Monday, September 16, 2013

Introducing the Revelation: Part One

Last week we began our introduction to our series that will take us through the book of Revelation. We are calling it, A Humble and Historic Wrestling with the Revelation. We chose this title for a number of reasons. Humble – because we will endeavor to refrain from being people who read the Revelation to figure it out! Historic –because we will strive to be sensitive to the historical context of John and the seven churches to whom he writes.

For introductory purposes, we are asking four questions. 1) What is the Revelation?2) How has the Revelation been read? 3) What is the overall message of the Revelation? 4) What is the goal of the Revelation?

During our first study we explored what is means for the Revelation to be an apocalypse and a prophecy.

Here’s our recap.

o     The Revelation is an apocalypse.

An apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisions eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world (John Collins).

o    Apocalyptic literature is born out of great oppression and persecution.

Far from looking for the end of the world, they (Jewish apocalyptic writers) were looking for the end of empire. And far from living under the shadow of an anticipated cosmic dissolution, they looked for the renewal of the earth on which a humane societal life could be renewed (Richard Horsley).

o    Apocalyptic literature is presented in the forms of visions and dreams and language that is cryptic and symbolic.

The most important of these devices was pseudonymity, that is, they were given the appearance of having been written by ancient worthies(Enoch, Baruch, et al.), who were told to “seal it up” for a later day, the “later day” of course being the age in which the book was now being written(Fee and Stuart). 

o    Images from apocalyptic literature are often forms of fantasy, rather than of reality. Apocalyptic writes combine earthly and other-earthly images (i.e. a woman clothed with the sun [12.1], locusts with scorpions’ tails and human heads [9.10]).

o    Apocalyptic literature is formally stylized. Writers divide time into neat packages and symbolically use numbers for the purpose of expressing one big truth when the sets are put together.

o    Apocalyptic literature enables hope and resistance by unveiling the heavenly perspective about present realities.           

o     The Revelation is a prophecy (1.3; 22.7, 10, 18, 19).

“To prophesy” does not primarily mean to foretell the future but rather to speak forth God’s Word in the present, a word that usually had as its content coming judgment or salvation (Fee and Stuart).

o   Prophets speak words of comfort and/or challenge, on behalf of God, to the people of God in their historical situation.

Since Revelation is a word of prophecy in the biblical tradition, we must take care to understand that its primary purpose is to give words of comfort and challenge to God’s people then and now, not to predict the future(Gorman).

o   Prophets speaks words of warning to reject cooperation with the object of God’s coming wrath (cf. 18.4).

Revelation is prophetic in its words of challenge as much as it is in its words of comfort. That is, Revelation as prophecy should probably be understood as anti-assimilationist, or anti-accomodationist, literature. It is also in this sense that Revelation is resistance literature –“a thorough-going prophetic critique of the system of Roman power” and “the most powerful piece of political resistance literature from the period of the early Empire (Gorman).

Big Idea: As we introduce our study of the Revelation we have learned to take seriously the nature of the Revelation as an apocalyptic and prophetic document. Both of these types of documents are written with the specific purpose of addressing the immediate needs of the original author and audience. Our study, therefore, will pay special attention to the suffering John and Antipas (2.13) are enduring and the suffering that is soon to descend upon the seven churches who originally received the Revelation.  

Works Cited

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible. Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 1993.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011.

Gorman, Michael J. Reading Revelation Responsibly Uncivil Worship and Witness, Following the Lamb into the New Creation. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011.

Kraybill, J. Nelson. Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press,2010.

Peterson, Eugene H. Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. New York: Harper One, 1988.

Poythress, Vern S. The Returning King: A Guidebook to the Book of Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2000.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Anxiety and the Kingdom of God

Look at the birds of the air . . . Consider the lilies of the field ~ Jesus Christ

Aside from the fact we now have to mow our lawns more than once a week, most of us have welcomed the refreshment that comes with the warm weather of May. Hasn’t it been nice to be outside for a change? To spend the sunset hours on the back porch – to spend Sunday afternoon throwing and batting the ball around the yard – to go for a Saturday afternoon bike ride has been a welcome relief from being “cooped up” indoors!

