Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #6 (Chapters 19-22)

IRevelation Wright conclude the read-through of the Revelation in my 2017-18 devotional read through of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Chapters 19-22 conclude the book of Revelation with the judgment and removal of the “Babylon” system that has opposed God and hurt his people throughout history and the re-creation and joining of the new heavens and earth, ruled and blessed by the eternal presence of Jesus Christ. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 19 describes two banquets. One, is the marriage supper of the lamb in which Jesus, the groom, returns to claim his bride, the church (interestingly believers are both the bride and the guests in this metaphor) and celebrate the joining of God to his people and the coming union of heaven and earth. The second feast is enjoyed by "the birds" who feast on the aftermath of the judgment of these evil nations. Jesus judges and completes the victory won through his own blood poured out on the cross and by the power of his word.

The glossy, glitzy world of Babylon has been overthrown; God’s people emerge, with shining, pure linen to wear as God’s own gift. The marriage of the lamb and his bride is to be the focal point of the marriage of heaven and earth themselves, and Babylon, the symbolic equivalent of the ancient Babel which thought to climb up to heaven by its own energy, is shown up as a futile parody of the real thing, a human attempt to get, by sheer greed, what God proposed to give by sheer grace. 168, Revelation 19.1-10

This is how the King of kings and Lord of lords comes before the world. The ultimate justice which drives his victorious battle (verse 11) is the justice of God’s love, which will not work with anything other than the Word (verses 13, 15), and will not be dressed in anything other than purity and holiness (note the ‘shining, pure linen’ of verse 14, matching the bride’s dress in verse 8). Love will win the day, because in the person of Jesus it has trampled the grapes of wrath once and for all (verse 15). 174, Revelation 19.11-21

Chapter 20 begins the discussion of the reign of Christ on earth. The great controversy here is the nature of the "millennium." Is it a literal 1000 years or figurative? It seems to me that the round number must be symbolic, but it does appear that there is some kind of interim period of Jesus' rule before eternity begins. As with most prophecy, it will not be completely understood until it is fulfilled. Satan, who originally functioned in God's heavenly counsel as the "prosecutor," though bound, will get one last chance to accuse human beings which will bring evil to its final end. The nations will gather for battle but will be defeated by the word of Christ and will "burn" probably in the same fire that consumed Babylon. Christ then judges the world based on their works and they are removed from his presence, along with death and the place of the dead. (This chapter places them in the lake of fire, 22 places them "outside the city.")

At this point above all – above all the rest of the New Testament, in my experience – it doesn’t do to be too dogmatic. We must hold on to the central things which John has made crystal clear: the victory of the lamb, and the call to share his victory through faith and patience. God will then do what God will then do. 181, Revelation 20.1-6

When God chooses, he also redeems; when God chooses and redeems, he also works in people’s lives; and the miracle of the divine–human relationship, from the very beginning, has always been that human thought, will and action is somehow enhanced, rather than being cancelled out, by the divine initiative and power. 185, Revelation 20.7-15

Chapter 21 introduces the new heaven and new earth. God completes what was foreshadowed with the tabernacle in the wilderness and what was planned for the garden of Eden. The entire earth will become the temple of God (This was to be the goal of Adam and Eve "subduing" the earth) and the holy city would be the "holy of holies." The New Jerusalem is pictured as a city, a garden, a temple, a bride, and a group of people in this chapter. God will dwell incarnationally with his people, with sin and all its effects banished. Humans, according to God's plan, will rule with Christ with all needs met through intimate relationship with God. Earth and heaven have been renewed, cleansed and are completely united. The entire earth will be blessed and offer worship to God.

What God did in Jesus, coming to an unknowing world and an unwelcoming people, he is doing on a cosmic scale. He is coming to live, for ever, in our midst, a healing, comforting, celebrating presence. And the idea of ‘incarnation’, so long a key topic in our thinking about Jesus, is revealed as the key topic in our thinking about God’s future for the world. Heaven and earth were joined together in Jesus; heaven and earth will one day be joined fully and for ever. 188, Revelation 21.1-5

John is constructing a symbolic universe, not an architect’s design. The city will be an enormous, perfect cube . . . because that is the shape of the holy of holies at the heart of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6.20). The whole city has become God’s dwelling place, God’s temple. Or, more exactly, the very centre of God’s temple, the holy of holies, the place where God dwells for ever. 194, Revelation 21.6-21

The new Jerusalem, in John’s vision, is not the whole of the new creation. It is the centrepiece and glory of it, the fountain from which there flows freely all that the world could need. It is the holy of holies, but actually the whole earth is to be full of God’s glory, is to be the ultimate temple. 200, Revelation 21.22-22.7

The book closes with an exhortation to be ready for the return of Christ. John states that he was an eyewitness of these visions so we can be sure that the events prophesied will happen and the blessing in keeping the word of this prophecy is sure. The book then ends with a warning and blessing. The warning is that Jesus is coming soon for each one of us so we need to be ready. The blessing is that believers will be in presence of Jesus enjoying him for all eternity. The Spirit invites all to come to Christ and enjoy this relationship now and throughout eternity.

John’s readers may find it hard to see in their neighbours on the street anything but cold, hostile stares and the threat of informing the authorities. They may be so aware of the present rule of the dragon, the monster and the false prophet that all they want is to escape, to be rescued, not to hold out to their neighbours God’s repeated and generous invitation. But see they must, because the mercy of God is vast and his invitation wide as the world. 206, Revelation 22.8-21

Monday, September 24, 2018

Devotional: Jesus’ Kingdom Authority, Mark 4:35-5:43

Mark 4.34 - 5,43 outline

In the first four chapters of Mark, Jesus (and Mark) are making some pretty radical claims; that Jesus is YHWH, the Son of God and has come to bring in the prophesied new age of the kingdom of God. Jesus has come to open up a new way of access to God and provide the blessings of this new age to the whole world. It’s a huge claim and Mark does not expect the reader to accept it without evidence of its truth. This next section (4:35-5:43) provides this evidence and deepens the revelation of Jesus’ identity through three spectacular miracles and and Jesus’ teaching that accompanies each one. It is important to pay close attention to what Jesus says as to what he does in these miracle stories.

In the first miracle, the calming of the sea (35-41), Jesus shows that, as the Creator, he has authority over the sea, seen in the ancient world as the most untamed and dangerous part of creation. Jesus engineers this object lesson from the beginning with his command to cross the sea. The storm represents the powerful forces of chaos that only a god could deal with. There is no hint whatsoever that there is any doubt about what will be the outcome of this battle.Jesus sleepily dispels the forces of chaos with a commanding word. Just as YHWH ordered the watery chaos  at creation, Jesus brings order and calm to the troubled sea and asks the disciples “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). When we realize who Jesus is and what he has promised us there is no reason to be afraid of anything. The person who fears God need not fear anything else.

When they reach the other side of the lake they are in Gentile territory. Jesus now goes into the enemy’s home turf and “plunders the strong man” (3:27) of his possessions; a man oppressed and bound by demonic power. Not only is Jesus not in his home area, he takes on a “legion” of demons. It is an “away game” and Jesus is badly outnumbered. Nevertheless he takes on the enemy with just a word. The legion of demons recognize Jesus’ authority to do what he wants with them and the inevitability of his victory. He sends the demons into a heard of pigs which then stampede off a cliff into the lake and drown themselves; a graphic picture of what the enemy wants for humanity (Remember that the next time temptation looks attractive!) Jesus then commissions this man as an apostle (he sends him) to announce the gospel (ἀπάγγειλον, apangellion) and the mercy (covenant blessings) to his Gentile countrymen. Jesus is already extending the covenant to “bless all the families of the earth.”

