religious reputations

I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. [Revelation 3:1 ESV]

I so wish that I did not understand what it means to have a reputation. Brings back so many thoughts. Dark ones. Images of superiority. Thinking I knew more about the bible than others. And falling hard when I began to understand how little I trusted God in my heart.

Our religious egos are so often inflated by our works. The way that God may use us sometimes creates a superficial reputation. In a sense we start believing we are more than divine vessels. Our journey becomes more about trusting our brains than trusting in the Lord.

Fortunately religious egos and reputations are so often no match for life. My trust in my brain began to ebb as I began to deal with suffering. Empathetic compassion began to take hold of me. My concerns about reputation were being replaced with concern for others.

Teach us Lord. Use the things that we suffer to make us like you.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

the persistent heart

I also have a message for the rest of you in Thyatira ... I will ask nothing more of you except that you hold tightly to what you have until I come. [Revelation 2:24-25 NLT]

There are things in life that we must let go of. Hate. Turmoil. Despair. These are the things that wage war against us and often disable us. These have the power to make us different people.

In contrast there are things that we must never let go of. In times of hate we must hold tightly to God's love. His peace when turmoil rages all around us. Divine joy in days of deep despair.

In reality hate, turmoil and despair are present only in the mind. Heavenly qualities like love, peace and joy are experienced in the heart. Our challenge is to allow our new heart to persist.

Dear Lord. Help us to lean into our hearts that we might persist in love, peace and joy.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

heart blindness

I am the One Who looks deep into the hearts and minds. [Revelation 2:23 NLV]

In a world where models walk runways and hunks are worshiped on football fields, it is hard to imagine a world where people are known for the content of their hearts and minds. It reminds me of Samuel's dialog with God when he was looking to anoint the next Israeli king ...
“Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Like the prophet, most of us have a hard time seeing past appearances. In recent days troubling images of racism, tribalism and bigotry have surfaced in our country evidencing the manner in which some see people who are outwardly different. These suffer from a blindness of the heart.

In contrast God perceives things as they actually are because he sees us as we really are. His vision is not clouded by external skin color or tribal ancestry. Nor is it obscured by religious dogma or ideology. His vision challenges us to look past fleshly externals and see with our heart.

Teach me to see as you see Lord.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

the growing heart

I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things. [Revelation 2:19 NLT]

Spiritual growth is recurrent theme in religious circles these days. Often accompanied by sermons on knowing the bible and developing spiritual disciples. There are even folks who specialize in spiritual formation. Yet the focus is so often on matters of the head and not the heart.

I love the way 'constant improvement' is related to love, faith, service, and patient endurance. These are all fruit of the spirit. Or put another way, evidences of a growing heart. In reality the newly born heart is like a newborn baby. It is not meant to stay the same but to grow into maturity.

Like the babe the new heart needs food to grow and exercise to become strong. I imagine spiritual food to be the receiving of love and spiritual exercise to be the giving of love. Each aspect is very necessary for the heart to grow. In that sense there is nothing more important than love.

Help us Lord to be open to the giving and receiving of love.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

stumbling blocks

I have a few matters against you: some who live among you hold to the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to set up a stumbling block before the people of Israel. [Revelation 2:14 VOICE]

What do you think of when you read "stumbling block"? One commentary defines it this way:
"literally, that part of a trap on which the bait was laid, and which, when touched, caused the trap to close on its prey; then any entanglement to the foot"
The sense is that such obstacles are not accidental but something planned to ensnare its victim. Life is full of innocent indulgences that can lead us down a path of addictive behavior.

Apart from the obvious traps, like drugs and sex, stumbling blocks are often subtler. Good things, like discipline and exercise can become traps when they become extreme and obsessive.

Generally speaking, I think that the way to avoid stumbling blocks is to practice moderation in life. And to really know and understand ourselves - moderation is different for each person.

Dear Lord: Please keep us on the bright path and out of the dark ditches.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

the loyal heart

Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum ... I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city. [Revelation 2:13 NLT]

Pergamum was a center of emperor worship reminiscent of Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar demanded that his subjects bow to his statue. Back then there were a few young men who refused to bow. These survived a fiery furnace and gave us an example of hearts loyal to God.

