Nothin’ But the Tailights

Spring Break 1994.  It was 5:00 AM, and we were a twelve hour drive away from our destination:  the snowy slopes of Crested Butte, Colorado.  I had never been to Crested Butte before, but I was in luck.  One of the other guys who was going on the trip had grown up vacationing at Crested Butte and would be leading the three car caravan all the way to the top of the mountain.

After everything was loaded up and ready to go, we all pulled out from our Norman residence and headed west.  Three cars in all, following the tail lights of the Big White Yukon wherever it went.  These were the days before Google Maps or GPS navigation.  Heck, I did not even have an atlas in the car with me.  My only map was the mind of the driver in front of me, therefore, I was determined not to lose him.

My only problem was that I think he was determined to lose me.  My guide hit the town moving fast . . . then sped up.  To make matters worse, we did not have cell phones, and a thick fog was rolling in.  If I wanted to get to Crested Butte that night I had to either keep up or buy a map.  Since buying a map is akin to declaring failure for the average man, I sped up and tried my best to keep the tail lights in view.  We went through small towns and unmarked dirt roads (I kid you not), as we headed to Crested Butte.  Our guide had been there many times before and knew the short cuts all the way there.  In the end, we made it . . . and I am glad that we did.  We enjoyed four days of powdery white snow at an amazing ski resort:  quite a prize for simply keeping up.

I was thinking of this story today as I read Revelation 14:1-5 and saw the description of a particular set of faithful men and women who will live on the earth in the last days before Christ’s return.  These people (144,000 in all) are described in 14:4 in this way, “They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”  Knowing their great need.  Knowing that they desire to spend eternity in paradise.  Knowing that they do not know or have the ability to get there on their own, the 144,000 are said to stick with the One who knows the way.  The One who had grown up on this earth and lived the perfectly righteous life and who now resides in heaven:  they have chosen to make Him their guide.  Where He goes, they go.  Where He directs them to stay they stay.  What He directs them to do, they do.  They have no other map to navigate this life, so they will follow Him, their living map, wherever He goes.

What a joy it is for them as they do this!  They actually (according to 14:3) get to sing a song to the Savior that no one else knows.  This seems to be an indication that because of what their Savior, the Lamb, has done for them specifically, they have praises to sing that no one else even does because they have followed the Lamb down certain paths and seen Him do certain things in their everyday lives.  They followed the Lamb and it was worth it.

We can learn a lot from the example of these 144,000.  We also need help navigating our journey through this life to our final destination.  We also desire to spend eternity in paradise and have a special song of personalized praise to sing to the King.  If we desire that, then our task is the same as this future population:  we need to follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  Sure, we cannot see Him with our eyes, but He has given us some tremendous resources to know His direction so that we might follow Him through the fog of our lives.

He has revealed Himself to us through His Word, the Bible.  We know His character and the kinds of things He is about by reading what He has revealed to us from Genesis-Revelation.  Knowing that He never changes gives us the confidence that He will not suddenly decide that “Colorado is East of Oklahoma.”  Just as Colorado is always West of here, so Christ’s truth never changes.

He also reveals Himself to us through the inner testimony of His Holy Spirit.  The Spirit rests on Christ and can lead us in the directions that God desires that we go.  Galatians 5:25 tells us that it is God’s desire that we “keep in step with the Spirit” and His leading in our lives.  In a sense, this is reminding us to “keep His tail lights in view” as we speed through the world in which we live.

I was convinced that my friend in 1994 wanted to lose me on our journey west.  As I read the Scriptures, I am convinced that Jesus wants to keep us close as we blow through this life:  Following Him wherever He goes.

A Long Time Ago . . .

OK.  Be prepared to call me a geek.  I deserve it.  Why?  Probably for many reasons, but let me give you one more:  I am a giant Star Wars fan.  It’s true.  I grew up in the 1970’s/80’s and like many people during that time I was a big fan of those big movies.  Now, the latest three movies were good, but for my dollar you just can’t replace “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi.”  Ewoks excluded, those were awesome movies.

