Where Does Your Allegiance Lie?

Revelation 13

Monday, November 28, 2022

Multiple times throughout the book of Revelation Jesus is referred to as faithful and trustworthy. In chapter 12 we are introduced to a deceptive dragon and in 13 his beast minions that also deceive. 

We are all given a choice. To follow what is faithful and true or what is deceptive and false. 

When painted so clearly it seems silly that some would actually choose the latter. Unfortunately, if you look around, we see Christians dabble in the ways of the world. They straddle the fence of what is right and wrong. 

Those who straddle will be deceived. Right and wrong becomes muddied. Black and white becomes gray. They will slowly drift further from what is faithful and true and more in line with the way of the world. 

Vs. 8 describes those who fall into that trap:

“And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made.”

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭13:8‬ 

A few verses later is the mark of the beast. A time when a clear choice will have to be made. Will you be branded and continue to live a worldly life that takes your name out of the book of life? Or will you maintain your allegiance to Christ even if it means severe persecution, being cut off from buying goods and even possible death? 

That day may come in our lifetime; it may not. You do not have to wait until then to make your choice. 

Like Joshua (Joshua 24) – choose for today whom you will serve – as for me, I will serve the Lord. 

Where does your allegiance lie? 

Choose today! Choose to follow what is faithful and true and stay vigilant to not be deceived. 

-John Wincapaw

Reflection Questions

  1. Can you think of a time when you were deceived by Satan or by “the world”? What could you do differently to not be deceived next time?
  2. Because of the evil, deception and difficult times John writes that God’s people will need what 3 characteristics (see Revelation 13:10 and 18). What grade would you give yourself in each of these areas? What can you do to strengthen yourself in each area?
  3. How has Jesus shown himself to be faithful and true?

The Right Days and Hours

Revelation 9

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Chapter 9 gives much more detail on the first and second woes than the first four trumpets, which received just six verses. That mirrors the brief coverage of the first four seals. It is true that seven is “a number of completion or perfection”, but I think more than that is involved with the several sets of seven in Revelation. John’s vision is very complicated, but how it was relayed to him helped him pass it along. It also helped others to memorize it (many believers have heard rather than read Revelation). One aspect is how certain descriptions parallel or contrast with each other. Another useful detail is the images it contains, particularly the throne. Most of John’s vision can be placed relative to that central image. We can’t automatically visualize how that gives the vision structure, but we can attempt to bring it to mind. Perhaps John didn’t always hear the 24 elders at the same volume in the background of a scene, they could have been ‘turned down’ in his perception to let him concentrate on a new event, but several times we read of scenes happening near the throne or of John looking farther away. We don’t always understand the significance of the details John provides, but some of that may be in what we are actually looking for. John provided this book for audiences with varying needs, encouraging in times of persecution, reminding of God’s promises, and offering warnings, among others. Perhaps the final generation of this age will make very special use of the vision, employing some of its peculiar design as an aid to its understanding, when taken in context with events.

The fifth trumpet involves a pit being unlocked to release creatures that are like winged locust-horses prepared for battle. They have human faces with lion’s teeth, long human hair and something like gold crowns. They also have scorpion tails that they will use for five months to deliver pain in a reign of terror. Their targets are only those who don’t have God’s seal on their foreheads (9:4, referring back to chapter 7). These attacks cause so much pain people wish to be dead, but they aren’t killed. You can choose whether to see them as monsters, or perhaps a really complex metaphor. In Jeremiah 51 we read of an army serving God in bringing judgment described as “a population like locusts” (v. 14) and “horses like bristly locusts” (v. 27), maybe picturing their armor. But this goes a fair way beyond that. And it doesn’t help that their leader is described as an angel king known as Destruction or Destroyer. We only hear of him this one time, but it seems like we will read about the pit again a few days from now – the key to the pit will be brought back by another angel so that the devil can be locked up there (20:1-3).

The sixth trumpet is blown, and a voice speaks from the four horns of the golden altar (in front of God’s throne). This takes us back to just before the start of the sequence of seven trumpets when a censer filled with fire from the golden altar was cast onto the world. Each of the first four trumpets related to flame, and the fifth trumpet involved a burning star falling from the sky and smoke rising up. Now with the sixth trumpet the reference to flame is very distinct. The voice calls for four angels which have been bound at the Euphrates River in the Middle East to be released. We are told they were kept in waiting for this exact day and hour, but it isn’t fully plain what their role in the situation is. Perhaps they act as generals directing the force which emerges, for there comes a massive army of what are in effect mobile flame throwers. They are described as 200 million horsemen mounted on creatures with lion’s heads and snake tails capable of producing fire, smoke, and sulfur from the mouths at both ends. Sulfur (which has also been known as brimstone) produces a dangerous gas when it burns, and its flames are difficult to put out. The text pictures the fire, smoke, and sulfur as three plagues on humanity.

