Thursday, May 29, 2008
We'll look at the number of 144,000. As in 144,000 saints in Revelation 14. What does it mean? Is it like some sects believe -- that's the number of "truly saved," the ones who get to reign in heaven while the lesser saved merely get a rewewed earth? Or does it have to do with something entirely different altogether -- the future of Israel, for example?
Or does this number instead serve an even greater and larger purpose? Something that will remind Good Shepherd of its walk towards "full color"?
There's only one way to find out. Sunday. 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
If you are passionate about communicating important stuff, and doing it in a way that reaches people in the 21st Century, you'll want to check it out.
Made To Stick showed me that communication needs to be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and story-driven.
That's why so many things have changed in our communication style around here:
- Moving from sermons with multiple "points" and "illustrations" to sermons with one main "point" supported by visual "animations."
- Greater use of video imagery to tell stories and support songs.
- A church bulletin heavy on visuals and light on "church news."
- A growing commitment to "less is more." We try to avoid information overload (something into which churches easily fall) and instead highlight those things that speak to the largest number of people.
So my prayer is that what we say is "sticking" in the minds and hearts of the people of Good Shepherd.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Now, I hate clay. I have nightmares about matches that I played on clay.
It works against me on every level: because it slows the ball down on impact, it blunts the power of my serve (my best shot); because it is slippery, it makes my movement (already a weakness) even more awkward; and because it is green and grainy, it gets my socks dirty (and I value clean clothes).
But ultimately, clay favors patience, strategy, and endurance. Hard courts or grass courts (my two favorite) favor attack and assault.
Church work, I find, is more like clay court tennis. I believe effectiveness in ministry happens over the long haul. Decisions made now will reap benefits then. Despair that you deal with now will lead to euphoria then. So often it's a matter of working on that sermon when you want to give up, making that visit when you want to go home, planning for what will happen next year as opposed to next week.
Maybe I should play more on clay after all.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Chris Macedo was on fire leading us in praise and worship.
Then James-Michael Smith's sermon-intro-video got us ready for the message:
The talk itself covered Revelation 20:1-15. We looked at three possible understandings of the "Millenium" from that chapter:
1. Pre-millenialism -- meaning that Jesus returns "before" the thousand years and establishes a millenial kingdom on earth.
2. Post-millenialism -- meaning that Christ's return comes after the church establishes the kingdom on earth.
3. A-millenialism -- meaning that the time span spoken of here is a symbolic description of the time between Jesus' resurrection and his return. In other words we, are in the millenium now.
Then there is the pan-millenialist perspective which says, "I don't know what in the world Revelation 20 is talking about, but it's all going to pan out in the end."
After going through the evidence both in Revelation itself and in the whole of the New Testament, I land in the a-millenialist camp. I will say, however, that this is one of those that has a couple of good answers; a good case can be made for the historic pre-millenialist view.
Anyway, the part I like best about Revelation 20 and what we did yesterday has to do with the two types of books in verses 11-15. We contrasted the "Book Of Deeds" in which are recorded all the things we have done while in the body with the "Book Of Life" which contains the names of those who have trusted Christ as Lord. Everyone's name is in the "Book Of Deeds"; entry into the "Book Of Life" comes by God's grace through our faith. We closed with an invitation for people literally to sign their names in books we had arranged throughout the Worship Center as an indication that they a) wanted to receive Christ for the first time or b) wanted to re-affirm their faith in a public way. At all three services, hundreds of people responded.
That's what makes Kingdom work worth it.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Now time for the Millenial Kingdom. To prepare for Sunday, read Revelation 20:1-15 ahead of time.
A few years ago, I taught a class at Good Shepherd called The Millenial Maze. We looked at the Revelation 20 passage in some depth and considered different possible interpretations for it. I'll take you on that journey on Sunday.
But here's why I can't wait for Sunday: because if you read the "millenial" chapter closely enough, you'll see that the most important thing going on is not a debate over a 1,000 year kingdom. John is communicating something else much more important. What is it?
I'll tell you on Sunday. NUMB3RS, Part Four: 1,000 Year Reign.
But some friends from church invited Ron Dozier and his family and I for a pool party. Those who invited us are all of Indian descent. Here's what the group looked like:
I was the only one who had to use sun screen that day.
That's what we mean by going "full color" around here.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I've been thinking about some of my favorite moments in rock songs. Not the best songs, necessarily, but what are those moments within songs that stay with you? So I put together a few of my favorites:
1. When Merry Kelly's haunting vocals kick in during the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter.
2. When the drums blast off in U2's Beautiful Day.
3. When Randy Meisner hits the high notes on the Eagles' Take It To The Limit. I know it's a wimpy song, but I still like it.
