I have been asked many times during this pandemic if this is the end, if the return of the Lord is imminent as proved by the signs of the times. Some have referred to the book of Revelation, which certainly seems to describe cataclysmic global events such as we are witnessing now. My answer is always the same, "I don't know if this is the end, but I am closer to my end than I have ever been." The truth is I don't know and no one else does either. All we can do is be faithful to this day and trust the Lord for tomorrow.
Years ago, I wrote a commentary on Revelation called The Revelation Project: A Fresh Look at the Last Book and my perspective flew in the face of most commonly held interpretations. I later turned that book into volume twelve of my Live the Word commentary series, but I thought of the introduction to both of those books this week and want to share it with you here. My purpose is to continue my work to reclaim the last book of the Bible from the zany and bizarre interpretations many hold that cause them to mistakenly examine current affairs under the light of Revelation's message. Here is what I had to say in my introduction.
I suppose it is natural for us to think about the end of time and speculate concerning what will happen leading up to the end and beyond. Due to the popularity of fiction books that focus on the end times, along with the commonly held and taught positions on the meaning of the rapture, the millenium, and the antichrist, people study Revelation, along with Daniel, Ezekiel, and some parts of the gospel accounts, a majority are looking for the beast, the dragon, and the meaning of the number 666, among other things mentioned in Revelation.
Yet as you start this commentary, I am asking you to do something completely counterintuitive. I ask that you suspend any and all preconceived notions you have accumulated about Revelation, just for as long as you read this book. I don’t want you to think as a pre- or post-millenialist. If you tend more to be a preterist, futurist, historicist, or even an idealist (and if you aren't familiar with those four labels, please don't spend much time researching them), I want you to approach this book like you know nothing at all. If you don’t do that, then you will approach my book or a reading of Revelation looking for the familiar, consequently not seeing what else may be there. If you go looking for the antichrist, that is all you will see. If you can go looking for the Christ, you may notice things you have not seen before.
That brings me to my main objective for writing this commentary and that is I want you to read Revelation, approaching it as a devotional book. My reason for this is that is your approach, at least in part, to the other 65 books of the Bible. You usually read those books asking, “What can I learn from this that will help me in my daily walk? What can I learn about God’s will for my life? What can I learn about the Lord Jesus that will enhance my worship and walk with Him?”
Once you suspend your preconceived notions of what Revelation is or how you have interpreted it, here are some other guidelines I have set up as you work through the material, just so you know how I am approaching this work:
- Revelation is not a book primarily about the future. It is a book about the past. This does not mean that there are no future aspects to Revelation. There most certainly are. Yet the other 65 books of the Bible primarily explain how God has worked among His people, culminating in the work of Christ on the cross. The Old Testament basically tells us that Christ is coming. The New Testament explains the implications for His finished work and Ascension to heaven. Revelation has much to tell us about Christ’s work just like the other books do.
- Revelation is a book about Christ, not the Antichrist. Yes, Revelation does depict the work of forces that align themselves against the Lord and His Anointed One, but their actions are shown to be futile in light of God’s superior power and authority. Focusing on the enemies of God has tended to magnify their power and actions. We are never to magnify the enemy, only God.
- Revelation had to mean something to the churches that initially received it. The New Testament was written to the Church in all ages, and Revelation is no exception. The gospel of Matthew has meaning for us today, but it also meant something to those for whom it was first written—the Jews of the first century. If we can grasp and recapture some of what Revelation could have meant to the early church, then we will have a clearer understanding of what it says to us today.
- Revelation is called the Apocalypse because it is a book that utilizes apocalyptic language and images. The word apocalypse literally means unveiling. It was a genre of literature that was well-known to the early church, but almost a complete mystery to us today. There were specific rules of interpretation for apocalyptic literature then, just like there are for satire and science fiction today. You approach those latter types of literature with certain expectations and rules for interpretation. You must do the same as you read Revelation. Much of Revelation employs graphic and exaggerated symbols and metaphors, intended to give a general “bird’s eye view” of the work of Christ as He rules until all His enemies are His footstool. Those metaphors are not to be taken as literally as some have imagined. When Revelation wants you to know what something represents, it tells you. When it doesn't, be careful not to assign specific meanings that may even make some sense, but are not supported by biblical evidence.
- Revelation was not intended to generate fear, but trust and confidence in God. If the other 65 books of the Bible were intended to teach reverence for God and confidence in His ability to protect his people, then why would Revelation be any different? Yet the Bible and Revelation do tell the sinner—those who are apart from God, those who are in open rebellion—to fear. He will not remain silent forever and He will eventually judge His enemies, both in this Age and at the Final Judgment. If anyone should fear when reading Revelation, it is not God’s people but those who do not know Him.
There you have my basic approach to the reading, study, and interpretation of Revelation. It is a book of victory, not of defeat, and I resent just a little those who have made it be something else. It matters what you believe about the end for that will direct how you live. I want to live as one who lives daily in the truth that Jesus has taken on, and will continue to do so, all comers and He is still winner and champion. Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
Last week, I wrote an entry titled No More More that discussed our cultural obsession with more—more things, more variety, more experiences, more of just about everything. God has hit the pause button on all that and is about to reboot the world's economies, and the shake out and shake up will be significant. Yet there is a more that God does want and I thought I would discuss that this week under the title "More More." My thoughts on this began when I read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 this morning:
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more . . .
