The Blessed Gift of a Lifelong Friendship

Then the father said to him, “My son, you’re always with me. Everything I have belongs to you.” ~Luke 15:31

Today, June 27, 2023, my lifelong friend of forty-four and a half years, Joe Wendel, turns 50. I’ve been reflecting on this verse over the past several days with regard to our unique, enduring friendship.

In fact, this verse was impressed upon me and injected into me last week by Ruach while I was working on the slideshow for Joe’s birthday celebration.

As I was combing thru the plethora of photos spanning a lifetime, I kept seeing all the wonderful people Joe and his wife Julie have spent time with, broken bread with, traveled with. It was quite beautiful to witness the many lives they’ve touched so deeply in one sitting. Yet in seeing all of this magnificence, there was a moment when I had before me this fruit calling forth for me to grab and ingest, fruit from the tree of jealousy and envy. I could easily have found myself going down the dark road of “Hey, we’ve been friends the longest, why do they get to enjoy all this wonderful benefit?” And then I was suddenly stunned by the Holy Spirit and immediately filled with words from Jesus’s parable of the father and two sons. You may remember the end of that story when the elder son was complaining to his father about throwing this huge party for the younger son, stating his case with, “I’ve been serving you all these years!” It was the words of the father’s reply that completely melted me. He said, “My son, you’ve always been with me. Everything I have is yours.”


Any hint of jealousy was crushed by the beauty of these words. I knew and felt that the Spirit was conveying to me what Joe has been showing me thru his life and friendship all these years. It was like I was hearing Joe say to me, “Rob, you’ve always been with me. We’ve been with each other thru every major aspect of life, post diapers. Even when we were many miles apart, we were really still together. Everything I have is yours, and I’m not simply talking about material possessions, but everything I am, my heart, has always been totally available to you.”

I just melted. I melted into a gratitude that is beyond what human language can properly communicate. I was overwhelmed by a fresh sense of this friendship that I know is pure, divine gift from our loving Father, and which I do not deserve.

This verse has a newer, deeper meaning to me now. May it move you as well to reflect with sincere gratefulness upon any beautiful, lasting relationship you might be blessed with.

Thank you, Papa Yahweh.

Thank you, Pneuma.

Thank you, Jesus.

Thank you, Joe.

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 16]

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” ~REVELATION 16:1

We’ve had the seven seals and seven trumpets, and now the seven libation bowls of wrath are poured out on earth. Here’s a revelation from my studies in Revelation of late: The “recapitulation” view of how Revelation was written says that the seals, trumpets, and bowls are not necessarily different, successive outpourings, but rather a restating of judgments to give different emphases or perspectives. As we go from the seals to the bowls, we see that the judgments grow in scale and potency as John is given new views of them. It’s a little like watching the same event from three different camera angles.

What’s the point?

Well, for us today, we can relax that the message is not about strictly literal, timed out tribulations begging to be predicted with precision, but rather the message is to state very vividly and emphatically that God will decisively and dramatically eradicate evil. God will erase what goes against His kingdom, against Life, in God’s way, in God’s timing. This will happen is the message and the hope for us all.

We must guard against falling into endless and fruitless speculation about how exactly everything is going to go down at the expense of missing Revelation’s potent message and challenge to us. You may remember from our chapter 11 reflection that we said the message and challenge is the call to bear witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to bear witness to the truth in your own personal context, even if that environment is hostile to that witness.

I also came across this very nice summary in the Dictionary Of The Later New Testament & Its Developments: “John therefore wrote at the behest of the risen Lord to strengthen the faith and courage of believers, to nerve them for battle with antichristian forces in the world and to help them to bear witness to the one true Lord and Savior.”

Apocalyptic language is used to inspire people to act NOW, and oh does Revelation paint inspiring pictures for us! Not only the visuals, but the many numbers used are also dripping with meaning. We have these “three times seven” judgments with the seals, trumpets, and bowls. “Seven is the number of perfection, implying something done according to divine design, the number of completion. Three implies the greatest or ultimate expression of something. So seven times three indicates triple perfection! These judgments describe the complete, perfect erasure of evil.” (from Revelation For The rest Of Us by Scot McKnight with Cody Matchett)

I can see some evidence of this recapitulation theory as each of the seals, trumpets, and bowls lead us right up to the eradication of evil and the establishment of new Jerusalem. In other words, they each take us up to the end. There is indeed a repetitive pattern. Again from McKnight and Matchett: “They are not chronological judgments, where each one follows the other, but are three overlapping revelations of the eradication and elimination of evil from God’s world…We are to see the three times seven judgments as as an indication that God is making the world right by eliminating the arrogant, anti-God, exploitative, dominating ways of Babylon.”

Whatever is not of God, and therefore not fit for the new heavens and new earth, will have to be removed so that the people of God may dwell with Him in heavenly peace.

Human trafficking has no place or use whatsoever in the Kingdom of God, therefore it will be eliminated. Racism of any flavor makes absolutely no sense in the Kingdom, so it is not only not tolerated, but it is destroyed. These, along with murder, theft, greed, selfish ambition, animal cruelty, and the like are as out of place in God’s Kingdom as having an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course set up in the middle of an assisted living facility. It’s of no use to the people who belong there, so it must be torn down to make room for what can actually be used and sincerely enjoyed.

After writing this, I found this very helpful article on the recapitulation thing. And then I found this article posted just last month. Please know that I am in no way saying that this is the way you must interpret Revelation. I’m just seeking to understand it better with the resources before me, none more valuable than the Holy Spirit.

