John Bradshaw - Conversation with Steven Grabiner
He was born and raised in a Jewish family. As a young man, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, attended and graduated from Yale University, became a minister of the gospel, a teacher of the Book of Revelation. There's not a whole lot he hasn't done. He is Dr. Steven Grabiner. I'm John Bradshaw. And this is our conversation.
John Bradshaw: Steven, thanks so much for joining me. Really appreciate it.
Dr. Steven Grabiner: My-pleasure, John, been looking forward to it.
John Bradshaw: This is quite quite a story. I think we're gonna have quite a conversation. Your life has taken, well, I'm gonna use the old hackneyed cliche, many twists and turns. Today you're a minister of the gospel, a Christian author, but you started in a Jewish family raised by Jews. Let's go back to the genesis of this. Tell me about your start.
Dr. Steven Grabiner: So my grandparents, some of them came from Russia, Ukraine. The other pair came from Germany, Jewish families. Their parents were very religious, my grandparents, not so much, particularly when they came to the US, just kind of assimilated, you could say. Their faith became less important, but as I was growing up, my parents sent me to Hebrew school, so, not during the week. During the week, I went to like a regular school, but on Sunday mornings and then Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I would go to Hebrew school where I would interact with our local rabbi or rabbis, learn about the Jewish faith, learn about the Hebrew scriptures, really explore the foundations for Judaism.
John Bradshaw: I imagine that's gotta be a bit of a genius thing, really, because you've got Jewish kids functioning in an entirely secular society. They're gonna get some sort of Jewish influence at home. You've got synagogue on the weekend or temple on the weekend, but this, I imagine, is a great way to keep Jewish kids connected to the culture and the meaning and the depth of Judaism. Is that kind of the intent there?
Dr. Steven Grabiner: Yes, right, to give us this foundation because school, obviously, has a predominantly Christian influence. And particularly where I was growing up, Jews were in a very small minority and faced a lot of pushback for are being Jewish at different times from some of my friends, but this was a place where we other Jews in the area would come together, study together, hang out together, participate in religious festivals and traditions as well.
John Bradshaw: Always really interesting to talk to somebody who began in a, didn't convert from one branch of Christianity to another, but started in an altogether different religion. It's an enormous leap to make. We're gonna have to cross that bridge in this conversation somehow, but I'm imagining when you were a child, you did not look into the future and say, when I'm older, I shall be a Christian minister of the gospel.
— Yeah, no, never, never even crossed my mind.
— I remember in Hebrew school one of my rabbis telling us that if somebody offered you a New Testament, don't take it and don't read it and that there are people out there who want to destroy your faith. So I understand that from his perspective. Clearly being a New Testament scholar and reading the New Testament, I clearly see things very differently now. But that antagonism, that separation between Judaism and Christianity, unfortunately is the result of very long historical forces and cultural forces, which have, instead of creating bridges, have made large barriers.
— Tell me what your experience was like as a Jewish kid growing up in a Christian society. I think that that might be a stretch of a term, but I'm just gonna use that. We celebrate Christmas. It's everywhere. Easter is everywhere. Everything that points to Jesus, even common phrases and expressions, not all of them very desirable. It's the Christian framework, and you as a Jew were growing up in that Christian framework. What pressures or challenges did that bring you, and how was that for you? Curious? How does a Jew confront Christmas and Easter in a Christian society?
— So when I was growing up, most of those things just blew by when I was younger 'cause we, instead of celebrating Christmas, we would celebrate Hanukkah.
— The Gospel of John calls it the Feast of the Dedication, and it's an eight-day festival. So instead of just one day, we get eight days.
— That's a pretty good deal.
— And it's very joyous. This is one thing about Judaism, John, is that all the holidays except for the Day of Atonement, they're all very joyful, just a lot of celebration.
— Man, I know, I'm sure, I'm certain you've done this. I've not asked, but to go to the Western Wall on a Friday evening when the Sabbath is coming in, it's a riot down there.
— There's dancing and singing, and it's exuberant. It's not what I think what typical Christian would think of Judaism as being like, extremely joyous. Now, it's a little hard to tell where the religion ends and the nationalism begins, but I don't think that's either here nor there. Christians typically don't have that joy. I mean, when the Sabbath comes for a Christian, I don't see too many exuberant Christians dancing in the streets, welcoming Queen Sabbath, as the young Jewish guy from New York told me they were doing there in Jerusalem. Where does this exuberance come from? What's that about?
