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.

1 Timothy 3:1-9 – Be, Not Just Do

Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. (New International Version)

For the Church everywhere, Jesus Christ is to form and inform everything we do – including leadership.

This is why character formation is at the core of being an elder and a deacon in Christ’s Church – because the elder’s ministry of oversight, shepherding, and discernment of God’s will comes from the inner resources of knowing Christ; and a deacon’s ministry of outreach and service comes from a close walk of faith with Jesus, who desires to work through those individuals. 

Church leaders are to be the light of Jesus to their congregations. It is a high calling. The Apostle Paul gave to the Church seven requirements of Christian morality and seven requirements of a daily walk for leaders. Together, these fourteen requirements are the basis for Christian leaders so that the responsibility of the Church’s mission might be kept on track of bringing people to Jesus and bringing those who know Jesus to know him better.

The first set of seven requirements have to do with the morals of the person. A church leader is to:

1) Be trustworthy. Have a good reputation in both the church and the world

2) Be devoted in the marriage relationship (This doesn’t mean that a church leader must be married, because then even Jesus wouldn’t qualify as a church leader!)

3) Be clear-minded, even-keeled, and consistent

4) Be self-controlled (and not controlling others)

5) Be brave, possessing moral courage, through speaking truth with grace and not being a complainer

6) Be a friend of strangers through practicing hospitality

7) Be an able teacher, gently and carefully instructing others in a way that builds them up and does not tear them down 

The second set of seven requirements have to do with the ethical conduct of the person in everyday life. A church leader is to: 

1) Be sober and not a drunkard, conducting oneself in all moderation

2) Be respectable and not given to anger outbursts and constantly carrying a chip on their shoulder about something

3) Be gentle with everyone and in all situations

4) Be cordial and foster healthy relations, and not always picking a fight about something

5) Be generous and not thinking about the all-mighty dollar in every decision

6) Be caring in the family and give rules with relationship, so as to curb rebellion in a child

7) Be mature and not a novice in the faith so that those outside the church can see there is something wonderfully different about the way things are handled and done among those who profess Jesus Christ.

In addition to this, we have seven related requirements for deacons: 

1) Be dignified in every kind of relation, a person worthy of respect

2) Be sincere and not double-tongued, saying one thing to one person and something different to another

3) Be moderate in all things, especially when it comes to drink

4) Be benevolent and altruistic, and not greedy for either stuff or attention

5) Be holy and pure, keeping very close to faith in Christ with a good heart

6) Be a servant who is able to handle attention without falling apart

7) Be faithful, keeping promises and vows, especially in marriage and with family

God calls and sets apart individuals for service so that the Divine presence might be manifested among the people. Jesus Christ wants the church to be built up through faithful service. Notice what today’s New Testament lesson does not say about church leaders:

  • Be a listener to complaints.

Do everything without complaining or arguing (Philippians 2:14, ERV)

  • Be a representative of the people. Nowhere in Scripture do we find church leaders are supposed to operate like an American form of democracy. Instead of being representatives of the people to do their will, church leaders are rather representatives of God to the people so that God’s will is done in all things. 

Guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. (Acts 20:28, NLT)

  • Be ingenious. Church leaders are not called to be the smartest, most creative, and best idea people in the room. They are to be servants, leading others in prayer, outreach, and acts of mercy.

I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it’s like to be a leader, in on Christ’s sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. (1 Peter 5:1-3, MSG)

These requirements of Holy Scripture are not just for leaders; they are to be sought after by every member of God’s holy Church. We are all together to aspire to the highest of ideals of Christ in the way we operate in the church and in the world. 

Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another (Romans 13:8). Godly leaders help us to maintain that biblical mandate.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21, NIV)

Mark 6:45-52 – Facing Fear

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (New International Version)

Sometimes, we are afraid – even terrified. And Christians aren’t immune to the feeling of fear and terror.

The truth of the Christian life is that it is a herky-jerky process of three-steps-forward, two-steps-backward, not always knowing with certainty everything we encounter.  

The expectation that we will have a consistent upward trajectory of spiritual development with no scary experiences is wrongheaded and misguided. Throw into the mix that our self-awareness is often skewed, and that we have difficulty assessing ourselves with any accuracy, and voila! we have a recipe for the true human condition.

Doubt, fear, failure, and stubbornness aren’t just endemic to other people – it also characterizes many Christians, as well. We will face severe storms in life. They will be harsh. We will wonder if we’ll even make it out alive, or not. And it may very well seem like Jesus is nowhere to be found. Then, when he does show up, we don’t recognize him, and it scares the bejabbers out of us.