There is a more that God is interested in but it isn't the abundance of possessions; it is more love practically expressed first to the household of God and then to the world. In our pursuit of the wrong more, we suddenly did not have much time for the more more that God desired and that more is service to others in the power of our purpose and with the flare of our creativity.
My study of more didn't stop there, for then I did a search of the word more in the gospels and I came across a promise that Jesus made: "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them" (Matthew 13:12). This more is in the area of knowledge concerning the things of God, and it is interesting that this concept is mentioned in the three synoptic gospels—but is not limited to knowledge. Not to be left out, John describes his concept of more in John 15:1-2: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." Define fruit however you wish, but however you do, be sure that God wants more of it.
I have counseled and talked with many people who are quite satisfied with no more. They are content with where they are, and are diligent to protect their privacy and way of life. God would have to break into their world with a spiritual crowbar before they would consider doing more for missions, being more creative, or being more involved. Yet notice the promises in Matthew and John. Jesus promised that those who have will get more; they have no choice in the matter. If they are fruitful, God will prune them so they will produce more fruit. You get the idea that God wants more more from you, for you, and through you, and there is no discussion about it. That's His will and plan.
When I have taught on the concept of organization, I have taught that we must organize our lives to handle more more. That isn't about stuff, for if anything we need to have less of that kind of more. Yet how can you organize your life and world to produce the more more that God intends for you? I have organized my life, my office, my schedule, my connections, and my entire world to produce more: more books, more insight, more service. When I had mastered the art of writing books, I started a publishing company. Why? To make more money? Hardly! It was to structure my life so I could produce more. I had a say in that, but my only say was yes or no. When I said yes, then I had to invest my finances, and position my life to receive and support the more more.
What are your thoughts on more more? Do you think it's God's will for you? Do you think this season may have come to help you have less of the wrong more focus and more on the more more? I was so taken with this topic today that I decided that my next book after Proverbs 31 Men is done is going to be titled The Gospel of More, and it won't be about possessions. It will be about the right kind of more more. The sooner we can settle in our minds and hearts that God wants more and that more more is not an option, the sooner we can get about preparing and then realizing more. And if that is the result of this pandemic, it will have a redemptive harvest that was fertilized by the pain and suffering of people the world over as they embrace no more more and accept the fact that God wants more of the right kind of more.
In case you haven't noticed, the world is full of trouble—big trouble. We now have a global health crisis, the ongoing threat of terrorism, random acts of violence, political distress and upheaval, and a lot of mistrust, hatred even, between people groups. I am in Colombia as I write and I have had more people than usual write to say they are praying for my safety, which I certainly appreciate. How can we navigate and negotiate these troubled times without being overwhelmed with trepidation? Should we stay cooped up on our houses? Hire body guards?
This post is not to prescribe anything like that, but I do want to share what I learned to do when I was in Afghanistan in 2002 right after the war against terrorism started there. I was with a group of believers from all over the world and we met every morning at 7 a.m. for prayer. When we ended our time, we all recited aloud Psalm 91 and it had a soothing effect that framed our day as we left to go out into a society where every building was riddled with bullet holes or pock marks from explosives. Perhaps you want to adopt this habit during these times of trouble. In case you do, here is Psalm 91 in its entirety:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
I believe the promises in Psalm 91. This does not release us to do foolish, reckless things, but it does allow us to walk in comfort and security during turbulent times. I want not just to talk about the promises of God; I also want to live in them as I carry out my purpose. I invite you to join me in doing the same.
We are children of Adam and Eve, whose first act after they sinned was to hide in the bush while God walked by. Why? Because they were ashamed and afraid. Shame and fear are our two enemies as we seek to live for the Lord and walk in His ways.
We can quote, "God has not given me a spirit of fear" but that does not mean we don't have fear. In fact, in my 44 years of ministry experience, I have found that I am afraid and so are you.
You may protest and say, "Not me!" I would still beg to differ. If you insist you don't have fear, there are three possibilities:
- you may have conquered fear once and for all.
- you don't recognize the fear because it disguises itself.
- you have shrunk your world so that there are no surprises, so that tomorrow is like today -- and why did you do that? Because you are afraid you cannot handle the new day.
I doubt very much that you have mastered fear as described in #1 above, but if you have, pray for the rest of us.
If you need more convincing of the possibility you suffer from number 2, ask yourself why you don't go on a missions trip, learn a language, go back to school, or start a business -- or any other idea you have ever had that's new and different than what you are doing now. Within five minutes, you can think of all the reasons why those things are not good ideas. All those reasons are fear-based. If you don't have the money, you are really thinking, "I am afraid the money won't be there when I need it, so better not make the commitment to go (or do)."
And if you have settled into number 3, what is the purpose for your existence? Is it to do what you are currently doing every day for the rest of your life with minor variations? Is that living or existing?