— It's based in this idea that the creation is good, that God created everything, and He saw everything as good. Certainly creation has been marred, but the image of God is there, marred but still there, and creation still is good. And so there is this tension of, we long for the new heaven and new earth. Scripture points that out. The Book of Isaiah points it out. The Book of Revelation points it out. But at the same time, from a Jewish perspective, and this is a bit of a dilemma in my own home currently because sometimes we have conversations: "Oh, I just can't wait for this old world to be over". And I'm like, "No, no, no, no, this world is good. It's marred, but it's good". And I think that's a really important part of understanding the Jewish perspective that God created everything. It was good. And so food is good, and marital relationships are good, and family is good, and we should really enjoy these things.
— Yeah, amen, I can agree with that. So you started to grow, and now you're going through school. You're getting older. I know your dad died when you were young. How did that impact you?
— Yeah, it was a tragic accident, malpractice. He had a heart arrhythmia, and he was in the hospital, and they were inserting a catheter. And this was quite a number of years ago, and they punctured his heart.
— So it was very sudden, very tragic. And the result of that personally was for me to question a lot of things. If there's a good God, why would He let my father pass away?
— And I really didn't have answers for that. And so after my bar mitzvah, which is a major event in a Jewish child's growth trajectory, I began to drift away from my Jewish roots. Didn't have to go to temple any longer. Didn't go to Hebrew school any longer. And then in the '60s and '70s, which is when I grew up, I got very much into the hippie drug culture of that time, kind of became a skeptic, and was just out to enjoy life 'cause I didn't think there was anything beyond that.
— What were you planning on doing with your life as a young man?
— Well, it would depend on which point in time and how clear my thinking was. I was into acting, so I was an actor at the time, and I enjoyed being outside, so something along one of those two tracks of life.
— But somewhere along the line you met Jesus.
— So this is a multifaceted thing. A friend of mine once told me, raised in a Jewish family, that his mother said, "You've become a Christian. I would be happier if you had pushed a knife into my heart". What an enormous step to take, depending, of course, on your family upbringing. Your mom was still alive. Maybe she was very liberal in her thinking, was just happy that you were happy. So, I wanna talk about the emotional decision aspect of this and what a challenge that may or may not have been. But before we get to that, how do you get interested in Jesus?
— A lot of things kind of rushed together in that. So one thing was in Hebrew school when I was growing up, a rabbi would tell me certain things about the Messiah.
— One of my rabbis told me that he thought there could be two Messiahs, a suffering Messiah and then a kingly Messiah. And the suffering Messiah would die, and then the kingly Messiah would come X number of years later and reign.
— Very interesting.
— So that was there. He taught me that when the Messiah came, there would be a resurrection, a number of different concepts. And when I began to explore the pages of the New Testament, I began to see how the New Testament writers applied certainly that suffering and kingly aspect of messiahship to Jesus Christ. And so there were a lot of threads that kind of pulled together on an internal thinking level that made me more interested. But the big steps were really personal contact with people. I was in college. A lot of different things happened in college that were providential steps. Let me just share one. I had a friend, and we called him Rasputin after the famous Russian monk.
— How about that.
— He was a big guy, and he was laying on his bed, and he had a pile of quarters on his forehead. He was trying to levitate them, and these were the kind of people I hung out with. And so I was watching because that's the kind of person I was. And a friend of ours came into the room and told us that he had just accepted Christ, had a long conversion story, very intricate. But you could see that his face was very different. Something had happened to him. And so as he was sharing his piece, I said, "Well, I don't know if what you have is true or not, but I could tell that you have peace". And immediately my friend Rasputin shot up off of the bed. All the quarters went flying in the air, and an immediate argument broke out between my two friends. One, looking back, I would say, almost seemed satanic, and one reflected the peace of heaven. And so there were occurrences like that that helped move me forward in my journey with Christ.
— Was it a fearful thing for you? I told you about the experience of my friend and his mother, who reacted so viscerally. Was there any fear hindering you? Did you think, oh my, what will my family, that my mother will disown me? What will my extended family members? Was that a concern, or did you feel pretty free going forward?
— That became a concern after my conversion.
— So there were several key issues in my conversion, girlfriend, a number of different things, Bible prophecy. that kind of all flowed together like a river to bring about conviction. But after I was converted, and I shared that with my family, there was a very strong reaction, not as strong as your friend's, but it was really strong. It was very difficult for a number of years. People don't understand this, but a lot of persecution has been done toward the Jews in the name of Christ over the centuries. And so for a Jew, it's oftentimes even difficult to say the name of Jesus because Christians have so misrepresented the character of Christ. And that creates part of this gulf and this separation.
— Yeah, that makes evangelism, I'm gonna use that term broadly, very difficult.
— Extremely so.
— But not so difficult that somebody couldn't reach out to you. So when people started talking to you about Jesus, did you have all these red flags, or by now, of course, your consciousness had expanded. You were open to any number of ideas. Were you just at that stage where it was easy to embrace stuff?