Finally, the section moves the story back into Jewish territory and concludes with a double miracle in which Jesus heals a woman with a bleeding issue and raises a young girl from the dead. In both of these miracles it is the “touch” of Jesus that is emphasized. The woman who touches Jesus is healed and Jesus takes the little girl by the hand before commanding her to rise. With both, Jesus breaks down the barriers that would have separated these women from God. A new situation has dawned in which sickness, sin, and not even death, can separate people from God. The gap has been permanently closed. God touches sinful people and overcomes death. Just as sin had infected the whole human race, Jesus’ resurrection is now communicated to all and is able to “save” (5:34) all.

The question the disciples asked, “Who is this (4.41)” is answered. This is the creator who controls the chaos and you can trust him to bring peace to your chaos. This is the one who has decisively defeated all the forces of evil in the world and in our lives and calls us to announce this good news to those around us. This is the one whose touch reverses the results of sin, heals them and brings us into the presence of God. Trust and follow him.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #5 (Chapters 15-18)

Revelation WrightI am continuing the read-through of the Revelation in my 2017-18 devotional read through of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Chapters 15-16 describe the bowl judgments and the destruction of “Babylon.” With these God puts an end to violence and oppression and judges the people and empires that profit from the enslavement and abuse of others. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

The bowl judgments are introduced in chapter 15. This will be the completion of judgment, because God's wrath will have accomplished its goal, the removal of all evil. The picture is one of celebration and worship in the throne room of God. The martyrs sing a song of victory as they are vindicated, through Jesus, as their blood will be the means of victory. This is a song of worship for God's righteous judgment and faithfulness to His promise to unite all nations in worship of God and defeat the evil powers of the earth (Exodus 15) and the evil spiritual rulers of the nations (Deuteronomy 32). These judgments are poured out in chapter 16. In the first four bowl judgments all creation fights back against those who have rejected God's purpose for humanity. In bowls 5 and 6 evil reaches its peak and destroys itself as the accumulated effect of sin is fully realized and all the world goes to war against itself. With the 7th bowl judgment is complete. Unrepentant evil, its systems, and all those who hang onto it are removed and God's judgment is finished. 

This is a solemn moment. The new song is exuberant, and heartfelt. Deliverance has occurred. But now we are homing in on the greatest showdown of them all. We left the dragon and the two monsters behind, two chapters ago. They have drawn many into their destructive ways. It is time, now, for the destroyers to be destroyed. This is the purpose of the seven last plagues, and of the cataclysmic judgments which follow them. 140, Revelation 15

The ‘wrath’ of the creator God consists of two things, principally. First, he allows human wickedness to work itself out, to reap its own destruction. Second, he steps in more directly to stop it, to call ‘time’ on it, when it’s got out of hand. If we knew our business, we would thank God for both of these, even though both can appear harsh. 142, Revelation 16.1-9

John is saying. I’m talking about the serious danger of deceitful spirits let loose into the world. Many of you have a poor track record at recognizing deceit when it stares you in the face...That would be the wrong mistake to make. These final three plagues, which complete the sequence of the seven bowls, are terrible indeed, and part of their terror is the sense of how easy it is to give allegiance to the systems that are here under judgment. 145-146, Revelation 16.10-21

Chapters 17-18 describe God's judgment of the world systems that began at the tower of Babel and refuse to submit to God. These "great empires" conquer by violence, oppress and enslave people, and entice them into idolatry and degradation. They create religious systems which abet and support the ruling powers and keep people enslaved. God will allow their evil to accumulate, and in one great climactic "beast empire," destroy themselves with their own violence. Those who have profited from the violence and oppression will mourn the destruction of this great economic power, but God's people will rejoice in God's righteous judgment of their persecutor. God is about to complete his judgment and that is good news for his people and for the entire cosmos.

This terrifying, multi-layered denunciation of the outwardly delightful and inwardly deceitful city ought to give pause for serious thought to all those of us who live within today’s glossy Western culture – and all others who look on and see our glitzy world from afar. Where are we in this picture? 153, Revelation 17.1-8

The brutal but seductive ‘civilizations’ and national empires, which ensnare the world by promising luxury and delivering slavery, gain their power from the monster, the System of Imperial Power...John’s readers already know that this system itself gains its power from the dragon, the accuser, the satan. Those who are caught up in the resultant battles need not feel that they are merely part of a dangerous confusion, of ignorant armies clashing by night. They are part of the lamb’s victorious army, who will conquer the monster in the usual way, by his blood and by the word of their faithful testimony. 157, Revelation 17.9-18

The angel who shouts out that Babylon has fallen (echoing Isaiah 21.9 and Jeremiah 51.8) is bringing the news that human arrogance and oppression, and the wanton luxury and vice to which they lead, will not have the last word. God will have the last word, and creation itself will hear this word as a word of freedom, a sigh of relief, a flood of glorious light (verse 1) let in upon a darkened dungeon. 159, Revelation 18.1-8

Babylon is a city founded on violence, not only the blood of the martyrs. Babylon has been at the centre of a network of violence that spanned the world, and all who have been slaughtered on earth have, in a sense, been slaughtered at the behest of Babylon. The merchants have grown rich on the back of military conquest. Money and power have done their collective worst, and John lumps them together, as we have seen, under the metaphor of fornication. Babylon the whore is gone, and will not return. 166, Revelation 18.9-24

Friday, September 21, 2018

Devotional: God’s Amazing Kingdom, Mark 4.26-34

Mark 4.1-34 outline

Mark concludes this teaching section with two parables about the nature of God’s kingdom in verses 26-34. The big point is that the kingdom will start small, just a few a people, and become very large and benefit many. This growth will not happen because of the efforts of people, but will be accomplished mysteriously by God and enjoyed by many people. Though the disciples and the subsequent generations that follow them in taking Jesus’ message to the world will be the “workers in the field,” the worldwide “harvest” that fulfills the promise to Abraham that “all the families of the earth will be blessed through you,” will be accomplished by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The first parable (26-29) is about a farmer who plants the seeds and reaps the harvest but does not really do the main work of germinating and growing the plant and its fruit. The Creator has endowed the soil (see previous parable of the soils) and the seed with potential life and laid out and energized its process of growth. The farmer’s responsibility is to announce the gospel message (Jesus is King along with what he has done to liberate and lead his people) and then reap the harvest (continue to train those who hear as Jesus trained his disciples). The work of changing lives was already done (by the time Mark writes) by the resurrected, ascended Jesus at the cross and by his advocacy at the right hand of the Father, and is done in the heart of the people who hear by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the pressure is off the one who announces the gospel. God is the one  who has done and does the real work.

The second parable (30-32) teaches that the inevitable result of announcing the kingdom will be a huge movement that provides “shade” (comfort, protection, provision etc.) for all the varieties of “birds” indiscriminately (Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female etc.). This is a tremendous promise because it means that every small action and every word spoken to announce who Jesus is and what he he has done and that serves his people, has huge cosmic significance and contributes to God’s grand plan to restore the creation and its people. As God’s people, we participate (by his grace) in the most important operation of all time.

Finally, this is all done little by little through relationships. Jesus spoke these words to the disciples “as they were able to hear it.” (Mark 4:33 ESV) Jesus worked with them as they grew to be his witnesses, This is our calling and makes every relationship, every prayer, every deed done and every word spoken significant.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Devotional: Hearing Jesus, Mark 4.1-25

Mark 4.1-25 outline

Jesus’ two parables, The Soils/Sower and The Lampstand, illustrate the kind of response that Jesus expects to his teaching and Kingdom gospel. The Soils parable teaches that Jesus expects a wholehearted response, “hear,” “accept,” and “bear fruit,” (Mark 4.20 ESV) in which the hearer meditates on what is said and the implications of the teaching for one’s daily life, believes it and commits to following it and then acts according to it. Jesus promises that this kind of response will accomplish the goals of the kingdom (“bear fruit”) in the believer’s life (conformity to Christ) and for the world (its restoration). The lampstand parable illustrates the need for open, committed response to his kingdom message so that all the world can see. The Spirit of God takes the word of God (see John 14-16, the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5) and progressively produces the likeness of God/Christ in the believer, whose witness becomes God’s means to transform the world.