Though not as drastic as a fiery furnace, we each face times that challenge our loyalty to the Lord. Scary times. Moments when everything around us compels us to lose faith and to fear. In such times of challenge we are given opportunities to trust in the Lord with all of our heart.

The operative words are heart and trust. The loyal heart is one that trusts God when everything is falling apart. The one that understands that God is near in times of trouble. Our challenge in hard times is to not trust our own understanding but lean into our beautiful and loyal heart.

Teach me Lord to trust you when the heat is turned up.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

the second death

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. [Revelation 2:11 NASB]

What do you think "second death" means? The phrase is used four times in Revelation. Some think it means a time in distant eternity when death is thrown into a fiery lake. That could be true but I wonder if the second death is an illusion to the time when each of us die?

Paul and Peter both use the phrase "dead in your sins" when they speak of the time preceding spiritual birth. Could it be that the first death is the state of all humans when they are born? If that is the case then the second death simply refers to the time when a person dies and is no more.

I am glad that the verse goes on to speak of those who are not hurt by the second death. Those who have been born of the Spirit continue to believe until the time of their death. They are not hurt by the second death because they have something that transcends earthly constraints.

Give us ears to hear Lord that we might be witnesses to those who need you.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

the tested heart

Don’t be afraid of what you are going to suffer. The devil is going to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested. Your suffering will go on for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. [Revelation 2:10 GW]

Knowing God transcends every part of life. In a very real sense it is impossible to unknow your Heavenly Father. Or for Him to unknow you. This sentiment is evident when Jesus declares that there are people who he simply does not know. How we react in suffering reflects whether we know God.

The ten days mentioned in this verse are symbolic of extended suffering. Interesting that it says that suffering does not always happen to test us. Testing comes in many forms. Yet the message is clear that extended suffering will test our faith, and just about everything else, like nothing else will.

How we face death is the ultimate test of what is in our heart. Those who know, and are known by, God face death very differently. These understand that a crowning life awaits us on the other side of the grave. They know this because they have hearts that have been tested. Hearts that know the Lord.

Grant us courage dear Lord that we might not be afraid of suffering - or anything else.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

the wealthy heart

Write this to Smyrna ... I can see your pain and poverty—constant pain, dire poverty—but I also see your wealth. [Revelation 2:8,9 MSG]

The phenomenon of poverty is an ancient and complex one. Their are all sorts of explanations for it's existence. Some point to wealthy people saying that their greed has caused others to be poor. Others point to laziness as the source. And there can be societal issues at the root of it.

Interesting that this verse speaks to an inner wealth in the midst of external poverty. Most of us focus on the eternal as it is easier to comprehend. Yet their is an inner poverty of the heart often present in both wealthy and poor people. It often surfaces in things like envy and discontentment.

In contrast I have found that there is a wealth of spirit than surfaces in generosity, compassion and kindness. Folks who have a wealthy transformed heart tend to act differently that those who are internally poor. Perhaps these qualities are the kind of wealth that this verse speaks of?

Help us Lord to live from the new and wealthy heart that you have given us.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

agapé lost

However, I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. [Revelation 2:4 ISV]
It seems that love, like many things, rarely stays the same. Love grows or it abates. It is found and sometimes it is lost. In this verse it is hard to discern what sort of love is being referenced. Offhand I might think it to be just fleshly love. Yet the Greek word translated here is agapé.

Perhaps it is significant that the word used is agapé? Many of us think this is the highest form of love. It is often described as: selfless, sacrificial and even godlike. So how is it that such a love can be abandoned? My theory is that it can only happen when agapé never reaches the heart.

It is certainly possible for graces like selflessness to cease when it is superficial. Sacrifices can stop when they are unacknowledged. Even so, I believe that there is an agapé form of love that will not be abandoned. A love for God that is resident in the new spiritual hear of the believer.

Connect us with our hearts Lord that our love will stay strong.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

toughness. patience. endurance.

Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. ... I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. ... You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. [Revelation 2:1-3 NLT]

There are seven epistles contained in Revelation. This is how the first one begins. The pattern is the same for the other seven letters. The congregation is first commended then it is censured.

