Revelation series, post #4

Review

So far in this series we have looked at:

  • The steps of Inductive Bible Study;
  • Historical background relevant to the book;
  • The themes of the book, its main idea and reason written.

In this post we will consider the literary styles contained in Revelation and some interpretive helps.

Literary styles in Revelation

To further help with our understanding of the original reader, and thus our interpretation, we need to understand a bit about the literature styles that John wrote in and their understanding of them.

Types of literature in Revelation:

  • Epistle (letter)
  • A little narrative
  • Apocalyptic literature
  • Prophecy

Prophecy comes in two types (Revelation contains both):

  • Foretelling: speaking out things of the future.
  • Forth-telling: speaking God’s view of what is actually occurring, speaking into current situations (this is seen much more in the Old Testament than the New Testament).

Apocalyptic Literature

Let’s consider what is apocalyptic literature. John was not using a new literary style. We find it elsewhere in the Bible, and outside of the Bible. Apocalyptic literature is first found in the book of Daniel; there is some in books such as Ezekiel, too, but Daniel is seen as the founding work of this style. It is found in the following books of the Bible:

  • Daniel
  • Ezekiel
  • Isaiah
  • Zechariah
  • Joel
  • Revelation

Furthermore, was a very common style inside and outside of the Bible during John’s period of history (200BC-100AD).

Apocalyptic literature deals with coming judgement and salvation (again in and out of Bible) and was written during times of persecution and hardship. It uses  dreams, visions and symbols with set meanings.

This style also has an amazing amount of structure. Its structure usually includes repetition, and thus is not always chronological or linear in its telling. Furthermore, apocalyptic literature is dualistic in nature (two sides are compared). For example, in Revelation:

  • good vs evil,
  • dragon vs Lamb,
  • mother vs whore,
  • marriage supper of Lamb vs great supper of God
  • etc

Many non-Christian versions of apocalyptic literature tend to be much more secretive in nature, and wrath and judgement are the focus. The Biblical texts are more positive in message, with the focus on salvation and the triumph of good over evil.

Symbolism in Revelation

We have seen that John was using a type of literature that was familiar at the time. Also familiar to the original readers was the symbolism that was included. There is a significant amount of symbolism in the book and it is important to realise that the original readers had insight into a large portion of it. Revelation also tells us what some of the symbols or images mean!

Just as symbolism was familiar to the original readers, symbolism is nothing new to us today. For example:

  • What does the #13 mean to you? It is considered bad luck in Western culture. Some people avoid the number when choosing sport’s jerseys or aeroplane seats!
  • What does the #4 mean to you? In some Asian countries, it is associated with death.
  • How are the colours black and white used in Hollywood? Look at what the good guys vs bad guys are wearing in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars . . .
  • In Zulu culturefrogs are feared because they “carry lightening“.

What is something with symbolism in your culture?

As we go through the text of Revelation, we will note what we know of certain symbols. For example, occurring regularly are the numbers 7 and 3 ½. The number 7 is the number for perfection or completion, whereas the figure 3 ½ is the figure for incompleteness.

Cycles in Revelation

You also need to be aware that Revelation, and apocalyptic literature in general, are written in cycles. This means that the book tells the same event from different angles as it progresses. There is debate by scholars as to whether Revelation is cyclical or linear in nature.

Some interpreters hold Revelation to be chronological in nature (that everything progresses in line with historical time). They hold that the seals lead to the trumpets and the trumpets to the bowls, and that judgement language intensifies through these. With the bowls, it is also said that “God’s wrath is finished”.

However, other interpreters note certain events recorded in Revelation that make it hard to think it is strictly chronological.

What happens to the mountains and sky? (see below)

The following examples seem to look at the same event, but from different perspectives, supporting a cyclical nature:

  1. When looking at End Times:
    • Rev 6:12-14 Appears to be end times;
    • Rev 11:15-19 Is and was, but no “is to come”;
    • Rev 14:14-20 Angel with sickle and the great wine press = final judgement of God;
    • Rev 16:17-21 End as well!
  2. What happens with the sky?
    • Rev 6:14 The sky vanishes:The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
    • Rev 11:6 Witnesses have power to shut the sky: They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
    • Rev 20:11 The sky vanishes again: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.
  3. What happens with the mountains and islands?
    • Rev 6:14 Mountain and islands removed: The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
    • Rev 16:20 Mountain and islands removed again: And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found.
    • Rev 21:10 John taken to a high mountain: And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,

Interpretative schools 

Also note that people have different views on what is and isn’t literal in the book of Revelation, as well as their fulfilment. How people interpret the symbols and images depends on their general Bible hermeneutics and approach to eschatology. More about this next post when we consider the main interpretive views of Revelation. 