Now, as long as I am clearing the air about this, you need to know how deep my Star Wars fixation went in my early days.  I woke up every morning in my Star Wars underoos in my Star Wars wallpapered bedroom, walked past my collection of Star Wars toys to grab my Star Wars lunch box  and head off to school where at recess, someone was probably going to be called “Chewie.”  Yes, it ran that deep.

What is the fascination about these movies?  Is it the special effects, the colorful characters, the imaginative settings, or the deep voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader?  Yes . . . but I believe there is an even deeper reason for our love for these classics:  the storyline.

Now, I realize by saying that I have probably lost all credibility in your mind.  After all, the scripts of these (now 6) movies are some of the most basic in all of entertainment.  The writing is not necessarily witty or clever or deep.  However, there is a key component of these storylines that make them so appealing to all of us (in my humble opinion.)  When you boil it all down, the Star Wars movies are a clear battle of good vs. evil.  The good guys wear white, and the bad guys wear black.  The good guys have one color light saber, and the bad guys have another.  The good guys are country boys (real people), and the bad guys are either disfigured or machines.  It is clear cut, and in a world that often appears to be more gray than black and white, we love the chance to cheer for the good guy (why do you think we like comic books and superhero movies so much?)

If you are like me and you like stories with clear moral lines drawn, then you will love the story of Revelation 12:1-13:1.  In this one chapter, God flies over the top of history to give us a “Star Wars” like good guys vs. bad guys story that George Lucas wishes he could copyright.  In this story there is a woman who symbolizes God’s people, Israel.  She exists in the world and is about to give birth to a Son, Jesus, who will one day rule the earth.  While she is preparing for the birth of the child, a war breaks out in heaven.  In this war, an evil dragon, Satan, fights against the good angel Michael, and is defeated.  The defeated dragon falls to the earth taking a number of storm troopers, (uh, I mean) angels/demons with him.  Though the dragon was defeated in heaven, he hopes to prevail on the earth, but every effort he takes ends in defeat.  He tries to eliminate Jesus, but cannot.  He tries to accuse the followers of Jesus, but because of Christ, the accusations do not stick.  He tries to eliminate Israel all together, but God protects His nation.

This is a classic interaction!  On a cosmic scale, we have the all time greatest good vs. evil story . . . and good triumphs at every turn.  What makes this story even more amazing for us is that it is all true.  Though it may read like science fiction (read Revelation 12 sometime . . . it is certainly more interesting than I just described), it is all true and  unfolding history.  What is great is that this is a story with no cliff hanger.  At the end of the day, we will not hear that the dragon is our father.  Our Heavenly Father is the One we belong to, and He will win the day.  That is why we should stay with Him.  Satan is regularly defeated and he does not take it well.  He is quite angry and stands on the edge of our lives beckoning us to come over to the dark side.  However, knowing how the story ends, that would be a stupid move.  Anyone who saw Anakin become Vader in Episode 3, had to be thinking, “That is not a good decision young man.  One day, you will regret dawning the black cape.  It does not end well.”  Reading Revelation 12 ought to be encouragement to us to stay the course with Christ knowing His victory is assured and Satan’s defeat has already been decided.

In the world in which we live, to our eyes, we often see more gray than black and white.  Reading passages like this correct our vision and remind us that on the cosmic stage, the war among the stars has already been won.

Job Review

Have you ever had a job where you got little feedback as to how you were doing?  Ever had a job where you never got an “attaboy” or a “way to go!”  I have.  In fact, I have had a few of those jobs over the years.