Jesus said that we would know the truth and it would set us free. It's important to know where the fear is in your thinking so you can be free, that is, if you want to be free. Because to be free is to risk, and risk causes fear, and fear, well, then we are right back where we started at the beginning of this post, children of Adam and Eve, hiding with them in the Garden bush while God comes looking for us.
There is a lot going on, or should I say, coming up with my ministry work. I thought I would take this opportunity to update you and give you a chance to get involved. Here goes:
- I have 14 people signed up for my 2018 Israel trip from April 24-May 4, and many have inquired and more than a few said they are going. There are also 8 people signed up for the after trip to Rome. You can find out more about the pilgrimage at the tour website.
- My next trip to Kenya is February 22 to March 9, 2018. The first informational meeting is on Sunday, July 30 at 12:30 PM at Allegheny Center Alliance Church in room 120 of the Union Place building. Please let me know if you plan to attend.
- My latest book, a commentary on the gospel of John, is available for purchase on Amazon.
- I am ready to ship my next container of books and school supplies to Kenya. This shipment has 25,000 books, 2,500 pairs of shoes, desks, bikes, and a ton (literally) of school supplies. I need help with the shipping costs. You can contribute using PayPal through my website, or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882.
- I next speak at Allegheny Center Alliance Church on the weekend of August 19-20.
- I will be speaking at Victory Church in Oklahoma City on Sunday, September 3, in both services.
- This fall, I am teaching two leadership courses at the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry in Pittsburgh. On Wednesday nights, I will teach How to Start a Nonprofit Organization from 6 to 9 PM. On Saturday mornings from 9 to noon, I will teach History of Urban Leadership. Write me for more information.
- I will be in Lagos, Nigeria from October 14-30 teaching at the satellite school for Southwestern Christian University.
- I am working on my second work of fiction that involves lessons from the relationship of David and Saul, as well as from the book of Psalms.
- In addition to the above, I am enjoying my time as president of Urban Press, for which I am involved in many book projects for other people.
Please write and let me know if you would like to participate in anything I have listed above or if you have any questions. And please know that what I do, I do in faith, trusting God for my provision. If God leads you to help me, please contribute using PayPal through my website, or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882.
"When I am afraid, I put my trust in you" - Psalm 56:3.
David did not write "if I am afraid" but rather "when I am afraid." I have come to the conclusion that fear is always present in my life. Therefore, I am no longer surprised when I find it, but go on a search-and-destroy mission to look for it, asking God to show me where it is, so I can confront and manage it. I have found that fear is a master of disguise and works in my life as rational thinking. For example, "I don't have enough time" is really "I'm afraid I don't have enough time to do that well" or "I'm afraid I will fail, so I won't even try." You know what 2 Timothy 1:7 says: "For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control" (NET). Are you ready to confront and eradicate your fears today? What could you do today if you were not afraid?
Today's Reading - Psalms 55-60
"For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction" - Psalm 1:6.
If someone asked you, "Are you on your way?", you would understand that they were expecting you to be in motion, coming or going somewhere. The Lord also expects you to be on your way and that way is the path of faith. That implies progress, movement and knowing the way you are supposed to be going! James 2:17 states, "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." There is always something you can do in faith, otherwise you risk possessing dead or useless faith. Your life matter today is to determine what action you can take - write a letter, go look at a house or car, apply to school - with the faith you have about a particular situation you are facing.
TOPIC: Faith and God's Help
"For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him" - 2 Chronicles 16:9.
When you are fully committed to the Lord, you can count on Him finding and strengthening you in the work you are doing. To be fully committed, you must be devoted to a walk of faith in your family, work, career, and ministry, for "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6). That doesn't mean you have to be perfect, but that your first thoughts and final plans are of the Lord and what He would want you to do in regards to your life purpose whether or not you know exactly how you will do it. Do you believe God is searching for those who are completely His? Do you think you can be one of those people? What heart changes do you need to make in the coming year for God to search and find you? Where is fear keeping you from making a total commitment?
Lord, I read this verse and it stirs my heart, for I want to be someone whom You consider totally committed to You. I surrender my life's agenda to Yours, and I submit to Your purpose and will for my life. I will not allow family or circumstances to deter me in the coming year--with Your help, of course.
TOPIC: Faith and Speech
"Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other,
and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance
was written in his presence concerning those who feared
the Lord and honored his name" - Malachi 3:16.
The Lord is listening to your conversations with yourself and with others. We see from Hebrews 11 that you must talk faith to please God, and Hebrews 11 contains a scroll of remembrance of sorts for those who distinguished themselves in faith. The Lord is obviously still adding to that scroll and your name can be on it! Is God enjoying listening in on your conversations these days? Are you having faith discussions with others of what you can do in faith, or what you can't do in unbelief? Are you eager to have your name enrolled in the faith hall of fame?
Lord, I want to be registered on your faith scroll, but I see that I have to earn my way onto that list by honoring You. The best way I know to honor You is to put my trust in You, so I want to talk and live faith, so that You will take notice. I commit to talk faith in the coming year both to myself and to others.