H-Hour, D-Day, M-Month, Y-Year
“And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they might kill a third of mankind. And the number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads; and with them they do harm. And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.”
These may very well be the most difficult words, in all of Revelation, to understand. Even considering the context and while walking a while in the shoes of the first century church, the words, to us, are troublesome to say the least. We must put on our thinking caps and carefully consult our Old Testament tutor.
But first, something personal
It’s been several weeks since I wrote and over a month since we returned from a certain communist country in the Caribbean. The trip went well. In brief: foremost; we saw souls saved and heard about salvation even more than we saw. We built walls to expand church buildings, taught, preached, fellowshipped, introduced new friends, made new friends and caught up with old friends.
I, personally, was able to witness to several very, young men, a few of which claimed to have never heard about the name of Jesus. What an incredible invitation that was. I was standing, sweaty and dirty, after a day’s work amongst the local pastor, youth pastor and administrative pastor, when a group of native, local teenagers arrived, their curiosity piqued, at the foreigners building a wall.
A Big No-No?
“Tell them about Jesus,” the pastor said to me in Spanish. “Me,” I questioned pointing to myself? I don’t really speak the language and we’re technically not allowed to evangelize in this particular Caribbean, communist country. The truth is, it’s actually illegal. While it may not be strictly enforced, it is against the law and the main church in the area vigorously requests that we not do it. They do the evangelizing, we support them in other ways. Their argument is that it helps ensure our continuing relationship. We will continue to be allowed to come in support, if we obey the government’s mandates. The exception to the rule is if we are within the walls of a church building. I was not, but I was on the grounds of a church’s property, though truly owned by the government.
When asked to Preach, Preach
Illegal or not, whether one speaks the language or not, there is no greater obedience than to preach the gospel. Therefore I did… Starting in Genesis. I had a great translator and much local support. One young man was moved. He shed a few tears and with his head hung low admitted he had heard about Jesus before but never followed him. Please pray for him; admittedly, I need to pray for him more myself.
Around the halfway point of our trip, I was able to catch up with the aforementioned pastor’s son. I have known him since he was 12, he is now 16. He informed me that his desire was to be a pastor. I was surprised and pleased, he had given me no indication that he even considered becoming a pastor in past conversations. Over the years I have tried to teach him English, as he tried to teach me Spanish. We had this conversation in English. I suppose that makes me the better teacher, or worse student–I’m sure the latter is the case. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful conversation, sitting in the shade away from the heat of the sun. We talked about the importance and preeminence of the Bible. In a culture crazed over prophets, charisma and signs, I explained that the Holy Spirit won’t do anything that is against the Bible, therefore knowledge of the Bible is foremost. Although, I did agree that not too many years ago they lacked Bibles and the people’s pension for prophets was a powerful persuasion. Yet now, we, many of you included, and countless others, have sent a steady stream of Spanish Scriptures sufficient to satisfy that which was lacking. All the leadership in this particular church have Bibles, along with the majority of the congregation. I do wish most Americans had the passion of these worshipers, don’t get me wrong, but I also want their passion to be in accordance with the word of God. We spoke for over and hour and I was incredibly blessed by it. He could very well be the future of the church there, pray for him.
Two sides to every story
These were the highlights of my trip but even amongst the backdrop of these incredible blessings, while still there, I began to sink low. My first few years there I had an excuse to succumb to depression; the prevailing poverty and pollution was preeminent. While the pollution seems to have subsided, I doubt that is truly the case. However the poverty has seemed to improve. Between my first and second trip absolutely nothing had happened with regard to the projects we started. Now though, this particular church building has nearly tripled in size. As previously stated, most people now have Bibles and almost everyone in town appears to be well fed. The infrastructure may still be crumbling but for the most part, I saw positive change. But I was spiraling down into the proverbial abyss.
God never changes–my moods do
Why then would doubt, fear, sin and depression overtake me now? Is it possible that deep down I began to feel that they’ve come so far that there is little I can do for them now?
Have my mission and service to them become obsolete? Is it time for them to be missionaries to us? While by the end of the trip I was doubting that I would ever go back, the fact is until the Lord’s return, the need for mission work will not cease… Anywhere. No, I am afraid my attitudes and actions were far more nefarious then self-serving, sanctimonious, soul-searching. I really can be a big jerk. Honestly, I had a crisis of faith.