— So after my college experience, I ended up going to Israel. I had received money from my bar mitzvah and decided that's how I was gonna spend it. While I was on the kibbutz in Israel, I met several what I would call real Christians, people that demonstrated their faith. And we had a lot of conversations walking around in Israel that began to broaden my thinking. And I could also see that the Israelis that I interacted with, while they were Jews culturally, were not Jews in any kind of sense of faith. So they didn't really believe in Abraham, and my Christian friends did. And so that began to set up this whole thinking in my mind as well. What's really the right path here? And then, as I said, once my conversion happened, Let just take a moment if I could and share that night where that change take place.
— Please do. I'm gonna ask you about that, if there was a moment or an event, so let's talk about it.
— So I was working with a group of Christians. They were running a vegetarian restaurant, and I was already a vegetarian. So I moved in with them, and they would share different things. And so I prayed, I had a couple of prayers. In Corinthians, it says that the Jews seeks for a sign. So I had my signs, and one of them was that my girlfriend would begin to speak about spiritual things. So we were at a party. It was Christmas Day. I had a sore throat. A friend of mine gave me an illegal drug. I didn't take it. I put it on a counter next to me, and we were talking. And when I went up to leave, it was gone, and I don't know what happened to it, but I told my friend, I just said, "I think God didn't want me to have that". As my girlfriend and I were driving home, she started asking me spiritual questions. And then she began to describe this war that took place in heaven, and we had never talked about anything like this. When we got back to my house, I shared with her, I took down a Bible from my mom's bookshelf and started sharing through Daniel 9. And that night, I could see the Abraham and Isaac, the sacrifice of Isaac, sanctuary service, Isaiah 53, Daniel chapter 9. Jesus is the Messiah. And I surrendered, and my life changed in a moment, in an instant right there. So I wasn't really thinking what's my family gonna think. I was just compelled to surrender, and I did.
— What happened as you surrendered? Tell me what was different.
— Well, my life changed dramatically in many different ways. My relationship with my girlfriend changed, became more platonic. I stopped doing drugs. I stopped drinking alcohol. Life changed completely in all different directions.
— So what do you do next? I've accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I've gotta think about the rest of my life. What do you do about that?
— So I had applied to school, applied to go back to school 'cause I had dropped out. And school's gonna bring, excuse me, school's going to start in a couple of weeks. And so I really wrestled in prayer. Should I go? Should I not go? And I had this sense of peace that whatever path I chose, God was not gonna forsake me. And so I went away to school, and it was there that I really began to study more the New Testament and studied more into Christianity.
— Now was this when you went to Yale?
— No, this is still for my bachelor's.
— I went to Yale for my master's.
— You went to Yale later. I wanna ask you about Yale, Yale for a master's. So explain that experience to me.
— So at that point in time, I had been converted for a number of years. I was serving as a pastor and wanted to further my education, and my church was not so far from Yale. It was about an hour drive, and I got accepted, went down there. I wouldn't say they welcomed me with wide-open arms. They were a bit skeptical just because of my faith. But, yeah, I went to divinity school and had a lot of things challenged. My perspective of the scriptures as a revelation of God was challenged.
— Huh, would not expect that to be challenged in a divinity school, but there you go.
— Yes, well, their perspective was very different. They viewed things from a more higher critical perspective.
— Sure, yeah.
— But it was great. The experience was really good. I was there for two years for my master's.
— Well, I'm fascinated about this young Jewish guy who accepts Jesus. And as you mentioned, you alluded to, ends up working as a pastor. So we gotta get from there to there, and we'll do that in just a moment. I'm glad to be here with Dr. Steven Grabiner. This is our conversation, and we'll be right back.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations". My guest is Stephen Grabiner. Steven, a moment ago, we're talking about how you'd become a Christian. You accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. You mentioned that you'd become a pastor. So I'd love for you to connect these dots. How did you get from that night you took the book down, You said Jesus is the Messiah. You'd yielded your life. Some great changes take place in your life. Now you're in ministry. Bridge that gap.
Dr. Steven Grabiner: So that gap was a couple of years, a number of years. And what took place in between that was I finished that semester at school and then was just questioning what's next. I was interested in being involved in ministry. I wanted to share what I learned, and it was kind of questioning, should I pastoral work? Or what should I do? A friend of mine was involved in a work that lay people were running, and they had a very large farm in Michigan, and they were starting a wholesale business. And they were using this as a means of financial support and as a way of communicating the gospel. So I went to work with them for a couple of years. And then the idea came that we should start a vegetarian restaurant in New York City.
John Bradshaw: Hm.
