Light, Revelation

Revelation 7

As if the white horse, with its rider bent on conquest were not enough. Or the red horse, whose rider had the power to take away peace, followed by the black horse of famine – because famine often follows war.

As if Death, riding a pale horse, killing a quarter of the population, with Hades hot on his heels wasn’t enough. The martyrs crying out to be avenged, the sun turning black, the moon turning blood red, stars falling from the sky and the heavens receding like a scroll being rolled…

As if all of that were not enough, a seventh seal looms.

Four angels stand at the ready. Four powerful angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four fierce winds. They wait for the signal.

But first.

A fifth angel approaches from the east. “Wait!” Foreheads need to be marked.

Twelve thousand foreheads from each of the twelve tribes. One hundred and forty-four thousand  foreheads in all.

I pause and wonder how it is that each tribe has exactly 12,000 servants.  What if one tribe has more than 12,000 worthy servants and another has less? Doesn’t matter, God apparently wants equal representation.

Before God will allow the winds of destruction to blow, swirl, whistle and howl across every corner of the earth, a seal has to be placed on the forehead of each of His servants.

Again I pause, grateful that I am sealed with the Holy Spirit; grateful that I am guaranteed an inheritance. (Ephesians 1)

But this seal, I think, is different. I’ve been stamped with the Holy Spirit. Revelation 14 will reveal that these 144,000 are stamped with the name of the Father and the name of the Lamb.

Remember when God marked Cain – a murderer! – so that no one could kill him?

Remember when God directed the Israelites to mark their doorposts with the blood of the Lamb to protect them from the angel of death?

Not everyone is as familiar with this story from Ezekiel 9, but God was fed up with His people and His wrath was imminent. He said:

“The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see.’ So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”

But before He unleashed the six men who were appointed to execute justice, a man in linen WITH A WRITING KIT, appeared. The Lord called to him and said:

“Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

I stop and chuckle: Gives new meaning to “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Put a mark on all those who grieve and lament.

God notices when we grieve over injustice, cruelty and all the detestable things in which our culture engages.

It reminds me of what Peter wrote about Lot:

“and if [God] rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.”

I never saw Lot as a righteous man who was distressed by the depraved conduct around him. I always saw him as a man who was cozying up to the depravity around him – which got him into trouble more than once. “Friendship with the world” is what James called it. Maybe that’s why Peter added “if this is so,” and put some of it in parenthesis. (Not that the Greeks used punctuation back then.)

Perhaps it wasn’t Lot’s own righteousness that caused him to be spared, perhaps it was solely his association with Abraham.

But I digress.

My point is that God has a history of marking people – worthy or not – in order to protect them. And that the seal on the foreheads of the 144,000 was more like the one received by Cain and the one described in Ezekiel 9 – a seal of protection – rather than a seal guaranteeing an inheritance.

The names of the Father and the Lamb, not the Holy Spirit.

Different names for different purposes?

The winds of destruction, with their seven trumpets and seven bowls of wrath, would not blow quite yet.

Not until chapter 8.

For now, the throne room is growing larger.

In chapter 4, John saw 4 living creatures and 24 elders around the throne. In chapter 5, they were joined and surrounded by thousands upon thousands of angels.

Now, a countless multitude has joined the worship. They cry in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

The names of the Father and the Lamb on the foreheads of the 144,000….

But these aren’t the 144,000. The 144,000 are still on earth to endure and survive the opening of the seventh seal.

This is a countless multitude who survived the first six seals and are now standing before the throne. They’ve been through a lot and they know a little something about from where salvation comes. Some of them may have been among the princes and the paupers cowering together begging the rocks to fall on them.  But then, they ran to Jesus. They “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” Check it out. Verse 14. “They came out of the great tribulation and they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.”

And now here they stand, with the four living creatures and the 24 elders and the thousands upon thousands of angels, wearing freshly cleaned white robes and holding palm branches, shouting the praises of the Ones who saves them.