One of those jobs I had the summer after I graduated from college.  I worked at an oil company as a summer intern.  As a journalism major, I found myself suddenly surrounded by people with PhD’s in things I could not spell, much less understand.  They were all researching tectonic plates and international oil reserves, and yet somehow, I was supposed to add something to the team.  My undergraduate training was in writing.  My graduate course work I was preparing to start that next fall was in Theology.  This basically qualified me to do nothing inside that office.  To make matters worse, my boss for the summer was only in the office one of the ten weeks of my employment . . . and that was the last week I was there.  It was maybe the strangest “exit interview” ever.  “Well Jim, we really appreciate your participation with us this summer.  We certainly enjoyed the input you had the Xijiang well project,” my boss would say.   “The what project?” I replied.  “And who is this Jim?”

It is not that I did not have anything to do that summer.  I found a way to keep busy.  They had me pull open the filing drawers of dozens of file cabinets.  It was my job to go through these cabinets drawer by drawer and type out the names of every report that was in each cabinet.  I am not kidding or exaggerating.  It took me eight weeks of eight hours a day (or 320 hours) to work my way through all of the cabinets.  When I finally finished this project, I remember handing this report to one of the Geologists at the lab, and he just pointed to a file cabinet and said, “Just toss it over there.”  “Great,” I thought.  “I just chronicled what was in 50 file cabinets so that list could be filed in one file cabinet.”  Of course, I had the sinking suspicion that my report would eventually be “filed” again in the oval receptacle that sat beneath the geologist’s desk.

As I think about that experience, I have concluded two things.  One, I was just thankful to have a job that summer.  Two, I always wondered if the work I did was ever noticed or even desired.

As I read Revelation 11, I see a promise from heaven that our work on this earth for our “Boss” never goes unnoticed.  Though we may not see our Boss face to face every day, He is not unaware of what we have done and are doing as we serve Him in this life.  In Revelation 11:18 the population of heaven praises God by saying, “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding Your servants the prophets and Your saints and those who reverence Your name, both small and great – and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”  This verse reminds us that Jesus, our Boss, will one day give each of us a complete and thorough job review.  We will all stand before Him one day and give an account for our life, and He will not have missed any of our actions, good or bad.  What is amazing about this job review, though, is that He offers us the most lopsided trade in history.  If we have placed our faith in Him, He will bear the consequences for all our sin and failures, and yet we will receive the reward for the good deeds we have lived out in faith.  None of our good deeds are filed in the trash can, and all of our sin is borne on His back.  What a gracious proposition!

With this in mind, two truths gain importance.  One, I am just so thankful to have a spiritual life and a relationship with God because of His grace.  Two, I am so thankful to know that the life of faith both matters and does not go unnoticed by our Boss in heaven.

“Where are Your Men?”

“Where are your men?”  When I graduated from the University of Oklahoma back in 1996, my good friend Todd Stewman told me that later in life, when our paths would cross, he would want to know how I would answer that question.  You see, for the previous four years I had been one of Todd’s “men.”  I had learned to study the Bible in his Bible Study.  I had learned to lead my future wife by watching him interact with his wife through their engagement and early married years.  I had gained a vision for God’s work around the globe through his challenge to participate in summer mission trips.  I learned the value of male friendship through interaction with the other men in his small group.  For four years, God had used him in a significant way in my life, and Todd was trusting that the things he had entrusted to me would continue to flow through my life to others.  In fact, as I was heading into ministry, Todd wanted to make sure that at every point in my life I would have some “men” I would be investing these same things in.

There were several of us who were in Todd’s small group who also received the same challenge.  Rob’s “men” are tribal people for whom he is translating the Scriptures into their own language for the first time.  Bob’s “men” are his congregation at a church plant in the American heartland.  My “men” are the people of Wildwood Community Church. And these are just some of the people from Todd’s small group.

The reason we have all taken Todd’s charge so seriously is not because we simply love him.  We do love Todd, but this mission to share God’s love with others goes way beyond any single person.  In fact, it goes all the way to the top.  Jesus Christ is on a mission in this world moving toward people.  As Jesus is moving toward people, drawing them into a relationship with Himself, He is revealing truth about God to them and redeeming them from their sins.  If any would believe in Him, they would experience the blessings of our Gracious God.

