2013 – Watkins Glen State Park, NY
Something new: prayer!
Genesis 4: That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of God.
Things are really messed up. The human race is fallen. The Garden is gone. The first murder has taken place. It’s all falling apart. This “free will” thing isn’t working out very well. Eve has another son and names him Seth. Seth has a son and names him Enosh. Then a wonderful thing happens: people start praying and worshiping. I wonder how that came about. Is Seth so thankful for the gift of a son that he decides to start worshiping God? Is it Enosh who has a hunger for God and introduces praying and worshiping? I don’t know the answer but I do see here a change for the better; one that brought hope to a hopeless situation. So what does it take in my life? Does it take tragedy…or some great blessing? Does it take someone else finding the way and showing it to me? What does it take to turn me from a life being lived for self to one being lived in fellowship with God?
Take away: Prayer and worship is an “important discovery” for every person to make.
The New Jerusalem
Revelation 21: Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.
The final battle has been fought and the Day of Judgment has taken place. The indescribably beautiful City of God descends from heaven to a made-new earth. This City and this made-new earth is inhabited by people made new. The old ways have ended and new ways have come. Death, tears, and pain are forgotten. It’s been a long time coming but now the new day has dawned…a day without a sunset. John watches as the wonders of the New Jerusalem are revealed to him and as an angel measures out the magnificent city. Nothing that will spoil its perfection will enter this place. God’s people, those whose names are written the Lamb’s Book of Life, though, will get in. In one setting, Judgment Day, the vital importance of having one’s name in that all-important book is seen as the only way to survive Judgment. Now, as we watch John watch the Holy City coming down out of heaven, we find ourselves back at that same Book. Is your name in the Book of Life?
Take Away: Ultimately, that’s the only question that really matters.
Revelation 20: I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there – before the Throne!
The events described are challenging to say the least. There’s a 1000 years of peace on earth as the old dragon is bound in the pit. Is it a literal thousand years? Is the peace total or just the general condition of the earth? At the end, it seems there’s a good chance that the story of the human race is about to start all over again as the dragon is released and goes to work. But it’s not to be. Time is up. The dead are called forth and Judgment Day has finally come. Two books; one detailing the deeds of each life and the other listing those who’ve given themselves to the Lamb are the witnesses. The separating of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares takes place. It’s the end. It’s the beginning. Everything that’s happened has been the prelude to eternity. As is plain to anyone reading my devotionals on Revelation I really don’t have a clue. I’m lost as to both timeline and actual events. However, even someone as clueless as I am can have a handle on this final event. I’m going to stand before God. My life is going to be an “open book.” At that point, my only hope will be that second book, the Book of Life. If I’ve given my heart to Jesus and lived for him, it’s that book that’s my hope: my hope of life. Is your name in the Book of Life?
Take Away: Ultimately, that’s the only question that really matters.
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.
A good time to turn to God
Revelation 9: There wasn’t a sign of a change of heart.
The final three trumpets are called by some “woe-trumpets” because each one ushers in a period of suffering on earth. John is seeing future events, the end of time. He sees spiritual beings through his limited point of view so his descriptions are of strange, terrifying beings. The “locusts” are beings freed from the Abyss. They sweep across the earth like a huge plague of locusts, inflicting pain on a third of humanity. Angels that have been chained are set free to lead a destroying army that kills another third of humanity. Rather than fearfully turning to God those who survive continue as before: focused on material possessions, promiscuous lifestyles, and worshiping evil rather than God. Even as time draws to a violent end and the judgment of God is obvious they persist in their self-indulgent, God-ignoring ways. It hardly seems possible that it could be this way. Still, I’ve seen just a hint of it. I’ve seen people who’ve rejected the goodness of God and then, in the face of the hardship of life responded by hardening their hearts. In their case, their personal “woe-trumpet” didn’t result in their facing the spiritual facts of life. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. First of all, God’s love; his mercy and grace: these things should cause us to turn to him in sweet surrender. Second, when hardship does come, it doesn’t have to drive us away from God. Instead, it can cause us to run to him even as a hurt child runs to his or her Father for protection and comfort. It’s not smart to wait for such a time before turning to God, but if one hasn’t done it yet, days of trials and hardship, pain and suffering, are good days to turn to the one who offers us hope even as our world crumbles around us.
Take Away: When life is especially hard it is, as is always true, a good time to turn to the Lord.
Victory in Jesus
Revelation 7: Who are these dressed in white robes, and where did they come from?
As the worship scene in heaven unfolds John sees more and more worshipers. First, there are 144,000 people from the family trees of Israel. Then, he sees thousands and thousands from “all nations and tribes.” The number is too vast to count and they all begin singing praise to God and to the Lamb. John is transfixed by the scene but his focus is interrupted when one of the Elders asks him a question. He asks John who they are, this white robed, too-vast-to-be-counted throng of worshipers. John doesn’t know, but the Elder answers his own question. These are those who have come through the great tribulation. This huge multitude isn’t made up of everyone in heaven, just of those who faithfully serve Christ right at the end, as earth’s history is being wrapped up. A couple of things come to mind at this point. First, heaven won’t be a lonely place. In spite of “many called, few chosen” the “few” comprise a huge number. Second, as bad as the time of tribulation might be, by God’s power his people can overcome, not just surviving, barely limping in, but thriving in numbers too great to count, coming through clean and rejoicing. This is a testimony, not to human perseverance, but to God’s power at work in the lives of his people.