Dr. Steven Grabiner: And I was thrilled with that. I grew up north of New York City. I was a vegetarian. That was my entryway into studying scriptures. And so I wanted to be part of that group. And so in the early 1980s, we started a vegetarian restaurant on Wall Street. It was called "Country Life," a group of young people, tons of energy. We served about four or 500 people a day. We started two other restaurants, three other restaurants with a sister organization in New York City. So at one time, we had four restaurants running in New York City.
— That's fantastic.
— It was a lot of work. I did outreach through the restaurants. We did cooking classes, stress classes, Bible prophecy seminars down there, right in the heart of Wall Street. It was really amazing to see people's life change.
— Yeah, I wanna ask you about that. What did you see God do? It's one thing to have the restaurant functioning, but it's for ministry.
— What did you see?
— So, numerous people would come to Bible studies that we would have on Tuesday evening. And we had a group around 25, 30 people, and most of them worked in Wall Street. So that was very exciting. Our cooking classes, we would always have about 100 people to come. And, again, this is the early 1980s. Vegetarianism wasn't as popular then as it is now. But life-changing events took place.
— Oh yeah.
— There was one man. His name was Basil. He had a seat on the stock exchange. He had an office on the exchange. And he came to one of the stress classes I taught. And in the class I asked the participants to imagine that they were at the end of their life, and they were looking back, what would they have preferred to accomplish in their life. Kind of going to the end and then looking back. And then Basil didn't come into the restaurant for like three weeks. And we were all like, I wonder what happened to him. He just kind of disappeared. And then he came in, and he'd lost weight, and he was tan. And it was like, "Where have you been"? And I bounded up the stairs, and he was like, "Well, I went home after that stress class, and I decided I don't wanna work in New York City. I moved my office north of the city to Westchester County". He called it the country. It was the suburbs. But it was certainly country compared to downtown...
— Yeah, not the city.
— Manhattan. And he totally changed his life just like that quickly. So it was really encouraging to see that take place. We had a number of individuals who not only changed their life in health aspects, but also yielded to Christ and were baptized and began going to local churches in the area.
— The Country Life restaurants really did make a big impact.
— They did. They were so exciting. At one time, we had several in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, London, Paris, Osaka, Japan, Korea. It was going very good for a very long period.
— That Country Life restaurant in London impacted me really rather directly. So I'm so grateful. Directly, indirectly, directly, but certainly an impact. If you look around the world, there are not so many Country Life restaurants.
— No, they're not.
— I don't wanna get into the weeds here, but talk to me about some of the challenges. It's wonderful ministry, but it's challenging ministry. What does it take to do something like that really successfully? I'll ask you this. I'm gonna call you an expert in self-supporting work, and we've gotta believe in self-supporting because it's ordained by God. God does great things through it. Challenging though, right?
— So challenging in the point that it's a lot of work. And so running a restaurant, the way we did it in New York is we had a central kitchen outside of the city where they prepared most of the food. They cut the vegetables, prepared the soups, and then we would drive them into the restaurants in the city. So that made the workload less. But still, it was quite intensive, particularly the restaurants we were running in which we would have four to 500 people a day from 12:30 to 2:30. So you had a very concentrated amount of customers in a very small window of time. So it was a lot of work.
— Yeah. Yeah.
— My wife was the head cook, by the way. And when I talk to her today about, we should start a restaurant again, she's like, "No. Done".
— She's asking you what you've forgotten about those old days.
— Yes, right.
— How did you get into a full-time pastoral ministry?
— So there was a pastor in the Boston area, a pastor evangelist by the name of Bill Brace, and he invited me to come to Boston and help start a vegetarian restaurant in Boston and be his associate in evangelism. So when we moved to the Boston area, helped establish the restaurant and then helped raise two churches in the Boston area.
— Yeah, no surprise it was Bill. He's just a wonderful guy.
— He is a fantastic guy.
— You know Bill?
— Yeah, yeah. Not long ago retired, and what a man of God. Shouldn't surprise me at all that he was the one who tapped you on the shoulder. And so you raise up churches. All right, let's talk about church planting then 'cause it's something you have tons of experience in. Walk me through that experience. Boston, challenging place, man.
— Very much so.
— Challenging place to raise up churches, a very, very secular place.
— So we had two locations. One was Waltham, a 15, 20-minute drive from downtown Boston and then Braintree. And I worked with the Waltham area, and Bill initially started Waltham and then moved down to Braintree. And we did a lot of outreach, again, a lot of health work. We connected very closely with the restaurant. That was kind of a connecting point, a feeder to both the church as well. And when we were there, we had, again, just a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of young people, which is great, young, late 20s, 30s, college students or graduates from some of the universities in the Boston area. Very exciting, but a lot of work to establish them. And so I worked there for about six years and then moved to Southeastern Connecticut and pastored a district there as well.