Jesus Christ’s pursuit of humanity and His attempt to gather his “men” and “women” from all peoples is a mission that He has been on from the beginning of time.  Jesus pursuit of humanity began when humanity left the Garden of Eden.  He preserved humanity in the time of Noah.  He began a strategy to bless the world through the descendants of Abraham.  He continued His revelation through the nation of Israel.  He became incarnate in Palestine and lived and died to redeem sinful humanity.  He continues to pursue mankind through the work of His Church worldwide today.  And, in the future, even in the time of judgment, He will continue to pursue mankind to the very end.

In Revelation 11, during a period of protracted judgment upon the earth during the end times, Jesus will send out two witnesses to share the truth about Christ with the world amidst this time of great distress.  Jesus holiness demands that the world be judged, however His compassion is continuing His mission of revealing and redeeming right up to the very end.  These two witnesses will spend three and a half years prophesying on the earth concerning the reality of our God.  The presence of these men at the end of times is a reminder of the enduring mission of Christ in the world.  His desire is not to obliterate people, but to save them, therefore He continues to have His followers invest in their “men” with a desire that people would believe in His name and be saved.

Jesus is never without testimony in this world.  Jesus is never without compassion in this world.  Never.  Revelation 11 is a reminder of that.  Of course, not everyone embraces the compassion Christ is willing to offer (as evidenced by the killing of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:7-10), but it is extremely significant to note that He is still offering it.

Do you want to be a part of what God is doing in this world?  Do you want to have a life of eternal significance and see God use you to do amazing things?  Then let me ask you a question . . . “Where are your men?”  Who is it that you are sharing Christ’s love with?  Who is it that you are pointing toward the Savior?  What Christians are you in community with that you are sharpening as “iron sharpens iron?”  What non-Christians are you pursuing in an intentional way?  That is the mission Christ is on in the world, and if we want to be with Him, we should join Him in this effort and allow Him to reach others through us.  This does not have to be a vocational effort . . . there are “men” in every walk of life and in every neighborhood in the world.  He is reaching out.  Will we?

Sweet and Sour

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  So goes the quote from martyred Christian missionary Jim Elliot.  Back in the summer of 1950, Jim was on the campus of the University of Oklahoma as a part of Wycliffe Bible Translator’s Summer Institute of Linguistics.  Later Jim Elliot, along with four other men, would make move with their families to Ecuador and begin attempts to make contact with the Auca Indians, a ruthless and violent tribe found deep within the jungle.  While early contact with the tribe looked promising, ten Auca warriors attacked Elliot and his four friends on January 8, 1956 killing them all.  On that day, Jim lived out the words he had written in his journal years earlier . . . he had given the life he could not keep and gained eternal reward he would never lose.

I was thinking of Jim Elliot today as I read Revelation 10:1-11.  This bizarre section of Scripture reveals to us a mighty angel who stands on the shore of the sea holding a tiny scroll in his hand.  The angel announces from this location that “There is no more delay!  But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as He announced to his servants the prophets (10:6b-7).”  I believe this “mystery of God” is not a secret event (it is an event that God had spoken of frequently with his prophets and recorded often in the Old Testament).  I believe that this event is the coming return of the Messiah to the earth in triumph and in judgment of the earth.  This event is no secret, but the mystery of this event has always been the time.  In fact, Jesus would say later to His disciples that “no one knows the day or the hour” of His return.  When the angel hits the earth and announces this event, He is saying that the mystery of the timing of Christ’s return is about over . . . Here He comes!

When Jesus comes back, He is going to right every wrong, judge the wicked, cast away Satan, reward His followers, and establish His Kingdom.  What an awesome day that will be.  But as the world is preparing for the alarm clock to finally sound marking the mystery time of Christ’s return, God has given His followers on this planet a job . . . to ingest God’s Word and to tell others about it, even if the consequences of doing so are difficult.  We see this in the text when John is asked to eat the little scroll in 10:8-11 as it says, “So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll.  He said to me, ‘Take it and eat it.  It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’  I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it.  It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.  Then I was told, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.’”