The poor soils and the lampstand under the bed represent bad hearing of the kingdom gospel. Those who hear without commitment (along the path), or accept the word only for self-benefit (rocky soil) or just incorporate the word as one option to add the other commitments in their lives (thorny soil), or accept it privately without being willing to openly apply it before the world (lamp under the bed) will not accomplish the goals of the kingdom. This is a little scary because all of us have sometimes listened to the word in these ways. If salvation were dependent on how well we hear we’d all be in trouble. The good news is that Jesus’ faithfulness to his message has been applied to us and plows, fertilizes, and prepares us to become the good soil. We receive this by faith as we come to Christ and then each day as we “hear” we become more and more like the good, fruitful soil. The more we listen to Jesus the better we get at really “hearing him.” (verses 24-25)

So the next time you hear a sermon, study the Bible, or participate in Christian fellowship take the time to really hear." Meditate on the word and its implications for your life so that when you see and hear you will really understand. Take time to listen to the Spirit so that he can “make manifest the hidden” and bring your “secret things to the light.” (v. 22). Then, don’t ever walk away from the Word without committing to apply it to something specific in your life. Hearing the word without application makes one insensitive to it, while hearing the word with conscious commitment and application produces that intimate connection that brings the hearer into the ongoing conversation within the Trinity (Romans 8.26-27). Do you have “ears to hear?” Use them!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Devotional: Jesus’ New Family, Mark 3.13-35

Mark 3.13-35 Outline

Mark 3:13-35 frames a section (22-30) about the source of Jesus’ kingdom and authority within two sections contrasting Jesus’ new kingdom family (13-21) with his biological family (31-35). Jesus was not only creating a new and fulfilled way of worshipping God , but he was also creating a new community to do it. This new community was more than just a group of students and adherents, they were bound together as a new family with a common Father (God) and spiritual ties that were deeper than blood ties and obligations. Jesus names 12 to be his delegated leaders and the nucleus of this new family. First, he renames them to show their new allegiance and connection to him. Then he calls them “apostles” (“sent out ones”) with authority, derived from Jesus, to announce the kingdom gospel and do the same kingdom actions that he was doing. Jesus then widens the extent of this family to all Mark’s readers (v. 35) who hear Jesus’ words and respond by “doing the will of God;” that is they become followers of Jesus. Thus, Jesus’ followers are joined at a deeper level than that of biological ties or blood relations. They are joined as a family at the deepest level, the spiritual level. Followers of Jesus are joined because God is their Father, Jesus is their brother, and believers are now brothers and sisters. Now, in this new age, this family relation with all other believers supersedes all other relationships and all other allegiances.

Of course this brought opposition from Jesus’ biological family and from the religious leaders of his day. When anyone says, I am God and I am creating a new “forever family of God” here on earth,” it is an understandable reaction to say, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21 ESV).  That is, unless the one who is saying it has been healing diseases, raising the dead, and defeating the forces of darkness with just his authoritative word. The religious leaders recognized the supernatural power behind Jesus; words and actions, but they attributed it to the powers of evil and darkness. Jesus countered their point with the logical argument that Satan, and the principalities and powers aligned with him, do not fight against their own kingdom. If Satan, the “strong man,” and his kingdom are being defeated this is a sure sign that God and his kingdom are doing it. The religious leaders were failing to see reality as their own scriptures described it, as Jesus’s words described it, and as his actions proved it. To fail to see things as Jesus describes and demonstrates them is to separate oneself from God  and commit a sin with eternal ramifications, unless one repents. The Jewish leaders and Jesus’ own biological family, in their failure to believe him, were separating themselves from God and his blessings despite his presence right there with them.

This brings up two applicational questions. Do we see the way things are according to Jesus’ view (and his view sees the whole picture) or according to our own view of reality? Faith, and its growth is directly related to knowing, through his Spirit, Jesus, and his calling for our lives and becoming more like him. Second, do we place our allegiance to Jesus and his family as the priority and order all of our other allegiances around this primary relationship? This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #4 (Chapters 10-14)

Letters WrightI am continuing the read-through of the Revelation in my 2017-18 devotional read through of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Chapters 10-14 complete the trumpet judgments and, in the presentation of 7 signs, give the reader an overview of the battle between good and evil, decisively won at the 1st coming of Jesus and which will be completed at his 2nd coming. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

In chapter 10 John is given the task of announcing the final judgment as he "eats the little book." The final judgment of God, announced by the strong angel, is about to commence and John is brought into the council of God to announce it to the world. The word of God is sweet to believers but bitter judgment to unbelievers. John's message is a mixture of bitterness with joy and comfort. Chapter 11 introduces two witnesses. Wright sees this as the historic martyr witness of the church which produces the repentance described at the end of the chapter. I think this is true, but the final persecution will bring a heightened fulfillment of this vision. Finally, the 7th trumpet announces the end of the present age and final judgment. God has begun to reign and the prophets, saints and worshippers are about to be rewarded. John sees the heavenly temple opened and the ark of the covenant symbolizing the presence of God with His people.

Eating the scroll’ is a vivid metaphor for the way in which the prophet, then or indeed today, can only speak God’s word insofar as it has become part of the prophet’s own life. It may be nourishing; it may be bitter; it may be both. This is part of what it means to say that God desires to act in the world through obedient human beings. 94-95, Revelation 10

The martyr-witness of the church, in other words, will succeed where the plagues have failed. This is how the nations will come to glorify their creator. This is how ‘the kingdom of the world’ will become the kingdom of ‘our Lord and his Messiah’ – which is precisely the point that follows immediately in verse 15. 100, Revelation 11.1-14

The Messiah, God’s son-king, will overthrow the nations as they rage and fight. Their best course, says the Psalmist, is to submit, to sue for peace. In John’s vision, here in this chapter, it has already happened. Notice the difference between verse 17 and passages like 1.4. There John spoke of God as the one ‘Who Was, and Is, and Is To Come’. Here he simply describes God as ‘Who Is and Who Was’, because the future has now arrived in the present. The ‘is to come’ has become reality. 105, Revelation 11.15-19

In 12-14 John goes back over the decisive battle between good and evil which begins its conclusion with the incarnation of Christ and comes to its final consummation when Christ returns to fully remove evil and all its effects and sets the world right. The first sign is the "woman" who probably represents the people of God from the Eve prophecy (Gen. 3.15), the nation of Israel from whom the Messiah comes, to Mary the mother of Jesus. The second sign, the dragon, represents Satan and his control over the world system which has always opposed God's kingdom and plan. The child represents Jesus Christ, his life, death, resurrection and ascension which defeat all the forces of evil. The war in heaven represents the fight that Satan makes through temptation and persecution of the church throughout the present age, and which will intensify in the end. The Beast from the sea probably represents Satan-inspired governments that persecute the church throughout the church age; Rome in John's time and the final attempt of Satan to rule at the end. The beast from the sea represents these evil governments attempt to replace God with, again, a final Satanic empowerment resulting in the beast and Satan being worshipped in the place of God, with messiah-like universal dominion and temporary authority to persecute believers. Believers throughout the age are called to persevere through this persecution and win this victory, as Christ did, through their suffering and death.

The decisive battle has been won, and the devil knows it; but his basic nature of ‘accuser’ is now driving him, more and more frantically, to the attack, to accuse where it’s justified and where it isn’t, to drag down, to slander, to vilify, to deny the truth of what the creator God and his son, the lamb, have accomplished and are accomplishing. This is the ongoing battle in which all Christians are engaged, whether they know it or not. 113, Revelation 12

It is through the faithful witness unto death that the lamb wins the victory, that God’s kingdom replaces the kingdom of the monster, that the dragon himself is to lose the last remains of his power.  118, Revelation 13.1-10

The parody, though, which was gaining ground all the time in western Turkey through the first century, was that the Roman empire, gaining its ultimate authority from the satanic dragon, was putting itself about as the world ruler. That was the first monster. And the second, like it but subordinate, seems to be the local elites, in city after city and province after province, who do their best not only to copy the monster at a local level but insist, in order to keep the monster’s favour, that everybody in their domain should worship the monster. 120, Revelation 13.11-18

This battle will be won by these "martyrs" who receive the "mark of God" in their person rather than the "mark" that identifies people with the "beasts." These "144,000 elite warriors for God" counter the power of the beast with their faith and their willingness to bravely stand up for God's truth to the point of death, in the face of the lie that humans can live independently of God. Verses 6-20 announce the judgment on the systems of the world (typified by the "monster" Babylon/Rome) that teach that humans can thrive apart from God and "prosper" on the backs of the people they oppress and God's people who they persecute. The judgment of the oppressor is pictured as a "harvest," a time of celebration in the ancient world, because evil, oppression and all that comes with it will be finally removed forever from the earth.

For John, one of the major features of the dragon’s whole system is the lie: he creates a world of untruth, a fake world, a sham system from top to bottom... Truth and lies may sometimes be hard to tell apart, but this is where we stand at the watershed. God’s victory is about the real world, the whole creation. The closer we are to God and to his lamb, the more we see everything clearly and should speak everything truthfully. 126, Revelation 14.1-5

This is ‘the gospel’, the ‘good news’, for those who live under ‘Babylonian’, monstrous, rule. First, God the creator is at last going to sort everything out (verse 7). Second, Babylon is fallen, after all her efforts to make the nations drunk with her own immoral wine (verse 8). Third, God’s judgment will be just, thorough and complete (verses 9-11). All this is, in this sense, ‘good news’ for those who have lived in a world of horror, torture and squalor. God is going to sort it all out! 130-131, Revelation 14.6-13

God’s time will come; God will bring his people safely home; God will take even the wickedness and rebellion of the world and make it turn to his praise and to the salvation of his people. And in the meantime his people are to be encouraged in their suffering. Martyrdom itself will be part of God’s purpose to bring his wise, healing order – which includes his relentless judgment on relentless sinners – to bear upon the world. 135, Revelation 14.14-20

Friday, September 14, 2018

Devotional: “Lord of the Sabbath,” Mark 2.23-3.12

Mark 2.23-3.12 Outline

In Mark 2.23-3.7 Jesus makes an amazing claim, “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (ESV, Mark 2:28) This means more than just that he  is the authoritative interpreter of what the Sabbath in the Old Testament means. It is a claim to be the God who ordained the Sabbath. First, he uses the term “Lord” (kurios). This is the term used for the divine name, YHWH,. in the Greek translation of the OT, which was the Bible of the early church. Secondly, the Sabbath was more than just a day of rest and relaxation. It was designed by God to celebrate him as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. To call Jesus the “LORD of the Sabbath” is to call him the “LORD of creation.” This is a big claim and the word “so” in Jesus’ claim invites the reader to see how Jesus demonstrates this by his actions in this passage.

First (2.23-28) he shows himself to be the “Lord of the Sabbath” by wisely interpreting the Sabbath law and taking authority to interpret it. If the law came directly from God (and it did, see Exodus 20) only God has the authority to amend and interpret it in new ways. Jesus here is claiming access to the mind of the Father in explaining the purpose of the law. The Sabbath (and all the law) was meant to be a blessing to human beings and all creation. Because God made a good creation and promised blessing, the Sabbath was to celebrate that by giving all people and animals a “day off” to rest and celebrate God’s good provision. Jesus, the “Lord of the Sabbath,” was calling his people back to that.

The next section (3.1-5) provides the evidence for Jesus’ claim. The Sabbath was a holiday (in the real sense of the word a “Holy Day”) that also looked forward to the day when all creation would be made right; when sin, sickness and death would be removed and the new creation would begin. If Jesus was “Lord of the Sabbath” he should be able to renew creation. This is the meaning behind the healing of the man with a withered hand. That it took place on the Sabbath was most appropriate because this is exactly what the Sabbath looked forward to. Jesus is giving a preview of the coming kingdom and his ability to “save life.”

The rest of the section (3.6-11) invites the reader’s response. Ironically, it is only the demons that really understand what is going on here. They confess to Jesus, “You are the Son of God.” but do not follow him. The Jewish leadership takes counsel to make a plan to murder Jesus. The crowd hails him as a miracle worker and want what he has to offer but don’t understand what he is all about. The crowd were pressing and crushing him instead of following him. Are we willing to move beyond intellectual assent to doctrines about Jesus, to move beyond just wanting a Jesus that meets our needs and desires, to truly following Jesus and his self-sacrificing call? This is the commitment that the rest of Mark challenges the disciples, and us, to make.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Life of Abraham as an Obstacle Story

Abraham Obstacle Story

Abraham's faith became an unquestioning obedience and trust no matter what the obstacle.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Devotional: New Ways For a New Age, Mark 2.13-22

Mark Paragraph Outlines

Mark has spent the first chapter of his Gospel pointing to Jesus’ authority as the Son of God. Now he will show why this is so important as he begins a section on Jesus’ teaching. His big point will be that Jesus’ teaching, while being the fulfillment of the revelation of God in the Old Testament, is something new and not based on Jewish tradition. Mark’s big point is that God is now with them in the flesh and the great test of faithfulness is to be following Jesus. Older standards for measuring faithfulness are no longer valid. The issue is what will one do with this new ultimate revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

The calling of Matthew/Levi, the tax collector highlights this new standard. Traditionally, Matthew and those like him were disparaged as “tax collectors and sinners” and seen as outsiders with whom a faithful Jew could not even eat or drink. They were collaborators with the oppressing enemy and would be regarded as compromisers who must be avoided. But Jesus compares their sin with sickness and points to himself as the cure. The key word is “follow.” Instead of Jesus’ close contact with sinners causing its infection to spread to him, the contact with him heals and changes the sinner, making them qualified for close fellowship with God. With the Son of God physically present in their midst, the sinner did not need the elaborate old covenant rituals (Hebrews) or even to adopt Jewish identity (Paul)– he needed only to follow Jesus to enjoy intimate fellowship with God.

This is the point Jesus is making in the bridegroom and new wineskins parables in the next paragraph. The old covenant looked ahead and pointed to the coming of Jesus, but now that the Son of God was there a new means of approaching God was opened up. To try to put that into the old package of the previous age would lead to nothing but disaster. New times and new situations require putting the timeless truths of God’s revelation into new packages and re-applying them to new situations. This is what we see happening in the Biblical story as the truth progresses to its ultimate revelation in Jesus.

Thus, we need to be sensitive to the Spirit, immersed in the Word and, most important, devoted to Jesus to be discerning of how we will apply His authoritative word in new ways to the situations we face. We need to know our tradition (how the Holy Spirit has applied the Word over the last 2000 years, not just recently) and respect it, but not be enslaved to it. What is God calling you to do today, where you are now, as you follow Jesus?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #3 (Chapters 6-9)

Revelation WrightI am continuing the read-through of the Revelation in this year’s devotional read through of the General Epistles of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Chapters 6-9 describe the “seal judgments” as the scroll is opened and the “trumpet judgments” as 7 angels sound trumpets to announce God’s climactic judgments on human and demonic evil. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

With the opening of the scroll the process to set the world right begins. It begins (I think in John's time and throughout history until a final intensification of evil) by allowing evil to do its worse and show that it is worthy of judgment. The 4 horsemen, and the events that follow, represent the worldly use of violence and oppression, with all its collateral damage, until the final rebellion at the end is put down by the lion-lamb. During this time, the martyrs cry out to God for justice and are told to wait for the judgment to be complete. The evil of the world will reach its peak before God steps in and removes it. God's people will be protected through it, even in death, but must be patient until and wait for God's perfect timing.

These four are the basic ills which humans inflict upon one another. They charge off around the world, and must be allowed to do this in order that the saving message of the scroll can have its full effect...if God’s new creation is to be brought to birth, the deepest ills of the old one must be exposed, allowed to come out, and be dealt with. 62, Revelation 6.1-8

What has to happen, it seems, is for evil to do its worst, to reach its height, and so to be at last ripe for the judgment that wise and faithful people know, in advance, it deserves. 66, Revelation 6.9-17

The point of chapter 7 is that God's people will be protected through this judgment. Before final judgment can take place God's people are "marked" or "sealed" as a sign of his ownership and protection. God's people are the ones "Who can stand on the day of God's wrath." Their focus on the lamb removes them from suffering and pain as they follow Him and their eternal service is to praise and worship God.

Even though evil must be allowed to come to its full height, in order eventually to be fully and finally overthrown, God will not allow this process to put in jeopardy the ultimate rescue of his true people. This true people, redefined as they are around the lion of Judah, are to be marked out. The events around them will no doubt be terrifying, but they may rest assured that God has them in his care. 72, Revelation 7.1-8

The reality is that the creator God and the lamb have already won the victory, the victory which means that those who follow the lamb are rescued from harm. The reality is that the people who claim the lamb’s protection may well have to come through a time of great suffering, but they will then find themselves in the true reality, in God’s throne room, worshipping and serving him day and night with great, abundant and exuberant joy. 73-74, Revelation 7.9-17

In chapter 8 the 7th seal is opened and ushers in the 7 trumpet judgments. But before the trumpets sound John sees an angel with a golden censer symbolizing the prayers of the saints for justice and the coming of God's Kingdom. The trumpet judgments are God's answer: He will vindicate His people and set the world right. The first 4 trumpet judgments bring damage to the natural world. The fifth and sixth trumpets (9) bring a nightmare of judgment to people - demonic horror and invasion. Human misuse of the world and worship of demons rather than God will be allowed to come to its full expression and receive its full judgment before God's kingdom is fully implemented.

The sequence of divine judgments, necessary for evil to be conquered and God’s glorious new world to emerge, is not a mechanical plan which will grind forward irrespective of human agency. God, as we have seen, is committed to working in the world through human beings. Prayer, even the anguished prayer of those who do not understand what is going on, is a vital element in this mysterious co-operation. 79, Revelation 8.1-5

(John) was talking about God’s drastic action to purify the world, to cut it back as one would with a tree that had become dangerously diseased, removing the deadly cancer so that the rest may be saved. He was talking about the necessary work of radically upsetting the human systems by which millions had been enslaved and degraded, but which were kept in place by structures of apparent beauty, nobility and high culture. A little modification will not be enough. Only major surgery will do. 81-82, Revelation 8.6-13

The point is the nightmare: all your worst dreams realized in an instant. The fifth angel has unleashed something truly monstrous, truly hellish. 86, Revelation 9.1-12

It is as though John is systematically saying, ‘Think of your worst nightmares; now double them; and then imagine them coming true all at once, together. That’s what it’s going to be like. This is God’s way of letting evil do its worst, so that it may eventually fall under its own weight. 91-92, Revelation 9.13-21

Monday, September 10, 2018

Devotional: Jesus’ Authority and Mission, Mark 1.35-2.12

Mark 1-2 outline

One thing that is commonly misunderstood about Jesus is the means by which he did what he did. It is often thought that, because he was God, he could exercise that power in whatever way he wanted to. But Jesus (see Philippians 2.4-11) was resolved to live life as a full human being with the same dependence on God and experiencing the same weaknesses we humans experience. He did what he did by the same power we have available to us: the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why we see Jesus in prayer so often in the Gospels. This is why verses 35-39 of Mark 1 are so important. It is no accident that Jesus announces his Galilee mission to his disciples after an intense early morning time of prayer. Jesus acted with so much authority and power because he was constantly in tune with the Father which led to his knowing the will of the Father, then trusting the Father and then seeing the Father and the Spirit acting in amazing ways through him, so that “they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mk 2:12, ESV)

The Galilee mission begins with 2 amazing miracles; the healing of a group of lepers and then a paralytic in Capernaum. Mark gives two reasons that Jesus does these miracles. The first reason is that Jesus responds with compassion to people who come to him with their needs in simple faith. Jesus was “moved with pity” when he saw the lepers. We sometimes think that we have to jump through hoops, prove we are worthy, or rehearse some formula when we come to Jesus if we want him to respond to our requests, but the truth is he already knows and cares about our problems and wants to deal with them in a way that restores wholeness and deepens relationship with him. He is eager to help. If we have enough faith just to come to him he reaches out and heals. Over and over in the Gospels we see Jesus healing whoever comes to him.

The second reason he heals is to show the world who he is. Jesus tells the lepers to show themselves to the priest as a “proof” to them. He heals the paralytic and “forgives his sins” to announce to the nation that he had the divine authority to heal the nation and that God (Immanuel) was in their midst. The whole nation knew what was going on and  Jesus was so well known he could not even enter a town with out being mobbed. As Paul said to Agrippa (Acts 26.26) Jesus’ actions were not  “done in a corner.” These miracles screamed out Jesus’ identity to the nation, made them culpable for their unbelief and explain the phenomenal growth of the early church.

Jesus is the God-Man sent to the world to heal and renew it. His touch was God’s touch with the power to take what is broken and turn it into something new and whole. As we spend time in God’s presence and experience God’s touch, we will see the Holy Spirit bring his healing touch to the world through us as he did through Jesus.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Devotional: Jesus’ Spiritual Authority, Mark 1.21-34

After introducing Jesus to the reader in the introduction with a “big picture” explanation of his identity as the Christ, the Son of God, Mark now gives the reader an introduction to Jesus by the way the disciples experienced it: through his amazing words and actions. Verses 21-34 recount a Sabbath day (probably a typical one) early in the ministry of Jesus, in which Jesus spent the day teaching in the synagogue and ministering healing miracles. There are two accounts of public healing which are focused on the healing and exorcising of demonized people sandwiched around a private miracle of healing Peter’s mother of a fever. All of this explains the people’s observation about Jesus, “he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mk 1:22, ESV).

In verses 21-28, Jesus heals a “man with an unclean spirit” in the synagogue. What is amazing in this sequence is the testimony of the demon that Jesus of Nazareth is the “Holy One of God.” and has the authority to destroy the devastating power the demons had on this man. For thousands of years the nations and their people had been under the oppressive authority of tyrannical human rulers and the “principalities and powers” that stood behind them and empowered them. Human beings were subject to sin, death and destruction, but now One had come who could free them and bring in God’s kingdom; and he could do it in the same way he created everything, with an authoritative word. Jesus’ teaches with authority, divine authority, not just because his word his true and right, but because it accomplishes his plan for all of creation and for each person (and spiritual being, sometimes to their dismay) who hears it. In verses 32-34 he shushes these powerful demons like they were kindergartners, not even allowing them to speak. Jesus is the One whose word will always, “accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11, ESV).

In between the two descriptions of the public healing and exorcisms, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever. This time he heals her with a touch as he gently takes her hand and lifts her up. She responds by “immediately” serving Jesus and his followers. Service of Jesus and others is the proper response to Jesus’ healing touch.

Mark has now shown who Jesus is as attested by the Father, John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit and, now, with his authoritative words and actions. Jesus calls us, like the disciples, to follow him, be alert to watch him work and take the healing he gives us to serve others.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Devotional: The Message and the Messengers, Mark 1.12-20

Mark Chart

The incarnation of Jesus is the watershed event of all salvation and world history. It accomplished (through his death, resurrection and ascension) the inauguration of a new age and everything needed for the final eternal age. In this passage Mark sums up what the incarnation means and introduces his readers to the first messengers who will deliver the good news.

