Monday, October 29, 2012


I am always on the look-out for a new author to enjoy. I think I have found another one.

A couple of months ago I was on the 'undercard' at a preaching conference where John Dickson was 'the main event' (I am not a boxing fan, but you get the idea). An Aussie based in Sydney, John has the hint of the 'renaissance man' about him. Primarily a historian (and here he reminds me just a bit of Rodney Stark), Dickson is also a musician, a writer, a scholar, a media guy ... and a preacher.

Humilitas is a book about humility. Humility is the sweetest grace of all, the common denominator in the people God chooses to use. 'Humility enhances the ordinary and makes the great even greater' (29). While it is difficult for someone as able as this to write a book on this topic, Dickson gets away with it due to large dollops of Aussie self-deprecation.

While he writes as a Christian, the book is not overtly pitched at a Christian audience. Dickson is adept at living life in the media and the public square and it comes through in his writing. It is an easy read, not the least because it is full of great stories (Joe Louis, 26-27; Muhammad Ali, 56-57; Edmund Hillary, 70-71; Daniel & Janet Matthews, 73-77; Bill Gates, 125-127 - in a little story about the humility of Gates compared with the arrogance of Jobs ... and Dickson is a Mac-user!; etc)

There is much that could be said but let me zero in on three sections which impacted me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

fours and sevens

Sticking with the apocalyptic theme for one more post...

As various scholars like to remind us, in the Book of Revelation 'numbers are symbols, not statistics'. So, for example, the number 4 is a symbol which represents everything, all of something. A bit like the way the four winds, or the four corners, is a way of representing all there is of the earth. And then the number 7 is a symbol for completion, or perfection.

Let's say we are speaking of cups. If 4 is associated with cups, then it means all possible cups are included. If the number 7 is in there somewhere, then the symbolism suggests that each of those cups is filled to the full.
Or take, the koru - that exquisite tree fern which we have here in New Zealand. If 4 is associated with koru, then it means that all possible koru are represented. If a 7 is in there as well, then this symbolism suggest that each koru is fully extended, approaching perfection.

Coming back to Revelation, look at the way the church is described. In 5.9 you get a phrase like 'every tribe and language and people and nation'. There are four descriptors here and this suggests that it is the entire church, all the church from all around the world, that is being described.

Read on in Revelation and this collection of four descriptors keeps repeating, even if the individual words change a little bit:
7.9: 'from every nation, tribe, people and language'
10.11: 'many peoples, nations, languages and kings'
11.9: 'from every race, tribe, language and nation'
13.7: 'every tribe, people, language and nation'
14.6: 'to every nation, tribe, language and people'
17.15: 'peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages'

That is a lot of collections of four descriptions, isn't it?
How many exactly?  Count them up!

In Revelation there are seven times when this fourfold description of the church is used...
Does that ring any bells?

Might it be that one of the messages of Revelation is that it speaks of a time when the church will be drawn from all peoples and be perfectly mature?

bring it on - nice chatting


Monday, October 22, 2012

preaching from revelation

As I posted earlier in the year, a project for me in 2012 has been figuring out how to preach from the Book of Revelation. I've had the privilege of training people in Indonesia, Pakistan, China (in my work with Langham overseas) - and also people in Dunedin, Mt Roskill and New Plymouth (back home here in NZ).

I am excited about what I have learned. The 'fear factor' has been overcome. When I was speaking to young people in my home church (Mt Roskill), I began by showing the first image to appear on google-images for the word 'apocalyptic' (which is what Revelation means). Here it is:

I asked them to tell me the first words that come to mind when they look at this image. Back came the words: hopelessness, defeat, dark, fear, doubt, death etc. It is true. All over the world 'apocalyptic' attracts a censor's warning for its bleak and violent images of the end of the world. When I finished my presentation I came back to this image and suggested that nothing could be further from the truth. Those words are the polar opposite of what the words 'Revelation' and 'apocalyptic' should spark in our lives. Revelation is about hope, victory, light, courage, faith, and life...