what follows you?

And I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Favored are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “so they can rest from their labors, because their deeds follow them.” (Revelation 14:13 CEB)

What fills your mind when you stop to consider God’s awareness of all that you do? Is it the questions you have? How you rarely think of such? That you try not to think about it?

What grips your heart when you pause and reflect on the fact that someday your life will be assessed by God in light of all that you do? Is it uneasiness? Shame? Fear? Terror?

What wells up in your spirit when you pause over these words of God’s Spirit for yourself: “their deeds follow them?” A sense of regret over things you’ve done? Have left undone? How you wish you could do more?

Now read this passage again slowly and ask yourself exactly what it is the writer, John, intended to convey to us by hearing these words.

“Favored are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “so they can rest from their labors, because their deeds follow them.” (Revelation 14:13 CEB)

Who is being spoken of? Those who “die in the Lord.” How are we to view their condition? As “favored,” that is, “well off in the eyes of God.” What do they experience? “… rest from their labors …”

Now thus far, to say this is “good” is an understatement, no? Without a doubt! Now ask this passage, and yourself, one more question.
On what basis is it that this text says those who die in the Lord are well off in God’s eyes and experience rest?

Answer: “… because their deeds follow them.”

Clearly John is not holding out to us uneasiness or fear, regret or shame, uncertainties or questions. He is deliberately extending to those who labor in the Lord the great assurance, comfort, confidence, peace, security, and serenity that can, and does, come directly from the Spirit of God.

In other words, what you do matters. It matters for good. It matters here and now. It matters forever. It matters for others. And it matters for you.

Your good, no matter how large or small, is remembered by God. The power of your good work in the name of Christ is not dependent on its remembrance by others or even on your own memory. The good you do simply because you are in the Lord and you let him come out through you, as it were, go with you beyond the grave into God’s presence with you. And our awareness of that reality, made known to us by revelation, is a gift to God to us to encourage and spur us on to never cease doing good.

We will do good and not even realize it. We will do good and forget we even did it. We will do good and others will not even know it, remember it, or care. But God cares and remembers perfectly. God does not forget and will do good to those who live their lives expressive of his goodness, being “in him” and “for him” in life.

In this, let your mind find peace, your heart have rest, your spirit take comfort, and your hands, busyness to do good until the day you die. For what you do always matters.

Father God in heaven, remember me for good and help me to remember you in all things, that I might live well by you in Christ’s name. Amen.

at the center of it all

Today we expect a story to move toward a climax at the end. It is as if the story is a plane taking off and the climax, or end, of the story is when it reaches its highest altitude.

But stories have not always been shaped this way and that’s not the ways travelers view a successful flight, either. You see, many stories in ancient times find their climax not at the end, but in the middle. Something like the way a plane slowly ascends, reaches altitude, and then gradually descends on a trajectory similar to, but the opposite of, takeoff. Such structure is known as chiasm and the Bible is chock full of sentences, paragraphs, and whole books with chiastic outlines.

Now most modern interpretations of the book of Revelation are doomed to misunderstanding as soon as they takeoff in that they assume the book follows a modern outline (i.e. its climax is at the end). However, a close examination of Revelation reveals quite the opposite for the entire book appears to be outlined chiastically.*

Prologue: Rev. 1:1-20

A. The imperfect church: Rev. 2:1-3:22

B. God’s power over evil explained: Rev. 4:1-8:6

C. The warning judgments : Rev. 8:1-11:19

D. The Lamb as God’s answer to it all : Rev. 12:1-14:20

C. The judgments consummated: Rev. 15:1-16:21

B. God’s power over evil exercised: Rev. 17:1-20:15

A. The church in perfection: Rev. 21:1-22:5

Epilogue: Rev. 22:6-21

You’ll notice that if the prologue and epilogue are removed from the book, the book naturally falls into seven segments, six of them having corresponding sections. It is the book’s centerpiece, the very center of the book (Rev. 12:1-14:20), that forms the book’s climax. A closer look reveals that each of the seven sections are composed primarily of seven components.

