The first one. It needs to trap the reader and drag him into the story. The first paragraph is important too, and the first page. But the reader may never read the first paragraph if the first sentence fizzles.
I pulled down some books from my book case and listed the first sentence from each. Some of these are from New York Times best selling authors like Ted Dekker. Some are from books by authors I had never heard of. A few are from books that were too tedious to reread. See if you can guess which of these sentences came from good books and which were mediocre books.
I also included the first sentence of the all time best selling book. And I included several from books I wrote.
Sample Starting Sentence
- Carlos Missirian was his name. One of his many names.
- I had never been in the oval office before.
- The office had no windows, only electric lanterns to light the hundreds of spines standing in their cherry wood bookcases.
- Jacob was a schemer.
- Tahn crept up the stone wall like a silent reptile after its prey.
- According to the books of history, everything that happened after the year 2010 actually began in the year 4036 A.D.
- Riley Keep returned to the scene of his disgrace in the back of a northbound pickup truck with New Brunswick plates.
- I have always wanted to write a book.
- Jason jumped from his chair, nearly stumbling in the process.
- Air this thin turns everyone into a mystic.
- The telephone call that completely turned around the lives of every member of my family came at 10:30 P.M. on a Sunday evening.
- A hot sticky evening in Los Angeles.
- I was obnoxious when I was young.
- Salazar Sanso raised his binoculars and looked out over the edge of the steep drop into the rosy New Mexican desert.
- Louisa Sherbatov had just turned six, but she would never turn seven.
- In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
- It was the proudest day of Diocletian’s life.
- People often misunderstand God.
- The wilted grass growing along the rail fence that surrounded the old graveyard bore testimony to the day’s pressing heat.
- Every “thinker” needs a sanctuary—a quiet haven with no distractions to disturb their thought processes.
In my opinion, the Book of Revelation is one of the most abused books of the New Testament. Theologians, conspiracy mongers, and self-made prophets have destroyed the message of the book, and made it seem mysterious and complex. So much so that many Christians won’t even read it. They may read books about it but assume that there is little in it for ordinary readers. Yet the book is the only one in our Bible that offers a specific blessing on those who read it.
The book of Revelation includes various indicators telling us how to view it. But nowhere does it indicate that it is to be understood as a timeline of the last days. So, how is to be understood?
I am going to assume, for the sake of this writing, that the author of the book was the Apostle John, since that seems to be the prevailing opinion of the early church. I am also assuming that he wrote it, or at least had the vision it is based on, while he banished to the salt mines. Any discussion beyond that might be interesting but not helpful in looking at the content and meaning of the book.
It is important to note that the book is written in the fashion of ancient apocalyptic literature. This would have been immediately apparent to his audience. Unfortunately, this isn’t always apparent to modern readers, especially readers from the west. Most of us have been taught that we need to take the Bible literally where ever that makes sense. Apocalyptic literature wasn’t written from that perspective. Typically, it was only taken literally when it had to be, in order to make sense.
The book seems to have been written as a series of snapshots, and that is how I think it makes the most sense. It isn’t a timeline for future events, though it includes future events. It isn’t a historical documentary either, though it includes events that are obviously in the past.
John states at the very beginning that this book is Revelation of Jesus Christ which God had given to Jesus to show his servants. Jesus then sent an angel to pass this on to John, though Jesus speaks as well in different parts of the book.
The book is the only one in the Bible that starts with a blessing on those who read it, those who hear it, and those who keep [or obey—NLT] what it says. This blessing guides us to a purpose for this book much different from what most people assume. We will come back to this.
This book is also the only one in the Bible that ends with a curse on those who change its teaching. That should make us hesitant in being too secure in our personal interpretation.
I also seems evident that another purpose for the book is to illustrate the victory of good over evil, and Christ over Satan.
Interpreting the Book…
These concepts are my own opinions, and I’m sure that some readers will disagree. However, I feel that the snapshots in Revelation are best interpreted as if they were parables. When you interpret a parable you look for a main idea. Details beyond that are given to carry the story-line, but not necessarily to aid in interpreting the parable. In fact, trying to work the details of the parable into the interpretation will inevitably lead to a false interpretation.