— It was at that time that you got your master's at Yale.
— Yes, when I was in Connecticut.
— Okay, talk to me about church planting. In certain circles, it's a very big thing. The church today, well, there would be no church today if not for church planting.
— So talk to me about some of the right ways, maybe some of the wrong ways, some of the successes, maybe some of the stumblings that exist in church planting, why it's important, who should do it. Talk to me about that.
— So church planting can take many different forms, and that's a really important idea, is that there's not one model, this is how you have to do it. So when we started, when Bill started Waltham, he had a very small core of people, him and maybe five other people, and it took quite a bit of time for traction to build. So I was part of a church plant, two church plants in this area. And when we launched our church plant, due to the number of like-minded faith believers here, we had a larger group. We had about 25, maybe 30 when we first launched. The dynamics were very different. There's already a certain level of energy, easier to build on that kind of momentum. But the key thing is that when a person, when a new church plant gets started, there's more of freedom to try different things. Sometimes churches become traditional, not that tradition is bad.
— You can get root-bound.
— Yes, like well, this is how you have to do it, where when you're starting something new, you begin to think, well, what's going to impact our community? How do we get to know our community? What should we here to find out what the needs are in this local community, which is a tremendous blessing. In addition to that, when you see a little bit of growth, that plant is very excited because it's like, ah, we're making progress. We're moving forward in a direction. So it creates a lot of energy, a lot of giving. One of the dangers or one of the questions is, how do you maintain that over a long period of time? So the church plant I helped start here in this area, we're in year 11. And so it's how do we rekindle again is a really important question.
— What is it that happens to churches that have been around for a long time? And people listening to this right now, lots of them are gonna say, "Oh, that's my church," churches that aren't even asking the question, how do we impact our community? They might be asking a question, what do we do? But they're not asking, what does our community need? Often churches aren't saying, how do we grow? It's not about growth. It turns to maintenance after a while. How do we guard against that? What would you from your experience recommend to churches so that they continue to have an evangelism, growth outreach, church-planting mentality and approach to ministry?
— So contact with the community is vital, knowing what's going on in your community, interacting with community leaders or finding from surveys what are the biggest questions the community's asking. And that's just such a fundamental consideration for us as time moves on, as society continues changing, new administrations come in, different priorities come in. It's easy to think, well, what we've done in the past is always what we need to keep doing. And certainly our message needs to be the same, but we need to be continually thinking, how do I take this message, and what part of this message is most impactful to these people? And how do I take this message and communicate it in a way that people are gonna resonate with? So, for example, you're well familiar with this. Our society likes stories rather than more didactic truth, but stories are engaging. So how do we take the truths of scripture and communicate them that way? And what stories is our community telling, or what questions are they asking? It's important for us.
— Hm, hm, hm.
— The other real key thing is to get all sorts of input. Like in our congregation, I'm constantly wanting to get younger minds involved. Like, Terry, you be a leader in the church. You take this because, unfortunately, oftentimes they're more in tune with what's going on.
— So looking at church planting, I've seen parts of the country, parts of the world, where everybody was planting a church. It was mayhem. And few, if any, of them stuck, and there can be very good reasons for that. Are there situations where a church shouldn't plant a church? Who shouldn't do this? Under what circumstances should you not be planting churches?
— Well, one reason not to plant a church is if there's discord in the church, and this is a way of getting away from one another. That happens at times where people don't like one another. They don't like the pastor or whoever, and like, oh, we're just gonna go plant a church. For me, that would be a really poor reason to start a church. It really has to come from a place of, we're moving together, and we're moving together in ministry. We want to expand ministry.
— Your ministry has been characterized by evangelism, outreach, planting, soul-winning. If you went to a church that did not have that culture and a lot of pastors face this. You go into a congregation, and they're just happy like they are. What do you do to begin to create a culture of, I'm gonna call it evangelism. That's the broad term.
— Culture of evangelism, church planning, a culture of mission. What do you do if you're in a kind of a dead-end place? How do you go about that?
— Good question. So a couple of things have run through my mind. One clearly is the usage of the pulpit to paint the picture of where we should be going. That's one aspect and extremely important. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, through the Word, we would hope and pray and believe that transformation's gonna take place. At the same time, for organizations as a whole, churches are organizations, organisms, sometimes a crisis needs to come in to get people to think, we need to do something different. I remember a pastor friend of mine telling me about a church that he worked in, and the young people just were dwindling, just stopped coming. And there was like one young person left, and then that young person was out on a Friday night and unfortunately got drunk, but then came to church the next morning. And it was a catalyst for the church to see, we need to make a dramatic change, or we're gonna lose everybody. And so sometimes, I'm encouraging pastors or listeners to create crisis in their congregations, but sometimes we need to see that the crisis is there, and we're slowly dying, even though we're comfortable.