Cry me a River; or, No Seemingly good deed goes Unpunished
It all started with disobedience; sound familiar? I didn’t break an unwritten rule, I broke a written one. We were told by email, not to bring personal items for personal property to personal people. We have done so in the past and it created tension and jealousy. The answer was simple; don’t do it. Like the early church placing their money at the apostle’s feet, we would leave the items at the head pastor’s feet and he would distribute them, the best he could, to those according to their need (did I mention it’s a communist country?). For the most part, that’s what we did. However we also brought a few gifts for our close friends, and I see nothing wrong with that. I also bought a specialty drill bit for a neighbor of one of our translators and good friend. His neighbor, like I am and Jesus was, is a woodworker and carpenter. He needed this bit to make certain joints but was unable to locate one in his country. I have easy access to them and I brought him one. Almost our entire group went to deliver it to him and to see his shop and some of his work; we were dully impressed. He pulled a large hunk of wood off the shelf to show us all and it landed on the pinky toe of my left foot. In incredible pain I hopped around on my right foot and declared with a loud, strained voice, “ow, ow, ow!” As I hopped outside to try to limit my embarrassment, like an ostrich with its head in the sand, I attempted to conceal my cries. And wouldn’t you know it, it worked–for about a minute. Most inside thought I was joking but one by one they all came to realize I wasn’t. I think what really tipped them off was when I shouted, “I’m not joking!”
It got Worse
Favoring greatly my yet uninjured right foot, I pressed on. We’re only there for a short time and work had to be done. However, a few days later, my right foot began to experience enough pain to force me into a limp. At this point, I am limping on two legs. After some more time, I realized how much trouble I was in when I began favoring my
left foot, which had what I assumed was a broken toe. From my knee to my toes, the swelling increased by the second. A rash also developed, red and purple that felt like flames of fire if anything touched it. We had been warned about the milk from the cacti we were removing to make way for the new wall–it can cause a nasty rash. Could this be what was causing my leg discomfort and discoloration? I assumed as much and attempted to press on. The wall was finished, I had persevered; barely. But in the meantime, something else happened.
When it Rains it Pours; or, No good deed goes Unpunished, Again
One thing that I always try to do is practice what I preach. What I preach the most is that in Christianity, leaders are servants. I try to live this out loud. I had brought my work thermos with me to the communist country. It’s one of those stainless steel, vacuum insulated ones. It is a wonderful invention. It kept cold water cold for several hours in the hot Caribbean sun. Mid afternoon every day I would call in my fellow missionaries to drink from my thermos to get a nice, refreshing gulp of ice-cold water that is otherwise completely unavailable. One particular day late in our stay, everyone took a drink. After everyone had a taste from my thermos, I sipped what was left. I had another bottle of lukewarm water to hydrate, as did the others, but a few sips of cold water sure can help in that hot sun. Eagerly I drank the last few drops only to hear the man who drank previously state, “I have the worst sore throat.” That information would have been much more helpful before I drank from the same thermos. Within a day or so, I was sick. Soon thereafter he lost his voice, and it wouldn’t be long until I lost mine. But the sickness was only getting warmed up.
I need help; or, Free Health Care
By the time church services were concluded on Sunday, I struggled to walk. I also struggled to think. I had one of the biggest blessings of my life in the morning at the worship service. I also suffered incredible disillusionment. The blessing: two years previous, I preached to the congregation to “tell the children.” The congregation of around 120 had about 15 children present; it concerned me. As did their emphasis on the past. I begged them to stop looking back and to look forward. This year, in a congregation of around 150, close to 40 were children. I stood up in front of them and asked, if they remember what I told them? “Sí,” they said. To which I replied, “you listened!” “Sí,” they answered. Russell wept. Truthfully, I am weeping now. Then, disillusionment; shaking, quivering bodies gathered at the altar. Crying out to God, gyrating and jumping, seeking for a jolt from the Holy Spirit. I was told to lay hands on one particular woman, who was shaking as if naked in Siberia in February. When in Rome, right? Not wanting to rock the boat and desiring to be in union with my brethren, I laid my doubting, non-charismatic hands on her. She went off as if I had tazed her. In my mind I am thinking my calm hands will slow her down, but in her mind I added Spirit to her gigantic gyrations. One of us was wrong, and my descent continued. I found my way back to the “main” church then to the pastor’s house. Pants are required to speak in the churches and mine were now causing excruciating pain on my leg. Between the sweat and the chaffing, I couldn’t take it anymore. I pulled up my pant leg for relief and revealed my rash to everyone present. The pastor, we call the “godfather” (but not to his face), sent for a doctor. Because of the hundreds of students there for the conference that is put on simultaneously with our work projects, a doctor was on the premises. She, for free, looked at my swollen, infected leg. She told me that I needed antibiotics. I inquired as to where I may acquire antibiotics–she didn’t know. There were no antibiotics available. However, my American friend that gave me the extreme sore throat, overheard and happened to have some antibiotics. Though he got me sick, he may have saved my life. Yet, he only had a few days supply. No matter, we would be home in a few days.
