More Terrors to Come

“The first terror is past, but look, two more terrors are coming!”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:12‬ ‭NLT

There is a pause implied after the five months had elapsed. Our verse today records that the first of the terrors, that corresponded to the sounding of the fifth trumpet, is past. Can you imaging the relief flooding over the earth’s inhabitants as the locusts started to die off. Were there piles of dead locusts with their strange appearances lying in heaps around the nations? Or if the locusts were symbols of a terrible and fearsome army, did they withdraw back to where they came from? We don’t know, but in his vision John was told that this was not a time for complacency because there were more “terrors”, or “woes” as translated in other Bible versions, coming. We also don’t know how much time was to elapse before the next trumpet blew.

This might be an opportunity to float the question, particularly in the context of the End Times as portrayed in John’s vision, “Why does God allow disasters to happen?” A difficult question to answer, but the reality is that since history started to be recorded there have been accounts of many events similar to those recorded in the Apostle John’s Revelation. There have been earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, famines, wars, diseases and so on. Why didn’t God intervene to stop them? One question often asked is where God is when times of distress and devastation happen. One memorable event still in living memory was the Holocaust that saw the murder of millions of God’s own people, the Jews. And the cry for God to intervene must have reverberated around the heavens on countless occasions during those dark and evil times. The Covid virus has inflicted much in the way of death and distress on mankind during the past two or three years, and I’m sure many prayers were offered up for God to intervene, but He apparently hasn’t, and it is still wreaking havoc on mankind as I write.

The reality that we observe is that God has occasionally intervened in the affairs of mankind and the natural events in the world around us, but most of the time He doesn’t. The Old Testament recorded occasions when His intervention brought about victories in battle (for example we read in 2 Chronicles 20:22, “At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves.”) And there was the occasion recorded in Joshua 10:13-14, “So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!” But on other occasions, the prayers of the Israelites went unheeded. There is an answer to God’s apparent intransigence in the face of disasters is puzzling but in the meantime we’ll leave the question hanging.

We pilgrims keep praying regardless of the circumstances, because prayer changes things. We might not see a result straight away, but God always answers prayers, should we choose to listen. He has three answers – “Yes”, “No”, and “Not Yet”. Often we say that God doesn’t answer prayers because His response is not what we wanted to hear. But over the years God, by His grace and mercy, has answered my prayers. For example, in answer to my prayers and the prayers of many of His people, He miraculously healed my daughter of a viral attack on her brain. And there have been many other times when an answer to my prayers popped up, often in a way I didn’t expect. Many people over the years have prayed for me as well, and I am so grateful for their faithfulness. 

We pilgrims will come up many obstacles on our journeys through life. We may not have encountered the terrors described in John’s vision, but we may have come up against sickness, disease, financial hardship, accidents, and other occasions when God’s intervention didn’t happen. Regardless of what is going on around us, we trust Him and put our hope in Him anyway, because he is our loving Heavenly Father. We only have to read His Book, the Bible, to tap into His amazing grace. How about these Scriptures?

Psalm 147:11, “… the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love“. 
Jeremiah 17:7, “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence“. 
Romans 15:13, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit“. 
Psalms 62:5-6, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken“. 

Father God. We thank You for Your loving kindness, and proclaim today the prayer recorded by Your prophet, Habakuk. “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord ! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” Amen and Amen!

Final Blessings

“Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 6:23-24 NLT

Paul finished his letter to the Ephesian church with a blessing. There is something powerful about speaking out a blessing. A God-focused blessing does something profound in Heavenly realms. As it is uttered, angels pause in their duties, enjoying the moment. Demons in other places cringe as the words echo around their spiritual realms. The devil moves away to find an easier place to undertake his nefarious works. 

Paul’s blessing included three fundamental God-principles. Firstly His peace. In this war-torn world, Russia and Ukraine are, as I write, fighting a war I thought I would never see in my lifetime; peace is a precious commodity and one I pray for daily. A lack of peace destroys us. There is so much strife in our relationships, our families, our communities. Sometimes it is despairing to see so many people who seem to prefer a lack of peace in their lives. A God-peace is precious. It soothes our troubled souls. It brings relief to our mental conflicts and distress. So at every opportunity, we must, as peace-loving pilgrims, speak out God’s peace, avoiding conflict wherever possible.

