Revisiting Revelation

I’m in the middle of a class on the book of Revelation at Brentwood Baptist Church. Actually, I started in the middle of the class after another one I was in ended.

This book is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of imagery. Some of it’s pretty, but some of it is unsettling and disturbing.

There’s also quite a bit of disagreement on what it all means. I’ve come to decide that there are people on all sides that are strong believers with solid theology who have come to different conclusions about this book.

There are a few things that most everybody agrees with when it comes to Revelation:

  1. The hardest part of the story is never the last part. There may be a lot of darkness but there are also much brighter days ahead when Jesus truly comes back for his Bride the Church.
  2. The good guys really do win. That is, Jesus wins. Good overcomes evil and justice prevails over injustice. There’s not a wrong that won’t be made right when Jesus comes in sight.
  3. Worship is still the best witness. I don’t mean just singing hymns or worship choruses. I mean a daily life of sacrifice and surrender, of renewal and transformation. I mean a life that declares the worth and glory of God 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  4. The end of the story is really only the real beginning. I still love how C. S. Lewis puts it inThe Last Battle where he says that all of history was just the title page and preface while eternity is where the real story begins– a story that gets better and better with each new chapter.

Having said all that, I confess that this particular class still makes my head hurt. I really can’t keep up with all the dragons and beasts and bowls and trumpets and all that other imagery.

It helps to keep in mind that John wrote this book to believers undergoing incredible persecution and torture for their faith. The purpose was (and still is) to show that no matter how bad and hard life gets, God will always have the last word.

 

Dem Golden Streets

The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate expertly crafted from a single beautiful pearl. And the city street was pure gold, yet it was as transparent as glass.

And in the city, I found no temple because the Lord God, the All Powerful, and the Lamb are the temple. And in the city, there is no need for the sun to light the day or moon the night because the resplendent glory of the Lord provides the city with warm, beautiful light and the Lamb illumines every corner of the new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:21-23).

Today as I was driving home from work, I was almost blinded by the setting sun blazing directly in my eyes.

I also noticed how the way the sunlight reflected off the pavement made the road looked golden. It was almost as if I-440 West was paved with gold.

It got me thinking about the place in the Book of Revelation where John describes the streets of heaven as being paved with gold.

This is just me thinking out loud, but what if those streets appear golden because they are reflecting the glory of God. After all, the same book mentions that there will be no need for sun or moon because God and His glory will be the only light there.

I never thought the afternoon commute would ever turn so theological. Nashville traffic inspires lots of thoughts and ideas, but most of them are very non-Baptist. So it was a nice change of pace to be sitting in rush-hour madness thinking of heavenly streets of gold in a new way.

So take that for however you want. It’s just a thought I had.

 

In the Beginning

“When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; no single thing was created without him. All that came to be was alive with his life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered it” (John 1:1-5).

To me, John 1 has to be among the greatest literary masterpieces of all time. I may be a bit biased, but I do think that the way John opens his gospel is perfect. Matthew and Mark start with the birth narrative, but John goes back further than that. Much further.

We see Jesus as the Word with God from the beginning. Jesus, the Word, was (and is) God.

Sometimes, you need a different translation to see a verse or a group of verses in a new light. Reading the same verses in the same translations can be like singing the same old hymns in the same old style for years and years. Eventually, you fall into rote memory and stop paying attention to the words.

That’s one of the reasons I chose the New English Bible as my translation of choice to read through the Bible for 2015. It’s different enough so that the words seem fresh again.

It’s not a perfect rendering, but that’s not the point. The point is to keep letting the Word of God speak to me and (hopefully) to never let it get stale for me.

The best way to keep the Bible from getting stale is to do what it says. Don’t just read it and praise it for being clever and witty, but actually put it into practice. That’s something that’s easy to tell someone else to do, but much harder to do yourself. I should know.

As of this time, my plan is to read the Holman Christian Standard Bible (otherwise known as the Hard Core Southern Baptist Bible) in 2016 and the New Jerusalem Bible in 2017. Of course, these plans are always subject to change.

 

 

An Essay I Wrote

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I may or may not have mentioned that I’m currently involved in an intensive discipleship training class at my church. Part of the class involved writing an essay.