Remember when looking at the different views and opinions to keep the big picture in mind:

Jesus wins and so do we!!!
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Revelation series, post #3

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to explore a little about the original readers of Revelation, by considering the 7 churches to whom the book was addressed. In this post we are going to consider the original readers, and dig into the book’s big picture.

Revelation for the Original Readers  

In the first post in this series, we considered how the book of Revelation has been maligned, and that many see it as too difficult to read and understand. It has even created fear amongst many – fear they won’t understand, fear of causing division, fear of the number 666, fear of the imagery . . .

Now consider our original readers. They have faced persecution to the point of martyrdom under Emperor Nero, and it seems that persecution is only going to continue. Believers need to decide if Christ is worth their lives, and the lives of their families. Are they willing to face more persecution, and martyrdom, for Christ?

Remember this Revelation was given by the Father to the Son through an angel to John. Considering the situation of the original readers, would Christ send a message of fear?  Is the main reason for God telling John to write this book to scare the early, persecuted church half to death because worse is coming?

These are God’s words to His hurting and persecuted church! People have made Revelation a book of fear, but it was given as a book of HOPE! It is to proclaim final victory of Jesus Christ, and His people. It is a book of great COMFORT!

As we look into this book, remember the Original Reader. Ask the question: “What would this mean to the early, persecuted church?” They’ve already suffered, and more is coming! They need to see that their lives matter, their choices matter, and their deaths matter. They need to know that Jesus sees their suffering, but that they will one day stand victorious with Him!

Worship Christ!

Themes

Unsurprisingly, the themes hinge around persecution, hope and why God is worthy of their worship in the midst of suffering. Themes to look at when you read Revelation include:

  • Persecution/ endurance
  • Justice/ wrath of God
  • God’s character/ worship of Him in all circumstances
  • Conquering Christ (& His saints)

Some key words and ideas that feed into the themes: True/truth; Know (chapters 2-3); Faith/ belief/ evangelism; Eternal life; Godly vs ungodly.

Main Idea and Reason Written

What do you think is the main idea of the book? Has your thought on this changed since starting to dig deeper into the Historical Background of the book?

The main idea of Revelation is truly glorious:

Jesus wins and so do we!!!

Main idea = Jesus, the conquering Lamb!

Main idea = Jesus is victorious, and believers achieve victory in Christ!

Main idea = Be comforted; be very, very comforted!

More of the big picture:

  • God’s heart for the churches
  • God’s character
  • Book of comfort and hope
  • Call to endurance

I hope you are beginning to see that this book should bring comfort and rejoicing. It should not bring a moment of fear to the hearts of believers! Yes, there is some uncertain imagery, but the big picture is very clear and we are going to see that it is one of HOPE.

Don’t forget that John is worshipping God for the message of this book. He saw it as a message that would bring hope and encouragement for those to whom he was writing.

As we go through the book, ASK:

WHO WINS/ is winning?
How would the original readers respond?

 

Next blog we are going to take a look at apocalyptic literature to gain insight into how we should interpret this book.

Revelation series, post #2

Review

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read through Revelation out-loud, and all in one sitting. If you haven’t already, take some time to consider what stood out to you as a possible main idea of the book, and a reason it was written. Write down your thoughts to compare later.

Historical Background

A good place to start exploring is to consider the author and the original readers. If we can work out these two, then we have a good start on when it was written, and what was happening in history at the time.

Author

Read Revelation 1:1 and write down who authored this book.

What did you learn?

We know that all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and the human writers were carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). Revelation is unique, however, because it specifically notes God as the author. In Revelation 1:1 we read that God the Father gave the revelation to Jesus Christ, who sent angels to tell it to John. Thus, John wrote the words of Revelation, but he did not author them! God is the author of this book!

The book supports the Apostle John as the writer of God’s words (see 1:1, 1:4, and 22:8). There is also early church support of John being the writer and the one who heard and saw the things written.