We are not given a timeframe for how long the second woe devastates humanity, but the death toll is a third of the global population. We also learn that in the wake of these events the survivors do not change their ways. In 6:16 we heard that the people realized God’s wrath had come, but they wanted to hide from it rather than repent. This text reaffirms that remorseless attitude, as well as stating some of the evils they were guilty of. Between the two trumpets there is quite the display, first a group of people who hurt so badly they wish they were dead but who don’t improve their lives during the course of five months of this, and then the deaths of masses of people without providing a cautionary tale to anyone. If God is teaching lessons by these events perhaps it is less to the people of that time than to us, letting us see how far gone matters will be by then, making us aware that God picked the right time for the end of the age. Renewal needs to come, I long for renewal actually, but let it be at the right time. The Father knows all the right days and hours.

Lord, you are loving and patient and kind. But you will not let the wicked go unpunished. You are the one who provided the Lamb, you wanted the stain of sin to be removed from me before I even knew what it was. You want to avoid punishing. You want to save, to protect, to shelter. You once flooded your creation and said you would never do it again. But you reserved this world for fire because the flood didn’t solve everything. And I’m sorry all this came about. I grieve that it was necessary. Please show me how to be a blessing, to use your Spirit to make this world a better place and reduce some of the suffering that might have been in it when you will need to act. Thank you God, I love you. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection and Application Questions

  1. Would you rather…live through the events of the 5th trumpet or be killed in the events of the 6th?
  2. Why do you think God prompted John to write down the vision of the book of Revelation? Why are we reading it today? What specific further actions should it lead us to?
  3. Can you give an example of God’s perfect timing, either from the Bible or a personal account?
  4. How would you describe God’s love AND His need to punish the wicked to someone who has never met God?

Silence in Heaven…Then the Trumpets Begin

Revelation 8

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

            At the start of chapter 8 the Lamb opens the final, seventh, seal of God’s book, and there is silence in heaven for about half an hour. John may have experienced this, felt it, but it is difficult as a reader to appreciate a dramatic pause. And it was not just a pause but a silence – praise has been the backdrop of John’s vision for some time, from beasts and elders and angels and creatures, and more recently they were joined by a vast throng. Suddenly all is silent. This was reverence. The book was fully open. We humans still aren’t told what that means precisely, but what it means is very big.

We then transition into a new series of seven with the blowing of trumpets. It isn’t quite clear whether this resulted from opening the seventh seal, or not. People question whether the trumpet blasts proceed chronologically after the seals or if the trumpets describe some of the same time as the seals, perhaps focusing in tighter and narrowing our attention. 

After the trumpets were distributed, and before they were to be blown, we are reminded that the tabernacle on earth was a shadow of the one in heaven. An angel works with the prayers of the saints that are on the golden altar before the throne, mixing them with incense in a censer and letting the mix go up to God on His throne. Maybe these are the prayers of believers on earth, or this may be yet another reference to the souls of the saints that are beneath the altar, calling God to render judgment soon. Then the angel puts fire from the altar into the censer and casts it down onto the earth – the sounds that accompany its fall suggest this may symbolize judgement commencing (or resuming).

            As the trumpets begin to blast (sounding after the quiet, like a new fall of Jericho) there are disasters that bring to mind the plagues against Egypt, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As with the first four seals the first four trumpets seem to go together in a set, but the big number this time is one-third rather than one-fourth. We don’t know whether a single huge portion of the planet (land, sea, and rivers) is rendered uninhabitable or if scattered sections across it are devastated. Each of the first three trumpets involves things falling from the sky, and the fourth involves the sky growing darker as the lights start to go out. The impression is of creation being undone – but not fully undone, because God still has use for it. It is tempting to say that the falling objects are of increasing size and violence, but we struggle to understand John’s reporting of his vision. For one thing, sometimes we are unsure whether to treat John’s words more as descriptive of what he saw in the vision or as coming from the vision. For example, verse 8 says that something like a mountain fell into the sea, and verse 10 says a great star fell in the waters – from our perspective of what a star really is we may suppose that these two objects were not very different in size but that the “star” probably glowed as it fell. Both would be terrifying.