This was the experience of Christ’s disciples, who too often reflect our own stories of faith and fear all rolled up in one person. Today’s Gospel lesson is this: Our fears and foibles do not need to define us because Jesus is Lord over the water, the weather, the wondering, the waiting, the wildness, and our own whimsical natures of seeing miracles accomplished in others, then not believing it can happen in our own lives.

So, what are we really afraid of? Failure? Fear itself? Death? Irrelevance? Loss? Change? Perhaps, everything? Yes, all of life is a risky scary business. There are no guarantees, except one: Christ is present with us, whether we are aware of it, or not.

If the worst scenario you worry about in your head would actually come to pass, it will still never change the reality that God loves you and is with you.  And it will not stop Jesus from assuring us of his presence and climbing into the boat to be with us.

We don’t have any accounts of Jesus freaking out in fear, or when other people flip out in their own fear. Jesus was a person of prayer, completely grounded in his relationship with the Father.   

Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and go out on the lake – all the while knowing what they were about to face with the weather. Even though the disciples were doing God’s will by going out on the lake, they were not spared from adversity. In fact, Jesus wanted them to experience the storm because it is through the storm that we really learn faith and to face down our fears. 

There is no shame in being afraid. We all experience it. And there is no shame in admitting we’re scared. Where shame exists, our instinct is to run away like our ancestors Adam and Eve and hide, thus hiding ourselves from the grace that could be ours.

Being out on the middle of a lake during a storm did not prevent Jesus from being present with the disciples – he just walked on the water to be with them. Even though the disciples had just seen and participated in the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand, they were not looking for another miracle – which is why they did not recognize Jesus and were afraid when they saw him.

Jesus never chided his disciples for their fear, or their hard hearts. He simply invited them, with the tone of grace and mercy, to not be afraid. And the Scripture is replete with continual encouragements to not be afraid because of God’s presence. Along with psalmist, we can say:

But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4, NLT)

I sleep and wake up refreshed
    because you, Lord,
    protect me.
Ten thousand enemies attack
from every side,
    but I am not afraid. (Psalm 3:5-6, CEV)

When I called, you answered me.
You made me bold by strengthening my soul. (Psalm 138:3, GW)

Ultimately, fear has to do with disconnection. It is to feel powerless, separated from any resources, unable to do anything about what is presently staring us in the face and scaring us.

Yet, when we have an awareness and a sense of connection with Jesus, there are unlimited resources of grace to accept, cope, and transcend any and every storm we find ourselves in the middle of.

May the risen and ascended Christ, mightier than the hordes of hell, more glorious than the heavenly hosts,
be with you in all your ways. 

May the cross of the Son of God protect you by day and by night, at morning and at evening, at all times and in all places.

May Christ Jesus guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, from the assaults of evil spirits, from the wrath of the wicked, from all base passions, and from the fear of the known and unknown. 

And may the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

*Above painting of Jesus walking on water by Brian Whelan

**Above Orthodox icon of Christ walking on water

***Above painting: Christ walking on the sea, by French artist Amédée Varint (1818-1883)

1 Samuel 17:1-49 – Faith in Action

The story of David and Goliath is one of the best known stories in the entire Bible. It’s a classic example of what can be accomplished through one person who chooses to exercise faith. Puny David taking on giant Goliath has served as one of the greatest inspirations for believers through the centuries – seeing God give victory to people against dramatically overwhelming odds.

Whereas the New Testament exhorts us to live by faith, this Old Testament narrative demonstrates what can happen when a person of faith decides to put that faith into action.

Old Testament stories are framed in a way to help the reader or listener discern the differences between the characters of the story – to understand the contrasts between good and bad. So, then, the account of David and Goliath revolves around four character contrasts so that we will learn the lessons of faith God wants to teach us.

First Contrast: David and Saul

David is brave. Saul is fearful. In the ancient world, a typical tactic of warfare, when the battle lines were drawn, was to choose a champion from each side. They would fight together, just the two of them, on behalf of the entire army. It was a fight to the death, and the losing side would submit to the winning side. 

This was a way of preventing the terrible carnage of war. It also created some incredible individual champions.  A champion would be selected not only for his ability to fight, but also for his impressive stature so that there was an intimidation factor to it all.

