1 John 3:11-17 – Love, Not Hate

Cain and Abel by Gunter Tanzerel, 2011

The message you heard from the very beginning is this: we must love one another. We must not be like Cain; he belonged to the Evil One and murdered his own brother Abel. Why did Cain murder him? Because the things he himself did were wrong, and the things his brother did were right.

So do not be surprised, my friends, if the people of the world hate you. We know that we have left death and come over into life; we know it because we love others. Those who do not love are still under the power of death. Those who hate others are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life in them. This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for others! If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God? (Good News Translation)

For the world to be a life-giving place of thriving people, it must spin on the axis of love, grace, and belonging – and not be a death-dealing haunt of murder, hate, and disconnection.

“Death” and “life” are full of meaning in Holy Scripture. Whereas we tend to use death and life as referring chiefly to the body, they are primarily relational terms in the Bible.

Death is a separation from God and others; and life is connection with God and others.

In addition, death and life are biblically understood as forces or realms of being within or without. Whenever someone moves from death to life, they leave the realm of separation with its loneliness, lostness, lethargy, and lack of meaningful and helpful interaction with God and others to a place of connection in which there is love.

There is no love in the realm of death. Death is awful in the sense that it places one outside of love.

Like death and life, love is also a relational term and a force or power which exists. Love, in fact, is such a huge realm of being and such a large domain that it almost defies definition. We are mostly left to describe love because all attempts to nail down love with a precise definition will never do it justice.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul, in his great ode to love, did not even try to define it, but merely attempted to characterize love:

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, GW)

Consistent with the force and relational nature of death, life, and love, hate is not primarily a feeling toward another but exists as a stance toward another within the domain of darkness and death. To hate is to deliberately and volitionally separate from another person and/or from God. It is to consider someone as the “other” who is not like me, and so, I will neither associate nor interact with “those” people.

Love, however, thrives in the vast multi-dimensional realm of life. Love seeks connection with another and desires to act mercifully and kindly through discovering needs and meeting them. Although emotions of love are very real, those feelings are the result of calculated actions and words which benefit humanity and the common good of all persons.

It is vital that we make clear decisions to pursue life and love others. And Jesus is our model for this. Christ is the ultimate Connector, bringing vibrant life, even eternal life, through loving actions. Jesus intentionally entered the dark realm of death and absorbed all the hate of the world for you and me. In a great and loving reversal, Jesus Christ’s death – his separation from God and others – brought connection with God and others.

Likewise, followers of Jesus will learn to take on the world’s hatred, not fearing death’s ability to disconnect, and love others as they themselves have been loved by Christ. Christians are known by the way they act toward those in the realm of death; believers love and do not hate; despite being hated by another.

The biblical character Cain is Exhibit A of modeling the way of hatred and death. He separated himself from his brother, Abel, in every way possible – relationally, emotionally, mentally, and finally, physically through outright killing of the body.

The message from the Apostle John is this: Do not be like Cain. Be like Jesus. Love others, and do not hate them. Live for others, die to self.

Murder is also a relational term in Scripture. It is, of course, a tool forged from the flames of hell to be used by the hand of hatred to bring death’s realm of separation. Jesus clearly understood murder in this manner:

You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22, CEB)

Christians are people who put love where love is not – which means they brave death’s door to pull others from the flames.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 20-23, NLT)

May your soul be blessed with love’s kiss.

May the grace and kindness of love bring life and continue to be life-giving for you.

May the hardness of hatred be far from you.

May death’s destructive power dwindle to nothing in the face of Christ’s love working in and through you to the glory of God. Amen.

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 7:9-17 – Enduring Love

Look He’s Coming with the Clouds by Anthony Falbo, 2014

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (New International Version)

A simple observation of today’s text: There can only be a great multitude of people if there are a great multitude of mothers. The great multitude in the Apostle John’s vision of the end of time, had just come out of the great tribulation. And God does for them what any good mother would do: Never lets any of their children go hungry or thirsty; gets them out of harm’s way and protects them; and bends down to wipe their tears away and let them know that everything is going to be okay.

There is a day coming when followers of Jesus will see him face to face. Believers will serve the Lord continually. God’s very presence will be their permanent shelter. It will be a glorious time of unending peace, harmony, and rest.

There shall be no more worrying about how to make ends meet, no more wondering where we are going to get our needs met, and no more anxiety about the future. Injustice will be a thing of the past. Unending love and light will replace it.

First, however, before this permanent Sabbath, there will be trouble, hardship, trial, and even martyrdom. There is presently pain and suffering. Like a woman in labor, this must take place before there is the glory of new life. 

Sometimes the difficult circumstances of life seem to have no end. Yet, they will eventually pass, and we must continually keep this in mind. Christians have the hope of God’s pastoral presence forever guarding and keeping our lives if we endure to the end.

Perseverance, endurance, and pushing through hard situations are necessary to realize new and eternal life. We are not meant to just sit here on earth in some sort of holding pattern, waiting for the end to occur. Just as a pregnant woman changes her lifestyle to carry the child within, so we as Christians need to carry our souls, utilizing all kinds of spiritual practices that will help us do that well, until Jesus returns.

The Apostle John’s vision was given to believers in hardship who needed to persevere when things were tough. Giving them a glimpse of the glorious ending was one way of helping them in the present to live for Jesus Christ, despite the pain.