Let’s pause here to consider what we know of John the Apostle from Scripture:

  • He was one of the two sons of Zebedee (Matt 4:21-22);
  • He was raised to be a fisherman (Matt 4:21-22);
  • His father, Zebedee, was a man of considerable wealth – he had “hired servants” with him (Mark 1:20), and his son, John, knew the high priest (John 18:15);
  • John was one of the three most intimate of Jesus’ disciples (Mark 5:37 healing Jairus’ daughter; Matt 17:1-2 transfiguration; Matt 26:37 Gethsemane);
  • When we consider the fire from heaven incident (Luke 9:54) and being named “Boanerges”, meaning “son of thunder”, by Christ (Mark 3:17), we can conclude he was zealous, earnest in his beliefs, and emotive;
  • John knew he was loved – he refers to himself as the “one Jesus loved”, and records that he leant against Christ’s breast at supper (John 21:20).

We can gain further insight about John outside of Scripture:

  • According to the tradition universally accepted in the church, John survived till the time of Trajan (Emperor of Rome from 98-117 AD);
  • He was the only apostle not to be martyred; however, he suffered greatly for Christ, with tradition holding that he survived being boiled alive in a pot of oil;
  • He became known as the “apostle of love”. Be careful how you interpret him as a man known for love – it does not imply weakness, or comprise. He was fiery in youth, and he maintained this passion as he aged. One account proclaims that he ran naked from the public bath when a known heretic entered it!**
  • Some suggest he was the other disciple of John the Baptist who followed Christ in John 1:35-42.

Original Readers

Revelation also tells us who the original readers were: the seven churches that are in Asia (Rev 1:4). These were the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The term “Asia” here refers to the region that became known as “Asia Minor,” differentiating it from the continent of Asia. You can read more about this on-line, including in the ISBE or AHE. I’m going to give you researching more about these churches as your homework – more on this at the end of the post!

Map of the churches***

Dating

We know that John was on the Island of Patmos (Rev 1:9). Church tradition places this time of exile between 81-96 AD, during the reign of Emperor Domitian.

(Some interpreters, who place the book’s events in the first century, date the book before the persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero, which occurred between 64-68 AD. We will explore this more later).

History of this era affecting original readers

It is important to consider three Roman emperors and their actions towards Christians to be able to read Revelation through the eyes of its original readers.

Firstly, Emperor Nero (reigned 54-68 AD)

Persecution against Christians intensified under Emperor Nero’s reign. Previously, persecution had mainly been by the Jews, and rarely led to martyrdom. Although Jewish Christians also faced persecution by Rome when Emperor Claudius forced  all Jews (and thus Jewish Christians) to leave the city of Rome in 49 AD. Emperor Nero allowed the Jews back into Rome in 54 AD).

The harsher persecution of believers commenced under Nero in the mid 60s AD after the great fire of Rome. A fire began on the 18th July, 64 AD. When the fire finally ceased to burn, 3 of the 14 regions of the city had been completely destroyed, and 7 partially destroyed. It was devastating for the citizens of that city. Blame has chased Emperor Nero, with some early historians suggesting he contrived the fire in order to have a new palace built (having already emptied the royal coffers, and the nobles unwilling to spend their money on his project). Emperor Nero averted suspicion from himself by turning on Christians.

Some of the persecution believers faced under Emperor Nero included:

  • Being covered with the skins of wild beasts, and then torn by dogs;
  • Fed to lions in the arena;
  • Crucifixion;
  • Being set on fire, so that they might serve for lights in the night-time. Nero offered his gardens for this spectacle, and exhibited the games of the Circus by their light. ****

Secondly, Emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96 AD)

There is debate over how intense the persecution of Christians was under Domitian’s reign. We known that he put a tax on Jews (religious and ethnic), as well as Gentile Christians as they took up some Jewish practices; this was a response to Jewish rebellion in 70AD that also led to the Fall of Jerusalem. He also brought slanderous accusations against Christians. Of course, John’s banishment to Patmos and the exile of other Christians to the island of Pontia also occurred during his reign.

Furthermore, history records that Domitian was cruel like the Emperor Nero, but that Domitian was more intelligent. Some cite his intelligence as the reason he ceased his public cruelty and recalled the Christians he had exiled.

Finally, Trajan; (reigned 98-117 AD)

You will note that Trajan’s rule is after the dating of the book of Revelation. As the original readers would have been about to enter into his era of leadership, his actions are applicable when interpreting the book.

A quote about Ignatius’ response to impending martyrdom expresses the response of believers to persecution during Trajan’s reign:

In this persecution suffered the blessed martyr, Ignatius . . . This Ignatius was appointed to the bishopric of Antioch next after Peter in succession. Some do say, that he, being sent from Syria to Rome, because he professed Christ, was given to the wild beasts to be devoured. It is also said of him, that when he passed through Asia, being under the most strict custody of his keepers, he strengthened and confirmed the churches through all the cities as he went, both with his exhortations and preaching of the Word of God. Accordingly, having come to Smyrna, he wrote to the Church at Rome, exhorting them not to use means for his deliverance from martyrdom, lest they should deprive him of that which he most longed and hoped for.

Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!”

And even when he was sentenced to be thrown to the beasts, such as the burning desire that he had to suffer, that he spake, what time he heard the lions roaring, saying: “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread.” *****

Our original readers were facing persecution to the point of martyrdom by cruel methods. We need to remember their plight when we get into interpreting this book.

 

Next blog we are going to consider the reason the book was written, its main idea and start jumping into some of the book’s themes.

In the meantime, start the method for yourself:

  1. Pray
    We list prayer as the first step, but it is a continuous part of Inductive Bible Study. We want to ensure we are walking with the Spirit of God as we study to have our hearts and minds enlightened, and our lives transformed.
  2. Continue observing. 
    Find out more information about the seven churches. Look each of them up in a Bible dictionary or encyclopaedia. Map in which modern country each church was situated. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on Study Light is a great resource.
    If you want to go deeper, and have time, read through the book again, this time writing a title for each paragraph. In your titles, try to capture what you think is the main idea or theme of each paragraph.
    Continue to review what you think is the main idea of the book, and the reason it was written.

 

**Edited by James Orr, (1939). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Accessed on-line at https://www.internationalstandardbible.com/J/john-the-apostle.html, 25/04/2019.
Quote referenced: “Striking and characteristic things are told of him in harmony with the touches we find in the Synoptic Gospels. The story of his rushing forth from the bath when Cerinthus, the heretic, entered it (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., iii.3, 4) recalls the characteristics of him whom Jesus called “son of thunder.”” 

*** Image by Lucky Gumbo, curtsey of The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word © 2015

**** Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (1965). The  Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Translated by Robert Graves. Accessed on-line at https://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/suetnius/index.htm, May 2018.

***** Foxe, John, and W. Grinton Berry. 1900. Fox’s Book of Martyrs – A History of the Lives, Sufferings and Triumphant Deaths of the Early Christian and Protestant Martyrs. Edited by William Byron Forbush. London: The Religious Tract Society. [Explore on-line, also accessible free on Kindle]

Revelation series, post #1

Introducing the book

Revelation. What comes to mind when you hear this book mentioned?

For some people, this book brings to mind a deep sense of hope and joy; for others, they feel grief for those who don’t know Christ as Lord and Saviour; yet, for many, it is a book that brings forth fear, is thought of as unknowable, or is avoided due to media misrepresentation; and still for others, it brings forth Hollywood images of a dark apocalypse, or the “Left Behind” series.

When I was growing up, I had put Revelation in the “unknowable – so don’t bother reading” category. My heart grieves this because, since my Bible school with YWAM 10 years ago, it has become one of the books I turn to most when facing discouragement, overwhelmed by the state of the world, or needing a fresh does of hope and joy. It is sad that many in the church do not feel equipped to read this book. It should be one of the best known and most loved books in our precious Bible.

I have been given the great honour of teaching this book later in the year and so I felt it time I compile another inductive Bible study blog series as I delve into the book once again. I pray that this blog series will reveal new and glorious truths from God’s Word to you, or encourage your spirit in truths already tucked away in your heart.

Recapping Inductive Bible Study

I recently came across this quote in “Surgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 1”** and feel it captures the heart of Inductive Bible study:

“We have listened to the preacher –
Truth by him has now been shown;

But we want a GREATER TEACHER,
From the everlasting throne:
APPLICATION
Is the work of God alone.” 

I am going to try and open this book up a little for you, but remember that the Great Teacher is the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside every believer. It is He that I pray will guide you through Revelation, and it is He who must quicken application in your heart and mind.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34, emphasis added).

So what is Inductive Bible study?

There are two ways to approach the Bible. One is the Deductive method, and the other is the Inductive method.

Open the Word; Dig into life

Deductive approaches come to the Bible with preconceived ideas – we want the Bible to confirm our ideas, beliefs, or thoughts. This approach includes topical studies where we search out verses that we know, or that hold to our view of the topic; studies that look at verses in isolation (not considering their context in the passage, book, and Bible); opening the Bible randomly during our quiet times; or reading a passage through the understanding of the latest Christian book or Sunday sermon. This approach IS NOT WRONG. It is great for quiet times, reflection, or to add to what we have learnt inductively. It just isn’t the way we should study the Bible.