4. When the opening guitar part launches The Bravery's Believe.
5. When Jimmy Page opens Led Zeppelin's Over The Hills And Far Away with that unforgettable picking pattern on the acoustic guitar. It sounds as good today as when I first heard it more than 30 years ago.
Monday, May 19, 2008
It got off to great start as Anjie Carpenter led us in worship. So smooth yet so powerful.
Then came James-Michael Smith's sermon intro video. See it here:
Then it came time for the message. We saw from Matthew 24:36-41 that being "left behind" is actually a good thing -- because that's what happened to Noah and his family in contrast to those who forgot God and were "swept away" in the flood. We also saw that I Thessalonians 4:16-17 can't really be describing a secret rapture scenario because there Jesus' return is loud and obvious. It also can't be his return after the seven years of tribulation because 4:17 refers to "we who are still alive and are left . . . " "We who are left" means Christians. How could they be "alive" on earth and "left" if they've all been raptured away seven years earlier? So that passage suggests a very different Second Coming than the one Left Behind describes.
So if I don't believe in a Left Behind rapture, what do I believe in? That Jesus will return at an unexpected time and in an unmistakable way. He will defeat Satan, judge the quick and the dead, and bring with him a new heavens and a new earth. Up there comes down here in a way beyond our understanding. Until then, Christians will endure all kinds of joys and struggles, blessings and persecutions. We're not supposed to hope for an escape from the world; we are part of God's plan in redeeming it. That's why Revelation tells us to "overcome."
Probably my favorite part was the end. We sang "Sing To The King" which has the best verse:
For His returning we watch and we pray,
We will be ready the dawn of the that day
We'll join in singing with all the redeemed
As Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King.
That's something all Christians -- whether they subscribe to a rapture or not -- can sing together. And so we did.
You can listen to the message here.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
So today, I want to give you some well-respected resources that have helped in my understanding of the book. These have been pivotal in my preparation for NUMB3RS. Here goes:
Top Five Resources For Studying Revelation
1. Ben Witherington's Revelation Commentary from the New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Professor Witherington is a native North Carolinian who teaches at Asbury Seminary and holds what is known as the "historic premillenialist" view of the book (more on that on May 25). This commentary is both scholarly and accessible.
2. End Times Fiction by Gary DeMar. A strong answer to the phenomenon that is the Left Behind series of novels. An easy yet compelling read.
3. The Throne, The Lamb, & The Dragon by Paul Spilsbury. Spilsbury is a professor at the Canadian Bible College and has given the church a gift in the form of this short volume.
4. The Revelation Of Saint John by Ian Boxall in the Black's New Testament Commentary series. I honestly didn't expect much from this when I opened it. But I was wrong. Boxall is both academic and pastoral at the same time -- in other words it is useful for study and for preaching.
5. Mickey Efird's Revelation Bible Study. We taught this at Good Shepherd in 2006. Efird is folksy yet insightful. He's a Presbyterian scholar who teaches at Duke Divinity School. Of all the resources, this is the most accessible for people beginning their study of Revelation.
That's it. Good studying! Tomorrow, I'll post a preview on the next NUMB3R: 0.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Top Five Misconceptions About The Book Of Revelation
1. That it is "The Book Of Revelations." There is no such thing as the book of Revelations. It's Revelation, singular.
2. That Revelation 4:1 -- "After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.'" -- indicates the Rapture of the entire church and therefore the next 15 chapters (chapters 4-19) are all about the Great Tribulation that true believers watch from heaven. It looks to me like the voice says "come up here" to John only, but I'll get more into that on Sunday.
3. That it is a calendar of events for the end of the world, which as we now know will occur sometime after May 13, 2008. That interpretation would come as quite a surprise to the first readers of the book, who knew that it very much had something to do with their lives and their churches in 95 AD.
4. That differences of interpretation on the book divides believers. Well, no. Though I've got some strong opinions on the details -- and my opinions differ from what many people are taught these days -- on the essentials all evangelicals agree: Jesus really is coming back to judge the quick and the dead. (How great is the way the Creed says that?)
5. That Barney the Dinosaur is the 666 from Revelation 13:18. OK . . . maybe that's not a misconception.
Tomorrow: five excellent resources to help you dig into Revelation.
Monday, May 12, 2008
James-Michael Smith's video intro was classic. Take a look:
It's hard not to be inspired to preach well after that. Except at the 8:30 service I struggled. As a lot of you know, I preach without notes (some time I'll blog about how that happens) and my mind just left me a few times. I had so much I wanted to say but kept forgetting how to get there. So imagine my surprise when after that service someone told me it was my best talk in her four years of coming here.
