God’s people do
Revelation 13: Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.
As I struggle my way through symbolism that has challenged Bible scholars across the centuries it’s nice to find some firm footing, if for just a moment. I can’t identify the Beast or the Beast’s puppet or solve the 666 riddle. Since John writes to specific congregations in a specific place and time I don’t buy into any interpretation that can only be grasped 2000 years in the future, so the 666 reference, in particular has to make sense historically, but again, I’m not the go to guy for this kind of stuff. What I do like is the momentary firm footing of “Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.” Their situation doesn’t sound very good. There’s some kind of leopard-bear-lion Beast dominating the whole world. This Beast hates the Church and intends to destroy it. Life is hard under this persecution (is it Rome or some future event or both?) and it appears that the Church will be crushed. God’s people, though, stand firm. In spite of prison and the sword their passion for Christ empowers them. In the face of this crisis of (literally) Biblical proportions they “stand their ground.” That’s exactly what God’s people do. It’s not that we travel easy roads, smelling roses all the way. Sometimes we take some hits that are anything but easy. We don’t like it and we do all we can to avoid it, but in the end, whatever comes we passionately and faithfully stand for God. Even as I have a hard time getting the rest of this passage into focus, my view of this truth is 20/20.
Take Away: The Lord’s people have staying power even in impossible situations.
Revelation 11: Get up and measure God’s Temple and Altar and everyone worshiping in it.
This chapter of John’s Revelation might be considered to be the first conclusion of the book. We’re now at the sounding of the final trumpet and once it sounds Judgment Day has arrived as time comes to an end. However, John has much more to see as the description of specific events will be expanded. Before that final trumpet sounds John’s given the same task Daniel was given many years earlier. He’s to measure the “Temple and Altar and everyone worshiping” there. One understanding of this that works for me is that this is a measurement of God’s Church in preparation for judgment. Everything’s about to wrap up and the time Jesus referred to as a dividing of sheep and goats is about to begin. Now John’s given the task of seeing how the Church, represented by the Temple and Altar in the vision, measures up. As John prepares to go to work he’s told to ignore those in the outside court. They may be hanging around the Temple and appear to belong. However, they aren’t part of the worshiping body. I’m not claiming to have figured things out here but there’s a lot of truth in that interpretation. At some point the Church will be measured and people will give an account of themselves to the Judge of the world. Just hanging around the fringes won’t cut it. Those who are faithful, serving the Lord, worshiping him in both good days and bad, though, have nothing to fear even in the fearful days described in this passage.
Take Away: Oh I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.
The blood of the martyrs
Revelation 6: I saw the souls of those killed because they had held firm in their witness to the Word of God.
The seals unveil future events, although readers though the centuries have been all over the place in their understanding of just what it is John is seeing. Perhaps the broad view is the best one. History is marching to a climax and as that climax draws near the world’s going to experience powerful and disturbing events. As the fifth seal is removed we see those martyred for their faithfulness to the Lord. In John’s day people are already suffering for their faith. John, himself, in fact, is exiled from the church. However, things are going to get worse. Many will die on the floor of the Coliseum in Rome. History, in fact, will see many faithful Christians die as martyrs. Sad to say, it continues to this day. John hears their voices as they cry out for justice. They’re told that the day of justice is coming. As I think about these who’ve followed Jesus even into death I feel small and insignificant. I confess that I’m hardly worthy to share the name “Christian” with them. I don’t want to forget that my heritage of faith has been a costly one. I don’t want to forget those who, even as I write these words, are paying a dear price for standing firm in their faith. At the same time, the promise of this passage speaks to my heart today. These have already been given “white robes” – honored in heaven. The day will come when the books will be balanced and justice will prevail. It doesn’t take my feeling any sense of vengeance at all for me to say, if God is just, then he’ll “avenge their murders.”
Take Away: The justice of the Lord demands that things be set right, and that day is, indeed, coming.
Revelation 2: I see what you’ve done…I see where you live…I see everything you’re doing for me.
