Sweet and Sour

“Then the voice from heaven spoke to me again: “Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.””
Revelation‬ ‭10:8-11‬ ‭NLT

A voice from Heaven jolted John in to action. He was told to go and get the small scroll from the angel and eat it. And he was warned that although the scroll would taste sweet, it would give him heart burn. What was all that about?

John was told that the scroll’s taste would be as sweet as honey. We heard much about this product of the honey bee in Israel’s history – their promised land reputedly would be found to be flowing with milk and honey. Moses was told by God in the Burning Bush episode, “So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live”. (Exodus 3:8). To the Israelites, the presence of honey would be a sign that the land was full of natural resources. A wonderful place to be.

But more than that, honey has a spiritual significance. We read in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet Your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey“. So perhaps John accepted and ate the scroll, enjoying the sweetness of God’s Word. But then in some way he found that the words written on it were not the sweet platitudes full of love and grace that he expected to find, but instead the consequences of the third terror or woe that was still to come. And the sweetness turned bitter to the very pit of his stomach. There is a huge gulf between the sweetness of God’s Word and the bitterness of our wicked and sinful world. The one provides nourishment to our souls. But the other leaves a sour taste in our mouths. There is nothing sweet about the sinful world in which we live. 

The last verse of Revelation 10 had an instruction for John. He was to prophesy again, “about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” But what was he to say? Perhaps it was to make known what was written on the small scroll that he had just eaten. Perhaps he had to communicate God’s mysterious plan, that we read about earlier. Perhaps he was to prophecy what would happen when the final trumpet sounded. John would not have been lacking material about his forthcoming prophetic announcement.

We pilgrims prophecy. Not just by words but by our lives. The ways in which we set an example to the world around us. We are prophetically counter-cultural in all we do. As an example, a group of us Christian men had breakfast together in a local restaurant recently. We had not long finished when the fire alarm sounded and we had to leave, to assemble in the car park. The manager said we were free to go and there was nothing to pay. But we insisted on paying for our meal anyway. That was a counter-cultural prophetic statement, declaring to the rest of those in the car park that God and His ways are true and righteous. The world’s ways are not God’s ways. We are called to live holy lives. 1 Peter 1:14-15 reads, “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy“. 

Dear Father God. You are holy and righteous in all Your ways. Thank You that through Jesus we too can be righteous and holy, as You are. Please help us to declare You and Your ways in our families and communities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

War and Peace

“For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:14-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Peace. A lovely concept but beyond human capability to achieve? All my life I have never known a total absence of strife. There seems to be something within human beings that desires war in preference to peace. As individuals, we battle anything that we feel encroaches on our space, disturbing our peace. The aggressive driver who annoys us on the roads. The person who cuts in front of us in the shopping queue. The spouse who disagrees with something we say. As nations we rattle sabres at the borders with the adjacent country, stressed over a few yards of barren soil. Religious groups fight and kill to eliminate other religions in their country, in some cases committing genocide in the process. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 120:7, “I search for peace; but when I speak of peace, they want war!“. 

So in this personal and national mayhem, a counter-cultural whisper calls out. “Christ himself has brought peace to us”. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). And right at the start of the early church an age old conflict between Jews and Gentiles was resolved. At a stroke. Over a period of about six hours one dark and dismal day. Jesus’ death at Calvary brought to an end the Old Covenant and replaced it with the New. A New Covenant of grace and love. The Old was discarded. The New was welcomed in. And there is no difference between the Jews and Gentiles any more. Regardless of our origins we are all one in Christ. 

So we pilgrims, making our way through a complex and strife-infused world, shake our heads in disbelief. We long for the whisper of Christ’s peace to amplify into an audible shout, so clear that it penetrates people, principalities, palaces and parliaments, even pieties and principles. So clear that the world becomes a peaceful place. But our enemy the devil will have none of that. He thrives on wars and strife, doing what he can to stoke up anger and dissent. But peace will come one day – there is no war or strife in Heaven. In the meantime, our pilgrimage through life brings us into contact with all sorts of opportunities to be counter-cultural. Situations where we can bring a kind word to angry hearts, dispensing God’s love and grace to troubled souls. We pray today for our governments, our politicians, our civic leaders. But also our friends, families and communities. That “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7) will be with them all. And us too.

Mere Mortals

I praise God for what He has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?”
Psalms‬ ‭56:10-11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Who hasn’t been concerned about what others think of them? So much of our societal life revolves around being accepted by others. In our families, our communities, our work places – in fact any place where we interface with others. Schools are terrible places for any child who dares to be different, whether they want to be or not. Conformity in dress code is mandated in most schools and non-conformity can lead to peer ridicule. The overweight or behaviourally different child can be cruelly mocked. In my school years I was a very sensitive child and that exposed me to mild bullying and other difficulties. And in our workplaces, the appraisal system demands that a senior person exposes what he or she thinks about a more junior member of their staff. In our communities, who hasn’t fallen into the trap of saying what they think of “the man down the road” or the lady two doors away?

David, though, is in a bubble, impervious to the thoughts and opinions of others. A bubble of trust in his loving God. He knows that God has made promises to him and his faith is such that he believes them all 100%. And that faith leads him to the astonishing statement that because of his trust in God he has no reason to be afraid. Of anything? I believe David totally trusted God with His life. Time and time again he had experienced God coming through for him, saving him in one calamity or another. He had reached the place where he could honestly say that his fellow human beings could not touch him in anything, not by any thought, word or deed. And his backstop, his bottom line, was the expectation that he would transition from this world to the next should his enemies overcome him, to be in God’s presence for ever.

So back to our question. Are we concerned about what others think of us? The First Century Roman church was counter-cultural in its day and suffered greatly from persecution because the early Christians dared to be different in following their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, gave some sound advice. Romans‬ ‭12:14-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬, “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” And by following Paul’s advice we can stand secure, having done our best to be acceptable to those around us. We can’t change what others think of us as we stand firm in God’s truths. In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus informed His followers that they were to be salt and light in their world. Being so will possibly give us hassles as we promote God’s counter-cultural truths. Regarding our standing in people’s thoughts, we must never lose sight of the reality that the only opinion that matters is what God thinks of us. Speaking of which, the Bible is packed full of wonderful truths. Here are two verses that never cease to bless me. Psalm 17:8, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings”. And Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands…” Wow! God thinks so much of me that He has written my name on His hands. What love! What a Saviour!

So we trust in our God. We praise Him and thank Him at every opportunity. Like David, we each live in a bubble of His love,  where “mere mortals” cannot touch us.