Several Sermons here.  The latest are at the beginning.

July 9, 2017

Title: The Next Step

Text: Acts 1:1-11

1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

 

Luke, the writer of both the book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke, begins his books in similar fashion.  The Gospel of Luke begins:

1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” Luke 1:1-4

And he begins his account of Acts:

1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:1-3

The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are two volumes in the same set.  The Gospel records “…all that Jesus began both to do and teach….” And the Acts of the Apostles continues the account of the spreading of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

In his Gospel, Luke records the birth of Jesus in some detail.  But the celebration of the coming of Jesus to this earth is not the end of the story.  It’s not really the beginning of the story either, but it’s definitely not the end.  Our relationship with Jesus isn’t a relationship with a baby in a manger.  None of us stop thinking about Jesus after December 25.  Actually the truth is that some of us might stop thinking about Jesus after December 25 but that’s a spiritual problem for a different sermon.

Jesus’ childhood is one of the least talked about subjects in the Bible.  We know very little about Jesus between His birth and when he enters the scene as an adult ready to begin fulfilling the work His Father gave Him to do.

We have the events of His time in Jerusalem at about the age of 12 and we are told he was subject to His parents (Luke 2:51) but His life between their escape to Egypt and His arrival at the Jordon to be baptized by John the Baptist is very much a mystery.  This we know, His birth was not the end.  I say again our relationship with Jesus isn’t a relationship with a baby in a manger.

As a correlation to that, our new birth into Christ is not an end either.  People are not saved to just sit and wait for heaven.  There is work to do here on earth, both physical and spiritual.  In relation to physical works Ephesians 2:10 reminds us:

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

And in relation to spiritual work Ephesians 1:17 says:

“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,”

Then Colossians 1:10 ties them together:

“…that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”

So while our salvation is entirely a work of grace through faith in Jesus, we are fully pleasing to God by being fruitful in every good work and increasing in our knowledge of God.  The question is: if you are a Christian are you “…fruitful in every good work…” and are you “…increasing in the knowledge of God”?

There is a balance.  There are some who do a lot of good things and are very fruitful in good works but lack in their understanding of God and there are others who are deeply in tune with God but are not strong in doing good things.  We work to find a balance in the two.

That balance will fluctuate to a certain degree.  When we go to the NAB Triennial we are immersed in teaching about our relationship with God.  When we serve and help people in our community we are immersed in doing good works.  Neither earn a ticket to heaven, that work was done on the cross, but both are important in pleasing God.

There are messages we need to hear in our quest to please God as we grow in faith and practice.  Those messages will come through as we examine the book we call “The Acts of the Apostles.”  And it begins in verse 2.  Pick it up on verse 1, Luke writes:

1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen….”

After the resurrection and before the Ascension Jesus gave His followers certain commands.  He instructed, directed and guided them into the next step.  There was a way they needed to continue and Jesus gave them that guidance.  The word used is commandment and it simply means to direct, charge or instruct.  Jesus gave us our marching orders.

It’s not so uncommon.  What worker doesn’t seek guidance as he/she begins a project?  What athlete doesn’t sit with the team as the coach discusses strategy?  Even with GPS it’s wise for travelers to have a basic idea of where they are going before they set off on a trip.  When people travel abroad a travel agent will not only help in booking interesting side trips but they will also give their clients simple do’s and don’ts that will help avoid mishaps.  Tips like:

When vacationing:

Don’t carry and flash large sums of cash.

Do use cash substitutes such as credit cards, and only carry as much cash as you need.

Don’t leave valuable items in public view.

Do lock up valuables you are not taking with you in a safe in your room or use your hotel’s safe; and lock the windows and doors your hotel room when going out.

Don’t walk or travel alone in unfamiliar or isolated area.

Do travel with companions while sightseeing or shopping; there is safety in numbers.

Nobody balks when given instructions.  The mission of God to reach the lost with salvation requires some instruction.  As we go through the book of Acts and as you read your Bible look for and heed the instructions you see.

The next idea is to believe what you know.  It sounds weird but it’s easy to get off track.  Verse 3 says:

3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?  Then believe it even if others try to convince you otherwise.  Do you believe Jesus will come again, as Luke records the angels saying? (1:10-11) Then believe He is coming back.

The truth is the truth and though some may try to convince us to believe a lie don’t be sucked in.  We are warned that scoffers will come trying to convince us to change our beliefs.  Peter writes:

3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”  5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water,” 2 Peter 3:3-5

Liars will attempt to deceive and silence the witness of God.  We actually have it already.  Evolutionists telling us there is no God, no Creator; that the earth developed by itself over millions and millions of years.  Abortionists telling us it’s okay to kill babies.  Some even saying it’s okay to use science to determine if a pre-born baby is perfect and then killing what they would call the “sub-standard” ones.

Believe what you have been taught and if there are areas of trouble and concern God will reveal them in His Word.

We will move forward in growth as a church if we will believe truth instead of getting suckered in by a convenient lie.

And a key is also to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  As they sat on the mountain just before Jesus ascended they asked if the Kingdom would now be restored to Israel.  His response was to not focus on that.  Do no focus on an earthly kingdom.  Rather focus on being witnesses for Christ while on earth.  He says:

8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Let the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit guide you.  Open the Bible and allow the truth of God guide you to truth and knowledge.

You know, it’s not about winning or being better than others…it’s about serving and finishing.

In the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City, John Stephen Akhwari was a 30 year old world class distance runner representing Tanzania in the marathon.

Approximately 19 km into the 42 km race, there was jostling between runners and Akhwari fell. His knee and shoulder hit the pavement hard.  His leg was bleeding and his knee was apparently dislocated.  Medical staff urged him to withdraw.

However, Akhwari continued running.  With a mixture of walking and a slow, limping run he finished 57th out of the 57 competitors who completed the race.  The winner’s time was 2:20:26; Akhwari time, 3:25:27.

By then, the sun had set, and there were only a few thousand people left in the stadium.  But as he crossed the finish line the crowd rose and cheered.