That same is true of many Bible prophecies, especially those in the Apocalyptic books like Daniel and Revelation.
As an illustration of what can happen, look at Revelation 20:9 – 27. The angel tells John that he is going to show John the Bride. When the bride appears, she looks like the Holy City, Jerusalem. For years I have heard this interpreted as a literal city in which we will live once we get to heaven. And this might be the case. However, the angel said that this was the Bride. So it is just as likely that the vision was comparing the Bride to a city. In this case the splendour of the city was describing the splendour of the Church, the Bride of Christ.
A Brief Overview
So what does this book show us about Christ? In chapter one, we see a picture of the glorified Christ. In chapters two and three, we see how Christ views the church. He promises them glory, but only if they overcome. Throughout the book, you see Christ’s burning desire for a pure Bride and the lengths to which He is willing to go in order to purify her.
In the main body of the book you also see Christ judging sin and the hatred that He has for sin. It also clarifies that God judges deliberate sin. But even in the middle of judgment, the opportunity for repentance is still available until the very end of the book.
In the end we see the victory of Christ over evil. And in the last chapters we see the beauty of the union of Christ and His Bride, the Church.
Time in God’s Eyes
God views time from a much different perspective then we do. We see time from within the boundaries of time, but God dwells outside time. God has no past and no future, because in eternity it is always now. This can make it very hard for us to understand a book like Revelation since it is written using God’s perspective rather than ours.
Imagine yourself standing at the end of a large pipe or tube and looking into it. Any items in the tube are transparent so that you can see all of them at the same time. Then think of these items as being history, some in the past and some in the future. That is somewhat like the way the God views time. From his perspective a thousand years is the same as a day, and a day is the same as a thousand years. The future is just history that hasn’t happened yet.
The Revelation is written from God’s perspective of history and you can see that many times in the book. For instance, in the last chapter, you have the picture of the bride represented by a city. It is given in present tense, with sinners outside the walls and the Bride within. Yet at the same time a few verses earlier, we see future tense, which is obviously after the following verses. That is how God sees time, and that is one reason that Revelation is confusing to human readers. We are used to books with chronologies, because we are locked into time. To God, time is much more subjective.
In the last chapter of Revelation, the angel told John twice that the time for its fulfillment was near and these things would soon take place. Then in verses 12 – 19 Jesus told John that He is coming soon but that there was still time for sinners to repent and enter the city to become part of the Bride. The Bride is within the walls while those who practice sin are outside, but Jesus is still inviting those outside to enter the city. The water of life is within the city. So is the tree of life. Sinners can gain access to them by leaving their sins behind and joining the Bride.
But don’t put it off because Jesus is returning and that will be the end of the opportunity.
John could hardly wait. How about you?
- How many people lived in Nicomedia, the city where this book takes place? Apparently, the city had as many as eight bishoprics. But how many Christians does that translate into?
- What was “home” like for Mark and Lydia? Where would they have lived and what was it like? I discovered that running water was the norm at this time in a Roman city.
- Soon after I started writing, Mark’s mother was cooking supper. And I realized I had no idea what this entailed. A fireplace? I finally decided on a barbecue like charcoal stove as the most likely.
- Since I was including the emperor’s point of view, I had to make sure that I got the history right. But what is right when major historians disagree on the timing of major events like the battle of Margus River? And when did Diocletian die? I had several possibilities to choose from. So I chose 311, knowing that probably I’ll get a letter from someone stating that the proper date was 313.
- Lactantius, one of the Early Church Fathers was an eyewitness contemporary of some of the events in this book. But big name historians like Gibbon brush him aside as biased in his coverage. Gibbon is sure that his documentation is seriously exaggerated. Surely no one could believe that this many people died. My sympathies (and those of some later historians) are with Lactantius, but I finally stuck with the figure of 3,500 martyrs.
- And of course there were dozens of other details. What did Mark and Lydia wear? What was baptism like in this era? Did presbyters and bishops really take a vow of poverty? Did the church support members becoming soldiers? What was a normal service like?
I realize that projections can get you into trouble. But I’m hoping to get reviewing and fine tuning behind me and have the book to the publisher in 6 – 8 weeks. Then it goes through their review process while I bite my nails. Well I tend to do that anyway, but my writing style and methodology seems to be on the edge for this publisher. But I’ll dive right into Book Two of this series and let the editors and reviewers sort out what needs sorted out.