Inductive approaches come to the Bible to see what it says. In this method, we take off the foggy lenses from outside inputs and look at the text afresh. There can be different styles of the inductive method, but four main steps to follow:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says; do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

I hope to take you through the book of Revelation inductively over the next few months, and also help you to gain confidence in this method of study.

Next blog we are going to consider some historical background of the book.

In the meantime, start the method for yourself:

  1. Pray
    Pray that the Spirit will guide you in all truth. Pray that He will transform your heart and mind whilst studying Revelation.
  2. Start observing. 
    Read through the book in one go, out-loud. This helps you to see the book as a whole. Reading out-loud also adds another sense into the reading (hearing), to help keep your mind from wandering. You can read through it as fast as you can talk – this also helps to keep your mind focused solely on the text.
    At the end of the reading, you can jot down any ideas for the main idea of the book, or why you think it may have been written.

 

** Spurgeon, C.H. (1883). Spurgeon’s Sermons, Volume 1. Baker Book House; Michigan.

Test the fruit

There are some truly hard teachings when you get into the Word of God. I think that the church skirts around these too often. For those of us pursuing the Father, we cannot set these aside.

Some of the hardest teachings are found in the Gospels. Many paint a picture of Jesus that is not Scripturally accurate. Too often He is painted as someone who will condone all sin in the name of love. I say “in the name of love” because that is what it is – what people name love, not what love truly is. Pure love does not condone sin. Those walking in the love of God do not condone sin. Walking in step with the Spirit means bearing fruit of repentance. It means walking the narrow road. It means standing up for truth despite the personal cost.

Looking at our fruit production

A perfect example, which has been on my heart lately, is found in Matthew 7. Let’s go through some of the hard verses.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14).

Are you willing to walk by the narrow road? Many in the church today cannot be distinguished from the world. Can you? Do you know Scripture? Do you know the teachings of Christ? Do you apply them? The gate to salvation is narrow – and the way hard – that leads to life; believers should not be expecting an easy life in this temporal existence. We are called to lay down all we have, all we are and all we desire, to follow Christ as He leads us.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)

Jesus tells us that we can recognise false prophets by their fruit. It is easy to get carried a way by a charismatic leader, or someone with strong giftings. Before you fly away on their words, pause and look at their character.   First line up the fruit of their life to what Scripture says will be produced by those walking according to the Spirit. God can still use false prophets and teachers through their gifts, but we should not attempt to immolate their lives! And we must be very careful to discern what is good and sound, and what is erroneous, of their teaching.

The African Horned Melon grows quickly and looks intriguing, but is bitter in taste

How can you look into someone’s character? See how they respond to stress, or how they react when no one is looking – particularly the home life/ family. Consider what works of the flesh are apparent in their lives:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Let’s see that list again through a modern translation (Galatians 5:19-20, Amplified Bible*):

Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. 

If the above are the fruit f the flesh, what is the fruit produced by someone walking according to the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:122-23).

Producing sweet fruit

The passage in Matthew gets even tougher and should inspire godly fear in our hearts. Those walking with the Spirit and whose hearts seek God and seek Christ have nothing to fear, but those who preach the Gospel for self-gain, and walk according to the flesh should take note:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Let us not worship God in word or deed only, but through our very being. We are to present our whole selves as a living sacrifice and walk contrary to the ways of the world.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

How can we be wise? How can we produce good fruit? Get into the Word, reading it with the Spirit. Pray and ask God to help you to read and study the Bible. Ask Him to speak application to your heart. Don’t know where to start? Start with one of the Gospels – which follow the life of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Revelation is also a great book to see Jesus, our coming Conqueror; I hope to do a blog series on it soon.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

May we be recognised as children of God by the fruits we produce.

Bear fruit in keeping with the Spirit

 

*Amplified Bible (AMP); Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved.

Christmas tree time of year

There are many opinions within the church surrounding Christmas and what we should and shouldn’t do. Some believers think we should change the date because it is unlikely that His birth was in December. Others feel we shouldn’t have one day set aside to celebrate it. Whilst still others abhor anything related to the old pagan celebration of Yuletide. The Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate on different days to the Western churches.

Even Glenn and I have different preferences surrounding celebratory days such as Easter and Christmas. Glenn counts all days the same, where I love keeping special baking treats, music and decorations for certain times of the year. For me, it is a time of reflecting on certain aspects of the Gospel message; keeping these days as special pushes me into a special season with God. Glenn, on the other hand, does not speak to God in the same way and so the days are not made special for his faith.