When interviewed later and asked why he ignored the advice to pull out and continued running, Akhwari said these now famous words:

“My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race.”

God wants us to finish well.  Not first, not with accolades, not with pats on the back, maybe even alone…but to finish.

Let’s walk together through the Acts of the Apostles and see what we need to do to please God.

What good works does He want you to do and where can we grow in our knowledge of Him?  That we can finish the race set before us.

 

*END*

 

July 2, 2017

Title: A Healthy Church’s Response to Terrorism

Text: selected and Psalm 94

Psa. 94

1          O LORD God, to whom vengeance

belongs—

O God, to whom vengeance belongs,

shine forth!

2          Rise up, O Judge of the earth;

Render punishment to the proud.

3          LORD, how long will the wicked,

How long will the wicked triumph?

4          They utter speech, and speak insolent

things;

All the workers of iniquity boast in

themselves.

5          They break in pieces Your people, O

LORD,

And afflict Your heritage.

6          They slay the widow and the stranger,

And murder the fatherless.

7          Yet they say, “The LORD does not see,

Nor does the God of Jacob

understand.”

8          Understand, you senseless among the

people;

And you fools, when will you be wise?

9          He who planted the ear, shall He not

hear?

He who formed the eye, shall He not

see?

10        He who instructs the nations, shall He

not correct,

He who teaches man knowledge?

11        The LORD knows the thoughts of

man,

That they are futile.

12        Blessed is the man whom You

instruct, O LORD,

And teach out of Your law,

13        That You may give him rest from the

days of adversity,

Until the pit is dug for the wicked.

14        For the LORD will not cast off His

people,

Nor will He forsake His inheritance.

15        But judgment will return to

righteousness,

And all the upright in heart will follow

it.

16        Who will rise up for me against the

evildoers?

Who will stand up for me against the

workers of iniquity?

17        Unless the LORD had been my help,

My soul would soon have settled in

silence.

18        If I say, “My foot slips,”

Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up.

19        In the multitude of my anxieties

within me,

Your comforts delight my soul.

20        Shall the throne of iniquity, which

devises evil by law,

Have fellowship with You?

21        They gather together against the life

of the righteous,

And condemn innocent blood.

22        But the LORD has been my defense,

And my God the rock of my refuge.

23        He has brought on them their own

iniquity,

And shall cut them off in their own

wickedness;

The LORD our God shall cut them off.

Today I want to look at a response to terrorism.  As a healthy church what should our response be when we hear reports of a stabbing in Flint-Bishop Airport or the bombing in Paris or shootings around the world.  As I mentioned in this month’s church newsletter, since January 1, 2017 through June 21, 2017 there have been 616 terrorist attacks around the world resulting in the deaths of 4,184 people along with countless people injured and maimed and even more left shaken.  [https://storymaps.esri.com]  These attacks call for a response from the Church.  What is the proper response?

This has been a difficult sermon to work through.  I figured that I would find the ultimate Scripture, lay it out in a nice neat outline, and deliver it in a nice neat 3-point sermon.  But pain and heartache is just that “pain and heartache.”  The world is sometimes a messy place and though we do not focus on the mess all the time there are times when it comes to our doorstep and we have to address it.

When we hear about the perpetration of evil we have multiple responses.  We may get angry or we may be shocked.  Sometimes we become sick to our stomach or we may become indifferent; numb to the pain that takes place “somewhere else.”  Maybe we imagine getting even.  Payback might be gratifying.

The statistics are a little hard to collate because sometimes the sources of information calculate war casualties differently, but my figuring shows that upwards of 6930 U.S. Service Personal have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.  If we add the 2996 who died that day, including the Twin Towers, the passengers on the planes and the Pentagon, the total comes to approximately 10,000 (approx. 9926) U.S. citizen’s deaths can be connected to 9/11.

That’s a lot of people.  That number leaves a lot of grieving family members and friends.

But as I continued researching I found another number.  It is the number of Iraq and Afghanistan citizens who have died as a direct result of 9/11 and the numbers are staggering.  Again, the numbers are a bit hard to follow because different studies give varying numbers but one study said that 500,000 Iraqis and 149,000 Afghanistan and Pakistan citizens have been killed.  Another study reports that 210,000 citizens, non-military people, have died violent deaths as a result of the war on terror.

SIDE NOTE: Populations of these three countries:
http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/population-by-country/
Afghanistan – 34,169,169
Iraq – 38,654,287
Pakistan – 196,744,376

Is that what the Church wants?  Is that “just deserts?”  Is that the just punishment they deserve for their act of terror?  Is there a sense of satisfaction when we see reports saying that we have killed 64,900 times more of “them” then they killed of “us?”

The numbers of grieving widows, mothers, fathers and children is astounding…for all countries. The heartache and pain caused by war is unfathomable.  Revenge is not the Church’s proper response.

But what is the Church’s response?

Well, we begin answering the question by revisiting the Church’s ultimate purpose, which is to glorify God.  There are many things we do: point people to Jesus for salvation, serve the unfortunate, build up believers, etc., but the greatest thing we do is glorify God.  How we live, what we say, whom we love…the common denominator is to glorify God.  The Bible says:

“Sing to the LORD, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods.” 1 Chronicles 16:23-29

“Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.”  Psalm 29:1-2

“For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to you among the Gentiles, and I will sing to your name.”  Romans 15:8-9

“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

So, when we ponder our response it has to glorify God.  Rejoicing over hundreds of thousands of deaths does not glorify God.

Glory to God comes when we lift our voices in praise and honor to Him who is set high in the heavens.  In spite of the evil that exists in the earth we bow to God who is on the throne.  We long for the day all evil is done away with every knee bows to Him, but even before that day we give glory and honor to the one and only God.

We will not hate, we will not curse the sinner, we will not take matters into our own hands; we will bow before God.  We will bow in tears, in pain and maybe even in anger…but part of the response to terrorism is to worship and glorify God.

The second function of a response to terror is to reach out to people for Christ.  There are plenty of verses that remind us that people need the Lord.  People need salvation.