And when they shout, the creatures, the elders and the angels fall on their faces and worship.  When you’ve seen so much destruction, when you’ve been saved from so much, you want God to remain on the throne forever, and you say so:

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

The hub has been through some things. The hub has made some mistakes, and now the hub often says, “I’m just happy to be here.”

The multitude was happy to be there. So happy that they served God day and night in His temple, because when you are grateful, you want to do what you can.

And because it is in serving Him that you find your protection.

Remember, 144,000 servants were marked for protection against the devastating winds.

Standing there, at His throne, you are sheltered in His presence.

Never again will you be hungry or thirsty. Never again will the sun beat down on you.

You are under the care of the Shepherd – who will lead you to springs of living water, who will wipe away every tear from your eye.

And that is glorious. ‘Cuz you’ve done some crying.

faith, Light

When Faith Doesn’t Work

A discussion began in the comment section of my last post and, since I have a lot to say, I decided to continue it here.  We were talking about how wonderful it is that Christians can be wrong on certain issues and still “march into heaven arm in arm.”  That was Wally Fry’s phrase and I really like it.

Later Wally said, “The sad truth is, many denominations still preach a gospel of justification by faith and works, or faith with salvation being kept and maintained by works.  Sadly, those who maintain hope in their own efforts as the basis for entrance into heaven…won’t be there in that march.”

The world is going to h-e-double-hockey-sticks in a hand basket and we Christians are still putting time and energy into the old separation of faith and works debate.  It’s silly, if you really think about it, because faith and works cannot be separated.  So let’s think about it.

James said, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

Exactly, James, the two are intertwined.  Jesus said so, too.

Remember when He separated the sheep from the goats?  The sheep clothed the naked, fed the hungry, cared for the ill, visited the imprisoned.  They weren’t even aware that their eternity was at stake.  They just did those things because God was living in them and those are the things God does.  Good trees produce good fruit.  They just do.

The goats, on the other hand, thought they were fine with God.  They spoke godly words: “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but they did nothing to  actually bring anyone peace, warmth or nourishment.  God was obviously not living in them.  Bad trees can look real good and healthy and full, but if they don’t produce any fruit, what good are they really?

It’s not the works you do, the fruit you produce that saves you, it’s the fruit that shows you are already saved. They are evidence that the Holy Spirit is alive in us.

With regard to vines and branches and fruit production, Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”  So if Catholics are doing good works, it is only because they believe in Jesus and His Spirit is at work in them.

They BELIEVE in Jesus.

Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We protestants love Paul, right?  So why do we have so much trouble believing that our Catholic brothers and sisters – who have confessed with their mouths and believed in their hearts that Jesus is Lord – are really saved?

Oh, because they are adding on to their faith, and that is WRONG, wrong, wrong.  Salvation = faith + NOTHING!

Faith + 0 = salvation.

Anything + 0 = the thing.  So, when it comes to salvation, if all except faith = nothing, then works = nothing.  Works = 0.

Therefore faith + works (0) = faith.  Follow?

Adding works to faith does not negate faith.  The person still has faith.  The person still believes that Jesus is God and that He saves us.  My Catholic grandma had a portrait of Jesus hanging in her hallway because she believed Jesus is God.  Yes, the Catholic church added purgatory and penance to the mix.  Yes, the Church became controlling and corrupt.  But she believed in Jesus.  Those who corrupted the Church will be judged according to their corrupt deeds.  She will be judged according to her faith in Jesus.

But here’s the thing I really wanted to point out:

Protestants add works to their faith, too.

I know plenty of Baptists who have faith in their perfect doctrine.  They put A WHOLE LOT OF WORK into defending that doctrine.  One Baptist blogger accused me of not being a real Christian because I did not agree with every jot and tittle of her iron-clad doctrine, which she puts a whole lot of WORK into defending.