The Greek word κόπος, translated here as hard work, can be rendered 'laborious toil'. It reminds me that following God requires inner toughness and requires us to hang in there when the work is hard. It also reminds me of this sentence that I heard Robert Schuller say many years ago.
Tough times never last, but tough people do.
I think that sentiment is the heart of what it means to endure. There are things in life that try us like nothing else and lay bare either our weakness or our toughness. People and suffering can surface the best and worst in us. It is why patience and endurance are so needed.

Teach me Lord to patiently act and not impulsively react.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

spiritual keys

I am the one who lives. I was dead, but look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. [Revelation 1:18 ERV]

What do you think about when you hear the word key? Perhaps it is something that can be locked or unlocked? Interesting that 'keys', and not 'key', is used here. Reminds me of the passage where Jesus speaks of the keys to the kingdom. This verse in Revelation is a reference to those keys.

When people read about the keys to the kingdom they often think about spiritual authority over forces of darkness. I think that these kingdom keys are much more practical. I think of the idea that I have the power to speak life or death to a situation. To open or close spiritual doors.

In reality, we all have tremendous power over darkness and even death. By our words we can open doors of light that usher in encouragement. Our actions can lock doors of hate and open ones of love. Yet the power to open such doors is given to the one who has a heart that is divinely open.

Open our heads and our hearts Lord that we might unlock doors that are closed.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation

trustworthy messengers

I turned to see who was talking to me. ... When I saw him, I fell down at his feet like a dead man. He put his right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. [Revelation 1:12,17 NCV]

How do you think you would respond if Jesus appeared before your very eyes? Fainting, as John seems to have done, seems like a logical response. Interesting that Jesus appeared to John as someone that he did not recognize - a being that was unlike anything that he had ever seen.

The text says that Jesus showed up in John's vision with a message for the seven churches in Asia. I love that he chose this apostle to be a conduit for a message to these assemblies. A wild vision given to another may have been discounted. In contrast John was trustable.

In my life I have seen a lot of people speak for God. Sadly, unlike John, some of these were not reliable and their message not believable. I guess what I am saying is that the messenger is important. They must be trustworthy. They must be trusted to only speak what God shows them.

Help us to be trustworthy messengers Lord.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation.

the listening heart

I, John, am your brother. ... I was on the island of Patmos ... On the Lord’s day I was in the Spirit, and I heard a loud voice behind me that sounded like a trumpet. [Revelation 1:9-10 NCV]

What do you think John means when he says "I was in the Spirit"? Many commentators interpret it to mean an ecstatic spiritual state of being. Like being in a trance. In my thinking John was caught up in worship and prayer. A place where he was able to hear God's voice in his heart.

Have you ever had God speak to your heart? Ever hear something that absolutely rocked you at the deepest levels. A word or phrase that was undeniably the voice of God. I have. Several times. Such words have brought clarity to me. Often causing me to weep with joy and amazement.

It is hard to be open to such voices because they are not discerned with our heads but with our hearts. People, even religious ones, have been trained to distrust the voices of their hearts. In contrast, the scriptures teach us that God does speak and we can hear him if listen with our heart.

Help me to quiet my mind Lord, that I might have a listening heart.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation.

a kingdom of priests

He made us to be a kingdom of priests who serve God his Father. [Revelation 1:6 NCV]

I so need to be reminded about who I am. So often I forget that I am more than what I see in the mirror. I lose sight of eternity and fall into an earthly malaise. Then I read a verse like this and I remember that I am a part of something that will outlive and outlast this temporal experience.

The kingdom of God has no hierarchy. No pecking order. No priest is greater than the next. Each priest is uniquely equipped to serve in the divine kingdom. Yet our ministry is not fleshly. We are called to connect our hearts to God and to people as we serve in this divine kingdom.

So how do we connect? I suggest that we do so when we listen as a friend confesses their fears and their sins to us. We embody a priestly mantle when we offer forgiveness and encouragement. Above all we serve as priests when we intercede, praying to our Great High Priest.