“Do you not say, “There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” John 4:35

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” Matthew 28:18-20

The answer to violence is a transformation of heart and soul.  We can pass all the laws we want but as we all know many people just skirt the laws.  For some their greatest joy is to find ways to skirt the law.  Changing the law doesn’t change the way people act but if we can change a person’s heart we will transform society.

Romans 12 records, “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

Maybe the most difficult thing in the universe is to pray for the salvation of a person who has detonated a bomb in a crowded room.  Our emotions run deep when we read about the grief that results or watch reports and see the pain caused by senseless violence.

But as hard as it is, the only permanent answer to terrorism is a transformation of soul, heart and mind and that transformation can only be accomplished by God.  The Bible declares:

20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:20-24

This church moved to Auburn because there were souls to be saved and the area was ripe unto harvest.  Our mandate has not changed.  We respond to acts of violence and terrorism by seeking to bring them to Christ.

I did find a passage that addresses the actions of evil.  Look at the passage listed in your bulletin, Psalm 94.

The Psalm is divided into 5 parts and it shows a progression of a proper response to terrorism and to all wickedness, for that matter.

We begin by crying out to God for Him to act.  The reality is that only God can stop evil.  We can arrest and silence one leader but there is generally always someone to take their place.  There seems to be no end of hateful and hate-filled people who just want to commit acts of wickedness and evil.  Truly our only recourse is to call on God to stop institutions of evil and to silence the influence of evil people.

And just as a related rabbit trail, do not be afraid to call out bad behavior.  This section delineates these people’s bad actions.  Sin loves darkness, bad behavior thrives in secretiveness and silence.  Confront people’s bad behavior.

The next section, which includes verses 7 & 19-21, chronicle the arrogance of the wicked.  Verse 7 sums it up. Yet they say, “The LORD does not see, Nor does the God of Jacob understand.”

People who commit these kinds of evil feel they are acting with impunity.  They believe nobody of power sees or cares.  They do not believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing God.  They believe they will get away with their actions and really don’t care who knows.

In acts of terrorism one of the first questions that is poised is “has anybody claimed responsibility.”  They absolutely do not care and are even proud of the destruction, pain and suffering they cause.

Which leads the Church to another part of its response, the belief that God does see and does know about the arrogance and wicked acts of evil people. Verses 8-11:

8 Understand, you senseless among the people; And you fools, when will you be wise?

9 He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see?

10 He who instructs the nations, shall He not correct, He who teaches man knowledge?

11 The LORD knows the thoughts of man, That they are futile.

God does see, God does hear, God knows even the thoughts of humanity.  So though we cannot change the events of the past and though we may not be able to stem the tide of future evil we can declare “God does know and will even the score.  God will punish the wicked.”  Jump to verse 23:

23          He has brought on them their own iniquity,

And shall cut them off in their own wickedness;

The LORD our God shall cut them off.

God’s forgiveness does not preclude punishment.  Just because God forgives evil doers if they ask, does not mean He will not punish them.

A friend from Bible college worked at a prison.  He told me that there were some prisoners who genuinely came to know Christ for salvation.  I asked if they then thought they should be released.  He responded, “No, the ones who truly know Christ understand better than anybody that they have to stay in prison and pay the penalty for their crime.”

The prayer for the salvation of evil doers does not mean they can avoid the punishment for their crime.  Salvation just means they look forward to a better day, a day of true release and freedom.

And in a society of uncertainty and sometimes fear we rest in God’s protection.

I remember the day Americans could say there had not been a terrorist attack on US soil.  We can no longer make that statement.  Now our response is to wonder where the next attack will come and we do what we can to protect ourselves and minimize danger.

Part of protecting ourselves and minimizing danger to ourselves and our families is to put ourselves in the hands of God.  Evil will continue to happen until God comes and sets up His eternal kingdom.  Until then, He is still our only hope.

The last two verses really sum up a response to terrorism.

22 But the LORD has been my defense, And my God the rock of my refuge. 23 He has brought on them their own iniquity, And shall cut them off in their own wickedness; The LORD our God shall cut them off.

Even when I do not see God stop acts of evil; even when the wicked rejoice in the pain and suffering they cause, our response is to let God be our defense and turn to God as our refuge.

Psalm 73

21 Thus my heart was grieved, And I was vexed in my mind.

22 I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.

23 Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand.

24 You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.

26 My flesh and my heart fail;             But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.

28 But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, That I may declare all Your works.

 

 

*END*

 

 

June 25, 2017

Title: The Marks of a Healthy Church: Accepts the Love of Jesus

Text: Revelation 3:14-22

14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,

‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’ ”

 

The message comes directly from Christ.  He presents Himself as the “Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.”  All these present Jesus as powerful God.  The “Amen” meaning what He says comes about, He is sovereign.  He is always “Faithful” and He is always “True.”  The declaration that He is “the Beginning of the creation of God” is reference to His preeminence over all creation.  It takes us back to Colossians 1:15 where Christ is referred to as “…the first born of every creature.”  Christ existed before God’s creation and holds sovereignty over it.

It’s important to begin this way because it establishes the authority Jesus has to say what He is about to say to the church in Laodicea.  He is about to point out their flaws, their wrong direction, their carelessness.  He can do that because He is their Creator, the perfect and true sovereign.  He is God.

A parent has the authority and the responsibility to train their children right.  A job supervisor is commissioned with the authority and responsibility of getting the job done.  A head coach has the power and the obligation to make decisions regarding the team.  A police officer is charged with the duty and the power to enforce laws.  We are all subject to people who have authority over us, authority that is given to them.

Christ has the right to guide us because He is the Amen, He is Faithful, He is truth and He is the Sovereign over all other creation.  He has the right and responsibility to guide us to the right.

For the church that resided in Laodicea Christ begins:

15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.

These are verses often used to spur Christians and the church to more powerful works; to serve God with gusto and fervor.  Though we focus on the “cold, hot and lukewarm,” we need to notice that Jesus says, “I know your works….”  It’s important to realize that Christ knows what we are doing and He knows why we are doing it.  We cannot hide our actions or our motivation from God.

