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Archive for April, 2013


Talking about Revelation is fraught with danger. People often have very strong opinions. Some try to be clear where Scripture is clear, and hold opinions loosely where it isn’t.

In the last year and a half I have read far too many commentaries on Revelation. Here are my thoughts on them.

The Book of Revelation (NIGTC) G.K. Beale.  I bought this on the recommendation of another pastor. This is one expensive volume. This is worth the money you will spend. This is over 1,000 pages of commentary on Revelation. Beale exhaustively chases down all the OT allusions, background and quotes in the Revelation. In other word, he puts the last book of the Bible into the context of the rest of the Bible. There are parts of the commentary that are quite technical, but you don’t have to know the original languages.

Revelation: A Mentor Expository Commentary by Douglas Kelly. I saw this last summer, and was excited to see that Dr. Kelly took a partial-preterist, amillennial approach to Revelation. This is essentially my current understanding of Revelation. Instead of being an academic commentary like Beale’s it is an expository commentary. This means it was adapted from sermons that Dr. Kelly preached years ago. As a result this volume has a number of great illustrations that I have used in teaching a SS class on Revelation. One downside of those illustrations is that many concerned the Civil War. His appreciation for some key figures in the South could be a stumbling block for some people. While I do not doubt their piety, I do know they sinned in certain matters. Some people will struggle (rightfully) with them being used as role models (so to speak) in other areas. All our “heroes” are sinners and have feet of clay. But I completely understand if someone struggles with this aspect of the commentary. There were also a few sections of Revelation that were not covered in the sermons. Just a few. Some passages are covered more than once to draw out different aspects. Since this is an expository commentary, there is a healthy emphasis on application that you don’t often find in more academic commentaries.

The Returning King by Vern Poythress. This short book is one of my favorites. I found it be to quite helpful in observing the larger patterns of the book: recapitulation, counterfeiting etc. Poythress also takes an amillennial position, and advocates for the idealist or “spiritual” (I hate this term since it is grossly misleading) interpretation. It is quite readable, and immensely helpful. This is not the book for you if you want verse by verse commentary, but it does help you see how those verses fit into the whole.

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There are moments in ministry when the light bulb goes on. You just realize something that perhaps should have been obvious to you, but apparently was not.

I had one of those moments earlier this month. I’m still sorting out the implications.

Churches have personalities. Before beginning my ministry here in the desert, I applied for positions at a few churches that used the personality matrix developed by Philip Douglass in his book What is Your Church’s Personality? Discovering and Developing the Ministry Style of Your Church. I had to take a test. Obviously I “failed” (just kidding, I just wasn’t the right fit for them).

This is an important issue. A wrong fit, personality-wise, can destroy a church. I’ve seen it. I’ve picked up the pieces. If you ignore this matter you will have a pastor trying to force people to be something they are not instead of helping them to faithfully fulfill God’s commands in a way that fits who they are.

The light bulb went on with a congregant about the previous pastor. I realized that this congregation is introverted. That fact will greatly affect how effective ministry is done in the congregation and by the congregation.

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I’m currently preaching thru Colossians 3, addressing matters of sanctification. I’ve been hitting the “vice list”. But there is another type of sin hidden there.

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)

The church there was in danger of splitting along ethnic, socio-economic and other lines. This tendency has not been extinguished. It is part of our fallen condition that stubbornly refuses to die despite redemption. Racism in the church is NOT a new thing, and not just a “white thing”.

“We humans have never had the resources in ourselves to love each other well across ethnic lines. There is too much selfishness in all of us.”

I’ve had more conversations about race and socio-economic issues (those 2, I find, are often confused). I’m trying to read more about this, and have far more to read (perhaps Perkins, Ellis, Bradley, Noll and others). I long for our congregation to reflect biblical realities (the good ones), and for our denomination to make concrete, meaningful strides in this area. It is not easy. I’m often frustrated: by myself and others. I also have adopted an Asian child and 2 African children so now they have the hyphen. So this is both a personal and professional issue for me.

As a result, I decided to read John Piper’s recent book Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian. This book is essentially an exposition of the gospel that is applied to the issue of racism (though I find that term less than accurate, thinking we are all of one race, descended from Adam via Noah).

Piper starts with his own story of growing up in Greenville, SC. He admits to his racism, and rejoices in Christ’s redemption that includes the putting to death of that racism. He is not blind to the on-going issues within the evangelical church that mirror the world in this regard. That is why he wrote the book to reveal what the gospel says about all this.