And a Sneak Preview…
So, Constantine, here we come! You might be surprised at my view of Constantine, but we’ll see. Those were heady days for the church and we’ll ride the roller coaster with Mark as he faces the everyday life of a bishop under Constantine. The Nicene council? He’s going, and they’re going to talk about more than just the substance of Christ. Can a Roman emperor be both emperor and Christian at the same time? Some of these questions still haunt us today and are surprisingly modern in focus.
This is the introduction to my newest book.
What do overcomers need to overcome in order to be an overcomer? Not sin according to many of today’s evangelicals…
First, let me raise a question. Is it even possible for a mortal to “overcome”? And a second question: If it isn’t possible, why does God speak about it? Is He presenting us with a tantalizing target that he knows we will never hit?
Think back to the Old Testament for a little. Peter told the crowds in Acts 15 that the church should not put a yoke on the neck of the gentiles that neither the Christian Jews or their forefathers had been able to bear. In other words, the Jews had never really accomplished what the Law required. It was always a step beyond human capability. But Peter went on to say that both the Christians and their forefathers would be saved through the grace of Christ.
So, God’s people never were overcomers in the truest sense of the word. But it’s different now. Or isn’t it? When you read the Sermon on the Mount, it appears that the target has moved. And it seems to be as far out of reach as it ever was.
But would God give us a target that was out of reach? Let’s consider a few more thoughts. In 1 Cor. 9:27 Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” He seems to be taking the concept of overcoming literally. In fact, this passage is in the context of running a race and running it with the assumption that he could win.
So, is the target out of reach? Paul didn’t seem to think so, though he realized that he could miss it.
John also talked about overcoming. In 1 John 5:4 he wrote, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
Does this mean that the idea of overcoming is just an abstract concept? Is he saying that if you are a Christian you will overcome— but you actually won’t? That your faith will bridge that gap between what you should be, according to the target, and what you really are, in the human flesh?
To add to the dilemma, let’s go back to Revelation. John used the word “overcomes” eight times in Revelation. Each case appears to be a caveat. Let me list them…
- Those who overcome will eat of the tree of life (2:7)
- Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death (2:17)
- Those who overcome and keep God’s works will have power over the nations (2:26)
- Those who overcome will wear white garments. Jesus will not blot their names out of the book of life. He will confess their names before the Father and the angels. (3:5)
- Those who overcome will be a pillar in God’s temple, will receive the name of God and the New Jerusalem, and the new name of Jesus. (3:12
- Those who overcome will get to sit with Jesus on his throne (3:21)
- Those who overcome will inherit all things and be the sons of God.
- Those who don’t… ???
God hates sin because He is holy. He hates sin even if one of His children commits sin. Isaiah 59:2 states this:
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.”
People have written entire books on this question. I haven’t found anyone that gives an answer that seems satisfactory to me. I’m not planning to write still another book about this, so let me summarize how I deal with this in my own life.
First, I know that God loves me so deeply that I can’t even comprehend it. He assures me in His word and by His Spirit that He absolutely wants me to be an overcomer and join Him in eternity. He proved this to me by sending His Son, Jesus, to die for me.
Second, I know that I can trust God. He knows my heart and I believe that He will do His part in this whole scenario. He tells me to overcome, so I believe that He will help me in the battle with sin and evil. He has also promised me that His strength will be made perfect through weakness and that His grace is sufficient to deal with my weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
Job put it this way: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Can I do any less?
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Php 2:12, 13 (NKJV)
To summarize once again, to me this seems to be saying this. I do my part by obeying Christ and He does his part by showing me what that means. He also gives me the desire and the power to do so. I can safely trust Him to make these reach together even though I can’t quite understand how they can.
I can safely leave this in His hands.
From Psalms 51
One evening King David went for a walk on the roof of his palace. Close by the palace was another house, and a young woman was taking a bath on the roof. His lust got the best of him and he had his servants bring her to the palace. He committed adultery with her. When she told him she was pregnant, he tried to manipulate circumstances so that it would appear as if her husband was the father. When that didn’t work, he had her husband killed and married her. It seems he thought everything was covered up. But one day the prophet came to visit him and he realized that God knew.