Through the writer of Hebrews God records,

12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Heb. 4:12-12 NKJV

Accountability is a good thing.  It is intended to keep us on the straight and narrow.  Do not neglect the words, “[God] knows your works.”

For the Christians in Laodicea the message was simple.  Jesus was saying, “You aren’t standing for anything.”  They were “lukewarm,” “tepid,” neither strong in faith nor weak in faith; they were indifferent.

Historians say that Hierapolis was 5 to 6 miles from Laodicea and was famous for its medicinal hot springs.  Colosse, a city 15 to 16 miles from Laodicea, was noted for its streams of clear, cold drinking water.  Because by mid-summer the river flowing to Laodicea dried, the city had to rely on aqueducts to get water.  By the time it got there, it was neither hot nor cold.  The water sustained life but was not desirable as refreshing or as healing.

It is hard to discern exactly what these two verses are implying.  Were the Christians spiritually alive or were they spiritually dead?  Were they saved; part of the Kingdom of God and just lacked zeal or were they unsaved people who liked the sound of religion so they went to church and pretended?

It’s hard to tell.  Both are dangerous positions.  If they are not saved, just playing a game, they are in for a rude awakening.  If they were saved but not serving God faithfully they were in danger of being punished.  And this is not the only time God challenges His people to take a side.

When Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel he gathers the people of Israel together and demands of them,

“…’How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.” 1 Kings 18:21

Elijah tried to force them to make a choice.  Either serve God zealously or serve Baal zealously but get out of the middle.

Sometime earlier Joshua had challenged the people of Israel with a similar choice.  Israel has conquered Canaan and are about to take possession of their territories.  Joshua says to them:

14 Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! 15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua attempts to force the people to make a choice.

A mark of a healthy church is that their commitment to Christ is 100%.  Healthy Christians do not straddle the line between evil and godly.  They do everything in their power to put a wall between themselves and anything that would pull them down spiritually.  They are careful to discern between things that will destroy their relationship with God and what will strengthen their relationship with God.

The polished, prim and proper church looks at these verses and asks: Well is this referring to eternal salvation or loss of salvation?  Is Christ addressing the Christians themselves or is He speaking only to the leader?  And that’s not the point.  The verses are screaming for Christ’s church to take a stand.  Choose God and live faithfully, that’s the message God is trying to get across.

I do not believe Christ is telling them to become atheists or God haters.  But He is saying by not making a decision you are actually making a decision to reject God.

Kyle was in his first year of college.  On Monday morning his alarm went off at 6:30, plenty of time for him to make his 8 o’clock class.  But Kyle was tired and he couldn’t decide if he wanted to get up or lay there a bit longer.  So he pondered.  At 7 o’clock his roommates yelled that he better get moving.  But Kyle just couldn’t decide if he wanted to roust out just yet, so he lay there and contemplated.  He liked this class and he was ready for the class…but he was just a little bit tired.  At 7:30 he realized he could make it but now he would have to really hustle.  But it was just too hard to decide when, exactly, he HAD to get up, so he lay there just a few minutes more.  And in his inability to decide he dozed off and when he jolted awake he realized it was 8:20, he was going to miss the class, all because he couldn’t decide.

Did Kyle make a decision?  Yes he did.  By not deciding to get up he made the decision to stay in bed.

Choose God!  By not choosing God, you make a decision to reject Him.  Be hot or be cold, but do not stand in the middle.

And in verses 17-18 Jesus reveals the reason they are so lax.  He says:

17 Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”

The presence of earthly comfort and wealth is not a sign that God is pleased.  The church in Laodicea was apparently free from persecution and poverty.

Ancient records indicate that Laodicea was home to many wealthy people.  In 60 AD the area of Laodicea was struck by an earthquake the devastated several cities.  Historians have recorded that for some reason the city of Laodicea received no Imperial help to rebuild.  Whether they rejected it or it was not offered is not known.  It seems that the city was rebuilt through contributions given by the wealthy people in the city.  One writer even said that in addition to rebuilding their own city they contributed to the rebuilding of some of the surrounding cities.

The church must have interpreted that as a sign that they were pleasing to God.  But according to the words of Christ this wealth had blinded them to their true need for salvation and for God.  The measured their spiritual condition by the numbers in their bank account.

The message from Christ was:

18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.

The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and the church of today often interpret God’s favor according to the statistical data in the church minutes.  Jesus says, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Luke 12:15.  He also says, “…he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” is a fool. Luke 12:21

A healthy church measures spiritual success by the depth of faithful faith exhibited by its members.  Be careful about looking at your bank account or our weekly attendance or our beautiful and functional building as a sign that we are God’s favored child.  We lay up treasure in heaven by being holy and righteous in all we do.

The letter to Laodicea concludes with the reason for the rebuke and with encouragement to come back to God.  The reason for this letter of rebuke is love.  Christ says:

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”

Jesus is so in love with His people that He will not allow them to get away with sin and unrighteousness.  He will cling to us with everything He has in the eternal hope that we will listen and turn to Him.

Correction being an act of love is not new.  The concept runs throughout Scripture.

Job 5 17 “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.”

Proverbs 3 11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor detest His correction; 12 For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

Hebrews 12 “5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,

Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;

6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens,

And scourges every son whom He receives.’

11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Parents do everything in their power to keep their children safe, even when it means disciplining them.  God does the same, He will do everything in His power to keep His people safe, even discipline and reprimand.

And we see the compliment to love…opportunity to return.  The letter concludes:

“Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Our heart’s cry need to be, God lead us to spiritual health.  We need to cherish the love of God even when it comes in the form of discipline and scolding.

The church in Laodicea is often portrayed as sub-standard and failing.  But the reality is that it was a church that was deeply loved by God.

Sometimes you may feel sub-standard in your faith; that you only falter your way along.  But the truth is that Jesus love you so deeply and wants you to grow and mature so much that He will not let you get away with bad behavior.  Thank Him for that, recognize His love and then open the door to His invitation to commune together.

