Persecution comes in all different shapes, sizes, and intensities. We do not get to pick out our cross. We are only instructed to pick it up and carry it. Paul wrote to Timothy, “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Perhaps that is not what you signed up for when you gave your life to Christ. But there it is. We may seek compromise to avoid it — relief rather than peace. But consider the words of Ralph Erskine. “Some may bless themselves they were never assaulted by the devil and yet they are but sleeping, as it were, in the devil’s cradle and he is rocking them.”
What is your response to persecution? To the intense pressure that comes with taking up a cross and following Christ? Where will you seek rest? In the promises of the Faithful one or the devil’s cradle? Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the message to the Church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 and its encouragement to persevere in the face of extreme pressure.
One of my mottoes when counseling a prospective bride and groom is “prepare more for the marriage than you do for the wedding.” Yet, it is hard for star-crossed lovers to get their heads around “till death do us part.” The logistics of a wedding are so much easier than the logistics of marriage. That is until the wedding day arrives. Standing with the groom, I see in him that same growing bewilderment, I felt on my own wedding day. With each processing bridesmaid a sense of foreboding self-doubt grows.
Then the door to the church opens. The bride, veiled in glory, her father at her arm, appears in radiant splendor. And it hits you. I am making the most momentous decision of my life. I am about to be responsible for another person. I am about to live for someone other than myself. In that moment, self-doubt and introspection grip you in a way you have never been gripped.
Then she is there. Right in front of you. You lift the veil. And the light in her eyes, the love radiating from her face assures you – all is well. You settle in. You breathe. You settle down. And you make vows that change your life forever. All will be well. Because once unveiled, ‘the bride’ is revealed as ‘the beloved.’ And that makes all the difference.
When the veil is removed, we see what really matters. Fear, uncertainty, and insecurity may still be there, but they are eclipsed by faith, hope, and love. However, what is true in our human relationships only dimly reflects what is true of our relationship with Christ. To know Him for who He is, to see Him for who He is, allows us to run with perseverance the race marked out before us. No matter where the course might lead. Yes, there is fear, uncertainty and insecurity. But faith, hope and love rule the day.
Yet, fixing our eyes on Him is hard. We squint to see Him through sight, rather than faith. He has revealed Who He is through His Word, the Bible. But the Bible can be challenging to understand. Yet God has given each part of it to lift the veil on who He is. As John Calvin noted, “in the Scriptures God is veiled, that he might be unveiled.” The one who defies description, describes himself in the limitations of language so that we might be able to see him with unveiled faces and unveiled faith.
No part of Scripture is more challenging to grasp than Revelation – the last book in our Bible. Its enigmatic creatures, symbols, and numbers are fertile fields for fanciful interpretation. Despite early historical claims of authorship by Jesus’ beloved disciple, John, Revelation was one of the last books to be accepted into the Canon of the New Testament. Martin Luther questioned its canonicity, and Calvin never commented on it. Yet, this word that seems so mystifying, and is so often ignored, has been breathed out by God, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training that you and I may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
More than that, the book itself claims to be a “lifting of the veil.” This testimony of Jesus Christ begins with the ancient word which means to “take away a veil” – a word we translate ‘revelation.’ For that is what Revelation and revelation are — God’s self-disclosure to us, that we might see by faith not by sight. In Revelation, Christ Jesus draws aside the veil and shows us his glorious purpose and sovereignty over history, encouraging us to view our circumstances rightly and live boldly. When the veil is lifted, our existential self-doubt and gripping fear are also lifted. At last, we can see that all will be well — even if it will not be easy.
Join us this week as we begin a survey of the book of Revelation, examining Revelation 1:1-3 to consider how this part of God’s Word offers blessing, encouragement, and hope for dark times. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.
My twelve year-old son is the most optimistic person I know. He loves technology and has boundless confidence that it will always work as advertised. One particular app on his tablet just will not work. We have researched, reconfigured, and run every diagnostic known to man – all to no avail. Yet with every software update, he asks, with brimming expectancy, “Dad, I got an update. Can we give it another try?” As a recovering software engineer, I am steeped in pessimism, especially when it comes to software. But nothing – not even repeated disappointments — can dampen Noah’s confidence that “today is the day” that the latest update will make everything right. And time after time, we are let down by open systems that aren’t so open after all.
But life is full of let-downs — meals that bear little resemblance to the advertising and online products with five star ratings, 378 “awesome” reviews, and that one bad review that turns out to be the only faithful narrative. And then there are social media friends who are really not friends. Just in case you don’t realize, your social media friends are not really friends. If they were not your friends before social media, they are not committed to anything more than spectating your life.
I recently crossed paths outside of cyberspace with an online “friend.” She couldn’t quite place me. I offered congratulations on her recent marriage and commented on the exciting places she traveled on her honeymoon. Looking at me as though I was a stalker, she asked me how I knew. Somewhat dejected, I said, “I’m your friend on Facebook.” If you are depending on social media friends to be your friends, then I am sorry to say, you will be let down.
But live relationships let us down as well. If you want to know if someone is really your friend, ask them to help you move. Moving is a severe trial for the closest of friendships. Years ago, Melanie and I were moving out of a second story apartment. We moved almost everything ourselves, negotiating two flights of stairs with a narrow landing. All that remained was a washer and dryer. The dryer was not a problem, but our faithful old Maytag washer was crafted from heavy American steel and offered no easy hand-holds. I called a close friend who lived nearby to help me get this last item into the truck. After a few hems, lots of haws, and a flimsy excuse, I realized that we were operating on two different understandings of friendship. I admit that our relationship never quite recovered from that let-down.
Every person you know is a sinner. This guarantees that sooner or later you will be let down by someone close to you. You don’t have to live very long to experience this. But the pain is especially great when the let-down seems easily avoidable, or worse, intentional. And the closer, more intimate the relationship, the greater the pain of this disappointment. How do you recover? How do you move forward? How can your relationships survive a let-down?
The story of the prophet Jeremiah is a story of disappointments. Four decades of preaching fell on deaf ears. No one listened. No one responded. He was hunted by authorities and hated by his own friends and family. He was not allowed to marry and lived a life of solitude and sorrow. He had no one to support him in is own grief over the judgment coming upon his beloved people. His only refuge was the Lord, but even the Lord seemed to him to be deaf to his prayers, unconcerned about his persecution, and unappreciative of his ministry. All this comes to a crisis in Jeremiah 15 as the prophet confronts God.
Have you ever felt let-down by God? Have you been disappointed when He seemed deaf to your prayer, unconcerned about your trials, and unappreciative of your obedience? How will you respond? How will you move forward in following Him when he seems to have become an adversary? Join us this Sunday, January 26, as we examine Jeremiah 15 and observe Jeremiah’s struggle to come to grips with a God who seems to have let him down. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.