Revelation 11:16-19 – Be Encouraged

The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest in Abilene, Texas

Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, singing,

“We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty,
    who are and who were,
for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.
The nations raged,
    but your wrath has come,
    and the time for judging the dead,
for rewarding your servants, the prophets
    and saints and all who fear your name,
    both small and great,
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. (New Revised Standard Version)

Late in his life, as the old Apostle John lived in exile, he experienced a grand vision. It is what we today refer to as The Book of Revelation, or The Apocalypse of John. 

At the turn of the first century, Christ’s Church was facing a great deal of difficulty and hardship. Christians were the minority. Believers in Jesus were looked at with suspicion. Followers of Christ were often misunderstood and persecuted because of false information. 

In short, all of the myriad sufferings and persecutions that Jewish people currently face and have faced for millennia were true of the early believers in Jesus.

Therefore, the purpose of John’s vision was not to give slick preachers a reason to craft elaborate prophecy charts about what’s going to happen in the future. Instead, God was concerned for the current welfare of his people. The vision was meant to bring encouragement.

The message to John, passed onto the suffering church, was that this present hard situation will not always be this way. Danger, adversity, and hardship will not last forever. There is a day coming when God’s judgment and benevolent reign will truly rule in all of its glorious fullness.

Our prayers will be answered, the ones we have lifted to God for centuries: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Gergeti Trinity Church, Georgia

The Lord did not want his beloved children to succumb to discouragement and lose heart. So, the vision from John assured them that all will be made right. Jesus is Lord, and his good rule will have the day. 

Yes, we currently live in a world profoundly touched by the presence and power of sin. And because of that sad reality, we feel all kinds of various pain. We have no choice but to endure the hardships of national wars, bodily diseases, lack of resources, economic woes, mental disorders, emotional distress, and spiritual warfare.

It is possible to observe, as well as experience, all the crud of this sinful world and fall into despair. If or when that happens, we give-in to unhealthy ways of coping with the adverse circumstances around us.

Graciously, we have been given a glimpse into how all of history will shake-out in the end. That brief pulling back of the curtain is meant to bring us needed encouragement, steadfast hope, and patient endurance. 

There is coming a day when expressions of grief and lament will give way to praise and gratitude to God. And that incredible praise will explode with all believers, past and present, along with all creation, proclaiming together that the Lord God is all-powerful. 

The kingdom of this world belongs to our Lord and to his Chosen One. And he will rule forever and ever.

Some might protest that Christians have been harping on this return of Jesus for two millennia and he still isn’t here. We must not misinterpret God’s inaction as uncaring or that God is non-existent. Because it is really patient grace.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9, NIV)

Our present sufferings must also not be misinterpreted, as if God hates us or is just plain mean. For the Christian, suffering is transformed into solidarity with Jesus Christ.

My dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful test you are suffering, as though something unusual were happening to you. Rather be glad that you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may be full of joy when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13, GNT)

All of our collective experiences are meant not for harm, but for good so that we might realize spiritual growth and maturity.

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, NIV)

Lord Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you caused our earthly pain to be sacred and have meaning. Through your example of humble obedience, you opened the way for us to walk through our own hard circumstances with grace and submission.

Be near me in my time of weakness and pain. Sustain me by your grace, so that my strength and courage may not fail. Heal me according to you will. Help me always to believe that what happens to me in this present life is of little account if you hold me in eternal life, my Lord and my God.

As Jesus cried out on the cross, I cry out to you in pain, O God my Creator. Do not forsake me. Grant me relief from this suffering and preserve me in peace; through Jesus Christ my Savior, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Revelation 11:15 – He Will Reign Forever

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.” (New International Version)

I am so looking forward to that day!

As an ordained Minister, I have done my share of weddings over the years. Working with engaged couples anticipating marriage is both exciting and awkward. It is, in some ways, a difficult time for the betrothed because they are committed to one another in a manner different from just dating. But they are not yet in a marriage relationship. 

The same is true for the Church. She is betrothed to the Lord Jesus. They are both quite committed to each other. But the marriage hasn’t yet happened. There is still this engagement period. We’re ready for permanent unending marital bliss.

The kingdom of God has been inaugurated, but not yet consummated. That’s a fancy way of saying that God’s rule and reign has come to this earth, but its fulfillment has not yet occurred. 

This present time we are now experiencing between the two advents of Christ – his incarnation and his coming again – is a weird and awkward time of engagement. We’re trying to figure out how to live in the world but not of it. 