Because there wasn’t much “indoors” to go around in the First-Century Middle East, Jesus spent most of his time outdoors. What he noticed outdoors was a resource that would help us deal with one thing that distracts us from the main thing. For Jesus, the main thing is described in Matthew 6.33.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Jesus “left the splendor of heaven” in order to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. God created the earth to be a place where peace and justice reign – a place where the will of God is done by everyone and everything – a place where God and humans would dwell together in unhindered unity. Obviously, the world as it is, is not the world that God desires. The Bible says sin is the reason for the disparity between the world God created and the world that is. The good news, however, is that God loves the world that is and will restore it back to the world that was. In fact, the Bible seems to indicate the restored world will be even better than the original. The plan of God to restore his world came to fulfillment and is coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into this world preaching the kingdom of God. Jesus desires us to seek that kingdom above all other pursuits. The main thing, according to Jesus, is seeking first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God.

One thing, according to Jesus, distracts us from the main thing. The one distracting thing is worry. When we are anxious, we stop seeking the kingdom of God. When I am anxious – when I am overwhelmed by worry, all my energy is transferred to the kingdom of David. I become enamored with my finances, my possessions and my reputation. When I am overwhelmed with concern, which is just a less threatening word than worry or anxiety, I lie awake at night wondering how I will pay for it all – how I will get it all done.

It is that this moment Jesus comes to us and says, “Calm down.” To which I scream, “How?” Jesus’ answer is simple. Go outside. That’s right. Jesus tells us, in our anxiety to go outside. Shut down your computer. Put away your phone and go to where the birds and the flowers can be found. And once we find some birds and flowers, Jesus says, “Watch.” Presently, I am reading a book on stress, entitled, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. Although the author is not a believer in Jesus, his premise about worry/stress/anxiety is similar to what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6.25-34. What Jesus wants us to notice about birds and lilies and what Robert Sapolsky wants us to notice about zebras is that they don’t worry. Furthermore, they seem to get along just fine without the thing to which many of us devote much energy, namely, worry.

So may each of us be encouraged to walk away from worry. May each of us be wise enough to walk away from the sources of anxiety in our lives. And it just might be the case, that to walk away from worry will involve taking a walk outside and considering the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. So now that you've read this, put your computer to sleep and go outside to watch these living things do quite well without worry.  

Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6.34, ESV). 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


This morning we read Hebrews 13.7-16, but I usually find myself reading the passages that precede and follow. Three times in Hebrews 13 the author mentions church leaders (Hebrews 13.7, 17 and 24). 

I was struck by this first appearance.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (Heb 13.7, NIV).

Here we are instructed to remember our leaders, to call them to mind and consider the nature of their lives. Who are these leaders? They are those who spoke the Word of God to us and whose way of life and faith is worthy of imitation. Are we speaking God’s Word to people? Are we listening to leaders who speak God’s Word? These are questions with which we are familiar. The relationships that are described here are simply relationships of speaking and listening and tend to stay relatively safe. The author of Hebrews, however, will not allow us only to relate to each other through speaking and hearing – preaching and sitting – teaching and learning. This leader/follower dynamic is one that assumes are lives will be open to each other. We will know about each other’s faith … our struggles … our lifestyles … our disciplines … our sins … our victories. He encourages us to welcome leaders into our lives, to not keep them at a distance and to know them so well that we recognize  the outcome of their lives, that is, the destination to which their lives are headed. This means we will know each other so well that we will know the results of the consistent or inconsistent choices that are made.

Are we speaking God’s Word to each other?

Are we investing in relationships where God’s Word is consistently spoken?

Are our lives open to each other in such a way that our unique life of faith is recognizable?

May the Spirit of God convince us to speak the Word of God to each other and to live lives of transparent faith that is worthy of imitation.          

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

GSI always precede BI

Understanding ourselves is one of the most important things about us. Many of our brothers and sisters in the faith understood well this biblical reality. Near A.D. 400, Augustine wrote these words.

How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self? Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.

In the Sixteenth Century, Teresa of Avila wrote, The Way of Perfection. In this classic document she wrote:

Almost all problems in the spiritual life stem from a lack of self-knowledge.