I believe that the little scroll represents God’s Word and the double edged message that it contains.  God’s Word is sweet to those who embrace it, offering grace and forgiveness to someone’s life.  However, God’s Word is bitter to those who reject it, as it reminds them of judgment that will come upon those who do not follow Christ at His return.  John’s experience eating the little scroll in a world with such mixed reactions to the Gospel would lead to him having the sweet experience of salvation, but the sour experience of being persecuted and imprisoned because of His faith in Christ.

John’s experience in eating the little scroll was the same as Jim Elliot’s centuries later.  Jim tasted the sweet taste of Christ’s forgiveness and life, yet suffered the sour experience of dying on the end of a spear in the Ecuadorian jungle.  How about you?  Can you relate to either of these men?  As you have ingested the Word of God has it been a sweet taste to you, only to bring persecution to your life as you shared this message with the “peoples, nations, and languages” around you?

I believe that many of you who are reading this right now either have experienced this or will experience it one day to one degree or another.  Since that is the case, I want to encourage you again with the words of another person who once roamed the ovals of the University of Oklahoma, Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Our life on this earth is temporary, but eternity is not.  Therefore, if we feast on the Word of God, it brings a sweet taste to all of us, and even if it causes temporary hardship, there is eternal reward.

By the way, when Jim got to heaven and looked around, he saw people from EVERY tribe, tongue, and language in heaven with him.  In fact, Jim and his four friends got to be the welcoming committee in heaven for the Auca.  A few years after their death and as a direct result of their testimony among them, many of the Auca tribe would come to faith in Jesus Christ.  Jim Elliot, no fool indeed.

List of Blessings

As I write this post I am sitting in a log cabin on Wollaston Lake in far northern Saskatchewan with 13 friends preparing for a day of fishing. This trip includes many benefits:

1 – Separation from reality…I get to be on vacation for five days with little responsibility.

2 – Time with friends…Five days of stories, laughter and good times.

3 – Protection…The camp staff protects us from bears, wolves and weather.

4 – Provision…Three squares of fried fish and other food that tastes as good as it looks.

5 – Leadership…A guide takes us to spots where fish love the taste of metal.

6 – Comfort…The power of men together buoys all our spirits.

I get to participate in this trip for one reason: my friendship with a friend. He has invited me to participate in this trip and because I am with him, all these benefits also flow my way. It is a package deal and causes me to want to say thank you every five minutes.

As I read Revelation 7:14-17, I see a situation promised to all Christians which reminds me of my time in Saskatchewan: Blessings that include:

1 – Separation from sin…Our “robes” are                  washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

2 – Time with the Savior…We one day will be before the throne of God day and night.

3 – Protection…God spreads His tent of protection over us.

4 – Provision…We will hunger and thirst no more.

5 – Leadership…Jesus is our shepherd and He leads us to living water.

6 – Comfort…God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

We get all these blessings for one reason…our association with a Friend of sinners, Jesus Christ. He has graciously invited us to a heavenly destination, and because we are with Him, all these blessings are a reality; and they are a reality far better than any fishing trip.

Though we have fish at Wollaston, by dinner time we will be hungry again. Though we have guides on the boats, we will leave them here when we return home. The blessings are temporary, but the spiritual blessings of Christ are eternal. As you think of these blessings packaged for us, take five minutes to praise our great and gracious God!

When God Pounds His Chest

I love the zoo.  I always have.  What an amazing experience to be able to see animals from six continents in one city park.  A zoo is one of the locations where the world shrinks for a moment allowing us to appreciate the diversity and creativity of our God.  My wife, son, and I recently took advantage of a day off to head to the Oklahoma City Zoo for a day of admiring Yogi, Boo Boo, Simba, Pumba, and all their friends.