22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’ ”

 

*END*

 

 

June 18, 2017

 

Title: The Marks of a Healthy Church – Recognizing Christ

Text: Revelation 3:7-13

7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write,

“These things says He who is holy, He who is true, ‘He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens’: 8 “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.

13 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’

 

A healthy church recognizes and respects Jesus.  The letter to the church of Philadelphia begins with an open and shut case concerning the character of Jesus Christ.  The letter self-declares Jesus as holy.  In saying Jesus is holy we are not talking about Jesus being good or moral or just or righteous.  He is all those things but that’s not what is being referred to here.

When He is called “holy” it means He is set apart, sacred; He is above all else.  In this sense, Jesus is completely other and different than all others.  He is set apart from all others; there is none to compare Him to because there is none like Him in any way.  He is God; fully God.

To exemplify this in a human way we need look only to the veneration of objects in the religious world.  Every religion has its sacred relics.

The Shroud of Turin is one of these Christian relics.  Some believe it to be Christ’s burial cloth.  They believe the crucified man whose image the cloth holds is that of Jesus.

In a special chapel in Prato, Italy there is a hand-woven, camel-hair belt said to belong to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It was allegedly handed to Thomas the Apostle just before she ascended to heaven.  This sacred relic is so revered that is never touched and only shown 5 times a year.

In keeping with the theme of Mary, France’s Chartres Cathedral is home to a tunic said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary during the birth of Christ.

A specially made reliquary under the altar in a basilica in Rome holds an iron chain that is said to have shackled the Apostle Peter when he was jailed for preaching about Jesus.  Legend says that when the Empress Eudoxia gave the chain to Pope Leo I, he held them next to the chains from Peter’s first imprisonment in the Mamertime Prison and the two chains miraculously fused together.

These relics are so revered that they are never touched and sometimes only rarely seen.  They are above common uses and purposes.

A great number of years ago I spoke with a friend who attended her church every day.  She told me that she was upset that the service was done in English.  I was a little surprised and asked what language it should be in.  “Latin, of course,” was her reply.  I asked, “Do you understand Latin?”  “No,” she said, “but that’s the point.  The Mass is holy and sacred, we are too unholy and not worthy to understand.”

This friend was not degrading herself or her fellow church goers.  Though she was somewhat misguided, she was exalting the Mass.  More than that she was exalting the Christ of the Mass.

We look at that person’s opinion and see it as misguided.  But it is no more misguided than those who degrade the name of Jesus by using it as a swear word or as a common expletive.

A healthy church recognizes that Jesus is above all.  Neither He nor His name is ever to be used in any other context than respect and reverence.

And He is called “true.”  Again, this description isn’t just about a person who tells the truth; a person who never lies.  Jesus is truth.  Everything about Him is truth.  He embodies truth; He is the essence of truth.  There is never a question as to whether what Jesus does is truthful or not; He is truth.

When we come to the realization that Jesus is truth and what He says is always truth it brings us a sense of peace.  He is the only way to peace.  Government cannot bring us peace, though we might like our jobs they should not be our sense of peace.  Peace comes when we know Him who is true.  Peace is ours when we come into relationship with Jesus, the One who is truth.

It is an exercise in endurance to trust the holy and true God.  Like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, “…we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven….” 

But we cannot achieve that place yet.  We cannot hurry Christ’s plan.  So we wait, we wait till He completes His perfect plan and His perfect way in us.

We can patiently wait because not only is Jesus holy and true, He also, “…has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.”

That is an interesting phrase.  It alludes back to Isaiah 22.  In this chapter Isaiah pronounces that He will take authority over the treasury of the house of David away from Shebna and put it into the hands of Eliakim.   It is a veiled picture of Jesus being in control of the Messianic Kingdom.

It is also an ominous statement.  This statement in Revelation 3 reminds us that Jesus has full and complete authority over the Kingdom of Heaven.  Revelation 3:7, “…He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.”

Jesus opens doors of opportunity for His churches to minister and He closes those doors. Jesus opens doors of opportunity for salvation and He closes those doors.

He gave the people of Noah’s day 120 years to repent and they refused.  When the door of the Ark closed and the water began to rise all who had rejected were lost.  There was no hope.  The parable recorded in Matthew 25 of the 10 virgins illustrates this as well.  5 were prepared when the bridegroom arrived, the other 5 were left out in the dark.  Although they pounded on the door to be let in the door would not be opened.

In July of 1940 the city of Tacoma, WA opened the Tacoma Narrows Bridge connecting the Olympic peninsula with Washington State’s mainland.  The bridge soon became a favorite attraction for travel not because of its convenience but because of its tendency to sway like an ocean wave when the wind blew just right.

Theodore Condron, an advisory engineer strongly and repeatedly argued that the narrowness of the bridge made it unsafe but he was the lone dissenter and was ignored and the city planners decided to go ahead with the bridge.

It wasn’t long before Condron’s warnings came true.  On November 7, 1940, barely 5 months after it was opened and with the wind blowing just right one of the cables came loose and the center section of the bridge began to twist back and forth violently.  In a matter of minutes the bridge literally twisted itself in half, the center section snapped at one end and plunged into Puget Sound.

Nobody had heeded Theodore Condron’s warning but now they were all believers.

Jesus holds the keys to the Kingdom.  Do not ignore the opportunities for salvation and for holiness that you are given, you may not receive another opportunity.  In Jesus’ absolute sovereignty, independent upon the will of men, and irresistible by the power of men, He opens doors and shuts doors.  We bow to Him.

But as we move through the letter we are told that because of this church’s faithfulness to Christ they are given a great opportunity.  Jesus says, “I know your works.”  The works are not specifically described but later in the verse Jesus says, “…you have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” Then verse 10 says, “Because you have kept My command to persevere….”  It makes sense that Jesus’ commendation, at least in part, is in reference to the churches determination to stand firm in the midst of persecution.