Furthermore, in 1530, John Calvin said this:

Our wisdom … consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

Most of us, however, spend our entire lives without seriously reflecting upon who we are and who we understand ourselves to be. If we are serious about ordering our lives in light of the truth we find within the Bible, this would be a tremendous mistake. The Apostle Paul devotes much space in his letters to telling the reader what to do. Before giving us an ethical imperative, however, Paul always tells us who we are and that identity is always rooted in what God has graciously done for us in Christ. In other words, what we do is inseparably connected to who we understand ourselves to be. For example, we were encouraged from Colossians 3 on January 27. This text contains numerous behavioral imperatives (BI) and if we are not careful we can land squarely on those commands and neglect what I like to call the “Grace Statements of Identity” (GSI). Here’s how this works. In Colossians 3.1, Paul commands us, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Before the command, however, Paul tells us what God has done for us, “you have been raised with Christ.” GSI always precedes BI. Verses 5-11 contain a litany of ethical imperatives – “Put to death . . . rid yourselves of … anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language …” All of the commands are rooted within the profound statement in verse 3. “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. GSI always precedes BI. If we fail to keep this truth in mind we will fall into Pharisaic Legalism in our attempt to obey the Bible. We cannot obey the commands of Scripture without first understanding what God has done for us in Christ, enabling us to obey. Therefore, when we disobey God’s commands it’s not a problem of discipline or will power. The answer is found in a greater understanding of who we have been made through the death and resurrection of Christ. What we do is inseparably connected to who we understand ourselves to be.         

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Are you a child of God?

What does it mean to be a child of God? What does a Son or Daughter of God do? What does one look like? Jesus Christ is the incarnate, eternal Son of God and defines for all time what the Sonship of God looks like on earth.  One of daily readings today was Hebrews 5.7-6.8, in which the author describes what Sonship of God looked like during the incarnation.

Divine Sonship offers prayers that are born out of pain.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5.7a, ESV), …

Satan want us to assume that being a child of God should mean life comes easy. He plays this trick on us because he believes the promise of Genesis 3.15 that the serpent’s head will be crushes when heels of God’s people are bruised (cf. Romans 16.20). When things are not going well we often believe Satan and question our status as God’s children. The pain of an approaching surgery and the long arduous recovery to follow – the breathless feeling that comes when your doctor uses “that word” to describe your condition – the lonely feeling of a burdensome life that goes on without a loved long after everyone seems to have forgotten your pain. Times like these cause us to wonder if God really is our Father. But when Jesus defines Sonship for us, we know that to be God’s Son does not mean to be spared from all suffering.

Divine Sonship gains strength from the one who can deliver us from death.

… to him who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5.7b, ESV), …

In the midst of his pain, Jesus was not left to his own resources. He turned to God in prayer with loud cries and tears. When life hurts we endure the temptation to take life into our own hands and not trust God. Jesus, however, reverently turned to God for strength, received it, and offered up his life in faithfulness as a faithful Son and High Priest. He laid his life in the hands of his Father and trusted in the promise and power of resurrection. As the faithful Son of God, Jesus trusted God, not to spare him from suffering, but to resurrect him, having suffered.

So in the midst of our suffering, when our minds are tortured by doubts that lead us to wonder about our status before God, let us look “unto Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.2).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reject Quarrels: 2 Timothy 2.20-26

On Monday, January 14th, we were encouraged to read and meditate upon 2 Timothy 2.20-26. This section from what was likely Paul’s last recorded letter exhorts young Timothy to be on guard against false teaching and to pursue a lifestyle that is characterized by righteousness. Especially within the context of the stern battle against false teachers, Paul’s words in verses 23-24 strike an unexpected note.

But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, (2 Timothy 2.23-24, HCSB).

In a world where there is much to be disputed, Paul says there are some arguments that we should flee. In fact, it seems that part of the “youthful passions” Timothy is instructed to avoid stem from an immature bent toward argument. Not every battle is worth fighting. What’s more, sometimes the righteous and mature thing to do is to avoid the dispute.

Furthermore, notice how Paul wants Timothy to think of his opponents.

… instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance to know the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2.25-26, HCSB).

First, Paul instructs Timothy to treat his opponents with gentleness. Why? The answer is found in remembering the source of their error. Timothy is to consider his opponents as victims who need to be freed from the trap of Satan. Moreover, Timothy is to understand his gentle instruction as something God desires to use to set them free and grant repentance.

