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Walking on the beach one beautiful summer night years ago, I breathed in the scene of the crashing waves and circling stars and, with some disappointment, thought about the passage from Revelation 21:1, “And there was no more sea. ” Similarly, verse 25 reads, “there will be no night there.” Really, God? But I love the ocean, and the night sky is beautiful. If heaven doesn’t have these, then I can’t help but feel a little bit  of disappointment. And while we’re on the subject, what about the new Jerusalem? Living in a huge city always seemed a lot less attractive than relaxing in a garden. I don’t really care that much about streets made of gold either.

A lot of you will be smiling at how naively literal my reading of Revelation was, but I don’t think I was alone. In college, I was crazy enough to agree to teach Revelation to a group of teenagers, and whether they got anything out of it or not, I was exposed to a very valuable resource in Paul Spilsbury’s book, The Throne, the Lamb and the Dragon:  A Reader’s Guide To the Book of Revelation. Spilsbury thankfully draws his readers away from the contemporary obsession with just how the end times will unfold, pointing out that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, almost similar to a fantasy. The strange images of the book come from a long tradition of similar figures, symbols, and numbers running through the Old Testament.

The sea, for instance, is consistently a place of fear for the Israelites, who were not much of a seafaring people. It is constantly pictured as chaotic, and out of it come all sorts of evil creatures (often sybolizing various kingdoms) who are a threat to God’s people. When John describes heaven as being without the sea, he isn’t giving his readers a physical description of its geography, but is making a statement about the existence of evil there. There will be no more evil monsters from the sea; all of Israel’s/the church’s enemies will be gone. In fact, the place where they originated will be gone.

The same principle applies to the banishment of night, the creation of a city, and the composition of the streets. These are not intended to be literal details about heaven. Instead, the Lord is telling us that the dangers of night will be gone;  that God’s people will be together in perfect community; and that the perfection of heaven will so outshine this world that the most valuable material we have here, gold, will be used for the basest of functions there.

Reading Revelation in this way truly unlocks its secrets. It is not a clue book to the future. Instead, it is a fantastic story to encourage us in our present state of troubles. Happy reading to you all as you jump back in the book.

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I was flipping through the channels early Sunday morning, trying to let my wife sleep a few extra hours while I held our son. Let me tell ya, Sunday morning Christian shows/church services can be downright depressing. The television portrays a Christianity obsessed with a million things other than the one thing we ought to be obsessed with–the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ has taken a back seat to more pressing or interesting issues, or maybe it is viewed as that event that gets us into Christianity and from which we move on to bigger and better things. The idea of obsessions in Christendom is an interesting one to me, and I have been thinking about a few that I wish Jesus would cleanse from his Temple. Here are a five:

1.  An obsession with the end times. I am sick of hearing preachers treat the Old and New Testament prophets as if they are a code book for the coming apocalypse (which is always, incidentally, imminent, depending on when Russia or Iran decides to attack Israel). Please, I beg you, study the original context and the type of literature that these books were written in, and be willing to hear a different view of the end times. May I suggest a little book on the Revelation called The Throne, The Lamb, and The Dragon by Paul Spilsbury? 

2.  An obsession with thickening our wallets. Please stop promising that those who are hearing you will be free of their house payment within a year. Please stop implying that those who are blessed will be driving high end cars. The Bible says nothing of the sort. In fact, there was a guy in the Bible who had a lot of faith and yet still lived in poverty–what was his name? Oh yeah, Jesus.

3.  An obsession with positive thinking and other self-help stratagies. There’s a wonderful aisle in your local bookstore that talks about the power of positive thinking. I’m pretty sure the Bible isn’t on that aisle.

4.  An obsession with being hip and sexy. Church services become concerts or stage performances. Cute video skits are played in the middle of the sermon, which the guy with the spiked hair and tatoos is preaching. What I find offensive is that these styles of worship are specifically contemporary, i.e., they are for people in their teens, twenties, and thirties. What about those who are forty, fifty, or older? Do they matter? Or do you have a separate, more traditional service for them, so that now you have a church devoid of the influence, wisdom, and leadership of the older crowd?

5.  An obsession with literal creationism. If you think that the Bible teaches that the earth was made 6000-10,000 years ago in six literal days, then that’s fine. However, if you think that anyone who believes in an old earth is a compromiser, an apostate, a heretic, or an ineffective Christian, then you’d better be careful. You have entered the realm of judging your neighbor, in my opinion. Does creation science dominate your religion? Maybe it’s become an obsession.

There you have it. What do you think about these obsessions? Do you have any to add?

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