I used to lean legalistic.  It was the doctrine I was taught.  But then the Spirit pointed out to me that Jesus died for PEOPLE, not doctrine.  Perfect doctrine does not save anyone.  It is important to know the Scriptures in order to know the heart, character and purposes of God and, therefore, I have set my mind to understanding them.  To understanding Him.

But Jesus’s final instructions to us were not to defend doctrine.  That was Paul’s gig.

Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (italics added)

So the question is, what did He command us?

Keep the (ten) commandments.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Get to know HIM.)

Love your neighbor as yourself.  Which includes:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Hmm, the list does not include “make sure EVERYONE precisely separates works from faith.”  “Actually,” He would likely say, “Please don’t.”

I don’t believe that it’s “all good” and that anything goes.  And I am peeved by Christians who presume to speak for God when they are clearly unfamiliar with Scripture, who make it up as they go along, but I am certainly not going to condemn my Catholic brothers and sisters or exclude them from the march into heaven.

It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to guide me and my Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters into all Truth, it’s my job to love them, and to enjoy a humble walk with God.

And to have an occasional respectful debate with my friend Wally.

Oh and thanks Martha Kennedy for this:

“Rumi said, ‘To those who love God, the only religion is God’ meaning there are no hairs to split, there is only God.”


faith, family, life

Concerning Hope part 2

With the return of consciousness at 3:00 A.M., I found myself on the porch of an old brick building which resembled an army barracks.  Later I would discover that it was one of several identical buildings which had once been a mental institution.  The buildings were on a large, secluded piece of property twenty minutes by car from my apartment.  It would be difficult to find this place at noon while sober.  The fact of having driven for twenty minutes in a blackout was not disconcerting.  That sot of thing had been part of my repertoire.  What was disconcerting was the realization that God was giving me what I had asked for.  He had taken my request seriously and had responded earnestly.  The plan was that I must follow Him on this new road one step at a time, one day at a time.  But false hope was not yet dead.  As I lingered at the door of the clinic, it strained to find something in the plan that could be manipulated.  There was nothing.  The absoluteness of this absence was depressing.

When called from the tomb by our Lord, Lazarus emerged looking like a mummy.  He was alive but still bound by the wrappings of death.  Similarly, having been resurrected from the floor to a vertical position at the entrance of the clinic, I was wrapped in my depression and essentially immobilized.  Though I lingered with fear and apprehension, this depression was something that could almost be enjoyed when compared with those ghostly manifestations at the end of the old road.  But if one is to cross the threshold and follow Him down a new road, depression is a barrier; a bitter fruit in a bowl designed for gratitude.  On the floor the reins had been relinquished to an omniscient God.  This omniscient and omnipotent God resurrected me and set me in front of doors which marked the beginning of a new road.  Depression is to doubt His wisdom.  Doubt seek alternatives, and alternatives are born of thought.  But there is danger in thinking with a mind whose only song has been, “I’ll do it my way.”  Such a mind entertains but one thought, “Take back the reins.”  A response to this temptation came as consciousness circumvented thought in contemplation of that resurrection from floor to porch; a resurrection hidden in the realm called blackout; movement void of thought and doubt.  Consciousness opted for thoughtlessness and answered temptation with silence.  Temptation relinquished the porch and departed for a time.

With the rejection of temptation, something washed over my depression, then receded.  Depression became the sands of an ocean shore.  At high tide there was “peace beyond all understanding.”  At low tide there was a return of fear and doubt.  As the wash was receding during a low tide, the tempter returned with a thought; “Lay hold of it and pull it back over you as you would a blanket on a cold night.”  Consciousness discerned this to be but a more subtle expression of the earlier thought.  Again temptation was answered with silence and from the depths came a voice, “Lo, I am with you always.   My ebb is the season in which vessels are to empty themselves of self.   My flow cannot fill a full vessel.”  With His words consciousness recognized that something which had washed against depression – a new hope.  I opened the door and entered the clinic.  I was on a new road.