This was not our first trip to the Oklahoma City Zoo, therefore we did not have a long agenda of what we wanted to see.  At the top of our list was a desire to see the Great EscAPE, the zoo’s large area devoted to primates.  We spent a good deal of time at the gorilla exhibit.  While we watched the big apes forage around for sweet potatoes and cabbage, I read a very interesting sign that talked about hostile encounters with gorillas in the wild.

While King Kong may be a ferocious aggressor, the poster I read spoke of much of the meaning behind an “attack” by a gorilla in the wild.  It seems that if a gorilla feels threatened it will go through many theatrics to try to get your attention and convince you to head the other way.  The gorilla’s impressive display begins with a bluff charge and continues with showing teeth, chest pounding, and loud noises.  All these actions are designed to do one thing:  convince you that you don’t want to tangle with this ape.  In other words, the gorilla does not want to fight, so it will give you every chance to back down.

I thought of this example today as I pondered the graphic details of Revelation 6-9 and its description of God’s intense judgment of the earth in the end times.  Chapter 6 shows God’s judgments unfolding as seven “seals” are opened expressing judgment and atrocities on the earth.  Chapters 8-9 continue with seven “trumpets” full of judgment being unloaded on the earth.  This impressive display begins with a charge into wars and continues with disease, earthquakes, darkness and worse.  What is interesting to me, though, is to ponder the reason for judgment unfolding as slowly as it does.  In other words, why does God judge the earth in so many different ways and taking as much time as He does?  One possibility is that He wants to inflict the most punishment possible.  However, I do not think that is the reason for the protracted period of judgment.  I think God draws out judgment not to hurt but to provide one last chance to help.  By giving humanity seven years of judgment God is showing His grace again by giving people one last chance to repent.

My view on this is supported by the one chapter nestled within this section that does not include any judgment . . . Revelation 7.  This chapter begins with God pausing judgment by saying in 7:3, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”  The passage goes on to let us know that those who will be saved during this time of judgment will come from people from every tribe and nation on earth, including Israel . . . God’s original chosen people who once rejected Jesus Christ, but will come back to accept Him the last days.

The gorilla’s charge is designed not to dismember you but to turn you away.  God’s progressive judgment of the earth is designed not merely to damn but to turn us back toward Him.  God does not want to destroy mankind, so He will give us every chance to back down from our selfish ways and accept His amazing grace.  Remember that the next time you read Revelation or the next time you wonder about the heart of God amidst passages of judgment.  God is a holy God and must judge sin, but God is also a loving God and offers a way out for people.  Praise Him.

Read Receipt

Do you ever send an email and then wonder if the recipient ever read it?  While you may wonder immediately if the letter has been opened, your curiosity truly kills the cat (or at least may make you want to kick it) when days and days go by and you still have no response from your friend.  If this situation describes your email life, then Microsoft Outlook designed a cure for you.

I discovered Microsoft’s answer for our email enigma a few months ago.  You see, I had a friend who would attach a “read receipt” onto their emails to me.  This friend works in sales, and she got tired of always wondering if her clients were reading their emails so she started attaching read receipts to all of her emails just to be sure.  When I get emails from her, Outlook lets me know that a confirmation has been sent informing the sender of my receipt of the message.

I was thinking about this technology as I was reading Revelation 5-8.  Scattered throughout these four chapters is Jesus’ continued revelation of heaven to the apostle John.  When Jesus gives John a tour of heaven, He points out to him on several occasions one of the items that has arrived in heaven.  Listen to the words of Revelation 5:8 and 8:1-5: “And when He (Jesus) had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb.  Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. . . When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.  Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.  The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.  Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

As you read those verses did you see the item I was referring to?  In the dwelling place of God . . . before His very throne . . . is a beautiful bowl consisting of the prayers of the saints.  (NOTE:  Saint is a term that refers to anyone who is a Christian.  This bowl contains not just John the Apostle’s prayers, but yours and mine as well!)  These prayers, like fine incense, are a welcome aroma to Jesus Himself.  Though many years had gone by and many prayers John had prayed, no doubt, had gone “unanswered” from his perspective, John was now granted the most impressive read receipt ever.  Indeed the prayers John and others had prayed had gotten through, and Revelation chapter 8 tells us that at the right time, these prayers will be answered with awesome power . . .being returned to earth with an answer and ground shaking force.