Open our eyes Lord that we may serve you and the world as loving priests.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation.

seventeen sevens

From John to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace be yours from God, who is, who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits in front of his throne [Revelation 1:4 GNT]

Seven churches. Seven spirits. These are the first expressions of seven in Revelation. Other sevens will follow. Seven candlesticks, stars, lamps, seals. The list goes on to include, in total, seventeen sevens. It causes me to wonder why so many sevens pop up in the book.

In Genesis the Lord is reported to complete creation in seven days. Perhaps the number is a sign of completeness or fullness. That said, I am not wont to chase numerological rabbit trails. My point is that perhaps, as much of the book is symbolic, we might view sevens in this way.

Given that, I think that John's message is not merely for a small number of congregations in Asia but to the church universal. And when we read of seven spirits we can envision the fullness of God. Complete from beginning to end. Past, present and future. The holy trinity.

Today Lord, help us to receive the grace and the peace that you offer to us.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation.

prophetic words

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. [Revelation 1:3 NASB]

John, the author of Revelation, boldly declares his writings to be prophetic. As such he says that a blessing comes to the one who reads, hears and heeds what he writes. I think that this verse separates this book from every other New Testament writing in it's scope and purpose. The book is not a gospel account nor is it an epistle but an accounting of a spiritual experience.

Since 1975 I have been involved in all sorts of Charismatic and Pentecostal groups. For many years I spoke in a prophetic fashion to thousands of people. Most of what I proclaimed embodied what Paul said about prophecy. That it is meant to encourage and build people up. Perhaps that is how we should read this book? Perhaps we should not see prophecy as prediction but as proclamation?

In reality much time is wasted trying to understand what Revelation is predicting. I have not found eschatological charts and timelines to do anything but scare people about end time wrath. In contrast I have seen prophetic words heal and encourage. My purpose is to find those words as I read Revelation. My desire is to understand the prophetic heart of the book. And allow it to inspire me.

Open my eyes Lord that I might see your prophetic work in the world around me.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation.

the revelation

This is the revelation of Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King: an account of visions and a heavenly journey. God granted this to Him so He would show His followers the realities that are already breaking into the world and soon will be fulfilled. [Revelation 1:1 VOICE]

This last book of the bible is an appropriate ending to it. Genesis, the first biblical book, begins in a garden. Revelation ends in a garden. The book carries in it themes of heaven and of earth. It is a melding of heavenly visions and earthly realities. It is misunderstood by many like me.

It is important to first note that the book is a divine revelation of a person. In each passage a bit of Jesus the Anointed is revealed to us. I think that it is important, as we read the book, to interpret it through the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus that we find in the gospel accounts.

The book is filled with visions that are hard to understand if we take our eyes off of the one who is being revealed. The clear message of it can be obscured if we get caught up in charts and timelines. It is all about hidden realities revealed to encourage us in our walk with the Revealer.

We need you Lord. Reveal yourself afresh to us today.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Revelation.

listen. look. linger.

My brothers and sisters, I beg you to listen patiently to what I have said. I wrote this letter to strengthen you. And it is not very long. [Hebrews 13:22 ERV]

An appropriate ending to this epistle. We benefit most from the scriptures when we:
  • Listen patiently to it's message. Too often we consume the scriptures like fast food. Gulping down thoughts and ideas like a Big Mac. In contrast the writer invites us to slowly chew on the sustenance that is offered to them. Savor the inner meanings of the words and endeavor to taste each idea. Live patiently with ideas. Wait for God to shed light on them.
  • Look for things in it that encourage us. Too often in life people use the scriptures to beat themselves down instead of lift themselves up. As we read we must do so with an understanding that God is good and loves us. As such his words are always good and loving. As we read the bible we should examine what we read in light of God's character.
  • Linger over it regularly. Like a nutritious diet, regular portions of the scriptures are good for our health. We benefit most when we read the scriptures consistently. Spending time thinking about what we read helps us understand both God and ourselves. In my life I have found so much inspiration by simply taking the scriptures in one day at a time.
Lord help us to read the scriptures with discipline that we might embrace its message.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

his will is always to transform

May the God of peace provide you with every good thing you need in order to do his will, and may he, through Jesus Christ, do in us what pleases him. [Hebrews 13:21 GNT]

Ever wonder what God's will is for your life? Or for your children? Over the years I have come to understand that his will is more about, as this verse indicates, what he does in us than what we do for him. In reality no one can do anything for God if he has not done something in them.