Ian Britton, Creative Commons

Ian Britton, Creative Commons

As Lazarus stood mummy-like before the tomb, Jesus addressed those present saying, “Loose him and let him go.”  Upon entering the clinic, the first respondents to His command were the staff physician and a substance abuse therapist.  The therapist’s shift was ending and his relief had already entered the examining room.  Having completed a preliminary examination and blood work, the physician addressed the relief therapist saying,  “Stay on top of him for the duration of your shift.  Don’t let him sleep; he could slip into a coma and expire from alcohol poisoning.”  Apparently Jesus had already commissioned the first therapist.  He addressed his relief saying, “Get about something else.  This one is mine.”  During the following eight hours, and without additional pay, he nurtured this fragile new life.  Sometime late the following day consciousness recognized, received and embraced the loving care and concern with which the therapist had fulfilled his commission.  As I placed my offering in that bowl designed for gratitude, counterfeit hope expired, along with doubt and its depression.  The lemming was in the water.

With the surrender of self-will and death of false hope, sin ceased to be a lifestyle.  The weight of sin which had immobilized me was absorbed by Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross.  His cross is a point of orientation which sets the course for the journey down this new road.  The point of destination is that place where “I shall know just as I am also known.”  It is a place where I shall see Him who is the author of my hope. In his book, A Theology of the Cross, Charles Cousar speaks of death and resurrection:  “Easter does not erase or eclipse the godforsakeness of Good Friday.”  At the beginning of each day I position myself at a place where both His death and glorious resurrection stand between me and the point of destination.  This destination is seen through my sin which hangs there on the cross.  On the cross sin does not invite morbidity, but gratitude – gratitude for the fact that He took it and paid the price.  The price that He paid gives my sin transparency.  The view to the destination is not obscured.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful to find that my sin still hangs there.  That by His strength I had resisted the temptation to take it back.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful that the cross is there as a place to hang that which has been emptied from this vessel.

So what sustains hope, one day at a time, during the journey on this new road?  To focus on that future point of destination, through union with Him at the cross, gives sustenance.  Charles Cousar comments, “The future so impinges on the present as to give it a distinctive buoyancy.”  In this world our pilgrimage is through terrain which would have us to stumble and fall;  “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  That “distinctive buoyancy” keeps us up and moving, if our focus stays on the destination.  In all things I give thanks, and praise His holy name.  Glory be to God!

And thanks be to God, this daughter is Grateful.

© The Reluctant Baptist, 2015

life, war on women

Trickle Down Jesus

Road Fun, Creative Commons

Road Fun, Creative Commons

If I could give just one gift to one person – money no object, but anonymously – to whom would I give it?  Well, daily prompt, let’s see…

No one is a better gift-giver than God, so I’d start there.  He gave One Gift to all of us and to each individual one of us.  Not really anonymously – His gift-giving was heralded by angels – but sort of anonymously in that some have been given the gift and don’t know it yet.

So on this eve of Christmas Eve, I would give the One Gift, too.  I would give Jesus to the head pastor of my church-with-many-campuses, in hopes that He would trickle down.  Here’s what I mean:

Sunday the hub, my daughter and I went to the urban campus for worship.  The woman leading the opening number was rocking it.  I mean ROCKING it!  It was everything you would expect from rousing African-American worship and it was a sight and sound to behold.

Then the pastor spoke of his vision for our church/community center.  He spoke of the woman caught in the act of adultery and how Jesus, kneeling in the sand, forgave her, told her to go and sin no more.  He said he wants us to be a church that kneels in the sand and shows compassion.  He wants us to be a place where the addict puts down his needle, puts down her phone….  He wants us to be a place where the gang banger can come in and say, “No one told me to pull my pants up.  But I kind of feel like I should pull my pants up…”

Now ordinarily that kind of talk would have had my heart shouting, “YeeHaw!” and my skin all goose-bumpy.  It would make me want me to stand up and cheer.  But, alas, there was none of that.  There was only the sound of a gong resounding in my ears.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1

I have no doubt that the good pastor wants to be that kind of church, that he wants the Spirit to move in that city and redeem the broken.  Which is why I would give Him a trickle down of Jesus.

