Measuring Stick (2)

“Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshipers. But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months.”
Revelation‬ ‭11:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We spend a second day musing over these two verses in Revelation. John was out and about in his vision with a “measuring stick”. Looking over the Church and assessing its spiritual health and well being. If he was roaming over our increasingly secular Western societies, would he find a Church full of life and vigour impacting the very fabric of our culture, or would he find a sick and anaemic group of Christians huddled together in ever-reducing numbers, holding onto the remnants of their faith like drowning men clutch a straw. If John’s measuring stick was able to assess the quality of the worship of God in the Church, would he have found the worshippers going through liturgical motions or was there a meaningful connection with God? Spirit to spirit. Would he have found worshippers more concerned with the flowers on the altar rather than the praise and worship of our loving Heavenly Father? 

Having looked for fruit in the Church, John moves on to measure the altar. When someone mentions the word “altar” a picture emerges in our minds of an ornate, cloth covered table located right at the front of a church building. The church-goers treat it with respect and often go through a process of genuflection, as though publicly declaring that God is somehow located there. But the altar is a place of consecration and it is where we meet God, declaring anew our faith in, and love for, Him. A place where we confess our sins but it needn’t be a physical place or object; for most people it is in their hearts, a place of spiritual significance in the lives of every pilgrim. It’s a place where we pause in our worldly, work-a-day thoughts and prayerfully lift our spirits into His presence. So what would John have measured here?

We consecrate our lives to the worship of God, sacrificing the other less important issues on our altars. On the altar in the Old Testament Temple, a painful and final act took place – an animal was killed as part of an expression of the covenant between God and His people. The sacrifice cost something. And the worship of God in our lives today is also a costly act. It costs us our time. It may cost us financially. But above all, it costs us our independence. A pilgrim sacrifices his or her worldly and sinful ways on God’s altar, expressing our allegiance to our loving Heavenly Father. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” And amazingly, as Jesus said to His disciples in John 8:32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Sacrificing ourselves on God’s altar frees us from a life of sin and death – true freedom indeed. We now have the freedom to do what we should, not stuck in a life enslaved to the devil’s ways.

The next task John had to do was to count the number of worshippers. Why should that matter? In our times of dwindling church congregations, we try and rationalise events by saying it is all about quality not quantity. But deep down we mourn the loss of our friends who move on to, at best, another church, or, as so many do, fall away from the faith into more secular activities. So why count the worshippers? Perhaps God is asking John to make sure that no-one is missing. I’m reminded of Jesus’s parable about the Lost Sheep, where He diligently searched for the one that was lost. It is reassuring to know that God wants no-one to be missed when it is the Time of the End.

Finally in these two verses, John is told not to bother with the outer courtyard. When thinking of this, I pictured a place full of spiritual tourists, people with no idea of who God is and with no appreciation of the awesomeness and majesty of God. On a recent visit to Salisbury Cathedral, I was touched spiritually when a member of the cathedral’s clergy asked everyone to be respectful while he offered up the morning prayers to God, joining in if they wished. But sadly, most ignored the moment, instead continuing to wander around chatting and commenting on the artefacts on display. They were the tramplers, visitors to the outer courtyards of the Church, and John was told the trampling would continue to do so for forty two months, three and a half years. The mention of the trampling of the Holy City was perhaps a reference to the verses from the prophet Daniel. We read in Daniel 7:25, “He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time“. And Daniel 12:7, “The man dressed in linen, who was standing above the river, raised both his hands toward heaven and took a solemn oath by the One who lives forever, saying, “It will go on for a time, times, and half a time. When the shattering of the holy people has finally come to an end, all these things will have happened.”” Perhaps God’s people were to be persecuted for forty two months by the Gentiles, the unbelievers, present on the periphery of the Church. 

At a time like this, having read of such events, we pilgrims can only shudder, fascinated yet appalled by the implication behind John’s vision. And we do what the Psalmists did. We pour out our concerns before God. I turned to Psalm 7 this morning and read, “I come to you for protection, O Lord my God. Save me from my persecutors—rescue me! God is my shield, saving those whose hearts are true and right. I will thank the Lord because he is just; I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭7:1, 10, 17). A couple of pages further on we read, “But the Lord reigns forever, executing judgment from his throne. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭9:7-10). The Psalms are full of the musings and cries, the prayers and praises, of pilgrims just like us. God’s love just pours from every page, an unstoppable tide of His grace and mercy. And we can’t leave this moment without reading Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!” And somehow, as we put our future in God’s hands, we receive the strength we need. 

Dear Lord God. We once again express our gratitude that You are our loving Heavenly Father, who cares for us. Amen.

The Real Greens

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees 
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. 
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. 
They flourish in the courts of our God. 
Even in old age they will still produce fruit; 
they will remain vital and green. 
They will declare, “The Lord is just! 
He is my rock! 
There is no evil in him!””
‭Psalms‬ ‭92:12-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Are there any palm trees and cedars amongst my readers today? Godly people, flourishing and strong? The Psalmist is comparing the life of a Godly person to the growth and stature of Middle Eastern trees that exemplify life as it should be – fully functioning as designed. And he goes on to say that the godly person flourishes, living a life as designed, in God’s presence. Because it is from Him that their life comes from. There are no spiritual deserts in God’s presence, stunting and even eliminating growth. In God’s presence there is an unlimited supply of all the nutrients needed to maintain life, as He designed it. 

But the Psalmist goes on to say that the flourishing taking place is not just for the early part of life – the vitality of the person continues until they take their last breath. Producing the fruit of a Godly life. Across the road from me there is a Rowan Tree. It has faithfully produced berries and green leaves for nearly fifty years from when it was first planted. But sadly, it’s days are numbered because a split has emerged in its trunk and the wood inside has started to rot. It is grimly hanging on but it is no longer as vital and green as it once was. Is that how we will end our days? Rotten and bitter inside, no more fruit, grimly hanging onto life? The Psalmist’s view of senior citizens in God’s presence is one of a different person. There may be a few wrinkles. They may be a bit stiffer and less able. But still living a fruitful life, doing God’s work in these godless days. Still with a twinkled eye. Still allowing God’s spiritual nutrients to flow through verdant and vital veins. 

And the oldies finish these verses with a timeless statement about God‘s justice, righteousness and dependability. Such sentiments are the fruit of a life that doesn’t end but transitions into God’s presence, continuing to produce fruit. Continuing in a green vitality. Continuing with God forever. The real Greens. God’s Greens.