There is reference to the “synagogue of Satan.”  The implication is that there were Jews who would have closed the door to Gentiles entering heaven.  But because these Christians kept the Word of Christ and have not denied His name and have persevered in keeping His command, Jesus has opened the door of the Kingdom to them and they would be saved.

There are now a series of rapid-fire statements.  The church would be kept from the intense trial that seemed about to encompass the rest of the Christian world.  Jesus says He would return quickly.  When the time of His coming began it would progress quickly to the end.  And He warns them to not let anyone take their crown.

Pause for a moment and think about how someone can take your crown.  We are promised that no one can take our salvation but we can lose our rewards.  The warning is to be cautious of who we follow or we may be lead away from faithful service to God and lose what reward is promised to those who do persevere.

In the 2000 Olympics Marion Jones won 3 individual medals and 2 team medals.  She reveled in the glory of winning. But all was not what it seemed.  Someone had supplied Jones with illegal drugs and she had taken them.  Because she had cheated her medals were taken away.  With her full consent someone had encouraged her to commit a crime.  Her awards were taken, her glory was turned to shame.

Beware of those who would lead us to not honor and reverence Christ.  There are those who try to make us live contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in so doing we lose what rewards we may have received from Jesus.

The final verses promise them several honors.  They will become exemplary strengths in the city of God.  They will receive the name of God written on them, showing ownership.  They will receive the name of the city of God, showing permanent citizenship in heaven.

In the show “Toy Story” Andy marked his toys with his name.  When anybody wondered who owned Buzz or Woody they need look no further than the bottom of their foot; the place where Andy had inscribed his name.

The Christian belongs to God.  Nothing can take that away.  Rewards can be lost, faithfulness can be forsaken but when Jesus puts His name on us we belong to Him.

The name of Jesus is sacred, true and holy…and we belong to Him.  Give your heart to Christ.  Become one who overcomes.

*END*

 

June 11, 2017

Title: Marks of a Healthy Church –

Text: Revelation 3:1-6

 

1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,

“These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’

 

Names sometimes conjure up images.  When we say the name Attila, we are confronted with a less than complimentary image and reputation.  The name Jezebel isn’t a bad name but when we peruse the Old Testament, we realize the woman with that name had a very evil reputation.  Names like Samson & Delilah evoke thoughts of both strength and deceit.

Some names describe a person’s character.  There are 7 men, men probably everybody has heard of, whose names are very descriptive of their character.  How many of you have heard of Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey and Doc?  These men’s names fit their personalities.

Sometimes people choose nicknames that give them an image.  Names like: Boomer, Lumberjack, Boss, Mooch, Champ, Handy Man, TouchDown, Outlaw, Black Widow, Banjo, Crash, Guppy, Duchess or Trouble.

Sometimes the image we portray is the opposite of who we really are.  Baldy might be hairy and Hairy might be bald.  Skinny might be chubby and Big Al might be 6’-3” and weigh 90lbs.

Jumping off that analogy sometimes the image we portray is not the real person we are.  Call it insincerity, duplicity, pretense, two-facedness or plain old hypocrisy it all boils down to one thing…sometimes a person is not who they portray themselves to be.

Amy thought she had found her perfect match.  She contacted Dwayne by email after the dating site she had subscribed to said they were a perfect match.  They began corresponding by email and even spoke a few times on the phone.

He said he was a “computer systems analyst” who had lived in Virginia for five months.  He had a good sense of humor, shared a lot of the same interests and had a romantic side that Amy really liked.

They tried to meet but Dwayne traveled for business and was often called out of town unexpectedly or delayed getting back.

Once when he said he was stuck in a foreign country she wired him $8000 to cover custom fees and then $10,000 on another occasion to bribe border guards in a small country.  Within a year she had given him $100,000.

It seems odd, Amy was not dumb, in fact she was very intelligent and mature.  But Dwayne said many times the he loved her and couldn’t wait to finally meet her.  They were words Amy hungered for.  Her mother had died a few years earlier and her abusive husband of 20 years had died of cancer.  Dwayne filled a void she longed to be filled.

After about a year, with the help and encouragement of her sister, Amy finally began to face up to the inconsistencies in her relationship with Dwayne.  With the help of a regional FBI office and a website called romancescams.org Amy finally accepted the fact that she had been scammed by an unscrupulous manipulator, probably from either Nigeria or Ghana.

Her heart was broken again when she finally admitted that Dwayne was not who he said he was, it was all a hoax to steal her money.

The letter to Sardis begins: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” 

Very simply put, the church in Sardis wore a facade…at least some of the people in the church at Sardis wore facades.  Many of the Christians in the church pretended to be on fire for God but in reality were not doing anything for God.

Understand that these Christians weren’t doing anything bad.  They weren’t trapped in immorality and idol worship like the previous two churches, it’s just that they weren’t doing anything.  Christ says they have a reputation for being alive but in truth they are dead.  They look like vibrant growing Christians but they are spiritually dead.  One commentator writes:

“The Sardian church was outwardly active, conveying the impression of liveliness. So [‘dead’] refers to an inward spiritual condition. Like the city, the church was existing in the past….  Its fame and the ministry of its members for Christ in the past were the basis for its present reputation. They had made peace with the surrounding society and fit in comfortably with the culture. The offense of the cross in that community had ceased to exist. A state of spiritual death pervaded the church.  They were void of real vitality and genuine fruitfulness. They had sunk into a deep sleep which, if not interrupted, would issue in death.” [Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 1-7, An Exegetical Commentary. Moody Press: Chicago, 1992. p. 247-248]

When was the last time you shared your faith with someone?  When was the last time you asked your friend, neighbor, co-worker if they were ready for heaven?  When was the last time you said to someone, “Jesus is the only way to heaven and you need to seek forgiveness for your sins from Him,” or some such thing?

When was the last time you attended prayer meeting here at the church?  I know, you pray at home and you pray with your family.

When was the last time you attended prayer meeting here at the church?

