don’t get lost in the details

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

“If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

“But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Mark 13:1-31

What has been called “the Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) is Jesus’s words to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, aptly titled by the NIV heading, “The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times.” Prophecy was hot early in my lifetime, so that because of misapplication based on poor interpretation, it soon faded, and was eventually even basically ignored, so that part of the gospel, the promise of Jesus’s return, the Second Coming, was all but lost in churches. I suppose in creedal churches they would argue that such was not the case for them since they had neither bought into the popular wave, nor had ceased to repeat the creed that Christ will return, though arguably all congregants were more or less affected by such popular teaching. There is no question that part of the heart of the gospel is the promise that Christ will return in judgment and final salvation based on his work on the cross, bringing in the completion of the new creation when heaven and earth are brought to complete unity in him.

But to the main point of this post. Details are important, but we can so easily get lost in them, especially those of us who have been impacted by less than good teaching, as mentioned above. It is vital for us to pay attention to them, but also just to keep reading. To get the scope and pick up something of the feel for what is being said, so as to enter into something of the experience of hearing it from the Lord as did the disciples, or having it read in one of the gospel accounts.

To get something of an accurate grasp on the details, good word studies, and comparison with the rest of scripture can be helpful. For example, the idea of the sun being darkened, the moon no longer giving light, and the stars falling down from the sky with the heavenly bodies shaken is an echo from the Old Testament/Hebrew prophets that there are cataclysmic changes shaking the world order.

And we need to be both asking for the Lord’s voice, the help of the Spirit, as we remain in the word, in scripture. God will help us if we persist in this and make it our practice. In and through Jesus.

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how do we read scripture?

I’m kind of old school in some ways. I like physical copies of the Bible, have had one near me most all of my Christian life of over four decades now. And still don’t have a smart phone (although other phones are getting smarter). Most everyone nowadays is on their phone. That’s okay, and rather beside the point of this post. Because there are excellent sites to read scripture: BibleGateway and YouVersion probably the two best places.

I think we need to do it two ways: fast and slow. And we could add medium, adding study into the mix, maybe utilizing a good study Bible, especially with biblical background notes. I think it’s important to go through all of scripture, and keep doing that. Because the more one has the entire word in their repertoire, the more they’ll get out of what they are reading. And it’s good to have biblical background too, such as details on the terrain, or what not.

For me, it’s an emphasis on the text itself. I don’t worry about trying to sort out historical detail underlying the text. God’s word is given to us just as it is for a reason. I don’t need the exact historical details. I’m not saying scripture is anti-historical. Certainly either the resurrection of Christ is history, or else our faith is a hoax. The point is that we need the word itself. Not explanations supporting it.

And we need to read it slowly, let it soak in. Memorization can help us there. I only memorize now and then. The big thing for me in this is what we call meditation. Add to that prayer. So that being in the word is about a kind of interactivity with God, hopefully bringing us into a relationship with God by faith in the good news in Jesus. But allowing God to change us by his word: our lives, our priorities, our world view (another phrase which renders me a bit old school).

Make no mistake about it. We need to get into God’s word, and be in it day and night, regularly, I say. Not just as something we aspire to, but which we practice, day after day. In and through Jesus.

reading scripture: Revelation

I’m wondering as I’m going through Revelation again, whether the only portion you can take literally, and even that has some figurative language is the letters from our Lord to the seven churches. The rest of it is filled with symbolism, speaking of reality and truth to be sure, but not to be interpreted as having necessarily literal fulfillment.

Indeed, the Revelation is mostly, it seems, a vision given to John on the isle of Patmos when he was exiled because of his faith in Christ. It is a written account of something of what he saw and heard.

Revelation takes on something of the same characteristic of writing we find elsewhere in scripture, like in Zechariah and Daniel. To read it as if it has to have literal fulfillment probably means misreading, since we have to understand the genre or type of writing we’re encountering, and understand that it’s meant to convey truth to us, but not at all in exact literal terms.

If we interpreted Revelation to be fulfilled exactly as written, that would pose problems of its own in a number of ways, most of all impacting how we read other like writings in scripture.

Again, this is not at all relegating Revelation to something less than truth. It is only suggesting that to understand Revelation and other scripture like it, we need to grapple with what kind of writing it is, and from that, just how we’ll interpret it.

 

scripture’s centrality for life

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Evangelical Christians emphasize both the centrality of Christ, and the centrality of scripture. Scripture is given an authoritative status to which the church is to submit. I grew up a part of that tradition, remained in it after conversion, and have been in it ever since, even if I have had a closeness to the Great Tradition (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox their cousin, when we were part of an evangelical Anglican church) at one point. Even when we were a part of a charismatic (Vineyard) church, though I did lighten up on the word at that point, while I was trying to get more attuned to the Spirit, I think I was considered a word person by others in that church, even at that point. But this post, and I hope blog is not about me. I only try to share my own testimony, and experience both to help myself, and hopefully someone who might read this.