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 15]

they were singing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. ~REVELATION 15:3

Verses 2-4 comprise our tenth and final “interlude” found in Revelation. (We have not drawn attention to all ten so as not to muddy the Book of Revelation waters which are already quite challenging to navigate.) This chapter starts out with a magnificent vision of seven angels who were bringing the seven last plagues, but it is quickly interrupted by another sight: the ones who were victorious over the beast, holding harps, standing by a glassy sea mixed with fire, and singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb.

This is a new tune inspired by the song of victory found in Exodus 15 which was sung after the crossing of the Red Sea. It is not those lyrics exactly, but rather a sort of “greatest hits” of Psalms which extol the character of God. And, unlike the song of Exodus 15, this one is not about triumph over the enemy, but rather is solely praise of God. This shows us that God and Revelation are not simply about revenge and punishment, but always for the hope of the salvation and restoration of all people (see verse 4). “Our God, even in judgment, is always in the business of salvation, bent on the salvation of humankind”, says commentator Wilfrid Harrington.

Another striking observation about this song sung by these monster-conquerors is that there is not one single word about their own achievement. From beginning to end it is all about the greatness of God. Not only are they not focused on their achievement, but they’re not even focused on their suffering. If they did sing about their suffering, it would be understandable, for they suffered greatly. But they sing only praise. This grand praise and attention on Yahweh is refreshing to me. In our culture today, it feels as though we are absolutely obsessed with ourselves. And obsession with self, or other people, is not a recipe for God’s peace. When I look back on the most internally peaceful times of my life, it has been when I am focused on Christ more than anyone or anything else. It is when I am talking with Jesus more than anybody else; when I’m thinking about Yahweh more than anyone or anything; when I’m listening for and to Ruach more than I’m giving ear to anyone else in the world.

There is divine power in praising God, for it is what we were made to do. When our attention is drawn and harnessed toward our Maker, we are at our best, and can be in a state of shalom no matter the circumstances.

Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the anger of God who lives forever and ever. ~REVELATION 15:7

So these bowls…we’re not talking about cereal bowls here. The Greek word used and the OT context tell us that these are bowls used for priestly ritual duties. These are “cultic utensils” as some scholars refer to them, and could be more fully translated “bowls used in offerings”. There are several interesting layers of meaning going on here.

One thing these bowls would hold is wine, as a libation bowl. With this picture in mind, Craig Koester says that “The bowl visions extend the wine motif of the previous chapter, in which Babylon the whore made the world drunk on the wine of her immorality until God gave her the wine of wrath and the ungodly were trampled in the winepress (Rev 14:8, 10, 19-20).”

These ritual service bowls might also hold incense. This takes us back to the incense of prayers back in Rev 5:8, 6:9-11, and 8:3-5, especially since John uses the exact same word and description for these golden bowls here as he did back in chapter 5. It does seem that we are to make this connection that the bowls which contained the prayers of the saints now hold God’s wrath to be poured out. Those prayers are a real part of this apocalyptic unfolding. May we take prayer ever so seriously!

Ritual bowls were also probably used to carry out the ashes and fat of sacrifices. This is interesting indeed, as this symbolism shows that the earth is about to be purified by removing defilement, and sanctified so as to be made ready for the re-occupation by the Messiah. Even though Yahweh is for the salvation of all, in the end true life cannot coexist with destroyers of life. For life to flourish, the environment must be conducive to it.

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 14]

Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud one like a son of man. He had a gold crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, shouting in a loud voice to the one who was sitting on the cloud, “It’s harvest time! Put in your sickle and reap: the harvest of the earth is ripe!” ~REVELATION 14:14-15

Upon first reading, I was taken aback by what appeared to be an angel giving a command to Christ. But after digging below the surface, I learned that the angel is merely relaying the command of Yahweh, for the angel came out of the temple with this message. This makes perfect sense since the word “angel” means messenger.

Much more interesting is that many commentators connect this to Mark 13:32 where Jesus said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, only the Father.” Revelation seems to be amplifying this declaration, showing that it really is only Papa Yahweh who knows when it’s all going to go down. So you apparently have complete permission to enjoy a convivial laugh at and with anyone who tries to predict the date for the end of the world.

Another interesting observation is that when the angel does tell Jesus that it is time to start reaping, Christ already has the sickle in His hand. He may not know the day nor the hour, but I think this signifies that He is ever at the ready to do His Father’s bidding. This takes me back to Abraham’s response when God called on him in Genesis 22. “Hinneni” was Abraham’s response in his language, and we could translate that as: “Here I am, your servant. I am at your disposal. Tell me what you want me to do!” Jesus, being one with the Father, was in a constant state of hinneni, as should we be.

Yet another fascinating aspect is the dual purpose of the sickle. Jesus’s reaping of the harvest in verse 16 is the gathering of God’s followers into His kingdom. Here the sickle is used to gather and protect, a “salvific ingathering” as Brian Blount says it. But in verse 19 an angel uses its sickle for judgment. This “fifth angel” of Revelation 14 takes those who have allied themselves with the dragon and the beast, and throws them into the great winepress of God’s anger. Sounds like a place I don’t want to be.

What a powerful visual, this “Hinneni Sickle” in hand at all times, ever at the ready to do God’s will, using this heavenly tool to gather and protect those who Yahweh puts in your path in need of compassion and companionship. Also using the same implement to extricate yourself from a harmful situation or toxic relationship which serve the evil one’s purpose to pull you away from Christ and His Spirit. We might also think of using this reaping hook for protecting and preserving good habits, as well as cutting off injurious ones.

May we remain in a posture of listening for Papa Yahweh’s timely command, with our hinneni sickle always in hand.