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12/19 Monday Morning Quarterbacking

In a follow-up to yesterday’s sermon, I have written a little more detailed explanation about how Mary does and does not fit with the woman in Revelation 12, which you can read about by clicking below. I also wanted to follow up about praying for the persecuted church. The Voice of the Martyrs is a great organization I have found helpful in keeping up with our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world with information, prayer, and even financial support. One of the neatest resources they have is an interactive map of the world that highlights various places in the world and how to pray for them. Maybe it might be a good idea to get online this next week and look at it as a family, maybe let it guide your prayer time.

Mary and the Woman of Rev 12 – Extra

Mary and the Woman of Rev 12 – Extra

So what’s the deal with the woman in Rev 12? Is the woman in Rev 12 Mary or someone else? This can be a hotly debated issue between Catholics and Protestants. Here’s the issue, as it is often presented by Roman Catholic scholars:

  1. The birth of the one ‘who would rule with a rod of iron’ (Rev 12:5) is obviously the birth of Jesus. Therefore the woman who gave birth to him is obviously Mary.
  2. The Dragon is a spiritual manifestation of Satan’s power, and in the Christmas story stands for Herod.
  3. Therefore we can read back into the story a spiritual statement of Mary; that she is a queen of heaven as the chosen vessel of Jesus who was immaculately conceived (i.e. Mary was conceived with original sin). She was also was free from sin during her whole life, and she was taken up to heaven without dying. And because she was without sin, she did not suffer the pain in childbirth (since the curse to Eve after the Fall in Gen 3 was the pain in childbearing it follows: no sin, no pain).

You can see now why Protestants might have skin in the game! My response to this is two-fold: 1) Mary cannot be not identical to the woman as Roman Catholics claim, but 2) Mary does resemble somewhat the scenario in Rev 12.

To the first response, Mary cannot be identical to the woman, and this can be shown easily from just looking more closely at Rev 12. First of all, the woman in Rev 12:1-6 is in the pain of childbirth, yet according to Roman Catholic theology, she cannot experience pain because Mary is supposed to be without sin (See Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part 1: The Creed, Article III). Many Catholic scholars counter that the ‘pain’ here is symbolic; but if the pain is symbolic, then why can’t the rest be symbolic also? One can’t have it both ways. Secondly, the woman of Rev 12 sees her child born, taken up to his throne and THEN flees to Egypt, while Mary gives birth to Jesus, flees WITH him and Joseph. The ‘assumption to the throne’ in the Gospels doesn’t take place until after the death and resurrection of Christ some thirty years later. The timing doesn’t make sense if we are to read this as a picture only of Mary. Third, this woman must be more than one single woman since her children are those who hold to the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). If this passage were showing the spiritual motherhood of Mary, then it is doing so without any hint in the Gospels, in the life and practice in the church in the Book of Acts, the writings of Paul, or Peter or John.

A better model would be that this woman is representative of the Old Testament church i.e. Israel. Israel is sometimes portrayed in the OT as a woman, sometimes unfaithful (Isa 1:8, Jer 6:2,23, Joel 1:8, Amos 5:2), sometimes as a restored woman (Isa 54:1-4, Isa 62:1-5). Paul describes ‘our mother’ as ‘Jerusalem above’ (Gal 4:26-27), in which he cites Isaiah 54:1. This shows that there is precedence for speaking of OT Israel as a singular woman (and the NT talks about the church in this manner too, see Eph 5:23-27).  A hint of this type of use is in the crown of twelves stars (Rev 12:1), signifying the 12 tribes of Israel. What makes much more sense is that her birth pangs are the yearnings and longings of the OT people, expressed in Simeon’s song (Lk 2:29-32). As commentator Greg Beale says, “The woman’s labor also partly represents the imminent, agonizing expectation of the Messiah’s birth and assumption of kingship, which is about to take place within the OT community of faith.” (The Book of Revelation, p.630)

So is there ANYWAY Mary is connected to this passage? I think so, but only as in a shadowy sort of way. Just like King Herod may be a small agent of the demonic force of the Dragon, he can only, in a shadowy, incomplete, and analogous way mirror the dragon, so too Mary does for the woman. She is in birth pains, gives birth to the Messiah, and does flee to Egypt. So instead of reading back into the character of Mary spiritual realities that don’t fit her, perhaps we should see the Christmas story is a miniature version of the greater reality talked about here in Rev 12. It is far more fruitful to talk about Mary being a part of the OT people who get to witness the coming of the Messiah, rather than somehow the people are a part of her.

Community Caroling

This past Sunday, we decided to do something a bit unusual. A bunch of us went out to a local shopping center (we asked permission first, don’t worry) and sang Christmas hymns as people were walking around and shopping. We didn’t ask anything from anybody (though we did hand out candy!). The reactions were interesting:

Some people were at various levels of amusement / interest. I saw someone filming us as we sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. Drivers might give a little wave as they drove by.