If we start with the bloodlines, we see that we all have a common ancestry. It may not be 7 degrees of separation, but if you go back far enough we are connected. I recently saw a question about the table of nations in Genesis 10. Why are they there? I believe they anticipate the promise given to Abram in Genesis 12. Those nations still mattered to God and He would bless them through Abram’s seed. The distinctiveness of Israel was temporary! God’s people will come from all the nations, as we see in Revelation 5.

What we see in Revelation 5 is that the cross purchased people from every nation, tribe, tongue and language. Redemption from bondage. Purchased to set free, not purchased to enslave. Christ, as the seed of Abram, fulfills that promise. This fulfillment brings us all into one body, a new man as Paul says in Ephesians 2.

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I am a baseball fan. I also have a family that resembles the United Nations, or the Church Triumphant depending on your preferred metaphor.

So it made sense for me to see 42. It isn’t the Jackie Robinson story. It really is just the story of 2 years of his life.

You get very little background into his childhood, and what brought him to the point where he changed American history. All we learn is that he father left when Jack was 6 months old. Perhaps this is why he hated to depend on anyone. Just a thought. But it was that toughness it created that enabled him to be the first black player in modern Major League Baseball. As the film Jackie and Branch Rickey both note: God built him to last.

God is not absent from this film. That comment by Jackie was about the only time we see a faith in God in Jackie’s life (that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, just that the movie doesn’t show it). Rickey’s faith is much more prominent in the movie. “He’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist.”

Seeing Harrison Ford, an old and over-weight Harrison Ford, play a man of faith is a sight to behold. It is called acting. But Branch Rickey was not some domesticated caricature of a wimpy Christian. He smokes cigars and the occasional profanity leaves his lips. Branch and his relationship with Jackie is one of the main threads of the movie.

It begins with Branch Rickey deciding that now was the time to do what he’s always wanted to do. Over the course of the movie he is often asked “why?” and he provides a variety of answers. Near the end, during a moment alone with Jackie after getting spiked, he finally lets Jackie in on the truth. He had long seen the injustice. That injustice had stolen from him his love for baseball. Jackie gave him that love back.

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When I went to seminary, I was fairly ignorant. Some might argue that I still am. They gave us  a series of questions so they could understand the background of their new students. One was whether I held to Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology.

I was in a quandary. As a new believer I had read some Hal Lindsey (never a good idea) and embraced Dispensationalism in its popularized form. But over time I began to have serious questions concerning its validity as I continued to read Scripture. By the time I showed up in Orlando, I was not a Dispensationalist.

But I had no idea what Covenant Theology was. I would learn.

When I got to the congregation I pastor here in the desert, there was a large number of small pink books on a shelf. No, not books by Pink. Pink books.

The book was A Comparison of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology by Richard Belcher. Before using it as a give-away, I thought I had better read it. Was it really a comparison, or was it a polemical book? That is important. We sometimes have people who begin to attend who are new to what we believe. I don’t want to turn them off unnecessarily. If I started to hand this book out, I wanted to be sure it was fair and accurate. So I finally read it.

The book is quite short (46 pages including the bibliography). His main point is that everyone has a theology, and most Protestant embrace one of these two theological systems (it was published in 1986, and since then New Covenant Theology has grown in popularity).

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For the past few months I’ve been working on a seminar presentation about gospel-centered discipleship. It is part of a series of seminars some local churches are doing on the Great Commission.

In my preaching I’ve been addressing sanctification in the epistle of the Colossians. But with April here, our congregation is having a Missions Month. So I won’t be preaching. I am praying that God will stir up our hearts for missions.

Sometimes we struggle with putting these two things together. Some focus on mission as ultimate. Others see sanctification as ultimate. Obviously, some people have other views of what is ultimate (theological purity, worship, social justice etc.).

God’s glory is ultimate. God’s glory is to be revealed in sanctification (being conformed to Christ!), mission (seeing people come to faith in Christ), worship (worshiping Christ), social justice and theological purity. When we make one (or more) of them ultimate we get into the petty bickering that distracts us from doing what we ought to be doing in all its fulness.

For my seminar, I’ve been reading Following Jesus, The Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship by Jonathan Lunde. Overall it has been a good read (I’m about 2/3rds thru it). I was intrigued by that “covenantal discipleship” idea. There are many good things about the book. One critique I have is that he makes mission ultimate.

But he rightfully sees a relationship between sanctification and mission. He points out how they were related in the OT such that Israel’s holiness was intended to make here a light to draw others to faith in the one, true God.

Obviously we see them joined in the Great Commission- which must be seen within a covenantal context (the whole point of Matthew is to see Jesus, the son of Abraham and the son of David, as the fulfillment of God’s covenants with Abraham and David). Mission is intended to produce obedient Christians. Obedient Christians are on mission as salt and light. They are inter-related instead of one having priority over another.

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