These wise words from the Apostle Paul have encouraged me to ask myself two questions when it comes to “disputes” and dealing with “opponents.” First, is it worth it? In other words, what is truly at stake in this dispute and is that thing worth the dispute? Second, does my attitude toward this person need adjustment? We can often be tempted to de-humanize those we disagree with and start to feel justified in our anger, hatred and lack of gentleness. Often these questions and the time it takes to consider them will transform the nature of the “dispute” and lead to Christ-like reconciliation. Other times these questions might lead us to literally obey Paul’s commands in verses 22-23

Flee from youthful passions . . . reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

“Saved from our Tongues” - Hearing the Word: James 1.19-27

Have you been saved … Is he saved … When was she saved? These are questions we often ask and hear being asked in our circles. Individuals who don’t navigate the world of Protestant Evangelicalism, would likely ask, “Saved from what?” When the Bible uses the word, “saved,” it doesn’t always mean what we mean. Jesus’ brother, James uses the word in our reading from January 3, James 1.19-27.

Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil excess, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you (James 1.21, HCSB).

In church contexts, we often use the word, saved, to refer to a one time event when, having believed the gospel, God forgives our sins because they were atoned for when Jesus died on the cross. James, on the other hand, uses the word with a bit more specificity. According to Jesus’ brother, we continually need to be saved from our tongues. In verse 19, we need to be saved from “tongue overuse.”

Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1.19b, HCSB).

There is a sinful bent within each of us away from listening. And the opposite of listening, according to Jesus’ brother, is speaking. There is a distinctive Jewish flavor to all that James writes. As a faithful Jewish follower of Jesus, James repeated throughout the day what is known as The Great Shema (see Deut 6.4-9). And the first command in this Jewish mantra is LISTEN!! The rhythm of our day needs to be established by obedience to this command. Noise prevents us from listening. Furthermore, the biggest obstacle to listening is the noise that we ourselves create.

The Word of God is able make us into a people who listen. Be encouraged to find a still quiet place to read and ponder and meditate over and marinate in the Scriptures. Having done so, pause and engage in the discipline that Richard Foster calls “Holy Listening.” Our lifestyles make this difficult. It will require some intentionality, but it will be worth it! The Word is mighty to save. My prayer is that we would believe in the saving power of the Listened-to-Word. 

So may the Spirit of God use the Word of God to make us into a listening people, who were saved, are being saved and will be saved from our tongues.

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies; it pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell (James 3.6 HCSB).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hearing the Word of God: James 1.1-18

Last year we did our best as a Church Family to read through the entire Bible. This year we thought it would be wise to reduce the pace a bit, in order to facilitate a more calm and slow approach to our Bible reading. So each day of the week we will be encouraged to not only read, but also to meditate upon two passages from God’s Word. Paul teaches in Romans 10.17 that faith comes from what we hear. My prayer is that this slower, more contemplative approach to our daily Bible reading will enable us to more intentionally hear from God and thereby have our faith strengthened collectively and as individuals. 

On January 2, one the passages we were encouraged to read was James 1.1-18. As I meditated on James’ introduction to his letter to the people of God who had been scattered by persecution, a few themes began to emerge and I would like to share one with you. 

Neglecting Prayer is a Theological Problem

Notice verse 5. “Now if any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (HCSB). “Wisdom” in this context does not refer to knowledge or understanding, but rather an ability to live life with endurance in spite of difficult circumstances (cf. verses 2-4). So when we are faced with various trials, James teaches that trials should turn us to our knees to ask God for the wisdom to live winsomely within difficult times. Furthermore, James cannot encourage us to pray, without also reminding us of the generous and uncritical goodness of God. Faith motivates prayer. To be provoked to pray, we must know that our Father is good and desires to hear and answer the prayers of his children. In other words, prayer is the evidence that I am coming to believe with certainty that Jesus reveals to us a God who is a kind and loving Father who listens to the requests of his children. Additionally, when I neglect to pray I am revealing what I really believe – that God is not eager to hear my prayers. Are you eager to pray? Why do so few of us make it a priority to gather for prayer on Wednesdays at 6pm? Often times the busyness of the week, the cold temperatures outside or the kids’ homework become obstacles to making corporate prayer a priority. According to Jesus, small groups of praying Christians affect change within the world.

I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them (Matt 18.18-20, HCSB).

May our growing understanding of God’s undivided goodness encourage each of us to be devoted to prayer.