Yet, there is a time coming at the consummation of the ages, at the end of time, when Christ will return to take his bride. Then, the Church will celebrate in a great wedding feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. From then on, the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord, and he will reign forever and ever.

Just as marriage is designed for permanence, so our union with Jesus will last forever. His gracious and benevolent reign shall never end. Christ’s rule will be complete and extend over all the earth. 

Until then, however, believers must patiently persevere with fidelity to our Lord Jesus, who loved us and gave himself up for us.

Slow and steady is better than nothing at all.

We keep going, despite all obstacles, adversity, difficulty, and discouragement – without comparing ourselves to others or making everything a competition.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV)

Persevering to the end is the goal, not being perfect all the time. Perfection is the sure road to depression and feeling defeated. Endurance, however, is able to focus on the small efforts of each day to get where it wants to go.

Even though we anticipate our eternal life, that very life has already begun, right now. So, we can live with confidence, knowing the Lord is with us.

Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, NRSV)

Perseverance can only happen with physical, mental, emotional, as well as spiritual health. We compromise our ability to keep going and remain encouraged with a lack of self-care.

We need to pay attention to our bodies because they are the vehicles by which we do the will of God.

We must attend to our minds because that is where we do battle with the enemy.

We have got to become comfortable with talking about feelings because we are emotional creatures, created by a God with deep feeling and emotion.

And we are to be disciplined with spiritual practices, just as we are with anything which requires our attention.

Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers. (1 Timothy 4:8-10, MSG)

In those times we are confused or just don’t know what the heck to do, we turn to the Lord.

With all your heart
you must trust the Lord
    and not your own judgment.
Always let him lead you,
and he will clear the road
    for you to follow. (Proverbs 3:5-6, CEV)

Keep moving. The Lord will direct you. The kingdom is coming in all its fullness.

Gracious heavenly Father, may we never lose the way through our self-will, and so end up in the far countries of the soul. May we never abandon the struggle, but endure to the end, and so be saved. May we never drop out of the race, but continually press forward to the goal of our high calling.

May we never choose the cheap and temporary things and let go the precious things that last forever. May we never take the easy way, and so leave the right way. May we never forget that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown.

So, almighty and everlasting God, keep us and strengthen us by your grace so that no disobedience and no weakness and no failure may stop us from entering into the blessedness which awaits those who are faithful in all the changes and chances of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 12:4-12 – Dealing with Trouble

Jesus the Teacher by J. Kirk Richards

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (New International Version)

A new resurrected life is a beautiful thing. And it can be a hard thing, at the same time.

Decades ago, I once preached in a church for morning and evening worship services. As I entered the church building for the evening sermon, one of the deacons greeted me by saying, “Man, did you ever stir the pot this morning!”

It turns out, because I did not stay behind the pulpit when I preached, but freely roamed around the sanctuary, many parishioners believed I was not being under the authority of God’s Holy Word. They took my actions as subversive, even rebellious. Others defended the action. The entire church became divided over it.

What I found so interesting about the whole affair is that I was simply and genuinely being myself – and it caused trouble to the point of families dividing and imploding in on themselves.

Sometimes people lose sight of what’s really important, and the gospel of grace ends up bringing division. Jesus tended to cause trouble in his earthly ministry, just by being himself – and a lot of folks didn’t take kindly to him exercising authority like God does.

Trouble tends to follow Christian mission and service. That may seem odd. Yet, God’s kingdom is an upside-down one. The way of resurrection and new life comes through a cross and a death; the way to succeed is to fail; the one who loses their life will find it.

We ought to expect opposition and trouble from the world.

Fortunately, nobody ever accused me of being in cahoots with the devil. But that happened to Jesus, on more than one occasion. (Matthew 10:24-25)

Christians are not above their Master – they will be treated as he was. Jesus didn’t want his followers to be surprised whenever they face opposition.

We don’t need to be afraid of getting into trouble.

Fear has to do with the unknown and about what is going to happen to us. Since we know opposition and trouble is expected, we can avoid living in dread. Early on in the church, Christians actually rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus.

We are given a promise that we’ll receive special help in times of adversity. Believers possess the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our helper and advocate for such difficult situations.

God sees all things. The Lord isn’t surprised by your hardship and will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this old fallen world. The wrath of God is to be much more feared than the wrath of people.

God observes all the details of our lives. If God cares and is attentive to the least little things in my life, then how much more will the big issues in my life be handled!?

Blaspheming (saying hard things against) the Holy Spirit is nothing more nor less than attributing the work of Satan to God.