Take Away: By the grace of the Lord, by his power in our lives…by the Lord, we can hold fast in our faith and receive a glorious entrance into the place he’s prepared for us.
What an invitation!
Revelation 4: Ascend and enter.
Having received messages for seven churches John looks upward to see an opening door providing an entrance into Heaven. He hears a voice, issuing to him a command and a word of permission. He’s been invited into Heaven and is immediately filled with a sense of deep worship as he finds himself gazing on the very Throne of God. Everything’s overwhelming and, as he tells us about it, human language fails him. There’s worship going on and we’re left with the feeling that this is business as usual at the Throne. Heavenly beings sing “Holy, holy, holy” and those with crowns of righteousness cast those crowns at the feet of the One seated on the Throne. What’s business as usual in Heaven is all too rare on this side of that door. I’ve had some wonderful moments of blessing, some too precious for me to write about. They haven’t come nearly often enough but when they have come I’ve tasted just enough to long for more. Still, I’ve received an invitation to that place. I don’t know when it is that I’ll hear “Ascend and enter” but I do know that that command and word of permission will come someday. I’m sure I won’t like the process of getting there, but once I do, it’ll be worth it all.
Take Away: We’ve received that wonderful invitation to “ascend and enter” so let’s live as invited people, preparing for that day.
Victory in Jesus
1John 2: He solved the sin problem for good.
An old preacher’s line is when asked the topic of his or her sermon is to reply “I’ve decided to preach about sin…I’m going to take a stand against it.” In this passage we find John doing just that. He tells his readers that he’s writing “to guide you out of sin.” Then, if a believer falls back into sin, he points us to the remedy, our “Priest-Friend” Jesus. Beyond that, as I consider the broader problem of sin, I’m told that Jesus has already dealt with sin at that level too. Sin, which breaks our relationship with our Heavenly Father, has been decisively dealt with through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. “He solved the sin problem for good.” When sin is an issue in my life there’s a remedy and his name is Jesus. From this passage I learn, then, that Christians can live in victory over intentional spiritual failure. I learn that if that failure comes anyway that Christ’s victory can yet be mine. I learn that, even as I’m dismayed by rampant, destructive sin in the world that there’s hope, a way out through the Lord. Because of him I’m set free from the domination of sin. That opens the way to abundant life. For every person who struggles with some old sinful habit; for everyone who sometimes feels the tug of some especially powerful temptation; for everyone who wants to live freely in Christ – for everyone – this is a wonderful, hope-filled Word from the Lord.
Take Away: At the cross Jesus defeated sin and death once and for all.
Happy in Jesus
1Peter 1: You trust him, with laughter and singing.
Peter’s words are addressed to believers who are “scattered to the four winds.” These followers of Jesus don’t have it easy. They’re treated as outsiders and sometimes they suffer because of their faith. However, Peter’s writing to them isn’t heavy and grim. He doesn’t advise them to grit their teeth and hold on. Rather, he describes the victory that’s already theirs. He envisions their gatherings as joyful, celebrative events in which they sing and laugh, buoyed by the living presence of Jesus in their lives. The idea here isn’t that they pretend everything’s okay when it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s that they see a bigger picture and weighing their current situation against “total salvation” they find that they’re the big winners. Beyond that, it’s more than just “pie in the sky” for them. Something has happened and is happening in their lives right now. These are people who just can’t get over how blessed they are. While it’s true that my life is quite easy, especially in comparison to that of these scattered Christians, I do share in their blessings. As I get together with my Christian friends, whether it’s in formal worship or relaxed fellowship, I hear lots of good singing and good natured laughter. That, my friend, is exactly as it should be.
Take Away: It’s good to remember that it’s a joy living in Jesus and that it’s fun being with his people.
Continuing the story
Hebrews 11: Their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole.
This chapter of the Bible is called the “faith chapter” because of its almost poetic description of the power of faith. Now, it’s not just faith in faith. The focus of this powerful faith is clearly identified as “trust in God.” If I place my faith elsewhere, no matter now sincere that faith might be; it will be an act of foolishness that will take me down the path of disappointment and maybe even destruction. The heroes of faith described in this passage didn’t believe in belief. Rather they believed in, and trusted in, God. These people weren’t disappointed as the Lord came through for them in wonderful ways. The writer takes us on a faith tour, stopping before each exhibit just long enough to remind us of their victorious stories. Before we’re ready, he tells us time is up and we get just a glance down the hall of “current events” where we see people making great sacrifices for their faith, believing whatever it is they’re facing is worth the reward they’re earning. As we prepare to move on, our host says something quite surprising. As wonderful as their examples of faith is, it’s incomplete. We’re not on this tour just to look back. Rather, we’re here to be inspired to join in; to add our stories to theirs. Their looking-forward-to-God’s-better-plan-faith is to be balanced and completed by our embracing-the-better-plan-that’s-now-available-faith. As we live in this new salvation plan we prove the validity of their faith years ago. They carried the torch of faith as far as they could; now it’s been passed on to us. What an honor, what a privilege, and what a responsibility is ours.
Take Away: We don’t just remember great faith of years gone by – we embrace it and advance it to our day and age.