Some people tried not to make any eye contact whatsoever. And that makes some sense. Most people are a little skeptical about anyone outside a store: they must be selling something, and whatever they are selling, I don’t want it.

Similarly…

Some people assumed we were collecting donations. There were some very sweet folks who came to us with wads of cash in hand, ready to give to whatever cause we happen to be singing for. As they approached, somebody from our group usually responded with, “Nope, we’re not taking anything, we are just here to bless you.” What followed was an expression of shocked-yet-pleasantly-surprised.

And as I am watching these reactions, I couldn’t help but think this was like a little microcosm of most people’s reaction to the Gospel. Here is Jesus: singing his song of love, no strings attached, pure unmerited favor. Some people are slightly amused, but go back to their lives. Others assume there must be some sort of catch and try not to make eye contact. Still others come genuinely grateful, money and good works in hand, ready to pay Jesus back. Only they find there’s nothing to buy back, just a gift we could never afford, bought with blood for you and for me.

There was one other person who we met along our little caroling adventure. One lady was so excited and thankful she wanted to join us in singing. So we gave her a caroling book and she joined the chorus. And isn’t that what Jesus wants? For us to know His love, shown on the cross, to have our sins washed away, so that we would join the chorus of His praises through all eternity.

12/5 Monday Morning Quarterbacking

I’m not sure how many of you caught it, but this past Sunday we sung a very familiar song (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) with some very unfamiliar lyrics. Most versions take the Charles Wesley’s Christmas hymn and cut it down to three verses. But the original had five verses, which we included this past Sunday’s worship. As I was thinking about yesterday’s sermon where I encouraged everyone to pay more attention to the words that we sing, so I thought I might lead the charge by describing these two ‘lost verses’:

4. Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us thy heav’nly Home;
Rise the Woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s Head.

Verse 4 references the ‘conquering seed’ of Gen 3:15, where God promises that the ‘seed of the woman’ will ‘crush the head of the serpent’. This was the first promise of the Gospel after the Fall, and we can now look back on those words and see that Jesus was that ‘seed/child’ who would put an end to Satan’s/the serpent’s reign. Yet Charles Wesley cleverly adds two words that apply that theological concept straight to our hearts: “Bruise IN US the Serpent’s Head”. The hold of sin and temptation is in our hearts, that’s where Satan’s head is, and it is there that the battle must take place. Jesus doesn’t just conquer sin and death ‘out there,’ but the good news of the Gospel is that he conquers those things in us, personally and profoundly.

5. Adam’s Likeness now efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place;
Second Adam from above,
Work it in us by thy Love

 The fifth verse has some unfamiliar language that might be confusing at first blush. Adam’s likeness is the image of God from Gen 1:27, which was perfect at Creation. But after the Fall, the image of God is ‘effaced’- or ruined. Imagine a beautiful statues that someone painted graffiti and has thrown stones at till its nearly unrecognizable. That is the image of God in us: still there, but broken. The rest of the song asks the ‘second Adam’ i.e. Jesus (1 Cor 15:45, Rom 5:15) to work in us, by his love his own image in place of the broken one. This reminds me of Rom 8:29 that says we are being conformed into the image of Christ. The hope of Christmas doesn’t end with the baby Jesus in the manger, but points to the renewal of our very humanity as was created good in the Garden, tarnished in the Fall, and in need of redemption and renewal.

Angel Tree Thank You!

Thank you Harbor church family for participating in this year’s Mooresville Christian Mission Angel Tree! We were able to provide some pretty neat stuff for 20 underprivileged kids this Christmas in our own local community. The above picture is a snapshot of all that we sent this past Friday.

Revelation Intro

In the coming weeks, our Christmas series will be drawing from classic texts from the Gospels and sections from the Book of Revelation. Maybe I am getting over my head, but I am so excited about seeing how the Book of Revelation can illuminate the Christmas story. I thought, by way of preparation, that I might give a VERY quick guide to how I approach the Book of Revelation which I won’t be able to go into during the sermon series. Here goes:

  1. The Original Audience of Revelation was a Specific Group of Churches. In Rev 2-3, specific churches (or groups of churches within cities—presbyteries?) are mentioned by name and have several specific applications addressed to them in a similar manner to, say, Paul’s letter to the Galatians or Ephesians. This fact is very helpful to readers because it sets the context for why the book was written: to churches facing persecution from the world as well as a temptation to follow the ways of the world. What they needed most was assurance that God was in control, that evil would be done away with, and that their destination was going to be glorious. Therefore they are called to persevere by faith in Christ. If we want to read Revelation better, I think we need to start with understanding this is a primary purpose of the letter.
  2. The Visions in Revelation are Symbolic and Steeped in the Old Testament. You certainly have to have a healthy sense of imagination to take in all that this book has to offer, with its seals, beasts, angels, horsemen, new heavens/new earth. But probably more importantly is that you will need a good background in the OT. One professor told me if you want to prepare yourself to read Revelation well, you need to read four things: Exodus on the Tabernacle, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. If you are confused about a particular image, one of the best resources is to go back to the Old Testament.
  3. The Visions in Revelation can be Described not Linearly but also in Terms of Cycles. Something I have grown in appreciation for in the last couple of years is the cyclical nature to the visions in Revelation. In each cycle there is worship, problems, a going to the brink, a saving, and more worship. There is an orderly pattern to each vision. Here’s a summary of them:

VISION*          CHP    CONTENT

   1                   1-3       Seven Churches in a Fallen World

   2                   4-8:1    Seven Seals

   3                   8:2-11  Seven Trumpets

   4                   12-14   Battle Against Satan

   5                   15-16   Seven Bowls

   6                   17-19   Downfall of Babylon (City of Evil)

   7                   20-22   Church Perfected: New City

  1. Revelation Speaks to the Past, Present, and Future. For the most part, the passages we will be looking at won’t be the ‘controversial’ ones that get people into knots over (e.g. millennial views), which is sometimes the only topic that some people pay attention to. Revelation is not merely ‘a book of the future’ because it is absolutely rooted in Old Testament imagery, at times it points to history (from our perspective) within a generation after the resurrection of Jesus (like the destruction of the temple), speaks to contemporary churches of John’s time, and concerns future (both in the short term and long term). The patterns in Revelation can speak to many ages both past, present, and future. So how should we most effectively read it? That’s where we go to next…
  2. Revelation Presents us with Timeless Principles we can Apply at any Time. In every episode we must ask the question (like we should with every part of Scripture), what can I learn and apply to my own life right now? So as we approach the Book of Revelation, what do we learn about Jesus or the world in each passage and how does it help me to fight temptation or persevere despite opposition?

*Table taken from Derek Thomas’ book, Let’s Study Revelation (Let’s Study Series), (Banner of Truth, 2003)

11/14/16 Monday Morning Quarterbacking

“Those engineers were nuts!” I said.

This past week our family made a quick little vacation to Blowing Rock, and during our stay we made an hour-long jaunt to Linville Caverns. That meant driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway across the mountains. It wasn’t so bad until about halfway there we crested to almost the tops of the mountains, and that’s where things got nerve-wracking. The road looked more like a three-year-old had scribbled a bunch of lines on a map and then the engineers ran with the design: right, left, right, left—sometimes almost 180 degree turns. With sheer rock on one side and a hundred foot drop on the other, they actually expect you to travel 45mph! And of course, if the road wasn’t dangerous enough, they make sure all the trees are removed so you are mesmerized by the scenery in order to ensure maximum distractedness. One well-placed “look at the mountains, honey!” and we were done for.

As I was reflecting on yesterday’s sermon, I was thinking about how brilliant and cutting the words we find in Galatians 6:9 are: “do not grow weary of doing good.” Life is perilous. It twists and turns. Sometimes you feel like you are hugging the soft shoulder of the road, sometimes it turns towards the dangerous cliffs. We get frustrated with the turns, we want things to go straight, we want progress, and we feel the only way to really navigate life is to have absolute certainty of the next curve. This verse calls us to faithfulness, to keep our eyes fixed on the double-yellow line in the middle. That is the way of Christ. That’s the best way to navigate through the mountains, is to not grow weary of doing that which Christ calls us to. And when we do, we start to be able to trust the road, even to enjoy it! You see, the road wasn’t designed to doom us, it was crafted by a master who knows the only way through the rocks to bring us to our destination in Him.


PS The picture is (as far as I can tell) the actual spot on the Parkway we were driving.

Women’s Bible Study Spring 2017

Please join our women’s Bible study Tuesday Dec. 6 from 9:30 – 11:15 as we begin a NEW inductive study  making us of Sarah Ivill’s book  Judges & Ruth: There is a Redeemer. We will meet December 6th & 13th before breaking for Christmas. Bible study will resume Tuesday, January 10. Childcare is provided. Contact Tracie Aldridge tracieNC@gmail.com if you would like to participate, need a book, or would like additional information. We hope to see you there!

Here’s a Description of the Study:  womens-study-spring-2017

In its tales of gore, rebellion, sexual escapades, and fleeting victory, Judges is one of the books of the Bible in which we most see our need for a Savior and in which God’s grace shines most brightly. Meanwhile, the book of Ruth beautifully reminds us that God has not forgotten his promises to Abraham. His plan of redemption is displayed in this book through the lives of hurting women who cling to his covenantal lovingkindness.