David faced a lot of reaping. But the worst part was the guilt he felt. He had sinned against Bathsheba. He had sinned against her husband, Uriah. But most of all, he had sinned against God, and he loved God more than anyone else. He wrote this Psalm when this finally sank in and he realized the depth of his sin.
Read this passage carefully and note the verbs David used. They tell a story about the depth of his anguish, as well as the depth of his repentance.
Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your loving kindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.
|Have Mercy…||This is our only hope. When we realize the depth of our sinfulness, mercy is our only way out.|
|Blot out…||The very memory of sin brings back the memory of our guilt. I can’t blame David for wanting it gone.|
|Wash me…||Blotting it out still leaves the stain. David is saying, please God wash away the stain, and…|
|Cleanse me…||So that I can forget. And so that I never do such a thing again. [Can you sense his agony?]|
|I_acknowledge…||There was no use in denying it any longer. He had sinned and he would need to face the repercussions.|
|Purge me…||He had already asked God to wash him and cleanse him. Purging is stronger. Use a stronger soap please, God. Scrub me.|
|Wash me…||Again. It seems that the stain just won’t go away.|
|Make me hear…||In case I’m tempted to forget the sinfulness of sin.|
|Blot out…||Again. Is there no end to regrets? No way to get rid of guilt? No salvation? Yes there is…|
|Create in me…||Already you can see the hope growing in his heart. A hope for a clean heart once again.|
|Renew within me…||He had peace at one time. He had God’s spirit in him. He wants it back, no matter what the cost. Only by having God’s spirit can he shake off the horror of his guilt.|
|Restore to me…||Joy? How can he hope for joy? Every again. But the blight of sin doesn’t last forever for the person who repents. David will laugh again. He will rejoice. He will lift his hands to heaven in praise. Because he has been restored.|
|Uphold me…||The Spirit of God can do for us what we can never do for ourselves. He can blot out the past and cleanse us. Even the very memory can lose its edge in the joy of forgiveness and the presence of God.|
|Deliver me…||Take away the guilt. Take away the memory. Take away the very desire to sin. I don’t want to fail you again God. Deliver me.|
|Open my lips||I will no longer be quiet. I will tell others what you have done for me. I will show by my life that you have forgiven and delivered me. I have been broken, Lord. I am not the man I thought I was. I failed. I hurt people around me. Most of all, I will praise thee.|
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise
Final Update: Feb 2019
To read my original post, CLICK HERE
I receive a check from my publisher well within the promised time-frame. At this point, I feel that the bad press I’ve read about Christian Faith Publishers is mostly fake news.
I’ll say several things here, then lay this post to rest.
- When self-publishing, YOU are in charge of your success or failure. Don’t expect that giving the publisher extra money to promote your book for you is going to do much.
- Be prepared to DO YOUR OWN PROMOTION WORK
- Watch over every aspect of the work, from editing to layout to online promotion. Step in and insist on changes when you see a problem
- Make sure that your project is as good as you can get it before you give it over to the self-publishing world. Have it read by critical reviewers who know what they are doing. Pay for good content editing by an experienced editor, no matter how good a writer or editor you might be.
- Be patient. It all takes time.
To read about the original project, click HERE
Have a chair, drink some coffee or tea, and relax. I’m still rethinking my blogging purposes but as far as I know my site is back in working order. I’ve switched all you email followers to a mailchimp list and you should receive any new posts that way. If you’d like to be on that list, sign up in the sidebar. You’ll receive a follow-up email to ensure that it was you that entered your address and that you really want to go ahead.
Thought for Today
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.1 Peter 4:10 NLT
Some people seem to have many gifts, and some have fewer. But all of us have at least one. It doesn’t matter so much how many gifts we have. What does matter is how we use them. The person who only uses his gifts to gratify or glorify himself has lost a big blessing. So does the person who refuses to use his gift, for whatever reason.
I like how the NLT gives this passage, even though it is somewhat of a paraphrase. God has given you a gift, and probably more than one. Use those gifts unselfishly.
Blessings to you today. Have you been blessed in some special way? Drop a comment below and tell us about it!