— Yeah, you don't need to create crisis. It'll find you.
— That's right.
— There's an expert in the universe at creating crises. He'll bring one to you if you don't bring one to yourself. Comfortable, you mentioned that word comfortable. We become victims in a certain sense. Our congregations have money. They have air conditioning. I mean, unless you're north of Mason-Dixon line when the AC isn't so. You didn't have air conditioning in Connecticut, I'm sure.
— You had heat, not air condition. But we've got what we've got what we've got what we've got, and it just reminds me a lot of Revelation 3. You say you're rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing, but you don't realize. So I'm running the risk of re-asking the question, how do we help people, I'm asking this, I think, as ministers, to realize our real state? It's not good to be comfortable in church.
— Yeah, that's a very profound and soul-searching question. So you referenced Revelation 3, message to Laodicean church. You say you're rich and increased with goods, and you don't know your condition. Laodicea is self-deceived and self-satisfied. It's interesting. No matter how many times you go back and read that passage, it's always going to say the same thing.
John Bradshaw: That's right.
— There's never gonna be this point where like, oh, you could relax now. You're okay. It's part of the power of the Word that whenever I come back in contact with it, it elicits this longing and this sense of revival and this sense of I need reformation, and I can't depend on myself. I need the eye salve, the Holy Spirit. I need gold, the faith. I need the clothing of Christ's righteousness. And we can't manufacture that. We can preach it. We can encourage it. Pastors can confess, acknowledge their own Laodicean condition, be real with the congregation, and lay before the congregation, what do we do? What do we do?
— Well, there's more to talk about. You've been in ministry all around the world. You've written a book I wanna get to. He is Steven Grabiner, and this is our conversation. I'm glad you're here, and we'll be back here in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to conversations. My guest is Pastor Steven Grabiner, Dr. Steven Grabiner, Steven Grabiner. So, fascinating life, born and raised a Jew, a fascinating conversion, become a Christian, involved in ministry right away, which I think is a very good example. Get people involved in ministry right away. Church planter, pastor, you're still a church pastor. You're still a church planter and a church pastor. Along the way, you developed a deep love for the Book of Revelation. You teach the Book of Revelation. You've written about Revelation. Where did this come from?
Dr. Steven Grabiner: So before I had a conversion experience, I hitchhiked across the United States several times. But in one particular time, somehow I had a Bible in my backpack, and in the back of the Bible, there was this summary of each of the books. And when I was scanning through particularly the New Testament, which I was not familiar with, and I read Revelation, it said symbols and not understandable and cryptic, and nobody can make sense of it. And so in my 19-year-old arrogance, I was like, well, I'm gonna understand this.
John Bradshaw: Challenge accepted.
Dr. Steven Grabiner: Exactly right. And so I started reading, and lions that are really lambs and beasts and seas and dragons. And I was like, "Forget this book". Then I went to the Gospel of John and started reading through the New Testament.
— So that was your intro to Revelation, forget it. Okay. But things changed.
— Things changed. So over the years, I continued to study and have made it a particular focus of study for myself.
— So what is it about Revelation that grabs you?
— The arc of the story in Revelation is what's really intriguing to me. Here we have in the storyline of Revelation is this controversy, this war, cosmic conflict that begins in heaven. Today, many people don't really believe in the existence of a personification of evil as Satan the way scripture portrays him. But Revelation treats Satan as a real character, and he's the deceiver. He's the accuser. He's the slanderer. The idea of blasphemy is really more misrepresentation. And so the arc of the storyline is here's this accuser misrepresenting God. A friend of mine calls Satan the mud slinger. And he's casting aspersion on God. And then you have the heavenly council, which sings songs throughout the Book of Revelation, saying, "No, God really is just and true". And then you have the biggest revealer of God, which is the slain Lamb, which shows us how God rules, that God rules through self-denial. God rules through self-sacrifice. God rules through being self-giving, very different themes. And so that just drew me into the book.
— If I were to add, this is the impossible question, but I'll ask it anyway. One, two, three highlights from the Book of Revelation that just make, there may be 10, but I'm asking you to pick three. What are three high points in Revelation for you?
— Revelation 5, the slain lamb. John sees this image. God is on the throne. He has a sealed book. Nobody in heaven and earth is able to open the book, but the lion from the tribe of Judah, a kingly metaphor, has overcome. But then that kingly metaphor is reinterpreted through the slain Lamb. So this is how God rules the world, self-denial and self-sacrifice. So that's one high point.