The mission trip was over. We stopped at a beach on our way out of town and then had a nice meal at a great restaurant. Then off to a hotel before catching our flight in the morning. But at this point, I am miserable. I am sick and in excruciating pain. I can’t think straight. I had taken over 400 pictures, documenting our trip but inadvertently erased them all. I had hit the proverbial wall. I can’t begin to explain my discomfort on the plane. I hadn’t slept more than four hours in the last five days but I would be home soon.
Home was no help
By the grace of God I made it home alive and in lessening pain. My rash was subsiding and the pain had not gotten any worse. I knew first and foremost that I needed rest. I arrived home shortly after midnight and awakened around 3:00 pm that afternoon. Relatively speaking, I felt better than I had for a few days. I checked my email and voicemail, made a few calls, then settled off to bed hoping to be back to normal the following day. Well rested, I awoke the next day and attempted to get on with my life. But as the day wore on, the pain in my foot began to increase and the sickness overtook me. Over the next few days the pain and swelling became unbearable, and so did I.
I eventually went to the emergency room, that is when the excruciating pain subsided enough to permit me leave from the couch. A little context to how painful it was: I used a jug next to the couch to relieve myself, I couldn’t even crawl. I went to the E.R. on what must have been a full moon. I actually found comfort in the fact that the triage nurse told me she could tell I wasn’t faking the pain to get drugs. I got the last room at what appeared to be the busiest day they had seen in a while. I could hear many would-be patients screaming and begging for help (drugs). The response, or lack thereof, of the staff seemed cold to me but I realize that they probably have seen them all before and knew their scams. Still, it made the long wait even more uncomfortable. The P.A. ordered blood work and determined that I did have a nasty infection. I was given a prescription of oxycodone for the pain and two types of antibiotics, then sent home. It had been a week and I am in for another two, meaning I cannot work. Between my missions trip, most of which I funded myself, the engine needing to be replaced in my truck before we left, and the fact that taxes were due during the trip, I was already low on funds. Now, I will not have worked for a month. Being self-employed as a carpenter, this is a problem, especially in the springtime. Extra spending and not working for a month is not nearly as stressful as the other things weighing on my mind though. I have been broke before and I have never had to steal. God has always provided a way. But why wasn’t he providing spiritual comfort?
Or was He?
If it is not God who changes, but my mood, the answer is simple: He was, I was simply looking in the wrong direction. KISS, keep it simple stupid. Like I always do, I began to look inwardly. Like Isaiah in chapter six, verse five, I cried out, “Woe is me!” I was focusing on what I was feeling and not on what God was doing, nor what he did, right before my eyes. I think about this: I had the privilege to preach to several young men. I delivered a sermon to a precious people where I admonished them that they were on a wrong path and needed a new course; and they listened! I’ve given thousands of lessons here in the United States, and no one listens–they did and proved it. They proved it and acted upon it, so well that we had to add to the church building, again, to house the swelling youth population. Little did I know it when we left to go there, but that’s what we did. Is there a greater blessing? But big ol’ jerk-face, self-centered, cry-baby me, only dealt with how I felt, not the entire reality of the situation. You see; my labor proved not to be in vain.
You Started by Writing some of Revelation, 9…?
Indeed, for at present, this blog is dedicated to the reading Revelation. I also use it to share my mission work. Many of you have donated money and materials and I want to be accountable to their use. I used my personal story this year to highlight three things; how to not read revelation, missions are good, and I can be a big jerk. We’ve covered me being a jerk and missions fairly well, but let me close this missive with some application. Don’t read Revelation inwardly, as if it was written specifically to you. We must not look out our window and interpret Revelation by what we see. We must interpret what we see by Revelation. Locusts that are actually helicopters? Or is it more likely that locusts, as they did in Exodus and Joel, among others, represent destruction? It’s not about the tool, it’s about the result. As in this passage, we read about horses, with heads like lions, that breath fire, smoke and brimstone. What do they represent? Something John couldn’t explain or something we can’t understand? Honestly, which is more likely; John, in the Holy Spirit, had trouble describing 20th; oops, sorry, 21st century phenomena, or that we, some 2000 years later, have lost the capacity to understand the context and genre? More on this next time. But let me extend an invitation to all; Go to Iran, go to China, go to a certain communist country south of Florida–meet the church and hear of their stories of persecution and perseverance, then tell me how bad things are in the United States. Yes, I believe America is going down, yet thousands are coming to Christ in communist countries…what should that mean to us?
For Example, Look what God did in a few short years to one small Church: