Racism Has NO Place

Have you ever been talking to someone and they preface a statement with: “I’m not a racist, but…”? Yeah, when I hear that, my first thought is: “You may not consider yourself a racist, but I know that what you are about to say is going to be racist. Therefore, you might be actually be a racist.”

Let me begin this post, which I intend to use to talk about a few different things, with the bottom line: racism has NO place in the church. Keep that in your mind as we walk through some topics together.

First, something else I hear from people is that they “don’t see color” or “don’t notice race.” That is honestly not the correct approach. God created us and we are all created in his image, so to ignore the expressions of his creative work is wrong. Instead of ignoring, we should celebrate it. Some call this being diverse. This is when people from different cultures can come together without forsaking their cultures.

I am married to a Spanish woman, Nicole. Her families’ culture and customs differ a little bit from my southern white culture and customs. It’s taken a little work and understanding to be able to adjust to each other’s culture and customs. But the differences are just part of the beauty of our marriage and the beauty of how God created people. So don’t ignore the fact that someone is racially or culturally different than you; celebrate it. They don’t have to conform to your way of doing things, and you don’t have to conform to theirs. Both can thrive in the same place!

Second, we need to quit generalizing people based off of their race or their culture. All white people are not racist. I am white, and I am not racist. I go back to the statement I mentioned earlier: “I’m not racist but…” What usually follows is a racist statement, generalizing an entire race. I have heard entire races classified as lazy, criminals, terrorists, etc. Here’s the reality: racism, laziness, crime, terrorism, and whatever else you want to classify are present in every race.

Following along that thought, can we not just refer to people as that? Just people. One of my good friends from college taught me this lesson. He heard another roommate refer to his two friends and his black friend. The question arose, why does anyone need to be referred to in that way? Can they not just be your three friends? The answer is yes. We celebrate the diversity, but we should not separate or generalize someone because of their race or culture.

Third, racism in any form should be condemned. I have already made the statement that we are all created in God’s image. Do you remember the children’s song: “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” We may realize that this is not really a politically correct way to refer to people today, but the thought is present that everyone is equal in God’s eyes according to race and culture. There is no supreme race. There are no inferior races. There are, in God’s eyes, people of the Kingdom and people not of the Kingdom, saved and unsaved, Christian and non-Christian. Every race and culture can be a member of either.

With that in mind, I have nothing in me that is worthy of treating someone else differently just because their skin is a different color or they come from a different culture. This includes my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Sometimes we tend toward racist comments when we are together with people of the same race as us. This is wrong. Sometimes people say things to people of other races and it is just hateful. This is wrong. Sometimes people do things to other people of other races. They make them go to different schools, live in different areas, put them in prison camps, and even kill them. This is wrong. We may, from our human perspective see each of those as an increase in intensity, but I want you to understand that they are all equally wrong. Why? The people who end up doing the things I mentioned and more had all of it start with a thought. So racist thoughts, words, and actions are all wrong.

Fourth, racism is too important of an issue to use as a political weapon. If you watch the news, you will hear a lot about racism: “The president is a racist.” “The cops are racists.” “The mass shooters are racists.” But, to quote something I saw on Facebook one time, if we turned off the news and talked to our neighbors, we would find that we have more in common than the news says we do.

It breaks my heart every single time I hear of unnecessary deaths. Mass shootings get the majority of the press, but there are so many more violent crimes that happen throughout our country and the world. We should constantly be in prayer, not just for those who experience mass shootings, but for the families and communities of all those who lose their life because of senseless violence.

But here’s the thing: racism is not always the motivator! Yes, it sometimes is. I admit that. But just because someone is a certain race and some of the victims are of another race doesn’t mean that the crime was racially motivated. Just because someone supports or doesn’t support a certain political figure doesn’t mean that they commit their crimes with a racial motivation.

Finally, I want to conclude where I started: racism has no place in the church. I have grown up in churches that are primarily made up of one race. I’m not going to lie, every church I have ever been in until now has sat in the middle of a city or community that had different races and cultures present, but none of them had any of those races or cultures represented within the church. I didn’t think much about that when I was younger, but I have realized something now: if you are reaching and impacting your community or your city, then your church should look like your community or your city. Are there white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, etc. people in your community or your city? Then your church should have people from those races or cultures.

This doesn’t mean that we have a token person of that race or culture and say, “We’re diverse!” No. As one article I read recently said, we need to be actively involved in reaching those races and cultures that make up our community. This means having the leadership on board and having people who are able to represent those races and cultures within the leadership of the church.

When I was a kid, I heard the statement that Sunday morning at 11:00 was the most segregated time in our country. Church, this should not be! There’s no reason that this should be taking place in the church! So look first at your heart: is there any hint of racism there? Ask God to help you remove it! Then look at your church: does the makeup of your church look like the makeup of your city or community? Take the steps needed to reach everyone in your city or community!

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Dealing with Loss Honestly

A year ago yesterday, my stepdad died. Needless to say it has been a difficult year. A few months later, my father-in-law died. Again, this has just been a rough time.

My family and I recently moved back to where I grew up and there is a pond behind the house. We have gone fishing a few of the evenings after supper, and it has caused us all to think about both my stepdad and my father-in-law because they both loved fishing so much.

My stepdad was in my life from almost the beginning. He taught me so much and I could never express how thankful I am that God brought him into our lives. I was able to talk to him about anything and he would help me think through it. If I ever had something come up and thought “How am I going to deal with this?”, he would sit there with me and help me figure out a plan. I didn’t always do what he wanted me to do, but he still loved me and helped me every time. There is so much more that I could say about him, but I will stop there for the purpose of this post.

My father-in-law came into my life much later, but he made an impact in the time we had together. He also taught me a lot. He helped me through some difficult times, too. If my wife and I ever had something happen, he would come from wherever he might have been to help in any way he could. I could say a lot more about him also, but I want to move into the purpose of this post.

When someone dies, we want nothing more than to comfort that person’s family, right? Especially if we are a brother or sister in Christ, we want to remind that person’s family of certain scriptural truths. Think about it. “Just remember that they’re not suffering anymore.” “They’re with Jesus now.” “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” “You’ll see them again one day.” And many more things, right?

Scripture is clear that when a believer dies, while their body for the time remains here, their spirit is present with the Lord. And one day, Jesus will return, the dead in Christ will rise with their spirits reuniting with their now glorified bodies, and we will live forever with Jesus. There are some indications that we will know each other, but it is obvious that our relationship will not be the same even if we do. We are told in Scripture that there will be no more sickness or death. There will be no more sorrow or tears. These things are all true!

However, I used to think that saying those things to those who are experiencing loss was a good thing and a comforting thing. It may be, and I may continue to express those thoughts in one way or another when I talk with a family who has just had a loved one die.

But in dealing with loss honestly, I have to say that in those moments when your loved one’s death is gripping your heart, you may not want to hear it. I didn’t. I know those things are true. I know that my stepdad is not having to deal with all the sickness that he had going on in the last few months of his life and that he is finally rid of that dreaded trach! I know that my father-in-law is no longer having constant pain and sickness because of his cancer. I know they are both with Jesus. I know that I will in some way see them again. But in those moments, those hard, lonely, grief-stricken moments, I’d rather have them here than not have them here. That’s honesty, right? They might be better off, but I’m not and I want them back. Have you ever felt that way?

Before I close, I want you to understand the purpose of this post. I am beyond happy that both my stepdad and my father-in-law were Christians. I know as far as I can know that they are no longer suffering from what ailed them on this earth. I know that they are better off. I know that they are with Jesus. I know all these things and I believe all these things. However, there are times, when, if I’m honest, I’d rather have them back with me!

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Discipline or Delight?

I have been reading and greatly enjoying what God is teaching me through the book “The Imperfect Disciple” by Jared C. Wilson. He asks a question that struck me, and I just want to share it with you:

“Does your relational upkeep with the Lord feel more like discipline and less like delight?”

When we think about following Jesus, we mostly think of what we call the spiritual disciplines: Bible reading, prayer, meditation, fasting, etc. However, we often look at them as tasks on a checklist, right?

I grew up in a home where I was taught to make lists. I still do it to this day. Well, it’s one thing to write things down on a list, but it’s something altogether different to have the discipline to complete what is on that list. If I’m not disciplined in accomplishing my tasks, I could begin to put things off that are not that important or could wait until tomorrow. In all honesty, my physical health is one of those tasks that keeps getting pushed to the back burner. Can I get a witness? I say “I’ll start eating right and exercising tomorrow” all the time! It’s a lack of discipline.

I tend to treat the Christian life like that, and maybe you do, too. We make a list of all the spiritual things we need to do for that day. We may even have special set aside times that we do these things. Maybe you have a quiet time where you read the Bible, pray, and meditate. Maybe you just make sure that get them done before the day is over. I found myself more than a time or two going to bed and thinking “I forgot to do my daily Bible reading” or “I forgot to do my meditation.” Then I rush through it because I have to get it done.

One of the things that I have realized and that the Holy Spirit is teaching me through the Word of God and “The Imperfect Disciple” is that our focus as a church, at least in my experience, has been more on making following Jesus a discipline than a delight. In other words, it seems as though we have to work to be holy. But Wilson writes some freeing words. Read these words slowly and think through them:

“We are not holy because we work. We work because we are holy. If we don’t get this order right, we don’t get Christianity right. And we will always struggle with the so-called spiritual disciplines — struggle against them, even.”

We work from a place of delight. We read the Bible because we love its Author. We pray because we want to spend time talking with our Father. We meditate because we want to know more about God. We fast because we want to know that God is all we need. We do what we do because our delight is in God! He is what brings us joy!

I love how Paul ends Ephesians. I will talk about this a little bit in my podcast for this week, but I want to share it now because it fits so well. Paul writes:

“…love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”

We need to return to living a life where we love Jesus purely and simply! Delight in him! Following him costs a lot and it is hard, but if we delight in him, it will totally be worth it! As my favorite restaurant’s employees say, “It’s my pleasure.” It will be our pleasure, our delight to live for Jesus, when we live from a position of love for him!

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Hope in the Midst of Spiritual Battles

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ephesians. I am currently studying it again on my own, and I am teaching through it on my podcast. It is just a relevant, hope-filled, encouraging book of which I can never get enough. One of my favorite passages is at the end. Paul has written about our position in Christ and how that is played out in everyday life; then he ends with a section that teaches us that being in Christ and living in light of that position ultimately leads to war.

Here is what he says:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.”

We are in the midst of a war, constantly finding ourselves in the midst of battles against the enemy. It is in the midst of the battles that we must stand strong, realizing that our strength is in the Lord, as verse ten says. In order to stand strong, we must make sure we are battle-ready by wearing the proper pieces of armor, all of which should be bathed in prayer.

If you’re like me, one of the hardest spiritual battles takes place within you: your lingering sinful flesh and your new spiritual mind. Perhaps your mind went to Romans 7, which is exactly where I’m going. Listen to how Paul talks in this passage:

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find a lot of hope in most of that passage. Paul seems to be defeated. He’s saved and he desires to do what’s right. Sound familiar? I don’t think that there is any Christian who would say that they do not desire to live for Christ. However, like Paul, we often find ourselves doing the things we do not want to do. Still sound familiar? I face this battle all the time! The Holy Spirit is inside me telling me what’s right/what I need to do and what’s wrong/what I don’t need to do; but my flesh is telling a different story, and sometimes it’s influence is stronger than I would like. It’s a vicious cycle and a never ending battle! (So much for the Christian life being easy, right?)

But there is hope in the midst of this battle! Read again what Paul says in verses twenty-four and twenty-five:

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

How can we make it through this constant battling between the Spirit that is within us and the lingering sinful flesh? It is through Jesus Christ our Lord! But wait, for the person who is in Christ, there’s more good news! Not only are we able to make it through these battles, but according to the next verse in Romans:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

When I go through these battles and lose, which is more often than I’d like to admit, I beat myself up pretty good. Can you relate to that? I say things like, “If I’m really in Christ, then why am I still struggling like this.” Like Paul, even though we are Christians, what we want to do we don’t do and what we don’t want to do we do. But in those instances, we are not condemned. It’s not because of anything we’ve done; it’s because of what Christ has done.

So take hope in the battles you face every day, knowing that in Jesus you can make it through and in him you are not condemned.

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Have you ever read a post on social media and seen the hashtag #thestruggleisreal? I would assume that many who read this have not only seen that hashtag but posted on social media using that hashtag. Periodically, I post on my social media accounts about the need for prayer. I get a lot of questions about what is going on when I do this. So this post is my attempt to give a personal look at my very own #thestruggleisreal.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Lamentations 3:22-24: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” A passage like this and believing what it says is what gets me through some days. So as I write this post, I want you to know from the start that this belief never wavers. I hope in the Lord! In the midst of that hope is a dark, lonely battle that I fight on occasion. Let me explain.

I remember when I was younger, and I see it first hand with my kids now, that feeling of not wanting to get out of the bed first thing in the morning. It was warm and cozy in the bed and I just didn’t want to get up. It also might have had to do with going to school. Regardless, there was an understanding that eventually I would get up and go about my day. I wanted to do that. I just needed a few more minutes in my bed.

I still experience those days. I’m sure we all do. But then there are days that are different. It’s not that I don’t want to get up right now because I’m warm and cozy; I just don’t want to get up. The thought of getting up and facing the day seems to be too much. The word that most people equate with this feeling is depression. I don’t like to use that word as much as I used to because I feel as if it gets overused. I’m not talking about just having a bad day and feeling sad.

Depression is a fight. You know that things aren’t like what your mind is telling you, but the mind is very powerful. Think of it in this way: Paul says in Romans 8:33, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” He is speaking of someone challenging your position in Christ. If you are truly saved, no one can tell you you’re not because God has declared you righteous through Jesus. Although you know that to be true, have you ever allowed people or even your own thoughts to cause you to question your position in Christ? In the same way, your mind can convince you of things and affect your whole life according to things that you know are not really true.

For instance, suicide is a horrible travesty that is experienced far too often. But when you understand what I said a moment ago, you might begin to understand how someone can get to that point. Again, as we look throughout Scripture, we see that Moses and Elijah got to a point where they wanted their life to end (Numbers 11:15; 1 Kings 19:4). Our mind is a powerful thing, and that’s why it’s important to understand and preach to yourself when you go through moments of severe depression that you will hope in God (Lamentations 3:24)!

Having described to you how I see depression, I want to also tell you that it is not based on circumstances. I am stressed out a lot. Being a husband, dad, pastor, and multi-hat wearer does that! However, times of high stress do not trigger depression. Things going “wrong” in situations do not trigger depression. And although some suffer from seasonal depression, I have not, with any regularity, had any time of year that triggers depression. I struggle randomly.

I can go to bed fine and wake up struggling. I can be sitting around laughing and having a good time with my family one moment and then the next, still in the same place with the same people, just be overwhelmed with depression. Having said how it starts, I also want to make clear about how it ends. It ends almost exactly as it came. I can’t snap out of it. I can’t think happy thoughts and just be okay. I have to fight until the fight is over. Then as quietly and as quickly as it came, it leaves.

This is why I randomly ask for prayer on social media. And when I do, just pray. That’s all I know that can be done to help. I admit it is lonely, but I don’t like to talk to people about my struggles on a deeper more personal level. I know this isn’t a good reason, but I don’t like letting people into my life in that way only to have them leave. So just pray. I’ll get through this like I always do: with God’s help!

If you have any questions and would like to ask me directly, please do. Otherwise, please continue praying for me! Thank you! #thestruggleisreal

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Give the People What They Want

Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2-5, “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of the evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

My hope is that between the title of this post and the passage you just read that your interest is piqued. We are in a time where most people want to hear what they want to hear, especially in the church. They do not want to hear the life they choose to live, not matter what they do, is not going to meet the perfect standards that God has for us. They want to hear that God loves them and will accept them no matter what. They don’t want to hear that Jesus is the only way to God, and they especially don’t want to hear that they can’t wait until they feel like it to believe in Jesus.

But in the midst of those who have “itching ears” and are searching for “teachers to suit their own passions,” there are still people looking for leaders who will “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of the evangelist, [and] fulfill [their] ministry.” Those are the people who need to be given what they want.

This is a short post and all of it is to just make one point: pastors, teachers, and leaders, do not compromise the truth of God’s Word. I’ve been tempted too many times to build a crowd and not a group of devoted followers of Jesus. But I would rather lead a small group of people who are devoted to God’s Word and living according to it, than to have a large group of people who “will not endure sound teaching.” Stay true to God’s Word pastors, teachers, and leaders! Be faithful to all of his Word. Don’t skip the parts you don’t like or understand. Don’t compromise the current relevance of God’s Word in its original context. The meaning is the same and the truth never changes! Stay faithful and true! Fulfill your ministry!

I’m praying for you, and I ask that you pray for me! Let me know what you think of this post.

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Is God Present in Hell?

As I am writing this post, I am tired. Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Tired. The last few weeks have been overwhelming to say the least. But through all that has been going on, I have been thinking about this question that was asked of me not long ago: “Is God present in hell?”

When I first heard this question, my initial response was, of course (at least in my opinion), no! The follow-up to my answer is what made me think more deeply: “But isn’t God present everywhere (omnipresent)? The answer to that question is a resounding yes! So the wheels started turning in my mind.

My first thought was to go to Psalm 139:7-8, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (ESV) As a kid, I was usually taught from the King James or New King James, both of which read “hell” instead of “Sheol.” This post is not to debate translation preference. The Hebrew word is Sheol, which is the place of the dead in the Old Testament not limited only to hell, where those without faith in God spend eternity.

This didn’t satisfy my question, especially in light of 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, “…when the Lord is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

That means that God is not present in hell, right? They suffer “away from the presence of the Lord.” It’s important, though, to understand what God’s Word means in this passage by “the presence of the Lord.” What am I talking about?

Well, Psalm 16:11 tells us: “…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If you know anything about hell, you will know that this is not the case there. I have heard, I’m sure you have heard, or at least you’ve heard somebody say they’ve heard people tell them that they are going to have a party in hell. FALSE! The Bible describes hell as a place of suffering, torment, fire that is unquenchable, worms that do not die, and so on. The farthest thing from “fullness of joy” and “pleasures.”

This is the kind of presence that a child of God enjoys. However, in hell, this presence of God will not be seen. That type of closeness and intimacy is reserved, as Paul infers in 2 Thessalonians, for those who know God and obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Questioned answered, right? Wrong! Although the presence of God that believers enjoy is not present in hell, God’s presence is felt in another way. I love the way that John Piper puts it: “He is present in all the ways men do not want him to be present and none of the ways that believers enjoy his presence.”

We are now talking about the wrath and judgment of God. Jesus in instructing his disciples in Luke 12:4-5 says, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after have nothing more that they can do. But I warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.” Matthew 10:28 says it this way, “…fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Another passage that points out God being present in hell in this way is Revelation 14:9-11, “If anyone worships the beast and it’s image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night…”

So biblically, my answer to the question “Is God present in hell?” has to be yes and no. His presence, like believers experience and will fully experience in heaven, will not be in hell. However, his presence, in all the ways that people do not want it, will be.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments and if you can shed any more light on this thought process and discussion.

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How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Part 14)

Revelation 12:1-17

Step 1: What did the text mean to the biblical audience?

The chapter opens with a woman who is about to give birth to a male child. An enormous red dragon is waiting to devour the child. But as soon as the child is born, he is snatched up to God, who also provides a safe place on earth for the mother. The scene then shifts to heaven, where the archangel Michael and his angels fight against the dragon and his angels. The dragon (now explicitly called “the devil and Satan”) is defeated and thrown down to earth. As a defeated foe who has had to forfeit his place in heaven, the devil pursues the woman with a vengeance and makes war against the rest of her offspring.

How would the first-century audience have understood these characters? Most likely, they would have thought of the woman as the true Israel, the faithful community who gives birth to both the Messiah and the church. Both the male child and the offspring serve as keys for identifying the woman.

The dragon is explicitly identified in the passage as the devil or Satan. This enemy of God attempts to devour the male child and lead the whole world astray. The detailed description of the dragon only adds to the awesomeness of the image.

We are told that the male child will rule all the nations with an iron rod, which alludes to Psalm 2, which is speaking of Jesus, and more clearly in Revelation 19:5. The male child certainly represents Jesus Christ. By moving from Jesus’ birth straight to his ascension is John’s way of stressing the Satan’s evil plot has been stopped.

So the original audience would have understood the war in heaven and the subsequent rage of the devil as an explanation of two significant realities: 1) God has defeated Satan and the victory is certain, and 2) God’s people on earth will continue to suffer as victims of the devil’s rage.

Step 2: What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?

Like the original audience, we live between the already and not yet. So as offspring of the woman (12:17), we will also encounter the anger of a defeated devil. However, since we are not under Domitian’s rule, our suffering may take different forms and may vary in intensity from that of the original audience.

We also struggle with many of the same temptations toward complacency and compromise that the churches in Revelation faced. Verses like 12:11 pose a strong challenge to us today because we are not accustomed to considering radical sacrifice for the cause of Christ, much less martyrdom.

Step 3: What are the theological principles in this text?

1. There is a real devil that is opposed to God and bent on deceiving and destroying God’s people. Spiritual warfare is real.
2. Satan has been defeated by the life and redemptive work of Christ.
3. Christians can overcome the devil by living and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully.
4. Christians can expect to suffer for being faithful in their witness to Christ.

Step 4: How should individual Christians today apply this theological principle in their lives?

Make sure that the real-world scenarios are faithful to the meaning of the text and relevant to the modern reader. Real-life stories serve as the best application of all. For instance:

On the morning of December 23, 1999, a group of Muslims murdered scores of Christians, including women and children at a plywood factory on the Indonesian island of Buru, according to several Christian employees who survived the attack. Christians and Muslims have been fighting for more than a year and hundreds have been killed. Yoke Pauno, a factory worker who has take refuge in Ambon, the capital, says she saw armed Muslims ask a woman holding a baby if we was “obed” or “achan,” the local slang for Christian and Muslim. When the woman answered “obed,” both she and her child were brutally killed.

Stories like that show how those principles are applicable today.

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How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Part 13)

Interpreting Revelation

There are traditionally four different ways of interpreting revelation:

1. Preterist

The preterist approach takes the historical context of Revelation seriously and attempts to understand the book the way John’s audience would have understood it. Many of the events are seen as having been fulfilled in the first century.

2. Historicist

The historicist approach views Revelation as a map or outline of what has happened throughout church history from the first century until the return of Christ.

3. Futurist

The futurist approach views most of the book as related to future events immediately preceding the end of history.

4. Idealist

The idealist approach does not understand Revelation in terms of any particular reference to time, but rather relates to the ongoing struggle between good and evil.

However, the best way to interpret Revelation is to use an approach that seeks to combine the strengths of those approaches. Revelation certainly seems to address the first Christians directly. We should read Revelation the same way we read every other book of the Bible—by taking its historical context seriously. Revelation also presents timeless truths for surviving the struggle between good and evil. The visions of Revelation challenge us to forsake our complacency and stay faithful during times of persecution. And this book certainly has something to say about events still to come.

In the midst of those general approaches, there are seven specific principles we need to apply when interpreting Revelation.

1. Read Revelation with humility.

Reading with a humble mind means that we are willing to admit that our interpretation could be wrong and to change our view when the biblical evidence points in a different direction.

2. Try to discover the message to the original readers.

We must understand what it meant in John’s day in order to understand what it means today.

3. Don’t try to discover a strict chronological map of future events.

Rather than searching for a chronological map of future events, it is better to grasp the main message in each vision about living in the here and now.

4. Take Revelation seriously, but don’t always take it literally.

When interpreting much of the Bible, the general rule is to interpret literally except where the context clearly calls for a symbolic reading. The general rule for Revelation is just the reverse: Interpret symbolically unless the context calls for a literal reading.

5. Pay attention when John identifies an image.

In Revelation 1:20, John identifies the lampstands as churches, so when John uses the image again (i.e., 11:3-4), we should assume that it refers to a church again. But we must be careful in doing this, because there are times when John uses the same image to refer to different things. The seven stars in Revelation 1 are the seven churches. However, John also uses the image of a star to refer to God’s agents of judgment (8:10-12) and even Jesus himself (22:16). Also, the image of a woman is used for a false prophetess (2:20), the messianic community (12), the harlot city or empire (17), and the bride of Christ (19:7; 21:9).

6. Look to the Old Testament and historical context when interpreting images and symbols.

One of the most difficult aspects of reading Revelation is knowing what the images and symbols refer to. In other words, we usually know what Revelation is saying, but we are often not sure what it is talking about.

An example of the Old Testament parallels can be seen in comparing Daniel 7:9, 13-14; 10:5-6 and Revelation 1:7, 12-15.

7. Above all, focus on the main idea and don’t press all the details.

In other words, start with the big picture and work toward an understanding of the details. So when reading Revelation, the main thing is to make the main thing the main thing!

How Does Revelation Unfold?

Introduction (1:1-3:22)
Vision of God and the Lamb (4:1-5:14)
Opening of the Seven Seals (6:1-8:1)
Sounding of the Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19)
The People of God versus the Powers of Evil (12:1-14:20)
Pouring Out of the Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)
The Judgment of Babylon (17:1-19:5)
God’s Ultimate Victory (19:6-22:5)
Conclusion (22:6-21)

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How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Part 12)

The last book of the Bible describes itself as a “revelation of Jesus Christ,” an expression that functions as the title for the book. The term revelation (apokalypsis in Greek) suggests that something once hidden is now being unveiled or displayed openly. The expression “of Jesus Christ” could refer to something about Jesus, or communication from Jesus, or most likely some of both.

In this “final chapter” of the story of salvation, God pulls back the curtain to give his people a glimpse of his plans for human history, plans that center around Jesus Christ. So let’s begin our interpretive journey in Revelation.

Historical Context

In understanding the New Testament church, we understand that the first Christians lived in eager expectation of the Christ’s return. But sixty years after his death it still had not happened, persecution was increasing, and some were beginning to doubt. So Revelation’s letters to the churches, and the book as a whole, were needed to encourage them to stand firm. God is in control, no matter how things may look. Christ, not the emperor, is Lord of history. And he is coming again to execute justice. There is a glorious, wonderful future for every faithful believer—and especially for those who lay down their lives for Christ.

Revelation was written during the reign of the Domitian. He wanted the people to address him as “our lord and god.” For Christians, the earliest and most basic confession was “Jesus is Lord.” So when they refused to address the emperor as such, they were considered disloyal to the state and were subject to persecution. Under Domitian, persecution was spreading.

Revelation is filled with comfort for those who are being persecuted and warnings for those who are trying to avoid it. The historical context is one in which false religion has formed a partnership with pagan political power. One result is that those who claim to follow Christ are beginning to face tremendous pressure. Will they compromise with the world to avoid persecution or will they openly confess Christ, knowing that it may cost them their lives?

Literary Genre

The book seems strange because it combines three different literary genres: letter, prophecy, and apocalyptic.

1. Revelation is a letter.

The book opens and closes like a typical New Testament letter. This suggests that the whole book of Revelation is a single letter meant to be circulated among seven specific churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. There are separate messages to each church at the beginning, but the letter as a whole is addressed to all seven churches.

Like other New Testament letters, Revelation is “situational.” That is, it addresses specific problems or situations that occur in the local churches. We must read Revelation in light of the original situation faced by those churches (i.e., comfort for the persecuted and challenge for the complacent).

The introduction to the letter (Chapter 1-3) shows us that the entire letter centers around overcoming. This becomes clear as we read the entire book. At the beginning, we are challenged to overcome; in the middle (12:11), we struggle to overcome; at the end (21:7), we see the inheritance that overcomers will receive.

2. Revelation is a prophetic letter.

Biblical prophecy includes both prediction of the future and proclamation of God’s truth for the present. We should remember that Revelation is not just about the future; it is also a book about what God wants to see happen in the here and now.

Revelation stands in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. The main difference, of course, between Revelation and the Old Testament prophets is that John’s prophetic letter is for Christians who are living between the already of the cross and resurrection and the not yet of Christ’s glorious return.

3. Revelation is a prophetic-apocalyptic letter.

The term apocalyptic refers to a group of writings that include a divine revelation, usually through a heavenly intermediary, to some well-known figure, in which God promises to intervene in human history and overthrow evil empires and establish his kingdom. We see examples of apocalyptic writing in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, as well as noncanonical books like 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra.

The chief characteristic that makes apocalyptic so unfamiliar to us is its use of images. In its abundant use of visual images, Revelation goes beyond any other apocalypse. While we are familiar with picture language used in other parts of Scripture, apocalyptic literature uses images that are often forms of fantasy rather than reality (i.e., locusts with scorpion’s tails and human heads (9:10), a woman clothed with the sun (12:1), and a beast with seven heads and ten horns (13:1)). As a prophetic-apocalyptic letter, Revelation is full of strange visions and bizarre images.

What Is the Purpose of Revelation?

The images of Revelation create a symbolic world in which the readers may live as they read the book. When they enter this symbolic world, its message affects them and changes their entire perception of the world in which they live. They can see the present from the perspective of its final outcome—God’s ultimate victory.

That’s the main message of Revelation: God will win! Those who are not compromising with the pagan world should see God’s future and be filled with hope in the present. Those who are compromising should be shocked out of their spiritual slumber and warned to repent. So Revelation gives people a foretaste of God’s ultimate victory and offers them the perspective and the encouragement they need to overcome.

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