The 10:00 and 11:30 sermons went much better and through it all I believe the church learned some important things from Revelation 13:
- The person who has the number 666 is most likely the Emperor Nero, a Roman ruler who had this annoying habit of killing Christians in the first century.
- The churches receiving the letter would have known exactly who John was referring to with 666 and the mark of the beast. And they would also have known that he was encouraging not to compromise in the face of persecution and deception.
- The spirit of 666 is the spirit of compromise -- whenever we are tempted to compromise our beliefs so that life may be easier, we are succumbing to the spirit of 666. We saw that with German pastors who didn't stand up to the Nazi movement in the years before World War II and with American pastors who failed to support the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. And we see it today when local churches make decisions based on who they want to keep rather than who they want to reach.
I don't ever want to be part of a 666 church.
Tomorrow, I'm going to post on some of most common mistakes people make with Revelation . . .
Thursday, May 8, 2008
This week, we're looking at the number 666 from Revelation 13:18. You're going to hear some really crazy interpretations people have given to that number, which is ironic since the verse itself says "This calls for wisdom." I am praying that my message will bring the wisdom -- and the passion -- that this verse calls for.
And you'll get another innovative sermon-video-intro-thing from James-Michael Smith, Joe Jackson, and Chris Macedo. Check the post from May 5 to see the first video. The one coming this Sunday is even better.
This series energizes me for a couple of reasons:
- I love challenging people's assumptions about Revelation and the end of history.
- I love preaching today about subjects I wouldn't have touched 10 years ago.
- I love the way the team here has done so much with the visual look and feel of the church and its gatherings. They stretch me and that's why they're good to work with.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Now I don't look a lot like my dad and he and I had very different body types, but there was something in the angle of my chin and the expression on my face and I was like, "that's my dad in that mirror!"
A lot of you know that he died in 2006 at the age of 95. By profession he was an attorney and he taught on the Law Faculty of Southern Methodist University for over 30 years.
But that experience got me thinking: what was he like when he was 46, the age I am now? (Since my dad was 50 when I was born, that's one of those things I obviously don't know.) Did he like his job? Was he happy in it? Did he lose sleep worrying about it? Was he ambitious for more success or more impact? Was it on his mind all the time? Or instead of "living to work" did he instead "work to live"?
I suppose I ask myself those questions about him because I also ask them of me.
You'll never know what you'll see when you look in the mirror.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Anyway, when Nolan came to that service last year, I figured he was sick. "No," he told me. "I just want to see what these services are like because I think I might have the gift of praying for people's healing."
Ever since that time, Nolan has been my prayer partner at the healing services. At our service last night, he prayed the most genuine & heartfelt prayers I've heard in a long time.
Did I tell you? Nolan is 11 years old.
I hope I can be like Nolan when I grow up.
Monday, May 5, 2008
It's really good to work with people like that . . .
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Some idle thoughts:
- No cell phones allowed. How cool is that? All 30,000 people were without their cell phones . . . and the world continued to rotate on its axis. Imagine that.
- Some golfers have fitness levels that wouldn't really cut it on the pro tennis tour. Then there are others who definitely could. Check here.
- Watching golf live is so different from watching it on TV. When you watch it live, you can only pay attention to either one golfer or one hole at a time. It's hard to get a grasp of the big picture; difficult to know who has momentum and inspiration. But when you watch it on TV, you see the whole story at once: you watch multiple holes, you can follow the hot hand, you can see who is struggling and/or choking, and you have the commentary to help make sense of it all.
- Then I realized: that (the difference between live golf and TV golf) is like the difference between being human and being God. We go through life focused on our small picture; God is engaged in it from the perspective of the Big Story. Think about it . . .
By the way: NUMB3RS. Tomorrow. 8:30, 10:00, and 11:30.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Well, yeah, my blog, but that's not the big thing.
The big thing is that NUMB3RS is finally here. It's a message series from the book of Revelation that I've wanted to do for a long time now.
Because I'll be honest: the ways that Revelation gets used and misused makes my blood boil.
Since boiling blood doesn't help anybody, we decided to tackle the book head on. And when I kept seeing TV ads for that show NUMB3RS, well, I knew how we could approach it. Seven churches. 666 on people's foreheads. 144,000 saints. On and on. So that's what we're doing. Unexpected. Bold. A bit scary. It's a good thing that God's not in the rut; God's in the adventure.James-Michael Smith has put together some video intros that you'll have to see to believe. The best stuff ever.
NUMB3RS. It's finally here. So don't miss it, Good Shepherd.