            One more pause comes with the final verse of the chapter, as an eagle warns that the remaining three trumpet blasts will mark terrible woes. It is unclear if anyone living on the earth can hear the warning. Of course the warning has long been available in the book of Revelation. It remains remarkable for God to offer a warning to people He is on the verge of bringing these punishments to for their sins. But God doesn’t stop caring about His creation even when faced with tearing it apart. We’re talking about the God who is aware of the death of every bird. Creation groans, but God lays out plans so that one day it will be freed from the curse.

             Lord, thank you for your openness to the prayers of your saints. And thank you for not always saying yes to prayers. I, for one, would not have been wise enough to choose all of your plans. You are kind enough to guide us into things we do not understand. Thank you for the opportunity to worship you and rejoice in your presence. Please also help me take opportunities to be silent before you. You are awesome and deserving of both my loudest praise and my silent reverence. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection and Application Questions

  1. What do you think the significance or purpose of the silence might be when the 7th seal is opened? Have you sat before God in silence? What might the benefit be?
  2. What are your thoughts on God’s justice and judgment? Have you ever prayed for it (for someone else more sinful than yourself of course)? How can we better appreciate God’s timing and wisdom in this matter?
  3. Have you thanked God for his creation today? Thank Him for His plans to free us from the curse.

The 6 Seals of Revelation 6

Revelation 6

Monday, November 21, 2022

 With chapter six the Lamb begins to open the seven seals of God’s book. John has not been told what that book contains, but he understands it is important. It becomes clear that the breaking of each seal moves history forward toward the kingdom of God. Some people may think of the book of Revelation as a set of descriptions of disasters – it is not, really, but for those who think of it that way the start of their evidence is here. Great violence will precede the arrival of the reign of peace we all anticipate.

People have tried to understand what the seven seals of the book are like by questioning how they are set up. Must they all be broken before anything can be done with the book? Or does the breaking of each seal allow a new section of the book to be read out, until the next seal is reached? Might it be that the portion being read describes what John is seeing? Or are the contents of the book about matters beyond all of this? Either way, there is more to God’s plan than what is relayed to us at this time.

The first four seals (v. 2-8) tell us about the famous “four horsemen of the apocalypse” (“apocalypse” just comes from the Greek word for “revelation” or “uncovering” found in Revelation 1:1). We could describe them in different ways, but it looks like a pattern of conquest leading to war and crop failure and then widespread death (including from famine and wild animals). Here we get one of Revelation’s really big numbers – one fourth of the world is given over to the power of the fourth horseman. We don’t know if that means one fourth of the world’s population dies, or if that large a region of the world was affected by the warfare, but this implies massive displacement of people along with the deaths.

The fifth seal reminds us not to get too particular in our interpretation, however, as it shows us the souls of those who had died for the word of God complaining about the delay in judgment. Not the most literal image, certainly. Its presence here lets us understand the urgency and value God places on the restoration of those who have served Him, even though they are not literally suffering anxiety over the delay. It is similar to when God told Cain that Abel’s blood cried out to Him from the ground (Genesis 4:10). God is motivated to action even when the victim of evil is no longer alive to cry out. And even if by our standards God seems slow to act, God will act (2 Peter 3:9). The fifth seal reminds us why all of this destruction happens – God loves His children and will not leave guilt unanswered. The fifth seal also provides one reason why it is not happening faster – because there were still more to be killed who chose to serve God, and so of course there had been more to be saved in choosing God (v. 11).

The events described in verses 12 and 13 align this chapter with Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24 (where Jesus quotes Joel 2:31). Notably, Revelation has sometimes been described as having perhaps 500 references to the Old Testament, possibly without a single direct quotation used in it. This can make it a challenge to keep up with the allusions to other texts.

            The splitting of the sky like a scroll in verse 14 picks up an image from Isaiah 34:4; if we read from that chapter we will get more language of the day of God’s vengeance. All the mountains and islands of the world moving seems to be more than the great earthquake in Revelation 6:12 could accomplish, so we may need to suppose many related earthquakes and aftershocks. A fourth of the world had been disrupted, but now all of it is. The world’s kings and all who had served them try to hide in what is left of the caves and rocks of the mountains. “Fall on us and hide us,” they plead, because the day of wrath of God and the Lamb has come “and who is able to stand?”