This was probably never more pronounced than with John’s prayers for the return of Christ and justice to be brought to the earth.  John had seen many of his friends die for their belief in Christ, and He was on the island of Patmos as a prisoner, when this revelation came.  No doubt, John had prayed many prayers for Jesus to protect His friends, to bring justice on the earth, and to set things right.  Yet all these prayers had gone unanswered.  Over all this time, John’s curiosity had to be killing him.  Were his prayers really getting through?  Then in one sweet vision, Jesus removes all doubt.  The Reader of our hearts had gotten every one . . . and He was getting ready to act.

The next time you pray and you wonder if God really got your message, read Revelation 5:8 and 8:1-5 and take heart.  Your prayers are still there before the throne like sweet incense before the King.  The Reader has Received Your message, and He will respond soon.

Seeing Him Face to Face

Isn’t it amazing how we treat famous people in our country?  Because someone is on television, in our newspapers, or talked about on our radios, we feel like we know him/her . . . and we feel like we can criticize.  People who cannot decide what to have for dinner blast politicians for “flip flopping” their positions over a period of several years.  People who played right field on their little league baseball teams yell obscenities at Ken Griffey Jr. for taking more than a week to move from 599 to 600 career home runs.  People who only broke even on their charity bake sale want to give fiscal advice to the CEO of a major corporation.  In a sense, I think the distance between “us” and “them” allows us to depersonalize the situation and shift our perspective on our “American Idols” so that our role shifts from playing the role of Paula to being Simon Cowell.

I have participated in this kind of action in my life as well.  I have been a major OU Football fan for many years.  As such, on many Monday mornings I have gathered with friends and shared my advice on what OU could have done better the previous weekend.  Even though I have not played a competitive football game since 1989 and even though I have never coached anything in my life, somehow there are times I think I know better than Sooner Coach Bob Stoops.  Of course this perspective is preposterous, but the distance that normally exists between me and Bob allows me to relate to him in this critical fashion.

However, that dynamic changed last fall when I was asked to present a devotional to the OU football team at a chapel service before one of their games.  Most all of the team and their coaches would be there . . . including Coach Stoops.  I arrived about 20 minutes early and was waiting in the conference room for the team to arrive when Coach Stoops came into the room.  He looked just like I had seen on television, only more impressive.  He graciously strode over and shook my hand, introducing himself to me.  We had a moment of small talk before the chapel service began.  All that day, I had the privilege of standing on the sidelines and hearing the coaching staff interact with their team.  At the end of the day, the distance that had once existed between “me” and “them” was removed, and I no longer felt the desire to criticize . . . just to appreciate all they are.

I was thinking of this experience yesterday as I was reading Revelation 4.  In this great chapter, the Apostle John is invited by Jesus to journey up to heaven with Him and record for us what he saw.  John’s journey to heaven reveals a throne encircled by a rainbow, a sea of glass, 24 elders dressed in white laying their crowns at the feet of the King, and majestic angelic creatures shouting out in loud voices praise to their God.  This vision of heaven was awe-inspiring to John and should be to us also as we read it today.

It is important to remember, however, that before John was invited to tour heaven, he was working in a hard prison camp on the island of Patmos.  That island had to feel a great distance away from heaven for John.  From that distant place, John might have been tempted to question God.  He might have wondered why God had allowed Him to be placed in prison.  He might have wondered why Jesus had waited so long to return.  It is possible that his perspective on God had shifted from “the God of wonders” to “God: I wonder where He is at?”

In light of that, and in light of my experience with Coach Stoops, I wonder if part of the reason for Jesus inviting John into heaven and showing him the awesomeness of it all was to remind him (and us) of the greatness of our God and how He is worthy of our praise.  At the end of this trip to heaven, the distance between “us” and “Him” is removed and we can just appreciate Him for who He really is.

