April 17

January 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

If you have ever wondered what heaven is like, Revelation 7:9-17 is for you.  Here the veil between us and heaven is lifted as we see the martyrs of the coming Tribulation period and their activities.  Let’s begin 2007 by glimpsing what heaven will be like.

  •    Heaven is a place of great celebration (vv. 9, 10a).  The saints in heaven were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: . . .  The images here are emblematic of celebrants who have experienced a great victory and are jubilant with their good fortune.  So even though these believers suffered greatly (v. 16, starvation, exposure and cruel death), they are now celebrating the victory won for them because they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb (v. 14).  This reminds us that the celebration of heaven is the celebration of complete victory over sin—our own personal sin and the sins committed against us.  What will the joy be like in a place where evil is forever defeated and banished?
  •   Heaven is a place of worship (vv. 10-12).  The theme of heaven’s worship is salvation and the character of the God who provided it through the Lamb.  It is interesting that seven qualities of God are listed in v. 12 emphasizing the perfection of the God who is worthy of our worship.  Who God is and the great salvation He has accomplished are the center of all true worship.
  •   Heaven is a place of service (v. 15a).  The saints in heaven are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple.  Far from being a place of idleness we will be busy serving God.  John Walvoord wrote, Those who have served well on earth will have a ministry in heaven.  And without the limitations we experience here!
  •  Heaven is a place of safety (vv. 15b-16).  Verse 15 says that he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.  This oriental image suggested protection from one’s enemies by a benefactor who would give hiding and security to one fleeing from enemies.  So in heaven all the fears that beset us now about our health, wellbeing, and safety will forever be removed as we dwell secure under the protection of the King on His throne.
  •   Heaven is a place of satisfaction (v. 17a).  The Lamb . . . will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  What could be more satisfying than well-fed sheep lying down near springs of refreshing water free from the threat of harm?  This pastoral scene suggests contentedness, soul-satisfaction, and the enjoyment of life to its fullest.  It is the promise of Jesus fully realized:  I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.
  •   Heaven is a place of no more sorrow (v. 17b).  With all of the painful memories we will have, one wonders how it will be possible to enjoy heaven.  But God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Somehow God in His goodness will remove all the painful memories so we will remember them no more.  What a welcome condition!

For those who say we don’t know what heaven will be like, I can only reply, What we do know makes me glad I am going there!

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

December 2006

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

This week at our Tuesday Men’s Bible Study we examined Revelation 7 which describes the witness of the 144,000 on earth during the Tribulation and the worship of the martyrs of that future period in heaven.  Though these future believers will live in far different circumstances than we are in, what could be more profitable for us than witness and worship?  Let’s draw some lessons this month from the 144,000 and then next month from the Tribulation martyrs.

  • In the midst of wrath, God remembers mercy.

Revelation 16:17 says For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?  In other words, will anyone be able to survive the judgment to come without being swept away by the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments?  The answer to that question is Revelation 7.  This chapter is a pause in the action so to speak that reminds us that the same God who judges also offers grace to those who will receive it.  Though He must judge sin God still loves sinners.  Amen!

  •  God never forgets His promises though He may delay long over us for His purposes.

Revelation 7:4-8 describes 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel including a list of 12 tribes.  Are these literal Jews or some symbolic description of future believers?  In Scripture the 12 tribes of Israel are listed often (29 times by some accounts).  Every other time they are listed they refer to literal Jews.  No hint suggests otherwise here.  Why Jews?  The Bible describes a great turning to the Lord on the part of the Jewish people just before the return of Jesus and the Battle of Armageddon.  Paul says that when the Deliverer comes all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-27).  These 144,000 are a firstfruits of a greater number of Jews who will turn to their Messiah in the Tribulation.  God will be fulfilling His promises to His ancient people.  God’s delays in time have a purpose and His plans for us for eternity will never fail.  PTL!

  • God seals and protects His servants to empower their mission.

Revelation 7:3-4 says of the 144,000 that a seal is put on the foreheads of the servants of our God. Revelation 9:4 says that this seal means protection from death during the Tribulation.  So these special servants are sovereignly protected by the power of God so they can accomplish their mission of evangelizing the world.  They are so effective that a great multitude from all over the world is saved in the Tribulation (see vv. 9, 14).  What this reminds me of is that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.  Chaos may be unfolding all around you, yet if you are firmly committed to His will you are safe under His sovereign care.  In fact, you cannot die until His mission through you is completed.  What an empowerment this gives us!

  •       God uses people to reach people.

In Revelation 7:1-2 the angels are ready to begin the worldwide catastrophic trumpet judgments.  God stays their hand until He seals the 144,000 for their mission.  Isn’t that grand?  The angels administer the wrath of God, but people—God’s people—proclaim the grace of God.  God may use angels to judge but He uses you and me to save.  We have no greater calling.

Your friend in the mission, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

November 2006

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

Derek Prime, mentor to radio preacher Alistair Begg of Truth for Life, wrote that before stepping into the pulpit to preach God’s Word he prays, Help me, Lord, to speak as in Your sight, and to be prepared to fall into the ground and die so that I may bear much fruit (p. 79).  That grabbed me in light of last month’s article that Dying is the key to serving.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  (Jesus in John 12:24-25)

But just what does dying to self really involve?  Jesus is talking about a sacrificial life.  In the Old Testament the requirement of animal sacrifices was to teach this very thing.  We learn:

  •   Israel sacrificed the first.  We must die to selfishness.

 God required Israel to sacrifice the firstfruits of their grain, wine, and animals (Proverbs 3:9).  Firstfruits means that we must give God first place in our lives – first place with our time, our money, and our gifts in service.  Some believers on payday write their first check for their tithes and offerings before they pay any bills or go shopping.  It is their simple way to remind them that God must come first in everything.  In order for that to happen we must die to selfishness.

  •   Israel sacrificed the best.  We must die to half-hearted mediocrity.

God required that the animals sacrificed to Him be unblemished and spotless without defect (Malachi 1:8, 14).  Cain just discharged a duty but Abel sacrificed his very best.  So dying to self means whatever we do for the Lord we do to our very best.  Doing that means dying to half-hearted mediocrity.  Dr. Paul Dixon once said, Anything connected with Jesus ought to have excellence written all over it. Excellence means we die to laziness, shoddiness, and minimal effort.  We do our best for Jesus.

  •  Israel sacrificed from authentic lives.  We must die to hypocrisy.

 In Micah 6:6-8 God convicted His people of their deep sins.  So they asked what they should do.  Offer sacrifices?  God said no.  The purpose of sacrifices was to teach believers to live a sacrificial life.  God said that this was what He required:  to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  It is easy to run over people and mistreat them even in Christian service.  So do justly.  It is easy to be harsh with people when they fail.  So love mercy.  It is easy to be hard, unbroken and indifferent when we sin.  So walk humbly.  Dying to self is dying to hypocrisy and being authentic in loving God and loving people.

Here, then, is a sacrificial life:  it gives the first by dying to selfishness, it gives the best by dying to mediocrity, and it does it from an authentic life by dying to hypocrisy. 

Remember, dying is the key to serving.  Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).