It seems like this is a parallel with the souls under the altar. Instead of being told to wait, and comforted, these people are trying to hide and finding no comfort. Something has happened that lets them know why the world is disrupted, but they have not chosen to repent. The text has not taken any effort to describe what kind of people they are, but the language is being picked up from passages about the wicked who spurned God (Isaiah 2:19; Hosea 10:8). I still find it hard not to grieve for them, even just reading about them in advance of their struggles. But I recognize that if we are ever to do anything for them we need to try to do that in advance, to prevent them from reaching this moment in time, and such a point of corruption. I’m not sure if I am meant to feel sympathy for people in the day of God’s wrath or not, but I know this – no one is living in that day yet, so I can still serve.

 Lord, please help me to care deeply about the lives of the people around me. There are so many lost sheep in need of a shepherd, and even dogs who need the opportunity to eat crumbs from beneath the table. One day it will be the last day, and no one will be able to stand. But right now there are things that can be done to strengthen those with weak ankles, to lift up those with faltering hearts, to encourage and to love. Please let me be forgiving, bold, honest, compassionate, so that Christ can be seen in His body and your name can be exalted. Thank you, Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection Questions

  1. What feelings do you have as you read through Revelation 6? What images are most powerful to you? How does it make you view the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb who has the power to open the seals?
  2. How can you prepare today – and every day between now and then – for the coming wrath of the Lord and His Lamb?
  3. Continue to pray the prayer at the end of the devotion. Who is God revealing to you and what would God have you do for them? How? When? Why? With what attitude?

Be on Guard!

Mark 13

Thursday, August 4, 2022

   In comparison to the previous several chapters, Mark chapter 13 takes a rapid shift into a different topic. Recently Jesus has been responding to the trickery of the Sadducees and corrupt chiefs and priests, but as he and the disciples leave Jerusalem, he begins to speak on the nature of the end of times. Other than the fact that several of the disciples specifically questioned Jesus on the matter privately, I am assuming that this is sparking the point at which Jesus is coming to some sort of terms with what is about to happen. He has been warning the disciples of his death in somewhat cryptic manners, but I would imagine that seeing the state of the city and the leaders who were about to crucify him only made him feel worse.

               Now of course, as is always the case, it is important to be able to read the Bible with discernment between literal and poetic/prophetic verse. Interpret with great caution for yourself what makes the most sense in the context of what is being said, so that we don’t confuse literal for metaphor or vice versa. For this reason, I will go through some of what Jesus is about to say and without completely putting a definitive interpretation to it, as much as I can (as is so difficult to do with revelational scripture), I will provide objective fruit for thought that is applicable regardless of your interpretation.

               Alright, Jesus begins answering four of the disciples’ questions on what will happen at the end of days, when the stones and buildings will be thrown down. Jesus starts explaining the things that will happen, presumably in order although that is not clarified here, in detail. He first says, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” Mark 13:5-6. Already he explains that false prophets will come claiming to be the Messiah, and that we are not to believe them. This is the main delineating difference between Christians and the Jewish beliefs; they still await a Messiah. This first point is fairly simple; we must be careful that we do not accept or invite another Messiah, for the one and only has already come. Let’s continue.

               “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” Mark 13:7-8. Is this not incredibly applicable with what’s going on in the world right now? The news, 24/7, is pumping us with the prospect of potential growing war as the war in Europe is expanding and tensions between America and China heighten day after day. Increased frequency of earthquakes and constant food shortages around the world as farmers are told to stop planting their farms… But remember, “Do not be alarmed.” Have we not already won the war? Our battle is not in the flesh but for the salvation of our souls. The world will always be a bad place, as it is destined to be, but we aren’t put here to worry and cower in fear.

               The passage continues with, “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” Mark 13:9-10. This is a tale as old as time, but ever more important to be prepared for as rights and freedoms around the world are being slowly and quietly removed or revoked in the heat of terror. Not only that, but believers will be brought forward within the church to be punished for the truth. We’ll be thrown in jail and persecuted for his sake. But again, we are told not to worry. What better cause is there to not worry about ridicule than the unquestionable word of God and truth? We have won the war with God on our side, have no fear in the face of adversity.

