Revelation 13-14

“If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” (13:10‬)

Since the beginning of the church, all around the world, followers of Jesus have been imprisoned and killed for their faith.

Much of the history of the American church has emerged from a fear of this very thing. People came to America to pursue religious freedom, fleeing persecution, and have gone to great lengths to prevent it from happening again. I hope Christians in Iran don’t hear about the things we deem “persecution” these days.

I’ve heard a lot of warnings about who could potentially be this “beast” or “anti-Christ”. Pretty much anyone rising to power or influence has been speculated as such.

While this could be describing one culminating future event, it also clearly portrays the original reader’s current situation under Nero Caesar. Since Nero’s death in 68AD, innumerable world powers have risen up, probably with some demonic influence, and caused similar threats to the people of God.

Instead of being ready to say “no” to a future “mark of the beast”, let’s daily focus on our allegiance to the Lamb: King Jesus.

It’s an allegiance which cannot be divided. This Kingdom, we are a part of, is upside down. That often means you won’t find the same expectations for both. Is it an eye for an eye, or is it turning the other cheek? Is it keeping score, or is it forgiving debts? Is it no trespassing, or is it hospitality to strangers? Is it fighting for rights, or laying them down for one another?

What does it look like to follow the Lamb now? Entrusting ourselves to the One who conquered death for us and answering the call to persevere.

-Bethany

Revelation 11-12

“Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.” 12:7-9

What great chapters to read as we head into Easter weekend. Today is Good Friday, when we reflect and acknowledge the slain lamb that we have been reading so much about the past couple days.  This verse especially caught my attention:

“For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much
that they were afraid to die.” 12:11

We have no reason to be afraid of death, because Jesus has conquered it already!

“But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.” 12:12b

This verse got to me too. It reminded me to be mindful of Satan and his evil tendencies. Sometimes this can overwhelm me, and I become fearful and begin over-spiritualizing things. Did Satan stack up traffic on your way to church? Did Satan attack the marriage and well-being of your pastor? Maybe. There’s a balance here. There’s a time and a place to take ownership of our own sin; we can create plenty of chaos and mess on our own without him. But it’s also crucial to be on guard.

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

Whew, that visual! Lion’s are powerful, fierce and strong. Yet they make themselves terribly small, quiet and discreet as they creep towards their prey. Almost unnoticeable. Oblivious prey gets clobbered and torn apart by their sharp claws and teeth. Animals that stay aware are able to run off before the lion can pounce on them.

Satan is not inactive. Although it is temporary, he has been given power over the earth. Don’t misread this: God has full authority over him (read the first few verses in Job) and will ultimately defeat him completely (Romans 16:20). And Satan knows this! Which is why he works quickly and ruthlessly.

If you’re like me, this is unsettling and possible scary. I find great power and bravery in this verse:

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7

You read the above verse: he is working quickly, trying to take down as many souls as he can before Jesus comes tearing in with a sword coming out of his mouth. If you don’t budge, he will move on. He will flee from you.

Draw near to the Lord, through prayer and studying his Word. Let people into your life who will call you out on your sin and stick by you, bearing that burden with you.

Mediate on the crucification of Jesus. An innocent man, facing mankind’s greatest fear of death and providing atonement for our sins. Praise God, the dragon loses the ultimate battle.

 

-Carly

 

Revelation 9-10

We’re in the thick of the plagues today, and this verse stood out to me:

“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (9:20-21‬)

The LORD is a God of second chances. He offers opportunity after opportunity for people to repent and redirect their destiny. The the truth is, there’s something in humanity that doesn’t want anything to do with God, even if it means enduring scorpion stings and death.

Now we can argue about this or be upset by it, but it isn’t our job to change this about people. Our concern for people is from God and His powerful love is the one pursuing us and sometimes sharing the sentiment with us.

What it comes down to, is being accountable to God for our own response to Him, and following His example of relentlessly loving and extending forgiveness, even when it’s not taken.