— Second high point, chapter seven, you have this great crowd around the throne of God. And God's gonna wipe away every tear. They're gonna be in God's presence forever and ever. Why? Because they've come out of great tribulation, and they've washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. So they're gonna be with God forever. And then a third major highlight, Revelation 20. Toward the end of the story, end of what's called the thousand years, Revelation 20:11: "And I be held a great white throne from whom earth and heaven fled away". So the imagery is that everything dissolves, and all you see is the throne, and brings us back to chapter five because in the midst of the throne is the slain Lamb. So those to me are three really high points, how does God rule, God's gonna redeem His people, and at the end, everybody is going to acknowledge the rightness of God in being able to rule.
— Revelation, by the way, that's beautiful. Revelation is this controverted book, misunderstood book. It's been twisted and turned and sliced and diced. Yet you arrive at a certain interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Man, you could be anywhere. You could be a preterist. You could be a futurist. If you are like most be people, you'd be a futurist saying it's all gonna happen down the end of time. What were the guidelines that steered you where you were steered? Why do you end up where you are in your understanding of Revelation, where as a searcher, you could have ended up anywhere?
— Good question, lots of insights. And to try to distill that, so preterism says pretty much everything was written for the 1st century. Well, the imagery in Revelation is way too large for the small shoe of the 1st century. Nero doesn't fit the parameters of the beast of Revelation 13 in any sense of the word. Preterism doesn't meet the vastness of the book. Futurism fails because it disconnects all of Christian history from what's really happening in the Book of Revelation. It's, ah, sometime in the future. Don't worry about it. So you're missing the contact where understanding Revelation from the point of view as the cosmic conflict is being played out in history throughout the ages. That keeps the grandeur, and it helps us anchor certain parts of the book in events here in earth. So the conflict in Book of Revelation begins in heaven, but it's played out here on earth. And all the war and the strife that we see here below is simply an earthly manifestation of that heavenly conflict.
— So somebody's gonna hear us talking about Revelation or hear you talking about Revelation. They're gonna say, oh, I've gotta read that book. It's been a while. It's clearly important. I must take that Bible down and read the Book of Revelation. And they're gonna read about candlesticks and slain lambs and horns and beasts and seals and trumpets and thunders. And they're gonna say. So the book begins: "The revelation of Jesus Christ". You're a Revelation teacher. I'm taking that book down. I might have some background of them. I have no background in it, but let's say I'm rusty at best. How do I find Jesus in the Book of Revelation? It's His book. All the symbols and so forth, all there to point us to Jesus. So how can I prevent myself from getting bogged down and really find Jesus in that book?
— So I would say to somebody that just like wants to jump in, start reading the book and pay attention to the things that resonate with you that are clearly about Christ. Grab hold of those and begin to meditate on those. So, for example, Revelation 1, as you mentioned, it's the revelation of Jesus Christ. That means it's the revelation that's about Him and comes from Him, both aspects. Then you just read a few more verses down there, and it tells us, Revelation 1:4: "Grace to you and peace". Ah, grace, that's a beautiful Pauline New Testament concept. And then you'll notice that Revelation ends with grace, Revelation 21. So from beginning to end, it's all about grace, what God does for us. Then you skip a few more verses, and you find out Jesus is the one that loves us and freed us from our sins and made us to be kings and priests. And then you begin to just track those themes through the Book of Revelation. He's the ruler of the kings of the earth. So he's the ultimate ruler. Begin asking questions like that. And then when you come to a point that doesn't seem to make sense, just put it aside for a little bit and really focus on what is clear, and that will help the unclear parts become clear.
— Yeah, I love that. I wanna save your book till last. So I'm gonna get out of order here, and I wanna come back to your work in self-supporting work.
— Sure thing.
— Because you've been a president of an organization that coordinates self-supporting projects all around the world. By self-supporting, I mean not sponsored and funded by an organized church, but these are lay people finding funding to do ministry. So you kind of got started in self-supporting work way back then with the restaurants. What is it that turns you on about self-supporting work today? Why is it so important? How does it play into the mission of the church?
— Well, as you mentioned, I'm president of an organization, Outpost Centers International, OCI, and we support, we encourage, 180 ministries, organizations that are doing evangelism on different kinds in over 60 different countries. And our vision is to see this spread into every country in the world because wherever there are Christians, there should be Christians involved in ministry.