Prologue: Rev. 1:1-20

A. The imperfect church: Rev. 2:1-3:22 (seven letters to seven churches)

  • 1. Ephesus: 2:1-72
  • 2. Smyrna: 2:8-11
  • 3. Pergamum: 2:12-17
  • 4. Thyatira: 2:18-29
  • 5. Sardis: 3:1-6
  • 6. Philadelphia: 3:7-13
  • 7. Laodicea: 3:14-22

B. God’s power over evil explained: Rev. 4:1-8:6 (seven seals)

  • 1. War: 6:1-2
  • 2. Rebellion: 6:3-4
  • 3. Famine: 6:5-6
  • 4. Death: 6:7-8
  • 5. Martyrs: 6:9-11
  • 6. Cosmic signs: 6:12-17
  • 7. The seven trumpets introduced: 8:1-6

C. The warning judgments: Rev. 8:1-11:19(seven trumpets sound)

  • 1. Hail, fire & blood: 8:7
  • 2. The sea becomes blood: 8:8-9
  • 3. The falling star: 8:10-11
  • 4. Sun, moon & stars darkened: 8:12-13
  • 5. Opening the bottomless pit; the first woe: 9:1-12
  • 6. Four angels released; the second woe: 9:13-21
  • 7. The consummation; the third woe: 11:15-19

D. The Lamb as God’s answer to it all: Rev. 12:1-14:20 (seven significant symbols & seven angelic messages)

  • 1. The woman with child: 12:1-2
  • 2. The dragon: 12:3-4
  • 3. The male child: 12:5-6
  • 4. The angel Michael: 12:7-17
  • 5. The beast from the sea: 13:1-10
  • 6. The beast from the land: 13:11-18
  • 7. The Lamb on Mount Zion: 14:1-5
  • 1. Good news: 14:6-7
  • 2. Babylon is fallen: 14:8
  • 3. Wrath on beast worshipers: 14:9-12
  • 4. Blessing is pronounced: 14:13
  • 5. Ripe for harvest / judgment: 14:14-16
  • 6. The harvesting angel is ready: 14:17
  • 7. The judgment of evil earth: 14:18-20

C. The judgments consummated: Rev. 15:1-16:21 (seven bowls of wrath)

  • 1. Sores on people: 16:2
  • 2. The sea becomes blood: 16:3
  • 3. The rivers & fountains become blood: 16:4-7
  • 4. The sun’s fierce heat: 16:8-9
  • 5. Darkness: 16:10-11
  • 6. The foul spirits prepare for Armageddon: 16:12-16
  • 7. The earthquake: 16:17-21

B. God’s power over evil exercised: Rev. 17:1-20:15 (seven descriptions of God’s judgments)

  • 1. The prostitute & the beast identified: 17:1-18
  • 2. The doom of Babylon is announced: 18:1-20
  • 3. The doom of Babylon described: 18:21-24
  • 4. The marriage supper of the Lamb: 19:1-10
  • 5. The defeat of the beast & the false prophet: 19:11-21
  • 6. The binding & limitation of Satan: 20:1-10
  • 7. The final judgment: 20:11-15

A. The church in perfection: Rev. 21:1-22:5 (seven descriptions of the church in perfection)

  • 1. The new heaven & the new earth: 21:1
  • 2. The new Jerusalem, God’s dwelling: 21:2-8
  • 3. The glory of the holy city Jerusalem: 21:9-14
  • 4. The city’s measurements: 21:15-18
  • 5. The city’s foundations: 21:19-21
  • 6. The city’s light: 21:22-27
  • 7. The city’s support: 22:1-5

Epilogue: Rev. 22:6-21

Yes, I can hear you saying now: “Okay, that’s all very interesting to someone, I’m sure, but what difference is all of this supposed to make to me?

This is the difference. As you read the book of Revelation, don’t look for the focus of the book to be at the end, as if to answer your question, “What’s in this for me at the end?” Instead, read it with your eyes riveted on the one at the center of the book, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. See him as the more than adequate answer to all that comes up against the Creator and his creation. Period. For you see, this book was not written with us humans at the story’s center, but God. It was penned not to answer the question “What will we get?,” but the only question that truly matters, namely, “What is God doing?”

Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, forgive us as we all too frequently unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, “rewrite your story to be about us. You are the only Perfect One and you alone are sufficient answer to everything. Grow in us the confidence you longed to place within us by giving us your story and placing us in it, namely, that it’s not about us, rather it’s all about you. Amen.