Saul was the King of Israel. He was the logical choice for the combat since he was a head taller than all the other Israelites and a rather impressive looking soldier. But compared to Goliath, Saul looked like a midget.  The intimidation factor worked. Saul was downright afraid and not about to put himself out there to face a giant.

David is brave because he has faith in God. Saul is fearful because he is not a man of faith in God. The opposite of faith is not unbelief, but fear. As the muscle of faith grows through trusting God in the daily stresses of life, fear is better confronted and managed. The development of faith is a process, and it takes time.

Considering this story in light of Father’s Day, Dads have the daily opportunity of being a hero to their kids through faith in God. That means dealing with two great fears: being found inadequate; and, being controlled by another person or circumstance.

Those two fears were evident in Saul. He felt inadequate because he compared himself to Goliath. He felt controlled by the situation because the Philistines were picking a fight. So, he froze. There are many men who would rather do nothing than be labelled as inadequate or controlled.

David, in contrast, had plenty of practice facing down foes as a shepherd – the bear and the lion – who threatened the sheep. David was often out in the countryside all by himself, guarding the sheep, and his skills were improved in a place where no one was looking.

The way to progress our faith is to be assertive in owning our relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading (or listening on a Bible app) on a daily basis. It’s something everyone can do.

Second Contrast:  David and the Israelites

It was not only Saul who was intimidated by Goliath; the entire army of Israel was hiding behind the battle lines cringing in fear. David, however, discerned no reason to avoid this bullying blowhard. It appears he is the only person able to see Goliath as a small person in comparison to a big God. By faith, David understands Goliath is no match for God.

So, we see that one person full of faith can accomplish the impossible – whereas an army full of fear cannot accomplish a thing. 

We might tend to believe everything has to be large with a big splash to it – that only then can we accomplish big things for God. But really, if we want to achieve something for God, we need to step out in faith and do it – instead of recruiting an army of people or hiding in the group, nursing our fears and anxieties.

No one can do your personal faith work for you; you must do it. The Beaver Cleaver philosophy of life says, “Gee, Wally, if I get in trouble or in a pickle, I’ll just ignore it and hope it goes away….” But Goliath is not going anywhere. He will still be there tomorrow.

Third Contrast: David and Goliath

Goliath represents the other extreme to the fear of Saul and the Israelites. He had absolutely no fear, including any fear of God. Goliath trusted in himself, his abilities, and his stature. David, however, trusted in God alone.

The story gives a detailed description of Goliath’s weapons and physical appearance because Goliath trusted in his aptitude and the ancient technology of his day to face down the Israelites. Conversely, David was small and too young to even be considered for military service. He was too small to wear anybody’s armor. But David did not need any of that – he just needed his faith.

Humanly speaking, David appears insignificant; there is nothing about him that caused anyone to think there was something special or different about him. Goliath, however, was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his day, ready to terminate anybody who got in his way.

It can be easy to trust in ourselves, another person, or our technology to accomplish something in the face of insurmountable odds, instead of looking to God. The battle is not ours; it is the Lord’s.

Most things in life take a great deal of bravery – especially parenthood! It takes more than copious Dad speeches (and I had a lot of speeches for my kids). Fatherly courage requires modeling for boys what they are expected to become and modeling for girls what they should expect from males.

Children need to observe men who have courage to do the right thing, even when it has personal cost. They need to see them bravely shouldering responsibilities – even when they don’t feel like it. Kids need to see men who demonstrate the courage to be vulnerable, as well as strong and self-disciplined. They need to experience fathers and men with courage to pay attention to them – even, and especially, when those men are angry or disappointed with their own choices.

Fourth Contrast:  David and Eliab

Eliab was David’s big brother. Eliab was a soldier in the army. David was just a kid. It did not matter he was a kid; David was concerned for God’s name and glory. In contrast, Eliab was concerned about his little brother being an embarrassment and superseding him.

When we choose to step out in faith and act, there will likely be opposition, even among family and fellow believers. But David did not let a little criticism stop him. Criticism and opposition will inevitably happen. David was determined to please God, not his brother. He did not wilt and was not deterred from his concern to face down Goliath.

Conclusion

If we want to be brave in the Christian life; if we desire to live a life full of faith in Christ that deals with problems; then, the story of David and Goliath will serve as an inspiration in those times we feel less than mighty for God. 

Goliath was defeated and fell because David trusted God. The issue is not how much faith we have, but in whom our faith is placed. David trusted God. Saul did not even acknowledge God. Goliath trusted in himself. Eliab was too busy quibbling about things that didn’t matter. 

What is your response?