               But what should we do in light of these things? Sure, we can say that we should have no fear, but it’s much easier said than done when facing the edge of tyranny’s sword against faith that is coming. Let’s continue reading to find out. “Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13:35-37. Be prepared! Fortify your heart and soul with the truth of the word and watch for the second coming of Christ! Don’t wait until tomorrow to finally start that Bible reading plan, or tell your family you love them, or volunteer to work at that homeless shelter. We know not when Jesus is coming back, so we must be prepared at all times for when he does.

               Remember, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:13. Our battle is already won, in the face of all worldly adversity, so be prepared for his coming.

-Mason Kiel

Application Questions

  1. How many times in Mark 13 does Jesus warn to watch, watch out or be on guard (or whatever terms your translation uses)?
  2. Why is this important to Jesus? Is it important to you?
  3. What will it look like for you to be diligently watching for the owner of the house to return?
  4. Do you sometimes find yourself worried about the condition of the world or the end times events? What would Jesus say? What can we do to overcome these fears?

Consumed with the Vision

Matthew 24

January 24

Do you know someone who had a quote or a phrase that they said so often that you can hear it in their voice? Maybe it’s Jerry Seinfeld’s “What’s the deal with…” or you can see a cute electric mouse and hear “pika-pi”. I think most people at Timberland Bible Church can hear these words in my voice : “That’s good news! That’s gospel message! That’ll preach! Can I get an amen?!”

I bring up this aural phenomenon because it happened to me while reading Matthew 24. Every time I read Matthew 24:14, I am transported back to my grandparent’s house. I am sitting at the kitchen table, and James Mattison, who I knew as Papa Jim, is telling me about his ministry in Africa. I had asked, “Why did you go?” right before we ate lunch. And he opened his worn down Bible, though he quoted the verse by heart. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” I can hear and see him, but I can also feel him : I still see his composure brimming with energy, I can still hear his confidence tempered with humility, but I FEEL his burning conviction. It was not someone else’s duty to speak this gospel to the world. It was his. Malawi, Mozambique, Africa needed the gospel of the kingdom of God to be preached to them. It was imperative, and Papa Jim knew it was his imperative.

James Mattison was consumed by the vision of Matthew 24. He knew it inside out and backwards. But most of all, he knew what it entails. Lots of Matthew 24 is worrisome. Things look bleak, destruction is coming, the end is scary. But that isn’t what Jim was focused on. Primarily he knew that the end had to come so that the perfection of the Kingdom could come.  He also saw in this teaching commands, commands that I want you to see. He was consumed by three truths of Matthew 24. 

  1. No matter what comes at the end, there is given to the faithful the strength to endure it all. Jesus says the one who endures (in Revelation, the parallel phrase is “the one who conquers”) will be saved. (24:13) But that enduring is not merely hanging on. 
  2. In verses 42-51, Jesus declares that he will return like a thief in the night, like a master on a long journey. The ready and alert won’t be caught off guard, and therefore they will keep doing what the master has commanded them. 
  3. And what Jesus has commanded each of us is to preach the gospel of the Kingdom. Technically, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands us to make disciples (more on that later), but part of that is to teach people to follow the commands of Jesus. Preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and teaching all Jesus commanded us is the call for Christians. Let us continue so that the master might find us working. 

You may not be called to Africa and in fact most of you AREN’T. You are called to where you are. To endure, to be ready, you need to be consumed by the vision that we see in Matthew 24. Will you listen to the call of Jesus, and tell others the gospel of the Kingdom?

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Are you consumed by the vision of Matthew 24? James Mattison believed it was his imperative to preach the gospel to the world, especially Eastern Africa; to where are you called? Are you listening for the call of Jesus at all, and if you are telling others of your faith, do you tell them about the gospel of the Kingdom?
  2. Do you feel like you have been skimming by, enduring, or conquering the last year? Do you feel like you AREN’T enduring or conquering? How can you be empowered?

Resolution 4: Pump Some Iron

Zechariah 12-14

Sheep are notorious for two things. Being stupid and being easily spooked.  It is no wonder the scriptures use the comparison of sheep to the followers of Christ.  As a group, we have faith and access to God, yet it is often our last resort instead of our first instinct.  Additionally, when things start getting tough and someone flexes in our direction, we often are reduced to a cower. We may make the excuse that we are acting in a spirit of gentleness or turning the other cheek, but the truth is most of the time we are wonted weenies.  How many people stood against Goliath?  How many men stood in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace? How many apostles were at the crucifixion of Jesus?  If you’re keeping count, all the answers fit on to a single hand.  We may have faith that triumphs over personal hardships, we may be able to pray for tough changes, or we may be able to move towards a difficult calling, but when a real, visible enemy comes, we often let out a bleat, tuck tail, and run with the flock.

Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,” declares the Lord, two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire;  I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people, and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”  Zech 13:7-9

Zecheriah, Matthew, and John all allude that the tribulation will be a tough time to be on this planet, but even more so for those who call themselves a follower of Christ. There will not only be an uptick in geological and astronomical superevents, but Christian all over the world will be truly persecuted – no, not the butt of some late night TV joke – meaning it will be challenging to keep both your faith and your life at the same time.  It is too easy to say that we will not fall away or forsake our beliefs in this ever-coming-closer moment in history. Peter said he never-ever would fall away; Jesus tells him he won’t even make it 24 hours from speaking these words (Matt 26:33-34).  Fortunately, for Peter and for us, there is an opportunity to amend our mistakes, our denials, and our flight.  According to church tradition, and alluded to in the prophecy of Jesus (John 21:18-19), Peter is crucified for sharing the Good News.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matt 24:9

Like Peter, and so many others, we may have had weak moments and scattered the flock.  We may have diminished our faith in front of others, so we could be more accepted or avoid a consequence.  We are weak.  We need to pump some iron with the Word of God.  Let his Holy Spirit spot you (or really do the heavy lifting).  We need to train harder because standing up for our faith WILL NOT get easier.  We want to be like David, Esther, Stephen, Joseph, Mary, and so many more whose faith were purified with persecution.  Our time to be refined in the fire is coming, whether or not we live long enough to see the Great Tribulation.  How do we make sure we are prepared for this moment? Here is a small list of verses that can speak to us, to help us plant our feet and hold firm, today or any other, so when the fire comes and the dross is removed, there remains the precious things that we cling to with our faith: Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,”declares the Lord. – Isaiah 54:17

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.Hebrew 11:7-10

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. – 2 Timothy 1:6-8

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? – Psalms 56:3-4

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:25-26

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 12-14 and Revelation 20

Resolution 1: Drink More Water and Less Kool-Aid

Revelation 17

The eternal feasting from Thanksgiving to Christmas has begun to catch up with me (it’s not just you, promise).  This pre-New Year’s week (and it’s bloating) is often cited by many as their week of revelation and insight into the preparations of what they might change in the upcoming year. While any time – month, day, or hour – is welcome to change, this week I will be focusing on some resolutions presented to us in the continued reading in the prophecy of Zecheriah, the Revelation of John, and the beginnings of Matthew.  While many of the passages are filled with prophetic, symbolic, end-time images, I will try to remain focused on the big picture: the message or warning presented in the passages.  Our eyes should be open, our ears listening, and our spirit attune to the world around us, not only because we become reflective as our year draws to an end, but because the drum roll quickens towards the end of this present evil age.  We should hasten our efforts, not to simply shed a few holiday pounds, start a new hobby, or get organized, but to make changes and to carry on efforts that will make lasting impacts in the Kingdom of God.

Speaking of eternal things, did you know, Kool-Aid, when stored properly, really doesn’t expire?  It is a seemingly innocent drink, yet there is a crushing idiom out there beckoning people not to partake in the consumption of this perpetual potion: You might hear an older generation say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid ”.  This expression actually means don’t believe everything you hear, especially because it presents a very real threat.  It might seem that the origins of this phrase refer to the high sugar content, the unnatural color, or the artificial flavor of the name brand fruit drink of childhood and beyond.  It is true, there isn’t much wholesome about this drink (sorry, grape. I still love you tho❤️); however, this isn’t where our figurative turn of phrase is born.  Instead, the origin is far more tragic than the attack on our blood-sugar.  The notorious event is referred to as the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, where hundreds of innocent men, women, and children died by drinking, or being forcibly injected, with a combination of Flavor-Aid and poison.  This presents a more tragic history behind the coinage, but draws a parallel to today’s reading in both Zechariah and Revelation.  The words below remind me that there is a great coming (or even present) evil, or a more perilous and poisoned Kool-aid that is brewing and being passed as legitimate name-brand Gospel.