It is very easy to skip over verse 12, the temptation, because Mark gives no details like Matthew and Luke do.  Perhaps this was such a well-known story in the church he felt he could skip it. Perhaps Mark moves on from it quickly because the victory over Satan was so decisive there is very little drama. Nevertheless, the victory won over evil there, and over the forces of darkness, prefigures the victory that will be won at the cross and the empty tomb and provides the content of the “good news,” the gospel message that Jesus and the 1st disciples will proclaim.

The message is first proclaimed by Jesus and announced in three parts:

    1. “The Time is Fulfilled.” The goal of all creation from Genesis 1.1 on was to repair and reconcile the world, that was broken, back to God and restore the image of God in his people that had been twisted by sin and the influence of the rebellious forces of evil. The appearance of the God-Man heralded to the physical and spiritual realms that this decisive work was now being undertaken.
    2. “The Kingdom of God is at Hand.” A new king of kings and lord of lords is now walking the earth. God is re-establishing his active rule over the realms of humanity and defeating the spiritual powers, principalities and rulers who stand behind these realms of power and oppression. Jesus’ miracles, actions and teaching will demonstrate this, and his taking upon himself all evil and it consequences at the cross and defeating it in his resurrection will decisively accomplish it.
    3. “Repent and Believe in the Gospel.” The way to enter into this kingdom is to trust in Jesus’ kingdom message and place one’s allegiance to him. To repent is to renounce former loyalties and objects of worship that gave life meaning and place that trust and loyalty in the God-man Jesus.

Jesus provides the example of how to proclaim this message. He says, “Follow Me.” “Walk with me,” live with me" and “get to know me.” When we do that he makes us like him and then we become “fishers of men” as we call others to “follow me as I follow Christ.” A simple, but very powerful message. Just like the first disciples, Jesus still says today, “follow me!” Let’s follow him together.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #2 (Chapters 4-5)

Revelation WrightWe continue the read-through of the Revelation in this year’s devotional read through of the General Epistles of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. In chapters 4-5 John is taken into heaven, the throne room from which God runs the universe, and brought into the counsel of God (the 24 elders) to see the true reality of who controls the situation. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

This vision of who is really in control will be great encouragement to the 7 churches as they prepare to go through a great period of persecution and does the same for all persecuted churches throughout history, especially the final and great one that will take place before the lion/lamb of Judah sets things right. God's throne is at the center of all things and he rules with complete power and knowledge. All creation, physical and spiritual, acknowledge his rule and wisdom with worship.

As John’s great vision unfolds, we will see how it is that these human kingdoms have acquired their wicked, cruel power, and how it is that God’s radically different sort of power will win the victory over them. This is the victory in which the seven letters were urging the churches to claim their share. We now discover how that victory comes about. Revelation 4.1-6

Revelation sets out the delicate but decisive balance. All creation worships God; we humans are called to worship him with mind as well as heart, recognizing that he is worthy of all praise as the creator of all things. 50, Revelation 4.7-11

A sealed scroll is introduced in chapter 5 with a challenge to open it. The scroll probably represents God's plan to set the world right or a "title deed" representing his right to rule. Only the lion of Judah is qualified as the God-Man to open the scroll and complete God's plan to rule through a "son of man." Surprisingly, when John looks at the lion he sees a murdered lamb. The victory was won over evil by the loving self-sacrifice of the Son of God. This results in all creation praising the lamb that he is qualified to rule and he is able to set things right.

The victory won by the lion is accomplished through the sacrifice of the lamb, and in no other way. But we are also to understand that what has been accomplished by the lamb’s sacrifice is not merely the wiping away of sin for a few people here and there. The victory won by the lamb is God’s lion-like victory, through his faithful Israel-in-person, through his obedient humanity-in-person, over all the forces of corruption and death, over everything that would destroy and obliterate God’s good, powerful and lovely creation. 54, Revelation 5.1-7

We discover, and celebrate, the divinity of the lion-lamb Messiah only when we find ourselves caught up to share his work as the royal priesthood, summing up creation’s praises before him but also bringing his rescuing rule to bear on the world. 59, Revelation 5.8-14

The Structure of the Flood Story in Genesis

Chiastic Structure of the Flood Story

Monday, September 03, 2018

Genesis Structures Chart

Genesis Structure Chart Color

Devotional: Introduction and Identification of Jesus: Mark 1.1-11

In the Gospel of Mark the reader gets to experience Jesus as  the disciples experienced him, from the ground up. The disciples (especially Peter who is generally seen to be the apostolic voice behind this Gospel) are confronted with an amazing human being who keeps busting the categories they try to place on him. He heals the sick and raises the dead, overcomes the spiritual forces of darkness with just the power of his word and presence and yet, with this divine power, ministers to the poor and needy in a self-sacrificial way that eventually leads to his death. Mark invites us to participate with the 1st disciples in getting to know this amazing man who is much more than just a man.

But, he starts out, in the introduction, to lay out for us quite clearly who Jesus is. In verses 1-8 he identifies the man Jesus with 5 superlative terms…

  1. He is the Messiah (1.1) , the Christ. he is the one who would fulfill Israel’s hopes for a coming righteous king who would accomplish all of God’s covenant promises and provide the completion of the Abrahamic blessing to bless “all the families of the earth.”
  2. He is the Son of God (1.1). Mark is not messing around with the question of the Deity of Christ. While the disciples had to figure it out little by little, he lays it out plainly for his readers right at the beginning.
  3. He is the YHWH of the Old Testament. (1.2-3). Mark quotes Isaiah’s promise of the coming of YHWH to his people as being fulfilled in Jesus. It will take the church fathers hundreds of years to work out the implications of this issue, but the bottom line is that Jesus is YHWH come in the flesh.
  4. Mark then moves to the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist for the next two descriptions of Jesus. John is the “messenger,” predicted by Isaiah who will announce the coming of Yahweh. He announces that “one stronger then me” is coming. Jesus is that strong one. John was the greatest of the prophets, but Jesus came with the full power of God because he is God (1.4-7)
  5. Finally John announces that Jesus is the one coming to distribute the Holy Spirit to all human beings to prepare and enable men and women to live the life of the age to come. (1.8)

This is a very tall claim so Mark provides us with confirmation in verses 9-11. John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit and God the Father all identify Jesus of Nazareth as the guy who is described by all the terms of Mark 1.1-8. The heavens open to announce that God has returned to live with his people, and the presence of the Spirit and the voice of God the Father confirm it.

Ultimately, real Christianity is not about what we do for God, but about what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus has all the qualifications to provide everything we need for life and godliness. We can “relax and know that he is God” and his faithfulness will get us through our day and into eternity.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

A New Name and Look For This Blog

I have been writing this blog now for more than 12 years. Originally it started out as a way to share our ministry on Guam with Liebenzell Mission USA and at Pacific Islands University with mission partners and anyone interested in what was happening in the churches of Guam and Micronesia. There are more than 10 years of archives, pictures and stories about that and those will be there as long as I am able to have this blog outlet. But, God has brought some different challenges and direction into my life over the last two years – yes we have been on the “cancer adventure” for almost two years now. This has brought some big changes into my writing, some of which were beginning to happen even before we left Guam. Over the last 5-6 years I have been posting more of my devotional and theological thoughts, quotes and thoughts from books I have been reading and other things that interest me. I mainly did it to force myself to organize my own thoughts and try to think better. It seems that some people were blessed by this, learned something from it and follow it, and for that I am thankful.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and my life changed. We moved from Guam to California for medical treatment and are still in the cancer treatment process. I have been cancer free for 9 months now and am looking forward to being officially “cancer free” after the 1 year mark in December. The LORD gave me a vision for these last two years to be a “minister” through all of this to continue reading the Bible and sharing what God was teaching me; to be open, frank and (sometimes) funny about the whole cancer process and how it related to my faith in Jesus Christ; and to try to share God’s blessings in the normal everyday life of family, friends, and normal stuff that happens to all of us. The world is a messed up place and we suffer, but relationship, connection, joy and meaning with and to God has already been accomplished, and is available in Christ. God isn’t mad at us. He loves us and goes through all of it with us.