I believe that the provision this verse speaks about is spiritual in nature. God gives spiritual gifts that we might do his will. That we might become like Jesus, he distributes to us gifts like compassion and wisdom. As we exercise these gifts we are transformed into the image of his Son.

And becoming like Jesus is the heart of being in, and doing, God's will. In essence, we can be in God's will in any vocation, or any situation, if we are being transformed. This idea is so freeing because it allows us to connect with our heart passions and see them as an extension of divine will.

Thank you Holy Spirit for giving us the gifts we need to be in accord with divine will.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

honor of the heart, head and hands

Continue to pray for us, for we are convinced that we have a clear conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in every way. [Hebrews 13:18 MOUNCE]

When my son was young we used to watch Star Trek TNG. One of the characters on the show was a Klingon named Worf. The driving force in his life was honor. The character once said: "A Klingon's honor means more to him than his life." That sentence is so spiritual nature.

Yet I do think that the word (honor) might be a bit misunderstood. For some the appearance of honor is all that matters. The focus is to be perceived as honorable by other people. Yet, in a spiritual sense honor is mostly about the consistency between our inner and outer lives.

When the writer speaks of having a clear conscience he is connecting honor to the heart. In reality honor is an issue of the heart. When we say our conscience is clear we are indicating that our heart, our head and our hands are in full accord. To be honorable is to live this way.

We pray Lord for our friends, and ourselves, that we all might live honorably in every way.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

spiritual authority

Listen to your leaders and submit to their authority over the community, for they are on constant watch to protect your souls and someday they must give account. [Hebrews 13:17 VOICE]

When I first came to Christ in the 1970s there was a phenomena in religious circles called 'the shepherding movement'. It was a heavy handed thing. People were encouraged to ask their shepherd for advice in all matters carnal and spiritual. It lasted for a few years then died out.

I have often said that the issue in religious circles is not really authority. In truth the church is not the military. One may choose to leave one church and attend another. No one has the power to keep a person under their authority against their will. People even escape from cults.

The heart of the issue is about influence. And there is no greater way to influence anyone than to accept them and love them unconditionally. This to me is the heart of spiritual authority. Love people as God loves us and you will have more influence in their life than you can imagine.

Teach us Lord to surround ourselves with people who love us without conditions.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

the sacrifice of doing good

Do not forget to do good to others, and share with them, because such sacrifices please God. [Hebrews 13:16 NCV]

I love the connections made in this verse. It brings pleasure to God when we do good to others. What do you think the writer means when he connects doing good with sacrifices. Can we do good without sacrificing? I guess it depends what we think the phrase 'doing good' means.

Consider giving. Are we doing good if it is not 'sacrificial'? Or what about serving? Is helping another in our spare time 'sacrificial'? I think that there are varying degrees of sacrifice. Yet a case can be made that money or time spent for another, instead of ourselves, is sacrificial in nature. So I think that doing good to others is usually sacrificial. Unless one is compensated, of course. ツ

Help us Lord to remember that we are blessed to be a blessing to others.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.

the cost of praise

So through Jesus let us always offer to God our sacrifice of praise, coming from lips that speak his name. [Hebrews 13:15 NCV]

For years many have been led to believe that praise is something that we do in Church. A lifting of hands and a joining of voices to exalt God and extol his virtues. I certainly amen that. Yet the singing of songs and the clapping of hands is a very small part of what it means to offer praise.

As the writer says, praise involves sacrifice. It costs us something. King David understood this when he said that he would not give to God that which cost him nothing. Praise often costs us dearly. It demands that we deny ourselves as we follow the way of Jesus. The way of the cross.

Jesus offered the highest form of praise on the cross. He showed us how to offer a sacrifice of praise. Our hearts, like his, offer praise when we are silent when we are accused. Our sacrifice of praise is most real when we deny ourselves, pick up our cross, submit to God and follow Jesus.

Afresh today dear Lord I offer you my heart. Let your way not my way be done.

... this devotion is part of a series from the book of Hebrews.