I chose to write on the unique contributions that each of the four Gospels make to our overall understanding of Jesus and Christianity. It almost felt like a part of my brain got turned on that hadn’t seen much action since my seminary days of yore. Here is the result (with the reminder that it is an essay and reads like one):

“Each gospel has made its own unique contributions to the overall biblical canon and to our understanding of who Jesus is and what His purpose and mission were while He was here on earth. Although each of these is technically anonymous, there are enough clues and evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical, to safely say that these were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Matthew writes primarily for a Hebrew audience, emphasizing how Jesus is truly the prophesied Messiah. He brings in the genealogy of Jesus and parallels him to Moses on several occasions. Matthew brings out Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God and how it is both now and not yet. Many see Matthew as represented by a man, because he emphasized the humanity of Jesus.

Mark, the first of the Gospels to be written, focuses on Jesus as the Son of God, the true Messiah sent from God into the world. His Gospel is fast-paced, accentuated by his frequent use of the word “immediately.” He is represented by a lion, because he brought out the kingly nature of Jesus.

Luke writes to Theophilus, but likely his intended audience is both Jews and Gentiles. He gives a convincing defense of Jesus and the gospel for both evangelistic and discipling purposes. He is represented by an ox, the lowliest of animals, for his attention to the lowly and outcasts, such as the shepherds, and the Gentiles. His theme is the universality of salvation, how it’s not only for a specific race or region, but for all peoples everywhere.

All three of these Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because they share many similarities, such as miracles, parables, and teachings. Matthew and Luke probably borrow from Mark, who in turn uses a source of collected sayings and teachings, commonly referred to as “Q”, to build his own writings upon.

John writes to a primarily Gentile audience in Ephesus and is by far the most intentionally evangelical of the Gospels. He writes that His purpose is to show that Jesus is indeed the Christ that those who read may believe and have eternal life in His name. He is often represented by an eagle for his high Christology and his lyrical and poetic imagery, as well as his epic style of writing, as evidenced by the opening 18 verses of chapter one.

Each Gospel reflects the personality and background of the writers and brings out different aspects to the character, life, and teachings of Christ. Some emphasize his teachings, while others focus on His ministry. Yet all four together present a compelling portrait of Jesus as both God and man, Savior and Lord.”

What I want (what we should all want)

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were¬†astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

I don’t want people to know me for being smart or funny or clever or nice or gentle. I want people to see me and be astonished and say “That man has been with Jesus.” I hope that is your prayer, too. That outsiders will look at us and recognize Jesus in us, and see that we, like Moses, are radiant from having been face-to-face with the King of the Universe. Because when we have been with Jesus, we are never the same. We can never again settle. We are “ruined for the ordinary.”

Which brings up a convicting point for me. I NEED TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH JESUS. If I only give Him 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there, I doubt that people will know that I have been with Him. It’s got to be more. If I am to love with the love of Jesus and be His hands and feet to the world, I have to know His heart much more fully than I do now.

Here’s a question that nailed me today. If your witness for Christ was limited to your facebook posts and replies and comments, what kind of testimony would that be? Would it be the kind that would make people want to know Jesus more or would it drive people away? Would people think that we were different or would they think we are just like them and therefore they have no use for what we have to say about our faith.

If we have been with Jesus, our words will match our walk and what comes out of our lips (and from our keyboards) will match our lifestyle.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.

No more apologies

After talking with a couple of friends, I decided to write this blog. Not right away. I had to let the ideas simmer in my brain. Sort of like lobster. Except for without all the screaming.

God willing, I will never again apologize for being who God made me. I will never apologize for being a work in progress, a masterpiece in the making (to paraphrase Ephesians 2:10). I will never apologize for the fact that I am not perfect.

No, I am not like everybody else. I am not like anybody else. I am me. You are you. And God is God. Keep that straight and you will be fine.

I have been influenced in positive ways recently by some friends of mine. God uses people like that to make his masterpiece, like extra colors on the palette.

So here’s my thank you part of the blog. Thank you, Jerrod, Ana Liza, Stephen, Christina, Tim, John, Aaron, Michael, Luc, Paige, Brad, Julie, Richard, Hector, Mom, and many many others who have inspired me and made me a better person.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.