Thus, the blog takes a new turn on September 1. Some things will be the same. I will be reading through the Old Testament over the next couple years and blogging through theologies, commentaries on it as before. I will be teaching a PIU OT course this Fall on line as a volunteer teacher and I am excited about that. Joyce and I also plan to begin some itinerant ministry with Micronesian groups and any interested churches this Fall. We will start slowly as I recover from the effects of cancer and chemo. I will also continue to share what God is doing in my life. I will begin posting original devotionals from my New Testament readings on MWF next week, beginning with the Gospel of Mark. In these I want to focus on how the Spirit is applying God’s word to my life.

My life “Mission Verse” is Ezra 7.10, “Now Ezra had focused his life on the detailed study of Yahweh’s Torah (God’s revelation of himself) to applying it to his daily life and to teaching all its elements to the people (Israel) around him. (My applicational translation/paraphrase). I believe God has given me a ministry of teaching the Bible wherever I go, in a way that relates it to the people around me, whoever they are. So I will continue sharing what is going in my head, my life, my family, my challenges, my trials, my heart etc. I’ll try my best to do it openly and honestly and to share what God’s is saying to me through his word and other things he brings into my life without holding anything back. I welcome your comments here or on Facebook.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #1 (Chapters 1-3)

Revelation WrightThis read-through of Revelation will conclude (probably in 4-5 parts) this year’s devotional read through of the General Epistles of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. The book of Revelation is a single (it is not "Revelations") revelation of the resurrected Jesus Christ in glory at the right hand of the Father. The point is that Jesus will defeat Satan and all the world's evil systems and bring in His promised kingdom. Therefore, unbelievers should take warning that God's judgment is coming and seek redemption. Believers should take encouragement in coming victory and justice and prepare for God's kingdom by godly living now. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

The opening of the book prepares for the revelation of Jesus by explaining what the book is. It is a letter to the churches revealing Jesus in his glory. It opens up the heavens to the reader and connects Jesus who rules to those on earth and assures them of his upcoming victory. It provides a witness to God's people that their trials and persecutions are worth it because their oppressors will be judged, they will be vindicated and glorified as Jesus was in his resurrection. The big point is that this book is a revelation of the glorified Jesus. The rest of chapter recounts John's vision of the resurrected, ascended Jesus. The elements of this vision will keep showing up as we proceed through the book. The big point is that Jesus is the Son of Man of Daniel 7.13-14 who has the right to rule and judge. In the present, the churches (lampstands) bear the light of Christ and are held safely in his hands as they undergo persecution. Jesus shines with the glory of God and, through him, the church reflects that glory.

Revelation’ – the idea, and this book – are based on the ancient Jewish belief that God’s sphere of being and operation (‘heaven’) and our sphere (‘earth’) are not after all separated by a great gulf. They meet and merge and meld into one another in all kinds of ways...The early Christians believed that Jesus of Nazareth had become, in person, the place where heaven and earth met. Looking at him, and contemplating his death and resurrection in particular, they believed they could see right into God’s own world. They could then understand things about his purpose which nobody had imagined before. 3, Revelation 1.1-8

We are being asked to imagine: what would it look like if the curtain between heaven and earth were suddenly pulled up, revealing the Jesus who had been there all along but whom we had managed either to ignore or to cut down to our own size? This is the answer: a Jesus who is mind-blowing, dramatically powerful but also gentle and caring; a Jesus in and through whom we see his father, God the creator; a Jesus who has spoken, and still speaks, words which explain what is going on in the present, and warn of what will happen in the future. 9, Revelation 1.9-20

Chapters 2-3 contain the letters to the 7 churches. These churches represent all churches (the number seven) throughout the present age and emphasize their connection to the vision of Christ from chapter 1. They contain commendations, criticism, warnings, exhortations and promises. Ephesus represents churches with orthodoxy but who have lost their radical commitment to God and one another. They need to repent so that they can experience real life and maintain their place in the community. Smyrna represents the persecuted church. They are encouraged that persecution is temporary and, even if they die, they will not truly die because they will receive the crown of eternal life. Pergamum represents the steadfast church, but they are being tempted to compromise. They are urged to quit compromising with immorality, idolatry and heresy and they will experience real intimacy with Christ. Chapter 2 closes with the letter to Thyatira, the overly tolerant church. They are urged to resist compromise and hold on to the truth and commitment. Then they will avoid judgment and receive authority to rule with Christ.

Love’, in the early Christian sense, is something you do, giving hospitality and practical help to those in need, particularly to other Christians who are poor, sick or hungry. That was the chief mark of the early church. No other non-ethnic group had ever behaved like this. 13, Revelation 2.1-7

Do not be afraid to face the first death. Some of you will have to do that. To ‘conquer’ – to face that martyrdom in faithful patience – will mean that you will have nothing to fear from the ‘second death’. Be content to go with Jesus through the first death. He was dead, and came to life; and so will you. 18-19, Revelation 2.8-11

Jesus is promising to each faithful disciple, to each one who ‘conquers’, an intimate relationship with himself in which Jesus will use the secret name which, as with lovers, remains private to those involved. The challenge to avoid the false intimacy of sexual promiscuity is matched by the offer of a genuine intimacy of spiritual union with Jesus himself. 23, Revelation 2.12-17

Christian witness is meant to be a sign of the dawning of the day, the day in which love, faith, service and patience will have their fulfilment, in which idolatry and immorality will be seen as the snares and delusions they really are, and in which Jesus the Messiah will establish his glorious reign over the whole world. 28, Revelation 2.18-29

Chapter 3 continues the letters to the churches with letters directed to Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Sardis represents a church that is dead - has lost its viability. They are urged to "Wake Up," repent of complacency, remember God's Word and obey it or sudden unexpected judgment will come on them like the coming of a thief. Then they will have fellowship with Jesus and experience their eternal life. Philadelphia represents the persecuted church who is protected by Christ. They are encouraged to stay faithful because Christ is coming soon and they have an open door of service. In the end, even their persecutors will acknowledge that they are right. Finally Jesus addresses Laodicea, the hypocritical church. Jesus is faithful despite the fact that their hypocrisy, indifference and complacency had made them useless to Christ. They need to recognize their dependence on God for spiritual wealth, insight and righteousness and repent. If they do, Christ will come into their lives for fellowship and relationship and they will share in His victory and rule with Him. 

It’s a warning against presuming that belonging to the community of the people of God, irrespective of behaviour within it, is all that is required. To those who wake up, who stay unpolluted, and who conquer, Jesus finally reiterates another promise well known from the gospel tradition. He will ‘acknowledge their names’ before the father and his angels. To be acknowledged by Jesus himself will be amazing. To have him acknowledge us before his father will be the moment of all moments. Let’s wake up before it’s too late. 31-32, Revelation 3.1-6

(The Philadelphia Christians) are the ones, too, who carry the new name – now, the triple name of God, of the heavenly Jerusalem, and of Jesus himself, bearing his ‘new name’ of King and Lord. They are to be marked out publicly as God’s people, as Jesus’ people, as citizens of the city where heaven and earth will be joined for ever. No earthquakes there. Security, vindication, and the ultimate reward for patience. 35, Revelation 3.7-13

Jesus is a faithful friend, even if we are not – that he will tell them sharply and truly when they are in the wrong. Because he is not only a friend but their Lord, he will also punish them, not to devastate them but to bring them to their senses...As well as local colour, the letter to Laodicea carries the most striking descriptions of Jesus himself, and the most powerful promise. Strange, perhaps, that the one church that was in real trouble drew from the Lord the most intimate and loving promise. 39, Revelation 3.14-22