We aren’t doomed to hell if we are crushed under a heavy load of distress and pressure. God won’t strike us with lightning if we make mistakes, mess up, or fail to live as we ought. The Lord will likely be sad, but fire and brimstone will not be in the picture.

You might be wondering how I handled the hubbub with the church who fractured over my preaching apart from the pulpit. I came back in the evening and purposely caused trouble by preaching the Beatitudes of Jesus while walking up and down the aisle.

After all, when somebody is secure in Christ, why not say and do what needs to be said and done?

Gracious God, your love is sufficient for us. May your guidance and wisdom hold us tightly, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Guard the hearts and minds of believers in places of hardship, war, and persecution so that your church may stand strong in faith.

Although trouble may come, neither any person nor any power on this earth can take our souls from us. We belong to you. May your church stand strong in grace and love, being assured with the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

We pray for the day when we will all be together in worship and praise at the consummation of your benevolent kingdom. Until that day, may your love flow to all our persecuted brothers and sisters. May your blessed Holy Spirit strengthen and fill them with faith, hope, and love, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen

Psalm 31:9-16 – Lord, Have Mercy

Christ in Gethsemane by Michael O’Brien

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
    Tears blur my eyes.
    My body and soul are withering away.
I am dying from grief;
    my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
    I am wasting away from within.
I am scorned by all my enemies
    and despised by my neighbors—
    even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,
    they run the other way.
I am ignored as if I were dead,
    as if I were a broken pot.
I have heard the many rumors about me,
    and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,
    plotting to take my life.

But I am trusting you, O Lord,
    saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
    Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
    In your unfailing love, rescue me. (New Living Translation)

One of my parishioners from years ago had seen hard combat in Italy during World War II. He saw his best friend killed, right next to him. I still remember his story and what he said in conclusion to it, in his own sage way: “In my experience, war is a very poor way of dealing with problems.”

And yet, we sometimes find ourselves embedded in circumstances we neither wanted nor asked for. Just ask the Ukrainians. No one puts their name on a sign-up sheet for suffering. Yet not a one of us can avoid it. 

Pain comes in all kinds of forms. Maybe the worst kind of suffering is the wound inflicted from others looking down at you when you’re already experiencing trouble and damaged emotions. 

Whether it is an ethnic or racial group of people facing ridicule, anger, and even beatings or death; or whether it is refugees trying to survive the ravages of war, the physical effects of pain can oftentimes be secondary to the primary hurt experienced within the spirit. 

“Suffering is part of the human condition, and it comes to us all. The key is how we react to it, either turning away from God in anger and bitterness or growing closer to Him in trust and confidence.”

Billy Graham

The Old Testament character, David, knew first-hand about suffering through hard circumstances. There were times when he felt completely overwhelmed by the evil machinations of people trying to take his life. If we could put ourselves in David’s sandals, we can understand why he was worn-out to the point of not sleeping, not eating well, even with a hint of paranoia. 

David responded to his seemingly impossible situation by entrusting himself to God. He truly believed he was in the Lord’s hands – and that fact was David’s go-to truth. 

Crossing over into the New Testament Gospels, Jesus uttered his last words on the cruel cross from this today’s psalm: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). 

The cross was an obvious place of extreme bodily pain. That wretched pain, however, was dwarfed by the great spiritual pain of holding the entire world’s hurts and their curse of separation. The stress of both body and soul must have been crushing for Jesus. 

Yet, there was a strength of assurance, for Jesus, in the eye of that pain – the confidence of knowing he was in good hands, just like David’s confidence a millennium before.

There are times in life when we all struggle with why particular afflictions happen to us, in whatever form they might take in us. 

It is in the situation of being forgotten by others that we are most remembered by God.

It is within the crucible of trouble that God is the expert in deliverance.

It is when others revile us, say terrible things about us, and talk behind our backs that God comes alongside and whispers words of grace and steadfast love to us. 

It is whenever life is downright hard that we see a soft-hearted God standing to help us and hold us. 

While we are feeling our awful suffering, God is carefully crafting within us resilience through the rejection, empathy in our loneliness, purpose because of the trauma, forgiveness out of the shame, courage from having been failed, and self-awareness in the wake of emotional devastation. 

The biblical psalms are the consummate place to go when we are most in need. They provide the means to lift heartfelt prayers whenever our own words fail us. 

The psalms give us structure and meaning when the world around us makes no sense. 

The psalms do not always give us answers to our most vexing questions; they do, however, point us to the God who is attentive to the least, the lost, and the lonely.

Together, as people sharing the human condition of suffering, we cry out, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy on us and grant us your peace. Amen.”