When was the last time we as a church, as the body of Christ, got together and prayed passionately for the Kingdom of God to flow from this church?  When was the last time we sought God for direction, for guidance, for mercy and grace to be the church of Jesus Christ.  We meet once a month and talk about what we should do but we do not pray passionately for the mercy of God on this church.  A church that meets to conduct meetings but does not meet to pray is a social organization, a service organization.  We might just as well list ourselves in the phone book along with The Moose, The Elks, The Shriners and The Masons.

Yea, a church that doesn’t pray together as a church is like a preacher without a microphone…it cannot be heard and it’s effectiveness wanes until it disappears.  If you do not share Jesus with others and if we do not pray together we are in danger of becoming a fading church; a church whose effectiveness wanes until it disappears.

If we do not talk to others about forgiveness through Jesus Christ and if we do not pray together as the congregation of Jesus Christ we are a church whose good reputation covers a dead carcass.

Many years ago, when I was pretty new here someone said, “I predict that in 10 years this church will close and the building will be used for an office building.”  I do not know who said it but I remember being pretty mad that somebody would say such a thing.  But if we continue to live in the past and do not live in the present and do not share Jesus and do not pray together the prediction just might come true.

And you know the really sad part…we don’t even have a midweek prayer meeting scheduled.  We had one…once; one person showed up; the activity calendar changed and I just never scheduled another one.  Shame on me…shame on you.

But it’s not too late.  Jesus said to Sardis and, I believe, says to us:

“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.”

We’re not done.  Jesus calls for us to “wake up,” “become vigilant.”  Renew being the Church and return to why we exist.  Jesus continues:

“Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.”

How many of you know why Beaver Baptist relocated from 1514 S Carter Rd, Midland, MI to 4853 Garfield Rd, Auburn, MI and became First Baptist Auburn?  What was the reason the survey committee gave?  Here’s what they said:

“Whereas the survey committee has deemed the Auburn Area ripe unto harvest and whereas we feel more souls can be reached for Christ, be it resolved that the Beaver Baptist Church of Beaver Township, County of Bay, State of Michigan, be relocated in the Auburn area.”

Do we still believe that?  Is the area ripe unto harvest and are there still souls to be reached for Christ?

We haven’t finished doing what God brought us here to do.  Jesus says to the church in Sardis, I have not found your works perfect before God.”

The word “perfect” does not  have the same meaning for us as it did for them.  For us it means “flawless, and unblemished.”  For the Christians in Sardis it meant “complete, fulfilled.”

Our work is not completely dead and our work is not done.  We have fantastic outreach to children and there are areas of our church that are strong, but we have to repent and get back to why we started.  We have more work to do in this location and we need to wake up and fulfil the work of God here.

One of the marks of a healthy church is that it does not rely on its past to support its present.

In 1959, Xerox launched the “Xerox 914” photocopier and revolutionized the document-copying industry.  According to some it was one of the most successful Xerox products ever.

One of Xerox’s companies is the Palo Alto Research Center.  PARC’s inventions include the mouse, the laser printer, and a windows/icon-based user interface.  But for years, Xerox management did absolutely nothing with their cutting-edge inventions and continued to rely solely on the 914 photocopier.

Eventually their technology was “borrowed” and now Xerox struggles to survive in and ever changing and innovative market.  They clung to the past and now the fight to survive.

We cannot survive on past success.  A healthy church will do new things and try new things and fail at new things.  But doing new things requires risk, and work, and commitment…and volumes of prayer.

Jesus promises, He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

I want to overcome.  I want a white robe.  I want Jesus to confess my name before the Father.  I hope and pray that you want that as well.  To do that we have to overcome, we have to be healthy.  To be healthy we have build on the foundation that built the church.

Let’s get rid of the façade and become true before God.

 

*END*

 

 

June 4, 2017

Title: Marks of a Healthy Church: Educated Bias

Text: Revelation 2:18-29

 

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write,

‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: 19 “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. 20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.

24 “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. 25 But hold fast what you have till I come. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—27 “He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star.

29 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’

 

Once again the speaker is the risen Christ.  John begins by saying, These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:”

The Son of God comes as judge and purifier.  The phrase “eyes like a flame of fire” conjures up images of penetrating sight.  He knows what we think and what motivates us.  We’ll talk about that more when we get to verse 23 but suffice it to say that God searches the heart.  Like Hebrews 4:12 says:

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

God knows the heart of His Church.

The “feet like fine brass” is a bit harder to discern, but it seems to refer to the purity of Christ as He moves among the Churches.

The letter then goes on to give a commendation and a caution.  Christ begins:

19 “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.

The approval can be looked at in two ways.  Christ could be saying, “I know your works which include your actions, your willing service to others, your self-sacrificing love and your steadfast endurance.”  The reference could be to the four areas mentioned.

Or Christ could be looking at five things.  He could be saying, “I know our your works, your actions, your willing service to others, your self-sacrificing love and your steadfast endurance.”

I lean to the first one because at the end of the phrase Christ say, “…and as for your works, the last are more than the first.”  That phrase simply means that the church in Thyatira was getting better at these deeds. One commentator writes:

“The latter deeds of this church were in some sense more in number or quality, perhaps both, than their early ones.  …Whatever else may be yet to come in this message, in the ground already covered this was an exemplary church.” [Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary. Moody Press: Chicago, 1992. pp. 212-213]

The reality is that it doesn’t really matter how it’s looked at.  Both of these statements are great commendations to the church.  The phrases echo what Peter said in his first letter.

5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Pet. 1

The church in Thyatira was doing the right things and as they progressed they got better.

One of the marks of a healthy church is that they will add to their faith the things mentioned in Peter’s letter.  We will eagerly seek virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.  The fruit, the evidence, of the Spirit in our lives is  “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Gal. 5:22, 23

The Christians in Thyatira were doing well.  They were manifesting the work of the Holy Spirit and in turn were exemplifying Christ.

We add these things to our lives and in turn become a healthy church.  We take the example of the people in this church and receive the commendation of Christ.

But now there were problems.  Christ goes on to say:

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.