* For this outline and understanding of the book of Revelation I am deeply indebted to the work of Dr. Nils Lund and my professor in graduate work at ACU in years gone by, Dr. Ian Fair.

heaven

After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. They cried out with a loud voice: “Victory belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” …

Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”

I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-10,13-17 CEB)

Let me ask us all some questions.

  • What would be heaven to you?
  • What would be heaven to you if your life had been great hardship?
  • What would be heaven to you if your life had been great hardship because you believed the Lord?

What would you want heaven to be?

  • Would it be to wear a white robe?
  • Would it be to wear a white robe and never know hunger or thirst?
  • Would it be to wear a white robe and never know hunger or thirst and never be at the mercy of the elements again?

Or in light of this passage, should the questions more nearly be:

  • Would heaven to you be simply to be in the presence of the Lamb?
  • Would heaven to you be simply to be in the presence of the Lamb who shelters you and shepherds you?
  • Would heaven to you be simply to be in the presence of the Lamb who shelters you and shepherds you and to sing his praise day and night, ever worshiping him?

You see, the question is not, “What do you want heaven to be?” The question is, “Who do you think heaven is about?

  • Heaven isn’t about us and our receiving great blessing, but heaven is about God and our blessing him.
  • Heaven isn’t about our finally being served, but about our finally being privileged to serve him without hindrance.
  • Heaven isn’t about enjoying good things for ourselves that we were denied on earth, but about God being our complete enjoyment so that things no longer have any real existence to us.

The business of heaven is about worshiping God and those who will experience heaven are those who worship God here and now, be it through hardship or ease, want or sufficiency, trouble or comfort. These are the ones who will experience heaven and enjoy God fully and forever.

For to worship him is why we were made. Those who get that, get it. There can be nothing greater and we must not settle for anything less. Here and now. Until we can take it up an octave in heaven.

Our Father who is our heaven, holy is your name. Bring us into your kingdom and let us do your will. May you be our bread. Forgive us when we forget this and bring us back to our rightful mind. Deliver us from anything less for you are the King, the glory and the power forever. Amen.

like a sea of glass

At once I was in a Spirit-inspired trance and I saw a throne in heaven, and someone was seated on the throne. The one seated there looked like jasper and carnelian, and surrounding the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. Twenty-four thrones, with twenty-four elders seated upon them, surrounded the throne. The elders were dressed in white clothing and had golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came lightning, voices, and thunder. In front of the throne were seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God. Something like a glass sea, like crystal, was in front of the throne. (Revelation 4:2-6a CEB)

Consider the wonder of this dazzling passage regarding the grandeur and majesty of God! His purity is his power and his power is pure. Nothing or no one can even come close to rivaling our God. The human mind and human words completely fail to even remotely, much less adequately, describe God’s being, brilliance, and beauty.

Now with all of that still in your head and as you continue to turn these words over in your mind, notice especially the last sentence.

“Something like a glass sea, like crystal, was in front of the throne.”

Know this: that sentence functions precisely the opposite of how you and I might expect it to work. We think, “Oh my, I love the sea, and here is a crystal sea; isn’t that beautiful?” Oh no, no, not at all.

Now without completely spoiling it for you, let me just plant a seed of thought with you here that I’ll return to in a few days as we draw our reading and reflection on Revelation to a close. And here’s the thought …

Pay very close attention as we read through Revelation this week to everything mentioned there in regard to this sea. Let me say that again: pay attention to everything that goes on with the sea.

For our purposes today, just remember what it looks like and where it’s located:

“Something like a glass sea, like crystal, was in front of the throne.”

Let’s pray.

Father God in heaven, may nothing ever distract me or deter me from my quest to be with you. Bring to my mind often the fact that absolutely nothing escapes your awareness and knowledge, your presence and your power. This I pray in the name of the Lord Jesus. Amen.

do yourself this favor

“Favored is the one who reads the words of this prophecy out loud, and favored are those who listen to it being read, and keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3 CEB)

It’s not the words “favored” or “prophecy” that capture my attention. Nor is it even the phrase “for the time is near.”

It’s the phrase “out loud.”