Paul’s second blessing was to ask God, our Heavenly Father, to give us ”love with faithfulness”. And Paul reminded us that God is also the Father of Jesus, making Him our elder brother. How amazing is that! And we open up our spiritual receptors to receive God’s love, which we can then faithfully pass onto others. We feel God’s love penetrating deep within our spirits, melting away the tensions, softening any hard bits that are calloused by contact with the unloving world around us. Our neighbours, friends, and family members, may not be feeling God’s love for themselves, so we have the opportunity to share our messages of hope and love with them. It’s amazing to watch a hardened God-denier soften when told that God loves them regardless of their rejection of Him. 

Paul finishes with his third blessing. Grace. Eternal grace. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is a great way of remembering what He has done for us. God’s grace covers us. It manifests in love regardless of how we behave. Grace sees Christ’s righteousness when we deserve judgement. Grace pours from God’s throne without limit. And it is there for us whenever we are feeling a bit wobbly. When we are unsure and feeling a bit insecure. And it never ends – Paul prays that it will be eternally with us. 

I love the blessing that we find in Numbers 6:24-26. Let’s finish with it today.

May the Lord bless you and protect you
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you
May the Lord show you His favour
And give you His peace.

Old 100th

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! 
Worship the Lord with gladness. 
Come before Him, singing with joy. 
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! 
He made us, and we are His. 
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. 
Enter His gates with thanksgiving; 
go into His courts with praise. 
Give thanks to Him and praise His name. 
For the Lord is good. 
His unfailing love continues forever, 
and His faithfulness continues to each generation.”
Psalms‬ ‭100:1-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The 100th Psalm. An icon in the Book of Psalms. A pillar of praising poetry that has passed the passage of time. Enriched by words such as “joy”, “gladness”, “praise”, “thanks”, “faithfulness” and “love”. All words expressing God’s character and our response. And the whole Psalm describes a relationship between our wonderful God and His people, you and me. So before Him we shout, we worship, we sing, we give thanks, we praise, and we bask in His love and faithfulness. There’s not much else to say about this Psalm. It is an essential part of the pilgrim’s library. A place to go to on the journey through life. A place where our souls can be refreshed in this topsy-turvy world. Let us all read it again this morning, eating and drinking soul-food beyond anything that the secular world around us can provide.

Faithfulness

“I will sing of the Lord’s great love for ever; 
    with my mouth I will make Your faithfulness 
     known through all generations. 
I will declare that Your love stands firm for ever, 
     that You have established Your faithfulness in heaven itself.”
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; 
     love and faithfulness go before You.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭89:1-2,14‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Psalm 89 is another Psalm written by an Ezrahite, this time a man called Ethan. He appeared in another place in the Bible, and is thought to be one of five brothers, a wise man, though not as wise as Solomon. He was a Levite, and apparently a cymbal player in a priestly worship band. From the text in the Psalm, it was written in the period of the kings, David and Solomon.

There is one word in this Psalm that appears seven times – “faithfulness”. This is a word of tremendous depth and meaning, and not one as popular today, in human terms, as it should be. Faithfulness is a word often associated with marriage but the high number of divorces betrays it’s lack of being taken seriously in society today. 

But God is faithful. One hundred per cent. He will never, ever, not be faithful. So if He says something, or promises something, we can be assured that He will faithfully bring it to pass. God will never wriggle out of His commitments and promises. On His part there is no backing out of an agreement or a covenant. In fact, in verses 7 and 8 of this Psalm we read that in the Heavenly realms God is greatly feared. Why? Because of His faithfulness. And verse 3 tells us that faithfulness is so important to God that He has established it in Heaven.

So when God makes, ”righteousness and justice … the foundation of [His] throne”, we know that through His faithfulness this will be the case. One day. All nations will stand before Him, facing into judgement because of His righteousness. There will be no sin and wickedness in Heaven.

Jesus Himself taught about the importance of being faithful on several occasions. Perhaps the most remembered is the story about the Talents. In Matthew 25:21 He said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”. In Luke 16:10, Jesus said, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” There is Kingdom importance in being faithful. So today, as we go about our business, whatever that might be, let’s align ourselves to God’s quality of “faithfulness”.