There’s nothing quite like a mother’s love. With the security of that love, we can live in healthy ways, enduring and persevering through difficulty and adversity. God’s love enables us to live securely in five ways:

  1. Not being afraid to fail.

That’s because, for the believer, we know the ending. We may, at times, feel like colossal failures, yet because the Lord is with us, we have nothing to fear. Being secure in our identity as God’s people enables us to step out and engage the world.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
I trust God, so I am not afraid of what people can do to me!
    I praise God for his promise to me. (Psalm 56:3-4, ERV)

2. Taking small steps of faith.

We can incrementally improve ourselves daily through our growth in grace. We don’t need to always do big things for God. We can do small acts of kindness with big love. That is likely what your own mother modeled for you. All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. As that decision is repeated, over and over, a habit sprouts and grows stronger.

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

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. ’The second most important command is this: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ These two commands are the most important. (Mark 12:30-31, ERV)

3. Being able to identify resistance.

With an awareness of God with us, we are able to name the obstacles, impediments, and challenges to perseverance. Acknowledging what hinders us, gives us the power to choose how to handle it. Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.

We should remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the sin that so often makes us fall. We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ERV)

4. Practicing good self-care.

The body, mind, emotions, and spirit are our vehicles to doing the will of God. So, it is imperative we steward these precious gifts of humanity with care. The only way we will make it over the long haul of our lives is through paying attention to how we carry stress in our bodies, learn to listen to it’s message, and following what we hear. Nearly everything works again if we unplug it for a few minutes… including us!

God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things he had already planned for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, ERV)

Surely you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you! (1 Corinthians 3:16, GNT)

5. Connecting with why you are persevering.

Losing connection with why we do what we do leads to dropping out and giving up. Yet, when we can remain vigilant to what is most important to us, it helps us push through all the sticky points of our lives. We all get stuck. And love is always the answer to getting unstuck. People don’t care what we believe; they care about why we believe it.

So, if you eat, or if you drink, or if you do anything, do it for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31, ERV)

Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17, CEB)

Persevering and enduring throughout our lives can only be done with a great deal of encouragement – which means generous rhythms of giving love and receiving love. It’s what God does. It’s what our mothers taught and modeled for us. It’s enduring love.

Patient God, you tediously work until your plans and purposes are accomplished. As you are slowly bringing your kingdom to the world, strengthen me so that I do not give up. Help me to persevere, living and loving like Jesus, to his glory. Amen.

Revelation 4:1-11 – In Another Dimension

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, Iceland

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also, in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’

who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.” (New International Version)

Whenever we open the door to God’s gracious invitation to commune with us, we gain an incredible glimpse of heavenly realities.

The Apostle John’s vision is so otherworldly that all he can do is try and describe what we saw with the limitations of language, metaphor, and simile.

Let’s acknowledge up front that, when it comes to the biblical book of Revelation, there are plenty of folk who want to understand it all. I believe this to be a fool’s errand, not because we ought not to try and make sense of things, but because far too many people try and conquer the text of Holy Scripture rather than letting Scripture capture them.

In our anxiety about the future, we would like some certitude, some semblance of knowing and understanding what will occur so that it will ease our icky feelings of not being in control. Newsflash: You and I aren’t in control of anything but ourselves. Ultimate control belongs only to God, not us. Our role is self-control.

So, before we start making complicated prophecy charts and trying to predict future events with precise certainty, let’s take a step back and see that worship is always the appropriate response to any vision of God – not conquering the Bible and colonizing other people’s minds with our supposed apocalyptic insights.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, and the soapbox is back in the closet, let’s simply appreciate this incredible scene before us of God’s heavenly throne room in today’s New Testament lesson.

Since God is an awesome God, I imagine that John was downright slack-jawed with awe over the bedazzling vision before him. It is a vision befitting a God of great majesty and power. The scene of worship which unfolded before John’s eyes is continual – praise and adoration of God has been going on, is going on, and will keep going on forever and ever.

To a church beat down by the world, John’s vision is meant to encourage and inspire the suffering believers toward persevering in faith. Hardship is but for a season; worship, however, is for all time.

The four living creatures worshiping God reflect the nature and character of God: the lion (majesty); the ox (strength and power); the man (intelligence); and the eagle (transcendent over creation). All of them, covered with eyes, front and back, testify to the sovereignty and omniscience of God, who sees and knows all things – nothing is hidden from God’s sight.

The twenty-four elders, likely signifying the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New Testament, together represent the one new people of God without walls or barriers to unity, fellowship, harmony, and peace. They all rightly honor God by giving back their own authority, given to them from the Lord to accomplish divine purposes on the earth.

We, as the people of God today, are meant to be encouraged and uplifted by the reality that God is forever the same – powerful, loving, good, honorable, and holy – and will be so permanently for all time and beyond time.

The Lord does not exist merely in three dimensional space, as we humans do. God is truly multi-dimensional and reigns supreme over each and every one of those dimensions – however many there truly are.

I suspect the Apostle John was privileged to step into another dimension so that he could return to our three-dimensional world with the good news that God is still and forever on the throne. God’s good purposes shall be accomplished, no matter how tough things get here.

Now is temporary; then is eternal. Let us, then, embrace that which is permanent and unchanging, even Christ our Lord, who shall return to judge the living and the dead, and consummate a benevolent kingdom which will last forever.

May you be so privileged to have the dimensions unveiled, for even a few minutes, and know the eternal love and grace of God for humanity. Amen.