So what is right, what is wrong, and does it matter?

This morning I reflected on our differences as I put on Christmas music and painted play-dough decorations with my toddler. During this time, I was reminded of Romans 14.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:4-6).

That makes it fairly clear, doesn’t it? We get to make the decision for ourselves and we aren’t to judge our fellow believers. The important thing, according to Paul, is that we seek to honour God. Please note that I am not talking about people celebrating in ways that contradict Scripture (drunkenness, orgies, pagan worship . . .)! I am talking about how we honour God, from believer to believer, can vary. For example, some of us find special days call us to reflection and remembrance, where others do not.

I highly recommend you read through the whole passage of Romans 14 this week and keep it in mind when you come across someone celebrating (or not celebrating) Christmas as you do. By all means, discuss your varying views with others, but only so far as it does not cause another believer to stumble. Let us walk in love, peace and mutual upbuilding. 

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (Romans 14:13).

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19).

Christmas crafts

Walking without sight

for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)

This verse’s context is awaiting our eternity; until we die the first death, we must walk by faith and not sight.

This has been a theme for me as I have studied Deuteronomy again in preparation for teaching it this month. It is also a theme God has been stretching me in. But the good news, for those of us walking with God, is found in verse 5 of this passage:

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor 5:5).

The Spirit is our guarantee of the life that is to come. He is also the One that enables us to walk without stumbling during this short season of blindness. It is His voice that must be our guide – even when it goes against all our natural instincts and human understanding.

The Spirit guides us along the path God has for us. God gives us some further helps as well, which are strongly reflected in the book of Deuteronomy. Here are a few of the gems He is giving me from Deuteronomy:

  • Trust in God’s character plays a large part in walking by faith. The Word of God is our guide to God’s character and then personal experience cements our understanding of His worthiness of our trust.
  • Understanding of God’s character leads us to love Him and it is from love that obedience flows most successfully. It is easy to obey a loving Father.
  • Remembrance of God’s past faithfulness also increases our faith in Him and breeds further trust and reliance on God.

This year God has stretched our faith in Him to provide on time. In fact, throughout my life walking by faith God has always perfectly matched provision to need. This past season He has deepened the lesson that we can afford to give hilariously (2 Cor 9:7 – cheerful can be rendered “hilarious”) where He leads us because it isn’t our money, but His, and He has plenty more in His storehouse for our needs! We have had several large provisional breakthroughs this year; all supernatural and all on the back of obeying His call to give in an extravagant manner (for our personal income and possessions) that had us laughing with incredulity!

He had also had us step out in faithful obedience to chase a ministry vision that is impossible without God’s input. Remembering Him doing the same in my life when calling me to co-found Redefined Ministries DRCongo and pioneer YWAMs Bible School in Rwanda is a good example of remembrance building future faith. I hold on to how these two ministries have grown since their birth when I am discouraged by lack of  (perceived) momentum in this current season. Again, Glenn and I are walking by faith and not sight in this area as we put money into converting our home into a mission hub, able to host visiting mission teams.

Walk by faith in God

It seems that God hasn’t finished with my lesson in this area yet. We fly out on a mission trip Thursday, but are still awaiting a passport to arrive. We both have peace not to change flights or make other plans, yet it is stretching us! Walking by sight would be allowing anxiety to creep in, change flights, or make alternative plans. Waking by faith means holding firm to the peace God has placed in our hearts that Thursday is our flying date. Again, remembering past lessons helps somewhat. I am racking up quite a few last minute miracle stories, but two memorable ones include:

  1. My first Rwandan visa coming through so last minute that I had taken a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg without it and had to run to my gate with my check-in luggage on my person.
  2. My son’s visa for a trip last year coming 10 minutes after the close of business day on the last business day before we flew.

I hope this post is an encouragement to some of you who might be trusting God for things that seem impossible by the physics or understanding of this world. Let’s keep in step with the Spirit, walking by faith and not sight!

 

As an addition (02/10/2018):

God came through with the passport and we are all set to go.

Last night and this morning He challenged me with these questions: “What is your understanding of Me and My character? Am I the Living God? Am I a God who keeps His Word? Have I not promised you it will come? Will you trust in Me and My word?” Yes, I trust Him and His word.

It was no longer a question of whether or not I should go; God had spoken to me that I should go on this trip. It had become a question of trust and – I felt God saying that, because I had written the blog post – it had also become a matter of His faithfulness to His Word. It had become about His character, not whether I had heard Him correctly. And, as we see, He is a God who keeps His Word. He is the Living God!