— Ministry is not solely the work of the pastor. And so, the vast, the largest part of church is our lay people that, unfortunately, don't really get involved in ministry. So how do we change that? So we try to communicate the opportunities before people to be involved in ministry. We share what other people have done. We talk about new places to start ministries. And for me, again, being both a pastor and involved in ministry on that level, they're distinct callings. Some people are called fully to the gospel ministry, and that's a calling. But most of us, most of your listeners, are called to do their ministry as they do life. And that's really what it means to be a Christian, is like, I'm gonna gonna go to work. How's my Christianity gonna show up? Who can I eat with today and be a Christian witness to? And how can I look for experiences as I do life to impact other people? One of the other things I do need to say about this is that supporting ministry has a tremendous amount of freedom. It's like, if we wanna go do something, we just have to make it work. And so that's really very refreshing, instead of waiting for committees or organizations to give us approval.
— Amen. What's the future of self-supporting work?
— I only think it's gonna grow much more. President of the Adventist Church calls for all members to be involved in church ministry, and that's our burden as well. We wanna see this continued growth. And so when I became president of OCI till now, our membership has about doubled. And so it's very exciting to see this ongoing growth all over the place. And that's what we're really looking forward to, is Russia and Asia. We're praying, talking to some people, praying about entering some closed countries and just very exciting, very exciting what God appears to be opening doors for.
— It seems to me that self-supporting work has to grow. The organized work cannot get everything done.
— If you look at the Bible, you can see, well, things are gonna change around here. And what we've gotta have is more and more and more, I'm gonna call them lay people, involved in sharing their faith, whether it's through a ministry or just through ministry. It's all very important. Would you agree with that?
— Totally, and it needs to keep moving forward. It needs to keep expanding.
— Now I said I wanted to come back and talk to you about your book, "Revelations," I'm fascinated by the title, Steven, "Revelation's Hymns: Commentary on the Cosmic Conflict". Walk me through the book. Tell me about the book.
— So the idea of the book, which was the end result of my dissertation, was to explore this conflict theme that we were talking about earlier. And so in Revelation, you find, we call them hymns, short little sections. So, for example, in Revelation 4, there are these four living creatures that sing, "Holy, holy, holy," around the throne. And then you find hymn in chapter five, chapter seven, chapter 11, chapter 12, 15, and 19. And most scholars have understood that the hymns comment on the activity in the surrounding storyline. So my question was, if that's true, what's the comment they're making? What's the commentary? And so I began to explore the larger narrative structure and concluded that this cosmic conflict, this battle between good and evil, great controversy, is at the center of the book. And that each of these hymn sections are really commenting on this battle. So, for example, you have voices of acclimation: "God is worthy". You have voices of praise to God. You have voices of proclamation. The Lamb has been slain. But there's also the voice of accusation, and that's Satan. He's the accuser of the brethren, and maybe he's an offstage whisper, but his voice is there nonetheless in the thread of Revelation's story. So I explore how these songs are interacting with the great controversy, cosmic conflict, throughout the book.
— Mm, mm, fantastic. Who would you recommend the book to?
— Anybody that's interested in the Book of Revelation. So it's slightly scholarly.
— The bibliography is as long as many chapters. So, it's clearly...
— It's a scholarly book.
John Bradshaw: It's well researched.
— I'm a fairly simple writer, but check it out from your local library. Individuals can find it there, or it's on Amazon.
— Where do we find it?
— That's the good, simple answer these days.
— Amazon. The book is called "Revelation's Hymns: Commentary on the Cosmic Conflict". There's a look at the front cover right there, Steven Grabiner. I would recommend this book to you if you are serious about not glossing over the Book of Revelation, but digging deep into it. Dr. Grabiner has some tremendous insights into the Book of Revelation and beyond. Hey, thanks. Our time is just about up.
— It's been a rich privilege.
— The privilege has being ours. I wanna ask you a final question that I often ask but don't always ask. Let's talk about the star of the Book of Revelation, Jesus. You had to find him from a unique place. What does Jesus mean to you today?
— So when I surrendered, December 25th, all those years ago, I forgot the exact year, my world was completely turned upside down, completely changed for the good, for the better. And it's a decision I've never regretted. I'm gonna be transparent. There have been times in my Christian walk where my faith was bright, and then there are times when my faith was dim at times. Various things happen in people's lives. But what keeps me is knowing that God is more interested in saving me than I am in being saved.
— That He holds me with a hand and will never let go. And so just the beauty of His interest in me keeps me moving forward. And I can't wait to be part of that group that stands around the sea of glass and looks at that face and just is able to sing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain".
— I have a feeling it won't be long.
— Hey, Steven, thank you very much. I've appreciated it immensely. And thank you for joining us. What a blessing this has been. So, appreciate you taking your time. I recommend you get the book, encourage you to be in ministry. Urge your church forward. Be the hands and feet of Jesus. He's coming back soon. Here's Dr. Steven Grabiner. I'm John Bradshaw. This has been our conversation.