Think about that this week before you go to worship on Sunday.  Before you enter church to sing praise and worship to God, stop and read Revelation chapter 4.  When you see this awesome scene unfold, be amazed . . . when we sing praise, we are singing it to Him . . . and angels in heaven are singing harmony with our tune.

How Does Jesus Sign His Letters?

What does Jesus look like?  If you are like me and you close your eyes and ponder for a moment, you will see the image attached to this post . . . a brown wavy haired, blue eyed gentle man who is peaceful and serene.  This image of Christ is one that has been made popular in paintings that probably adorned the walls of your Sunday School classroom years ago.  The Jesus in this painting is quiet and reflective.  When I am quiet and reflective, this is the Jesus that I turn to . . . however, my life is often not quiet or reflective, so what do I do?

It is interesting to me that when Jesus writes letters to seven churches in Asia in Revelation 2-3, He does not simply sign His name “Jesus.”  Instead, He adds a personal descriptor to His signature to remind all His followers who were living in a not so quiet or reflective world who He was and what He was about.

To the church in Ephesus who were maintaining all their religious activities, but had forgotten to maintain their love relationship with God, He reminded them that He was the one who “walks among the seven golden lampstands (Revelation 2:1).”  The lampstands were symbols of the church, so Jesus was reminding them that He was with them and welcomed a renewal of a deep relationship.

To the persecuted church in Smyrna who were being beaten and killed for their faith in Christ, Jesus reminds them that He is “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again (Revelation 2:8).”  What great comfort the people of Smyrna could gain by remembering that He who was also persecuted was raised in triumph!

To the truth challenged church in Pergamum who had grown lax in their defense of the Gospel truth, Jesus revealed Himself as the one who has “the sharp, double-edged sword” coming from His mouth (Revelation 2:12).  Jesus spoke truth and He would judge on the basis of that, so the church in Pergamum would do well to study and apply the truth of Christ instead of the errors of their day.

To the mixed bag of believers in Thyatira, Jesus revealed Himself as the one who had “eyes like blazing fire (Revelation 2:18).”  Thyatira was a church where some were believing and some were rebelling and Jesus wanted the faithful people there to take heart that Jesus had piercing vision who could decipher the wheat from the chaff.

To the hollow church in Sardis where they were keeping up appearances but practicing wickedness, Jesus revealed Himself as the One who “holds the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 3:1).”  This claim that Jesus held the full Spirit of God was meant as a reminder that Jesus saw beyond the physical world of reputations to understand the unseen spiritual world and what was going on in their hearts.

To the small, poor,  and seemingly insignificant church in Philadelphia, Jesus revealed Himself as the One who “holds the key of David (Revelation 3:7).”  The One who holds the key to the kings treasury is the One who can give or withhold blessing.  Jesus wanted the Philadelphians to know that though they were poor now, they would be rewarded later for their faithfulness.

To the lukewarm church in Laodicea, Jesus revealed Himself as the “Ruler of God’s Creation (Revelation 3:14).”  Lest the Laodiceans begin to think that they were the rulers of their own universe, Jesus wanted them to bow to Him as their King and stop riding the fence.

As I read these descriptions, it is a reminder to me that when we come to Jesus, we need to remember who He is.  While the quiet and reflective Jesus is comforting some times, other times I need to remember His closeness, or His victory over the grave, or His truthfulness, or His ability to see all, or His Spirit, or His ability to bless, or His role as King.  Since people are different and circumstances are different from one person to the next and from one moment to the next, Jesus reveals Himself in all of His glory to us, so that as we approach Him, we know that He is there for all of our needs.

The next time your life is not quiet or reflective, close your eyes and think about Christ.  Think not only of His appearance but of His signature.  There is a signature feature of His character which is most appropriate for where you are.  When we do we will find encouragement and challenge for every situation.