Yes and amen, Jesus loved and forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery.  He displayed all kinds of love to women, bestowed upon them all kinds of dignity.  I was so happy to hear His name mentioned, frankly, because it is a bit rare in our church.   And that is the problem.  The power that the pastor wants to unleash on that city comes in the name of Jesus, yet the church operates in the name of Paul.

Yes, we can be a church that kneels in the sand and forgives, but as long as we put that forgiven woman under the stranglehold of holy misogyny, we will lack any real power to make a difference.

Jesus loved women.  He created them to reveal 50% of His image and to co-labor with the other 50% of His image.  Restricting women – making them subservient to men (in a thinly veiled and “doctrinally correct” way) – just plays into the hands of the one who is trying to divide and conquer.  Or at least divide and render weak.

I know I’ve said this before – many times – but it is a drum worth beating.  Because until my pastor(s) put aside the traditions of men and embrace the whole story, we will continue to be nothing more than clanging symbols – making noise, garnering attention, and fading away…..

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

© The Reluctant Baptist, 2014


400 Years

400 years of silence and then…

An old man in the temple
Waiting in the court
Waiting for the answer to a promise
And all at once he sees them
In the morning sunshine
A couple come in carrying a baby
Now that I’ve held Him in my arms
My life can come to an end
Let Your servant now depart in peace
‘Cuz I’ve seen Your salvation
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel
Mary and the baby come
And in her hand five shekels
The price to redeem her baby boy
The baby softly cooing
Nestled in her arms
Simeon takes the boy and starts to sing
Now that I’ve held Him in my arms
My life can come to an end
Let Your servant now depart in peace
‘Cuz I’ve seen Your salvation
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel
Now’s the time to take Him in your arms
Your life will never come to an end
He’s the only way that you’ll find peace
He’ll give you salvation
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel
Now That I’ve Held Him In My Arms
by Michael Card

One of my all time favorites.  In case you’ve never heard it, you can sample it here:

faith, life

The Question


Today’s Daily Prompt inspired me to share a bit of my heart, by heart.  Here’s the question:   You’re asked to recite a poem (or song lyrics) from memory — what’s the first one that comes to mind?

The answer is The Question by Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues.  Here’s a portion:

It’s not the way that you say it
When you do those things to me
It’s more the way that you mean it
When you tell me what will be
And when you stop and think about it
You won’t believe it’s true
That all the love you’ve been giving
Has all been meant for you

I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
Could safely lead me through

Toward the middle of my freshman year of college I started to date a wrestler.  He was smart, caring, interesting and very physically fit.  I will be forever indebted to him for teaching me the proper way to lift weights.  He was a year older than me so he graduated a year earlier.  Toward the end of his senior year we started to talk about getting married.  He had thick, blond, curly hair, and I was really looking forward to having a bunch of curly-headed kids. He also had a seriously insane mother but I did not really feel the effects of her antics because she lived in another state.  When he graduated and moved home she became a bigger factor in our relationship.  She did not think I was good enough for her first born golden boy.  So she bribed him.  She offered him a car, a condo and law school in exchange for dumping me.  He took the loot.  Whatever.  After several months he had a change of heart and we tried it again but my heart had moved on.  I wanted something better.  I was looking for someone to change my life.  I was looking for a miracle in my life. Those lyrics from The Question kept playing in my head.  God was calling me and Wrestlerboy’s increasingly crude humor was becoming less and less amusing.  So I left.  And for the first time in my life I seemed to be wandering aimlessly.

Then God revealed Himself to me in a glorious and unforgettable way.

He proceeded to give my life purpose and direction.  He began to give expression to the gifts and talents He had given me.  And all these years later He is still the Miracle in my life.