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Structure and Message of Second Chronicles

2 Chronicles Chart

Message of 2nd Chronicles

A response to God that is outward alone is useless, powerless and meaningless and brings judgment, but God’s love is always reaching out and working on the human heart to produce repentance and submission that comes from true, inward loyalty to God (Chesed). God never abandons his people.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Reading Through the Letter of Jude

ILetters Wright am continuing through the general epistles in this year’s devotional read through of the New Testament, in the Third Letter of John, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Jude's letter is written to alert his readers to the danger of false teachers in the church. He reminds them that God knows how to judge those who reject the faith and how to preserve and protect those who hold on to the truth. Thus, his readers must recognize that there are people in the church who are trying to destroy the faith, and prepare themselves to rescue the church from them appropriately in God's strength. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

His greeting shows why defending the faith is so important. Believers are “slaves” of Jesus Christ, called into and kept in the faith by the love of God, and, thus, need the continuing work of God in their lives. His message is urgent because because false teachers have infiltrated the church to corrupt and destroy it. These teachers are ungodly, immoral people who deny the Deity and authority of Christ, despite pretending to believe. Good leaders must defend the faith because God has entrusted us with the special revelation of God contained in scripture and those who deny it will be condemned.

Find people who today are saying that God loves everyone exactly as they are, so everyone must stay exactly as they are, doing all the things they want to do, because God is so full of generosity that obviously he wants them to do that. Find such people, and you’ve found those of whom Judah is writing. 196, Jude 1-4

The main body of the letter presents examples of apostasy from the past as warnings of the danger of rejecting the truth. These rebels from the past lack submission to God and practice overreaching, abusive authority. They are seductive dangers that do not deliver what they promise and will be severely judged for their prideful words and deeds. Thus, Christians need to be able to recognize false teachers so that they can oppose them and avoid their judgment.

But the reality of false teaching, especially the rejection of authority, the denial of the uniqueness of Jesus, and the encouragement of sexual immorality, is with us today every bit as much as it was in the first century. We take a deep sigh for sorrow, and pray that Jesus the Messiah will indeed keep us safe. Part of the answer to that prayer will be that we have been alerted to the problem, so when it appears again, as it surely will, we will be able to recognize it for what it is. 202, Jude 5-16

This dark letter closes with a hopeful ending. Believers must remember that this was predicted and God is in control of the situation, and then take appropriate action to defend God's people from false teachers. Church leaders must take preemptive action to keep people in the faith by building each other up, praying, and focusing on the hope of the return of Christ. They must help those being deceived by mercifully confronting them with their errors and leading them back to the truth in a way that exposes the error but loves the deceived person. We can be hopeful, because God is the one who will ultimately preserve the truth, grow believers into maturity and keep believers safe in judgment. Thus, we can confidently fulfill our responsibility to preserve the truth of the Word and pass it on to the next generation.

The letter has had much to say about defilement, and the whole tone has been gloomy as a result. Looking into the murky pit of human wickedness is always like that. The alternative to the licentious and Jesus-denying teaching of the infiltrators isn’t, though, a gloomy, kill-joy religion. The very opposite! It is about glory, about purity, about glad and thrilling celebration. This, after all, is what we were made for. 206, Jude 17-25

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Reading Through Third John

Letters WrightI am continuing through the general epistles in this year’s devotional read through of the New Testament, in the Third Letter of John, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. 3rd John emphasizes that faithfulness to the truth is seen practically in loving actions that promote the spread of the Gospel. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Again, John gets right to the point in this letter. Faithfulness is shown by daily practical actions based on God's truth. Gaius provides a good example by supporting the ministries of apostolic teachers and providing hospitality to God's people. Christian ministry should be supported from within the church, not from outside it. Those who support Christian ministry become partners in the ministry, share in its reward, show what they really believe by where they put their time, effort and resources.  

The cheerful courage and faith both of such first-century missionaries and of those who gave them hospitality (perhaps arousing suspicious questions from neighbours) ought to remind us that following Jesus is expected to be an adventure. New things will happen. New people will come into our lives, and even though they were strangers a moment before, suddenly we realize we are part of the same family (verse 5). 186, 3 John 1-8

In verse 8 John moves to the bad example of Diotrephes. False leaders reject the apostolic authority of the scriptures, abuse their authority, and reveal a lack of truthful living by their love of control and power and with their loveless words and actions. Instead, John urges that believers, especially leaders, must continue to love God's people, respect God's word and promote the Gospel despite the opposition of false leadership.

(3 John) speaks, as in the closing verse, of ‘peace’: not the easy peace that comes from ignoring the problems, but the deeper peace that comes from confronting them in the knowledge that truth and love are the two arms with which God in Jesus now enfolds both church and world in one embrace. 190, 3 John 9-15

Jesus, The Ultimate Revelation of God…

Jesus ultimate expression of God

When we talk about God we tend to try to describe God in abstract terms like those above. Instead the Bible describes God in terms that emphasize personhood, actions, and relationship. It is not that the abstract terms are necessarily false, but they are inadequate to describe the God of the universe. Instead, God, the Trinity, chose to reveal himself incarnationally, ultimately in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 2,2-3 says “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. If we want to know what the Father is like we must look at the Son." As Jesus said to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” When we  explain what God is like, we must follow the Bible’s way and explain God by looking at Jesus. The character of the Father is the same as the character of Jesus.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Structure and Message of 2nd Peter

2 Peter Chart

Message of 2nd Peter

God is the gracious supplier of everything we need to live so we must diligently apply God's resources and trust his promises so that we will grow in godly character and purity, resist false teachers, and be ready for the day of the LORD.

Reading Through Second John

Letters WrightI am continuing through the general epistles in this year’s devotional read through of the New Testament, in the Second Letter of John, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. The main point of 2nd John is that love and truth must go together. The truth of the gospel defines what real love is. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

After a brief greeting John jumps right into the main theme of his letter. When the truth of God lives in us, the true love of God will come out in our words and actions. Love must be based on the truth of God, committed to the truth of the Gospel and always expressed with self-giving service. Love must be directed by the commands of God and and motivated by the desire to obey and please God. Daily life is directed by God's truth as we love in a way that obeys God's commands and follows Jesus' loving example. Truth and error  are recognized correctly as you build your life around the word of God and listen to His Spirit. Then you will know that you have relationship with the right Jesus. 

Truth, for John, is something that goes down deep and spreads out wide. It is what happens when humans, redeemed in the Messiah and renewed by the spirit, think, speak and act in a way which corresponds to God’s plan to renew the whole creation – and, indeed, which sets that renewal forward in whatever way they are called to do. 175, 2 John 1-6

Because faithfulness to the truth of the gospel is so important, love resists and exposes false teachers who deny and oppose Christ. There are many false teachers in the world who deny the truth and present a false Jesus and deny the full humanity of Christ. So, believers must be discerning to recognize and oppose false teaching. In fact, anyone who supports, encourages or in any way helps spread false teaching becomes a partner in its evil. Integrating truth and love will ultimately result in the true joy of fellowship.

God’s love in the flesh, in Jesus, is the source and framework for God’s love coming in human flesh in those who follow Jesus. That is how the two halves of this little letter belong so closely together. Anything that waters down this truth is not to be ‘tolerated’. 178-179, 2 John 7-13

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Family Stuff 2018–San Diego #3–An Evening at the Zoo

1665

Whenever we are in San Diego it seems we spend at least one day at the zoo. We always enjoy it and the kids never get tired of it. The evening was perfect for walking around the zoo. We were all exhausted by the time we got home but it was an evening well spent.

20180820_17310520180820_17581820180820_17584520180820_175932

The kids enjoyed climbing on the animal statues

1661166320180820_191019

A lot of fun things to see and to eat and drink

20180820_19461920180820_203123

Experiencing the animals after dark and the view from the Skyway was a new experience for me