Have you ever tried that? Reading Scripture out loud? To yourself?

It helps. Big time.

Reading silently to yourself was not a common thing in the ancient world. You probably didn’t have a copy of Scripture and so, if some word of God came to you it typically came through someone speaking it out loud to you. It was “a holy moment.”

Aside from reading stories with small children, the brief (token?) readings of Scripture in church gatherings, and perhaps a few other occasions, we’re just not accustomed to carving out significant time to sit and listen to something being read to us. That is our loss.

But it need not be. Try this. Today. Perhaps right now. Carve out five minutes of time for you to be completely alone with zero distractions and read aloud to yourself the description of the one speaking to John, the Lord, in Revelation 1:12-18.

Read it out loud completely through one time to yourself. Read it as you would normally read something. It will take you about sixty seconds or less.

Then read it through a second time, out loud, this time quite deliberately, giving your mind time to ponder the meaning of each word. Put yourself there in the scene. Imagine yourself as John, the one who wrote these words and experienced this experience. Experience these words yourself.

Now read the passage one last time, aloud, this time speaking the words with emphasis, as if you were doing an oral interpretation and addressing a crowd. Vary the speed and volume along with placing emphasis on various words and using pause for effect.

Do all three of these readings back-to-back, aloud, with your mind fully focused on what is being said. Pause a moment, letting what you’ve just read – heard – settle into your mind and shape your spirit.

And now, only now, are you ready to pray.

Lord Jesus, you are purity and power. You are all of my hope and help. You are the one who delves into my heart and you are the only one fit to direct my ways. So be it.

 

this went thru my mind

Beauty: It’s a subject we don’t talk about much, but Elizabeth Taylor‘s death this week ought to make us talk about it. What is a Christian perspective of physical, human beauty? Christian film critic Josh Larsen’s post entitled Elizabeth Taylor and the Blessing of Beauty could serve as a good launch for that conversation.

Bible translations: I’m an unabashed fan of the Common English Bible and am glad to learn that the CEB OT is now complete. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy in a few months. The CEB is Complete!

Book: Straight to my want list goes this book, thanks to this review, Introverts in the Church, and I suspect it will have the same effect on some of you who are introverts at heart.

Church attendance: Here’s a chart of Church Attendance in England, 1985-2005. I have to wonder, given how the U.S. seems to follow so many trends of England, whether or not we might also be looking at a similar chart of Church Attendance in the United States, during say 2010-2030? Time will tell.

Japan: (1) Japan: After Empathy, and Aid, People Want Answers by John Piper, (2) Brian McLaren’s Faith Beyond All Answers: A Response to John Piper’s Theodicy, (3) The God Who Suffers in Japan, and (4) CNN poll Few Americans Believe Natural Disasters are Signs From God.

Parenting: Brian Mashburn’s Living in the Moment will not fail to resonate with any parent worthy of that description. And if you’re a parent, you’ll want to be aware of the possibilities of a new app available for smartphone known as Color. This article via CNN, New Color app promotes mobile voyeurism, and this video by Kim Komando will tell you what you need to know.

People: I soon plan to begin reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. David Swanson’s post entitled “Crowds are a worse danger, far worse, than drink or sex” tells me I will encounter classic Peterson when I do so: engaging, thought-provoking, moving, and persuasive.

Prayer: Tony Campolo and Jeff Dunn, respectively, grapple with two of the biggest questions folks have about prayer and it’s good to see them do so in Does It Pay to Pray for Healing? and Does Jesus Really Mean It?

Singing: If you examined 28 hymnals published in the United States since the late 1800′s by the six largest mainline denominations (and their main predecessor bodies) and tallied up the most commonly occurring songs, what songs do you think would be included in all of them? There were thirteen. Steve Thorngate’s post ‘The Gold Old Hymns’ Defined will put you in the know.  And I have to wonder, come the end of this century, what would be the most commonly sung songs in Christendom? Have we even heard any of them yet? God knows.

The “ain’t that just cool” department: You won’t be disappointed if you watch the three minute animated video on Vimeo from NPR entitled The Billion-Bug Highway You Can’t See. We live in an amazing world created by an amazing God. You might want to watch this video with your children (of any age).

By preachersmith Posted in Links