“I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” – Revelation 17:6

The prostitute on the beast paints an ironically sobering picture, becoming intoxicated on the blood of saints and lying with the kings of the earth.  Those who take part in this great debauchery against God, may do so willingly, but it seems many do so unwittingly, astonished and deceived by the spectacles of ungodly power (v.8) . There will be those who are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life who attend churches, have ministries, and even blog about Christ, but give-in to tinted truths, sweet lies, and god-like power, because it is a more “palatable” gospel, requiring less real change and more gratification.  The love, justice, mercy that take root in another source other than our Heavenly Father, may look pretty, taste sweet, and have some of the same notes, but it is filled with poison.  It will never quench your thirst.  It is just empty calories leading you closer to death.  Stop the endless following, swiping, and double-tapping – look up.  Turn off the continuous bombardment of the news cycle – look up.  Quit chasing after causes that don’t lead to the saving Gospel message of Christ – look up. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Now, this begs the question, what then should we drink?  Coffee!  Wrong. Tea? Still wrong.  Soda?  Getting colder.  Simply, water.  No beans, no leaves, no syrup, no colors, no nonsense straight-from-the-tap water.  It is what your body is craving, essential to every major function in your body, beginning at the cellular level.  Among many other things, water aids in digestion, stabilizes the heart, regulates blood pressure, flushes away the toxins, and provides protection to the day-to-day function of our organs and joints.  Such is true for our Living Water, the Gospel message and the Spirit of God present in our daily walk.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” – John 7:37-39

While there is a metaphor to be drawn for each of these literal benefits, there is an inherent advantage, understood or not, from consuming water.  Yes, we are trying to flush away perpetuated falsehoods, but drinking living water in and of itself is simply refreshing.  Make time for God’s Word.  Worship Him in your car.  Honor Him with your time. Live out the Gospel through actions and bear the testimony of Jesus Christ. Resolve to fill your tumbler and carry it wherever you go because there are so many ready to make the switch from the Kool-Aid to the quenching Living Water.

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at Bible Gateway here – Zechariah 5-6 and Revelation 17

Wrath and Reward

Revelation 16

If you’ve ever needed an incentive to remain obedient to God, read about the 7 bowls of God’s wrath as recorded in Revelation 16 – if a stick motivates you.

Bowl 1.  Revelation 16:2, “The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.

This is a good reason not to worship the beast, better known as the antichrist.  But it gets better…

Bowl 2. The sea turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.

Bowl 3. The rivers and springs of water turned to blood.

Bowl 4. People were seared by the intense heat of the sun, which grew very hot.

Bowl 5. Darkness, and men gnawed their tongues in agony.

Bowl 6. Demons gathered the kings of the earth for the war of Armageddon.

Bowl 7.  An earthquake more devastating than any since man has been on the earth.  Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.  From the sky, huge hailstones of about 100 pounds each fell upon men.

This should give us the incentive to remain faithful to God in the midst of persecution from the antichrist.  But we can’t endure alone, we will need God’s help.  This brings us to a promise in Zechariah 4:6, also in today’s reading, which says, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”

We need to be completely dedicated to living wholeheartedly for God.  And when tough times come, He will give us the strength to endure, with the power of His Holy Spirit.

Personally, I’m more of a carrot kind of guy.  So I look more at the promises of Revelation 21:4, which says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

So whether you’re motivated by a carrot or by a stick, the important thing is to be completely dedicated to living wholeheartedly for God today.  Once the tough times come, it will be really hard to start serving Him then.

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 3-4 and Revelation 16

Which Fate will You Choose?

Revelation 14 – 15

Even though Revelation 14 was part of yesterday’s reading, I waited to comment on it until today so we could contrast the fate of those who submit to the antichrist from Revelation 14 with the fate of those who resist the antichrist in Revelation 15.

Rev 14: 9-12 tells us, “…If anyone worships the beast [the antichrist] and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he too will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.  He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever.  There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”

In a nutshell, no matter how bad it will get for Christians, including being martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus, the punishment for the wicked will be infinitely worse.  This will call for patience and endurance on the part of Christians – when given the choice between “the good life” of following the antichrist, or torture and death for remaining faithful to Jesus.

By contrast, we read in Revelation 15:2-3, “And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name.  They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the lamb:  “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.  Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.””

Every one of us has a choice to make.  Usually these choices are in little things – would God approve of this or that that I’m doing?  As we consistently choose to live for God, it gets easier to make the right choices.  Eventually, making the right choices will be really tough.  If we don’t develop the discipline now, we’ll never be able to endure when times get tough.

This reminds me of Moses’ challenge to the Israelites just before his death, as recorded in Deuteronomy 30:15, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”

Which will you choose?

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 1-2 and Revelation 15

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