Troops and Walls

“To the faithful You show Yourself faithful, 
to the blameless You show Yourself blameless, 
to the pure You show Yourself pure, 
but to the devious You show Yourself shrewd. 
You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 
You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. 
With Your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.
‭Psalms‬ ‭18:25-29‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Verses 25 and 26 of Psalm 18, at first sight, seem a bit difficult to understand. What was the psalmist, David, getting at? He used words such as “faithful”, “blameless”, and “pure”. Was he perhaps implying that the qualities he lists have to be in our characters before we can see them in God, even though they are a part of His nature? Perhaps a faithless person wouldn’t see a faithful God because they wouldn’t understand what being faithful was all about. An impure person wouldn’t understand the purity of our Heavenly Father. But is God “shrewd”? Perhaps that is how He appears to someone with devious qualities, whether He is or not. The Psalmist goes on to explain that the quality of humility leads to salvation, unlike that for the proud, the haughty. A sentiment exemplified by Jesus, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” 

David continued with positive statements about the impact God had, and continued to have, on his life. Reading the Psalms written by David, you can see that he had many dark moments but here he is declaring that God had turned around his depression into a condition of lightness. In addition, God had empowered David to take on seemingly impossible tasks, in battle for example. Think about the Goliath episode. David’s logic as explained to King Saul, was breathtakingly simple, as we can read in 1 Samuel 17:36-37, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Almost as an aside, David didn’t appear before Goliath with a slingshot, never having used one before. As a shepherd, he spent hours perfecting the art of projecting a stone with a sling, and he probably set himself up a target and persevered, aiming and hitting, until he had the confidence in his ability. And when a lion or bear appeared on the scene a well-aimed stone would soon discourage them. So when Goliath stood before him, he forensically looked for a chink in the armour, found it above Goliath’s eyes and clinically proceeded to despatch him with a single small stone. But. A big but. David knew that he could do nothing on his own account. He needed God in his life to lead and guide and help him achieve what he had to do. David slung the stone. God helped it to the target. David built up his faith in God in the sheepfolds, on the open hills, in the pastures, as he protected a flock of sheep from predators. And that faith stood him in good stead as he took on the battles in war-torn Palestine. He knew that with his little ability and God’s limitless resources, he could have the confidence to take on tasks that would frighten most of his peers.

To be able to trust God for whatever life throws at us, equipping us for the battles ahead, takes two steps. Firstly, like David, we must develop the skills needed for our lives. Getting an education, learning a trade, practising playing a guitar, and so on, all the time keeping our eyes on our calling, focusing on our vocation. The Apostle Peter was a fisherman, but Jesus taught him how to use those skills to be a “fisher of men”. Sometimes we will perhaps get discouraged, thinking that our simple skill can’t be of any use to God. But God has a way of turning our little into great things for Him. Secondly, we need to spend time with our Heavenly Father. By being diligent in Bible reading and prayer, communicating and building a relationship with Him, testing our faith as we go, we learn to trust Him more and more. A toddler doesn’t leap out of the cradle one day saying that he is going to walk. There are some interim challenges he faces on the way, through crawling, sitting, and getting knocks and bumps, before the big day when he stands. And then he makes the first wobbly steps. Faith doesn’t appear overnight – it takes diligence and perseverance through the knocks and bumps as we grow. 

So back to today’s verses. He keeps our lamps burning, if we let Him. And that wall in front of us, or that Goliath in the office – they are not as big a problem as the enemy would have us think. That mountain might just turn out to be a molehill. Because God is on our side.

The Great Assembly

I have not kept the good news of Your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about Your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of Your unfailing love and faithfulness.

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

David, the Psalmist behind Psalm 40, never hid his relationship with his loving Heavenly Father from the people around him. He always communicated things about God – His justice, faithfulness, saving power, unfailing love – to those around him in the “great assembly”, as we can see from this verse. These were things about God that he had experienced through a life spent close to God. That is not to say he was perfect and never sinned (Bathsheba?) or made mistakes but his heart was after God all his life. And so, David told people around him all the things he knew about God. He was a natural evangelist.

As a Christian I have a story to tell. Through the things God has done for me, my faith in Him has grown. I have experienced His grace and mercy, His love and kindness, His faithfulness even when I haven’t been faithful. He has put a hope for the future in my heart so real and pressing that it is bursting out to inform others.

But this “great assembly”. Is it the church we attend? It could be, but God’s heart is for the lost. Luke records this verse in his Gospel, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent” – Luke 15:7. C.S Lewis said, “The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world“. So the “great assembly” consists of our friends, family, and community, not just the church we attend. We may not be Billy Grahams, speaking to thousands in one rally after another. But I am, as the quotation from J.T.Hiles says, “a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread“. 

So, like David, we must take every opportunity to tell others the “good news” about God. May we never be guilty of keeping it to ourselves.