Following her mind-heart-hands model of application, Sarah Ivill’s gospel-centered Bible study provides questions and commentary to accompany a careful, redemptive-historical reading of these books in eighteen weeks (thirteen for Judges and five for Ruth). Readers will be both helped and challenged, emerging from their study with both a mastery over the subject matter and new ways to live a gospel-focused life.

Christmas Series: Pulling Back the Curtain on Christmas

A little plastic baby Jesus rests woodenly beside shrouded faceless parents, crepe paper ‘hay’, a donkey, and an A-frame open ‘stable’ that would do little to keep out the rain. This is your run-of-the-mill nativity scene you will probably see hundreds of times during the Christmas season. It’s quaint, maybe a bit little tacky, but wholly unremarkable. Unfortunately, because many people  assume Jesus is just like His ‘images’: wooden, hokey, and unremarkable. A passing fad of by-gone era, or fun for now, but to be put away in the attic for next year. Truly this misses the true identity of Jesus as the powerful creator of all things, one robed in light come to rescue his people from their sin. In this Christmas series, “Pulling  Back the Curtain on Christmas,” we are going to be walking through the Christmas story in the Gospels and comparing them to passages in the Book of Revelation to help us see the grandeur, the power, the wonder, (even the terror), and the hope that the Christmas story points to.  Please join us in worship every Sunday from 9:30-10:45am, Nov 27th-Dec 25th as God’s Word opens our eyes to the awesomeness of Jesus and His coming!

Nov 27th: Baby Jesus: What Child is this? (Lk 1:26-37, Mt 13:53-56, Rev 1:9-20)

Dec 4: Christmas Songs: Singing the Lamb’s Song (Lk 2:8-20, Rev 5:1-14)

Dec 11: Christmas and Family (Lk 1:34-45, Lk 2:1-7, Rev 7:1-12)

Dec 18: Christmas and Conflict: (Mt 2:8-18, Rev 12:1-17)

Dec 24: Christmas Eve Service: Joy to the World (John 1:1-14, Rev 21:1-7) — 7pm-8pm

Dec 25: Second Christmas (Rev 22:12-21) — 11am-12pm

11/2 Monday Morning Quarterbacking – Part II

This past sermon I had mentioned a rather befuddling statistic: the Barna Group reported that 83% of those who self-report as evangelicals say that people seek God first, then God responds with grace. Given how misunderstood this point is, I figured I ought to explain it!

Here’s the issue at hand: the idea that someone has to make a move first toward God, and then he grants us mercy (I think a misunderstanding of James 4:8). And what a most natural thought! Most people wait for a perpetrator to come to them before they grant forgiveness; so God must be just like that, waiting for us to seek Him. It also can fit a certain type of experience: we hear stories or maybe your story involved a searching to understand who Jesus was, and then one day you ‘got it’.

This same issue was a huge controversy in the late 300’s AD. A bishop named Pelagius from Britain had heard the famous preacher Augustine say that salvation was by grace alone. He wouldn’t have it! To Pelagius, God would never command anything man was unable to accomplish, so when God gives His law, you are to follow your inner Nike slogan and ‘just do it’. Jesus, according to Pelagius, was a good moral teacher and an example for us to follow as we work on being perfect. Augustine, on the other hand, said that this view doesn’t take sin seriously enough. In the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15-16), it was certainly true that human beings could obey on their own effort, but after the Fall, sin pollutes our wills (Rom 3:10-12). We are dead spiritually (Eph 2:5). Even if we are given the opportunity to obey, our sinful nature will always choose its own way. Even our best works (by own own efforts) are tainted by sin. (Isa 64:6) God has to break open our will by His grace alone before we can respond with faith. If this is not true, then salvation is our work, not God’s.** Just like blind man who cannot see, the eyes of my heart need to be opened by the hands of Christ before I can peer into the face of Jesus. (John 9:8-14)

I know in my own life, I was very thoroughly running away from God when he rescued me. I was not an honest seeker trying to get at the truth. And that, to me, is one of the most incredible truths of the Gospel: that Jesus seeks the lost, especially the lost that aren’t seeking, that they may be found. If you went through a process of ‘searching’, this is evidence the Lord was drawing you to Himself all along and preparing you to receive the Gospel, not you going at it alone.  And when we realize this, it humbles us, gives God the glory, and empowers the spread of the Gospel. I am not the product of my own ingenuity, but a blind man whose eyes have been opened to gaze on the beauty of Christ.

John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”


**Interestingly enough this is not just a Calvinism / Arminianism distinction. Even the Arminian John Wesley believed in God’s movement first (called prevenient grace). While I disagree with the doctrine of prevenient grace, it still proves the point that a Biblical view, in line with the Gospel, is that God comes to us first in order for us to be saved.