My consistent testimony has been that it’s the word we need to be in day and night, that it’s there where we can find the real presence of Christ, and God’s help day to day. Not to minimalize the sacraments, especially in churches where a more traditional view is taught from scripture. I have much respect for that. Special place should be given to water baptism and the Lord’s Table, no doubt. We don’t do well by scripture to treat them as merely helpful add-ons.

But my point in this post is that we need to be those who are in the word, in scripture, meaning the Bible, in every way possible. We shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the prospect. but should take it both in large and small pieces. Listen to scripture being read, and go through the entire Bible again and again. Read portions or paragraphs along the way, and let the words sink in.

For me all of this is helpful, because more often than not, I feel quite uninspired in and of myself. Life has been challenging, and there is no let up for the most part. So I feel the great need to be in the word on a regular basis, and at best most all the time. And with that, in response– prayers.

Notice in the scripture passage above, what the person of God, transliterated anthrōpos, which in the context of this letter is aptly translated “servant of God” by the NIV, but literally is either “person” or “man” of God, but notice what scripture is meant to do for them, and by extension, through their lives and ministry for others, and by secondary application, to all who follow their example. It is meant to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness, so that the person might be ready to do good in serving others. It is not for mere head knowledge, but all about life, and all of life (Psalm 119:105). In and through Jesus.

 

do we have the right ear?

Recently I went through the book of 1 John. And what jumped off the page for me was the encouraging words at the end, particularly 5:14-15. But throughout the book there are words and concepts that are largely foreign to our ears, not hardly ever mentioned or even thought about in our circles. It certainly involves problems within the time the book was written, people infiltrating the church who really did not hold to the teaching of and about Christ, and were therefore, in John’s words, the antichrist.

There are other thoughts which we do regularly refer to: our need to confess our sins, God’s complete forgiveness for us in Jesus, and truth and love are a large theme in John’s writings. While we are definitely under that influence as Christians, we do well to listen to the entire song so to speak, to read and take in the whole letter, and the two short letters which follow (1, 2 and 3 John). As we do, we’ll surely appreciate what we’re more familiar with and more regularly turn to, all the more.

our actions and words matter

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

It was quite the experience the children of Israel of old experienced. Rescued by mighty signs and wonders out of Egypt, saved from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, and then miraculous provision day after day in the wilderness. But their hearts evidently weren’t changed. Surely true of at least many of them. So that we as believers in Christ would write that off as not really applying to us. We have our sins for sure, but our hearts have been and our changed. But Paul in God-breathed (or God-spirited, inspired) scripture didn’t see it that way.

We give ourselves a pass, and others. Instead we need to take these words of scripture as seriously as they are written. Or are they conveniently left behind, instead our focus being on the precious promise? Interestingly one such promise is tucked right into this passage, at the end. We refer to that one quite a lot, but do we know its context? And do we take it seriously?

Well that promise is there to help us avoid the very things destructive to us such as idolatry, sexual immorality, and yes, grumbling. Notice that they had a great spiritual experience according to the text. Yet God wasn’t pleased with most of them. And there were severe consequences as a result.

We don’t want to minimize God’s grace in forgiving us. That’s a needed encouragement, because we all fail along the way, hopefully not in “great transgression,” but even then as we see in scripture, God’s forgiveness is available and offered to us. But we will experience the consequences of such.

God’s call to us here, to me, is to simply take what we do seriously. To not in the name of grace give ourselves a free pass. And to help others both by how we live, and through prayer. And as this passage tells us, God will give us the way out, so that we can endure temptations to do such. In and through Jesus.

Psalm 18: holy warfare for today

With your help I can advance against a troop;
    with my God I can scale a wall.

Psalm 18

As one who is either a pacifist Christian, or almost completely so (see Miroslav Volf for his change, and why), warfare passages in scripture, specifically in the Old Testament can seen counter Jesus, and in a sense might well be considered so (though read the book of Revelation, but also see Michael Gorman’s book on it which I haven’t read). Tremper Longman in this lecture defends well the teaching of holy war in the Old Testament, countering Greg Boyd’s recent work.

Judgment is both present and future, and I let some of the hard questions go. What I’m settled in is that for the people of God today, holy warfare amounts to spiritual warfare. The apostle Paul’s words seem to address this for me:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10

Nevertheless all scripture was written for us, even if not to us. I find Psalm 18 completely encouraging and inspiring for the real life I have to face. We are not called to a passive existence where we do nothing, unlike what some advocate, as if anything else is opposed to God’s grace. No. In Christ we are given strength from God to do what we must. And any holy war today would never be physical:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6

We are in a battle no less. And like Longman points out for the actual physical warfare that went on in the Old Testament (and I would highly recommend listening to this lecture), we engage in spiritual warfare in the context of worship and submission to God as prescribed in God’s word.

Find your way to Psalm 18 in your own Bible. Read slowly, meditate, and pray. That is what I’m doing.  So that I can find my strength, what I need in God, and what God gives us, in and through Jesus.