In his Revelation John has a message for seven churches. Each message follows a similar format: a description of Jesus as conqueror followed by a declaration that he sees what’s happening in the churches. Then there’s a word of encouragement followed by a word of correction followed by a call to response. Finally, there’s a command to hear these words and respond by taking action. These churches are operating in some extreme circumstances with lots of opposition both inside and outside their number. There are enemies of Christ dressed up as apostles and there are those who are trying to blend Christianity with the local religion. As the church stands firm in the faith and stands up to these deceivers the Lord is pleased. If the church fails here it places itself in danger of being something other than Christian. The thing that stands out to me today is that the Lord sees all this. He wants the believers to know that they aren’t operating out in the darkness apart from him. He also wants those who are dabbling in some of these beliefs and practices to know that he knows what they’re doing. It’s good to remember that our labor for the Lord doesn’t go unnoticed. As I faithfully serve him he takes note and wants to encourage me. It’s nice when people tell me I’m doing a good job. It makes me feel good, even appreciated. However, whether that happens or not there’s One who sees what I’ve done, where I live, and appreciates what I do in his name. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that really matters.
Take Away: Even if no one else sees the Lord sees. In the long run, that what matters.
A secret to the victorious Christian life
Ephesians 4: I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that leads to nowhere.
God never calls people to be half-hearted, costing along, distracted followers. He’s given us everything we need, in fact, abundantly more than we need to live victorious Christian lives. With this in mind we’re to take it all and run with it. There’s no need for fits and starts, stumbling and struggling back to our feet. Rather we’re to confidently move forward on our spiritual journey. Some folks don’t get it. Rather than moving forward they wander along, taking detours in which they’re in real danger of totally losing their way. So, how can I best get on and stay on track? The Apostle frames it in terms of relationships. He describes the victorious Christian life as one filled with “acts of love” and in which things that strain our connection to our brothers and sisters in Christ are quickly recognized and resolved. After all, he reminds us, we’re traveling this road together and we’re connected in our mutual love for our Master, Jesus. If I fail to love and allow little things to fester in my relationships with God’s people, I become one of those half-hearted, distracted Christians who are in danger of wandering so far from the path that I become lost in the darkness.
Take Away: We really do need each other.
Our secret weapon
Mark 13: When the time comes, say what’s on your heart – the Holy Spirit will make his witness in and through you.
Big, devastating changes are coming. Their beloved Temple, for instance, will be a pile of ruins. Godly people will be abused, dragged into court. When the pressure’s on and their enemies have the upper hand the followers of Jesus are to remember these words and turn to the Lord for strength and wisdom to triumph even in the darkest of days. Specifically, when they stand accused in court they shall do so in confidence. They’ll have an inner Resource. They’ll find themselves saying things they haven’t thought of and with a power they never imagined. That Resource, Jesus says, is the Holy Spirit. In the decades to come generations of martyrs rise up, each proving the words of Jesus. When things are the darkest, God’s people stand firmly victorious empowered by the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world today. Beyond that, I believe he’s at work in me. I think I tend to worry too much about what I’m supposed to say and do in difficult situations. I forget this promise and think it’s all up to me and I fear I’ll blow it. Surely, those Christians proved this promise to be about a literal enabling of the Holy Spirit for God’s people, especially when they’re under the gun. I need to be more aware of this promise and of the practical Resource of the Holy Spirit, especially when I need immediate, crisis-level help.
Take Away: The help of the Holy Spirit is more real and immediate than most of us realize.
A little dirty, but no worse for wear
Matthew 25: It’s criminal to live cautiously like that!
A wealthy man is going on a long trip and in preparation for leaving he assigns three trusted servants to handle his investments for him while he’s gone. He doesn’t take his assets and divide them by three. Instead, he entrusts his servants with differing amounts based on their capabilities of handling such responsibilities. The most gifted (and trusted) servant comes through with flying colors. The next servant does just as well with the smaller amount placed under his control. The third servant, though, is a miserable failure. He wasn’t considered to be especially capable in the first place, but the wealthy man took that into consideration by giving him less responsibility. The third servant, though, doesn’t even try. He hides the money and waits for the day of accounting. This approach angers the wealthy man and it’s the undoing of the third servant who’s thrown out. He isn’t fired because he didn’t do as well with his money as did the first servant. Rather, he’s thrown out for doing nothing with the resources placed in his hands. In the Kingdom of God, we’re valued based on our faithfulness rather than our capability. Had the most gifted servant hidden the larger amount placed in his care he would have been the one thrown out. Had this third servant returned with even meager interest he would have been commended for a job well done. The thing that concerns me today isn’t that I see some who have greater ability and more high profile positions in the Kingdom of God. My concern is that I be faithful with what the Lord has given me. I don’t want to face God with empty hands.
Take Away: What must I do to be a good steward of what God has placed in my hands?