“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew‬ ‭18:21-22‬)

God is loving, forgiving and the Only One qualified to judge the world, to open the scroll, is Jesus. He laid His life down to save everyone. He doesn’t condemn flippantly he and He is also a gentleman; not forcing Himself on anyone.

Consider today how to respond to the loving correction of God.

-Bethany

Revelation 7-8

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed in these chapters (like me), lean heavily into a good commentary. (Did you watch The Bible Project video? It’s helpful.)

I try to stay conceptual when I’m reading this book, and not get hung up on too many of the (way over my head) details. But today a few of the details jumped out to me:

“When the Lamb broke the seventh seal on the scroll, there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour.” 8:1

Can you imagine such a dramatic pause? Even just a few moments of silence can seem daunting.

How often do you practice the discipline of silence? When you stop what you’re doing and simply revere God. I’m not sure I even do this on the days I read my Bible or have a “quiet time” with God. Sometimes I’m at home, with the hustle and bustle of young kids in the background. Maybe I’m at a coffee shop, dividing my attention between people-watching and sipping the perfect concoction of warmed milk and espresso. I’ll check my phone. Respond to a quick work email before I forget. Dig around in my gigantic purse for my chapstick. Crawl back out.

Seek God through moments of silence. Instead of indulging in one more episode on Netflix, flip off the tv, close your eyes and mediate on his greatness.

Why? What is there to get out of it?

  1. It’s an act of worship. By dropping everything and mediating on his presence, we are obeying his command to be still and know he is God. (Psalm 46:10)
  2. Jesus did it. Several times we read about Jesus going off to be by himself and pray. He gave up sleep to do it and he stepped out of social engagements to prioritize it. (Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12)
  3. It draws us near to Him. With so many distractions grabbing our attention during the day, we don’t have a chance to encounter the Holy Spirit! He deserves to be prioritized. It’s in the silence moments that God reveals himself to us.

Challenge yourself this week. Set a 30 minute timer and sit in silence, revering God. Don’t expect to make it through uninterrupted the first time. If your mind wanders, or your phone rings, get right back on track. You’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel from seemingly doing nothing. It’s hard! There’s a reason meditation is considered a discipline. Don’t let that stop you from pausing every day and acknowledging our great God. 

 

-Carly

 

 

Revelation 5-6

“Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (5:5‬)

Life can be overwhelming. Wars, natural disasters, the judgements in this book feeling familiar… there is plenty to fret about if we forget this verse.

“Has triumphed.” Note the past tense. Jesus, before he breathed his last breath on the cross cried out, “it is finished!” Another glorious usage of past tense.

There’s a temptation to get wrapped up in present circumstances and wonder, “are you the going to make it?” But don’t we know it’s already been made?

Think of all the bold things people do when they know they’ve already won. A team puts in their 2nd and 3rd string. Marty McFly steps off the top of Biff’s tower when he spots the DeLorean hovering below.

Jesus has been handed authority over the whole world, all mankind, including every intimidating world power. This is why Heaven sings:

“A new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’” (5:9-10‬)

He made us a royal priesthood to serve Him and reign with Him. Does this embolden you? Every tribe, language, people and nation. Current world powers and structures are no indicator or reality, kingship, citizenship, dominance or authority. It all belongs (we all belong) to Our King Jesus.

How does this truth affect the way you navigate daily life? What happens in Heaven is true. That’s why we pray, as it is in Heaven.

Lord Jesus, may my heart reflect the truth of Heaven. May I not fear any temporary affliction, keeping my eyes always on Your worthiness to open the scroll.

-Bethany

Revelation 3-4

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” 3:15-17

I couldn’t help but hone in on this well-known part of Revelation. It’s easy to read this and wonder what’s so bad about being a mediocre Christian? Isn’t it better than not believing or following at all? Apparently, not.

I currently live smack dab in the Bible Belt of America. Everyone sits through church on Sunday and just about everyone would answer “yes” when asked if they’re a Christian. Come to find out, this means very little. Church seems more like an event to attend rather than a body to belong to, and being a Christian is similar to being an American; it’s something that you claim but it impacts your lifestyle very little. This is frustrating. Not only does this type of religion misrepresent Christianity, it makes it hard to sort out pure representation of the faith.

