Chapter One

Earl lifted his head from the patch of garden that he was weeding and looked up at the blue sky, almost shining in its radiance. This was one of the times that it came back to him – the smack against earth of running feet, the sudden void as the cliff receded behind, pushing his harness prone and moving his hands down to the basetube as the vista opened up below, the air whispering past his wings as they held him aloft. A pang of desire – a need to fly – gripped him, but he tamped it back down with heartfelt thanks to God for the many blessings that he and Joyce had received. He reflected on the intimacy that he’d enjoyed with Wisdom, and of how that had led to the companion joy of truly knowing Jesus.

And his loving intimacy with Joyce, he felt with gratitude. Alicia remained in his mind, but he was capable now of remembering with happiness their times together without experiencing the crushing pain of her loss.

Earl had two favorite projects at home that occupied his mind and energy when he wasn’t working in the yard or spending time with Joyce. One was his preparation for their weekly Bible study at the nursing home. At this point in time he was delving into Luke’s Book of Acts, which recounted the amazing adventures of the Apostles, those who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus, after the Holy Spirit filled them at the first Pentecost following Jesus’ crucifixion. He was particularly fond of this book for the freshness and hope it exuded, and his lesson flowed into his mind as if God was talking directly to him.

He continued to update his blog with irregularly-spaced postings, although this second task wasn’t as urgently demanding as it was when he was facing opposition to what he considered to be vital insights into the nature of God. In this more relaxed environment he prepared his postings with happy, loving care. At this time of relative peace in his life, he was concerned less with theological opposition than what he perceived to be a growing indifference to Scripture within the Christian community that paralleled the ever-increasing dumbing-down of the schoolchild generation, along with the deliberately inculcated self-centeredness and lack of mental discipline that was more suitable for a regime of oppressive control than for freedom and liberty. As far as he was concerned, it was absolutely imperative for the Christian layperson to have a good working knowledge of the Bible in order to fend off the numerous false teachings that were afflicting many of the long-standing Churches. He and Joyce could do only so much, but at least those he reached with his blog and to whom he spoke in the nursing home would be well-grounded in the Word.

After agreeing to disagree with mutual respect regarding Earl’s views on the Holy Spirit, Earl and pastor George Mason gradually eased back into a warm friendship. “After all,” George had said to Earl one Sunday after Church services during a friendly discussion of Earl’s near-persecution, “the gender of the Holy Spirit isn’t a Christian show-stopper like rejecting the deity of Jesus or denying the existence of the Holy Spirit altogether. You claim to love the Holy Spirit. I’m good with that, particularly in the face of so many truly destructive issues that the Church is facing these days, and which I’m increasingly forced to address.”

Pastor George now was speaking to one of these issues at Sunday service. “Beginning this morning,” he addressed his congregation, “we’re going to be spending time in the Book of Revelation. There are many reasons for turning to this book, the most important of which is that it is beginning to appear that we are entering that time of which the book speaks. In addition, despite the promise of God to bless those who read it, it is a book that largely has been neglected by the modern Church for its supposedly negative connotations, which actually are negative only for those who insist upon placing their faith and allegiance on the material world. Unfortunately, the Church’s attempt to emphasize the positive to the exclusion of the negative is largely responsible for the poor state that the Church finds itself in today. The modern Christian expectation for loyalty to God is the reaping of physical rewards, like pink Cadillacs and gold-plated Rolex watches. This attitude stands in direct opposition to Jesus’ clear statements, echoed by His Apostles, that His kingdom is spiritual rather than physical. When Jesus spoke of blessings, He meant those saved souls to which He would credit His devoted servants, and the joy that would come from the unity of love among those servants and between them and God.

“Turn with me, please, to Matthew 6:24.” After a short pause, George started reading words that Jesus had spoken:

“’No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’

“If that isn’t plain enough,” George continued, “turn now to John 18:36, where Jesus is speaking to Pilate after His arrest:

“’Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from here.’

“That pretty much says it all. But just in case you still don’t get the picture that a pink Cadillac isn’t in every Christian’s future, let’s go to one more reference.” After pausing for the laughter to die down, pastor continued: “Now we’ll go to Philippians 1:29:

“’For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake.’

“Oh, my!” George exclaimed. “that doesn’t sound very good.”

“No, it doesn’t,” a beefy, red-faced man mumbled indignantly. Earl had noted that he hadn’t laughed with the rest of the congregation when pastor had referenced the earlier verses. Now the man arose, pulled his wife up with him, and stepped awkwardly out into the aisle, where they made a hasty exit. George paused to let them go. He made no comment regarding them, but continued with his sermon.

“But it’s a lot better than some may think.” That got a laugh too, from the way it dovetailed so naturally into the event that had just taken place. “It may seem counter-intuitive, but historically, the Church has thrived in the face of persecution. Conversely, the Church has always been its worst and least obedient to God when Christianity has been the accepted norm in a society. But even at the personal level it’s better than you think. There’s love and joy in serving the Lord, and the more difficult it is, the more love and joy is bestowed on those who continue to stand firm in their beliefs while maintaining their compassionate natures in the process. This isn’t about a psychological quirk that we humans have. It’s about God – specifically the Holy Spirit, who indwells Christians and actively and continuously bestows the love of God upon the obedient ones. It is the Holy Spirit who not only gives us the courage to serve God, but joy in doing so. Now let’s get to the heart of the sermon, the Book of Revelation. I’ve taken so long to get to this point that I’ll save the Scripture itself to next week, but I do want to give you an understanding of the book’s source and the circumstances under which it was written.

“First of all,” he continued, “it’s not ‘Revelations’ with an ‘s’ on the end. It’s singular – Revelation – because it is the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John, who had been banished by the Roman emperor Domitian to the small Island of Patmos on the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Unlike the other Apostles, John wasn’t killed in the name of Christ. Paul had been beheaded and Peter had been crucified upside-down at his own request, having considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord Jesus Christ. But not John. John was actually released on the death of Domitian in 97 A.D., whereupon he returned to the Church at Ephesus. John lived to the age of a hundred. Interestingly, this difference of fate was foretold by Jesus in John 21, verses 18 through 23. Let’s go there now. In His threefold forgiveness of Peter’s threefold denial of Him, the resurrected Jesus had just commanded Peter for the third time to feed his sheep and He continued to address Peter:

“’Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst where thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee where thou wouldest not. This spoke [Jesus], signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken thus, he saith unto him, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loves, following; who also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? Peter, seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die. Yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?’

“According to John,” George continued, “while he was in exile on the Island of Patmos, he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day when Jesus appeared to him and spoke to him, giving him insights and messages. Later during a continuation of that event, he saw visions of heaven as well as the spectacularly modern earth in the latter days. The Book of Revelation is John’s record of that event. I can hardly wait until next week, when we get into the Scripture itself. Now, please turn in your hymnals to number 147, Charles Wesley’s great and moving hymn, ‘And Can it Be?’”

“That was a wonderful sermon,” Joyce said to Earl as they left the Church. “It’s good to see George showing his backbone. We need to hear messages like that.”

“How about that couple that left? I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when things get real bad. In fact, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when they have to face God.”

“Actually, I feel sorry for them. They’ve been badly misled, probably from one or more of the ‘positive-thinking’ or ‘prosperity’ televangelists.”

“Probably. But they could have been misled as well by any of a number of Churches in our own community.”

[to be continued]


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