I’ve heard before that the lukewarm water analogy was very applicable to the people of Laodicea. Their water would get piped in from two different sides, a hot spring and a cool fresh river, and by the time it reached them, it was lukewarm. Too cool to use to bathe and too warm to enjoy as a refreshing drink. It was useless and represented a detestable version of it’s once pure form.

The second half of the Scripture above is chilling. You think you have everything, but you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Another blatant sign of mediocre Christian living is being oblivious to it. If you’re constantly taking the temperature of your relationship with God, assessing your behavior and adjusting your lifestyle; great. If you’re distant from God, haven’t cracked your Bible in months and feel comfortable tossing up your hands at him with indifference; that’s fine. It’s a starting point. He can work with that.

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” 1 John 2:15-17

Access your heart and standing with God. Are you obliviously going through the motions? Is Christianity a box you check or a lifestyle you submit to daily?

What were your thoughts when you read the verses from 1 John?

 

-Carly

 

 

Revelation 1-2

I can’t believe we’ve arrived at the final book! Here is the hope of the future of God’s kingdom as we’ve seen foreshadowed all throughout scripture. I’m glad we did Ezekiel right before so we could have these same symbols and promises fresh in our minds.

Here are the first and second Bible Project videos on Revelation. These were super helpful for me. Lord knows I’ve heard a lot interpretations of Revelation in my life (not to say these guys are the final authority). I hope we can keep in mind the themes of perseverance in persecution and allegiance to the Lamb who was slain, over Babylon; personified by wealth, dominance and military pride. Keeping in mind Ephesians 6:12.

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Let’s dive in to the first two chapters. I love this initial description of Jesus:

“The faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood–and He made us to be a Kingdom, priests to His God and Father–to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1:5-6)

Jesus is our glorious king, who loves us and invites us in to be His priests! What a mind boggling offer.

Once, I read over these passages to the churches and pulled out the directives. He follows a pattern of

  1. Describing Himself by way of introduction
  2. Extending understanding about their circumstances
  3. Identifying their pitfalls
  4. Giving directions
  5. Promising life to those who have ears to hear and overcome

The first directive to Ephesus addresses pride. “Remember from where you have fallen.” The second to Smyrna addresses love of security. “Do not fear.” The third to Pergamum addresses adding perversion to worship (you can read about the Nicolaitans). “Repent.” The fourth to Thyatira continues in the same thread. Old pagan worship habits die hard.

We start to see the personalities of darkness take shape. This helps to see and identify what is true light. When embarking on our mission as priests of Christ’s kingdom, we must be aware of the contrary things which will try to seep in.

As a final thought, I’d like to point out 2:13.

“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

Christ’s compassion is overwhelming. It reiterates the sentiments in Hebrews 5 about He can sympathize with our weaknesses. He knows the earth can be a horrible place, because we share it with Satan and his fellow bullies. But the message of Revelation is for those under persecution, bringing a resounding I love you, HOLD ON. It’s not going to be forever.

What stands out to you from these chapters and video overview today?

-Bethany

Ezekiel 47-48

“There will be swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows. Fish will abound in the Dead Sea, for its waters will become fresh. Life will flourish wherever this water flows.” 47:9

This gentle, deep and safe water correlates with the river mentioned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10). It symbolizes life as it metaphorically conquers death.

The Dead Sea is named appropriately; nothing in this body of water can survive. Sea life, including plants near the shore, can’t survive the high salt content in it’s waters. But when this river runs through it, life flourishes. Plants thrive. Animals populate.

” And from that day the name of the city will be ‘The Lord Is There.’ “ 48:35b

Ezekiel’s message to Israel ends with a bright picture of hope and restoration. God’s presence will return to his people and the new Temple. The city will get a new name, tethered by God’s presence.

Here are some ways to reflect on the book of Ezekiel:

  1. Israel’s idolatry drove God away. Ask yourself what persistent sin in your life might be preventing a deep relationship with him.
  2. Israel repeatedly puts their trust into the wrong hands. Where do you find your stability? In your country? In your fleeting identity? In your financial state?
  3. If you follow Jesus, the River of Life flows through you. Is this evident? What ‘death’ still lingers in your waters? Where does he need to get to?

 

Tomorrow we start our LAST book, the book of Revelation!

 

-Carly

 

Ezekiel 45-46

“Thus says the LORD God: The gate of the inner court that faces east shall be shut on the six working days, but on the Sabbath day it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened. The prince shall enter by the vestibule of the gate from outside, and shall take his stand by the post of the gate. The priests shall offer his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he shall go out, but the gate shall not be shut until evening.” (46:1-2‬)

If all this talk about the east gate sounds familiar, it should, we read about it yesterday:

“Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut. And the LORD said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut.” (44:1-2‬)

Coming and going from the east is for the Prince and the LORD.

To the east of Jerusalem is the Kidron valley (or the valley of the shadow of death), and beyond that, the Mount of Olives.

As mentioned above, the glory of the LORD went east when it departed the temple (10:19; 11:23).

Going back a couple hundred years, Solomon was hailed King of Israel as he paraded into Jerusalem (on a mule), from the east, in 1 Kings 1:32-37.

Have you ever wondered how Israel knew this was it when Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday?

“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”” (Matthew‬ ‭21:1-3‬)

Jesus came into Jerusalem from the east, riding a donkey, and everyone flipped out. Some, by waking palm branches and shouting praises, others by asking each other, “who is this guy?”

Something like 353 Old Testament prophesies we’re fulfilled by Jesus, and symbolism like this is everywhere. He is the Prince of our LORD!

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew‬ ‭21:9‬)

As we approach Palm Sunday this weekend, consider with me what it means for Jesus to be hailed as King. It’s easy to get casual comfortable with Jesus and forget how much honor and respect is due Him (all of it: see Daniel 7:14 and Philippians 2:9-10).

It is beautiful and right to praise Him! The embodied glory of the LORD returning to His people, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

-Bethany

Ezekiel 43-44

“The priests…will teach my people the difference between what is holy and what is common, what is ceremonially clean and unclean. They will serve as judges to resolve any disagreements among my people. Their decisions must be based on my regulations. And the priests themselves must obey my instructions and decrees at all the sacred festivals, and see to it that the Sabbaths are set apart as holy days.” 44:23-24

The priests are given tall orders and a hefty job description; this calling is no joke. Resolving arguments among people based on God’s expectations? That requires knowing God’s expectations and exercising a lot of wisdom. And patience. Lots and lots of patience. Teaching people the difference between what is holy and what is unholy? Clean and unclean? This is serious work. That’s why God calls them to be sober, level-headed people, wearing light clothing so they don’t break a sweat. (Seems like a weird rule, but these people were regularly working around altar fires. Not only were they more comfortable in lighter clothing, but a sweaty, dirty face doesn’t exactly resemble cleanliness.)

We hold a similar calling. Although the dividing curtain in the Temple is torn and we all have equal access to God’s presence (Matthew 27:51), followers of Jesus are still part of a priesthood.

“…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

Did you catch the part where Levitical priests have to change out of their clothes before entering the outer courtyard (44:19)? Because the holiness of God, lingering on their clothing like the smell of a magnificent campfire, might endanger the outsiders? I get goosebumps realizing how much I downplay God’s holiness. We too, have a hefty job description and tall orders to follow. We are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. 

Are you equipping yourself to point God’s people toward him? To help sort through conflicts and handle them well? Are you obeying the Sabbath?

Or rather, are you trusting God and stepping back, remembering who you serve and admiring his holiness? Skipping the Sabbath isn’t doing anyone any favors. No one’s impressed with how busy you are or how many plates you’re spinning. Running on empty is disrespectful to God’s design of an abundant life. Resting in his presence is showing others his goodness! 

I’m humbled by my limited understanding of God’s holiness. And thankful for his son, Jesus, who intercedes so that we can have full access to such a holy God!

 

-Carly