The problem in Thyatira was very similar to the problem in Pergamos.  This person in Thyatira referred to as Jezebel was leading people into sexual immorality and idol worship just as those in Pergamos who adhered to the Doctrine of Balaam were doing.

It all comes down to the enticement to satisfy legitimate desires in illegitimate ways.  It is the same temptation Eve faced in the Garden and the same temptation we face now.  It is the “lust of the eyes,” the lust of the flesh,” and the “pride of life.”  We are duped into believing that what looks good to us IS good for us; we are deceived into thinking what feels good to us IS good for us; and we are tricked into believing whatever advances my image IS good for us.

The mark of a healthy church is that they can discern the difference between legitimate and illegitimate.  Even if a lot of people are doing it and the government allows it does not make some activities right.

Remember, “all that glitters is not gold.”

This is where the problem takes a little bit of a twist.  One word in verse 20 and verses 24-25 bring us around to true believers.  Vss. 24-25 say:

24 “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.

25 But hold fast what you have till I come.

There were those who had not been seduced by the teachings of this Jezebel.  Or, if the reference to “Jezebel” isn’t an actual person but a false teaching, there were those who had not been deceived by the lie.

If we go back up to verse 20 there is a word that indicates there were some who remained skeptical about this Jezebel’s lies.  Verse 20 begins, “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel….”

The word “allow” is the Greek word “eá?.”  It means to permit but implies misgiving that goes with the permission.  It means putting up with something with reluctance; to not restrain or stop someone even though there may be reservations about them doing it.

Tie that in with these verses that give a direct statement that there seem to be people in the church who do not hold to those teachings of Jezebel.  Christ is reminding the believers that He knows their faith, knows their resistance to this wickedness and He encourages them to hold on; to not let go of truth; to endure until He comes.

And the reward for faithfulness that overcomes wickedness is authority.

26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—27 “He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father;

We do not serve so that we will receive power and authority, but there seems to be a somewhat clear indication that there will be reward for overcoming the enticements of Satan.

And we are not alone.  There are many who have never bowed the knee to Satan.

Elijah had just won a great victory of God.  The prophets of Baal had been struck down on Mt. Carmel and God had vindicated Himself on Elijah’s altar.  But when Jezebel threatened him he ran; for 40 days he ran.  And when he finally stopped God spoke to him and one of the things he said was the he was not alone in the fight against Satan.  God reassured him that there were “…seven thousand in Israel, wll whose knees have not bowed to Baal.”  Kings 19:18

One of the marks of a healthy church is that they recognize they are not alone in the fight for purity.  God is always on their side and there are many who stand firm with them.

Church of Jesus Christ, we overcome together.  There are imperfections and struggles we face, but in the power of Christ we will overcome.

The risen Christ spoke to Thyatira and He speaks to us.  We can be overcomers.

 

 

*END*

 

 

May 28, 2017

 

Title: Marks of a Healthy Church: Lay Aside Every Weight

Text: Revelation 2:12-17

 

12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write,

‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: 13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

 

The message to the church in Pergamos comes from the exalted Christ.  Their letter begins,

“These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword….”

Jesus is no longer walking among men, subject to the trials and tribulations of frail humanity.  He is exalted in the heavens and in Revelation 1 He is described as powerful and intimidating.  Revelation 1:13-16 describes Him as:

13One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.”

The image exudes purity, holiness and awareness.  The white hair shows purity and the flaming eyes show penetrating knowledge.  His voice commands authority and the words of His mouth cut like a sword separating lies from truth.

That is the Person addressing the church in Pergamos and the bottom line is He commands attention.  Jesus is not someone to be ignored or trifled with.  He first came in meekness as a servant.  His second coming will be characterized by fierceness.  When Jesus returns every knee will bow before Him.

How do we view Jesus?  How do we conduct ourselves as the Church?  At the risk of being misquoted and misunderstood let me say Jesus is not our friend.  He is our Savior, He is our God and He is our Judge…He is not a friend who will ignore our sin.

If we are treating Him as “just one of the guys” we are in for a rude awakening.  He hates sin and He will purge the sin from the lives of His children.  The letter is written to “the church” so we accept that it is written to believers.  But notice that the end of this letter says that Jesus says, Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”

The purging of the people of God is one of the first acts the returning Christ will perform.  The revealing of truth through His Word will cut the wickedness away.

Are we ready to meet the Savior?  Are we living a double standard?  We have accepted Christ as Savior and are headed to heaven but because we know He will forgive us we play fast and loose with holiness and purity.  It is a dangerous thing to poke the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  He will not be mocked.

The letter itself reveals a victory and a problem.

In His address to this church He begins with words of commendation.

13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

“…where Satan’s throne is” and then also the phrase “…where Satan dwells.”  When we read the commentaries concerning these phrases they are a mystery.  Some writers come down hard on what they believe the phrases mean others give a list of what the statements could refer to.  Speculation runs a wide gamut.  The phrases concerning Satan’s throne and his dwelling could refer to many things:

(1) emperor worship

(2) the altar of Zeus that was in the city

(3) the temple to Asklepios [ass-KLEE-pee-us] whose image was a serpent

(4) the corrupt Roman proconsul seat that resided in Pergamos

(5) the fact that Pergamos was a center of Christian persecution

or simply (7) the general Greco-Roman cults located in the city.

I believe that the letter isn’t referring to any one issue or thing.  I believe the letter is reminding the Christians in Pergamos that they were surrounded by wickedness.  Satan was active and everywhere, they needed to be on their guard.

It is the same message to us.  There is a lot of wickedness in society and we need to watch our step.

When the young men and women move sprinkler pipe in the fields they have to be careful.  There are many obstacles.  There are cows in the field, therefore there is a lot of “cow stuff.”  There are gophers so there are gopher holes.  There can be thistles that can hurt and occasionally there is poison ivy.  In addition if there has been a lot of water the fields can be soggy and messy, it’s easy to slip on wet grass or slippery mud.  If you are there later in the evening you may run across a skunk or a porcupine.   None is necessarily worse than another, except maybe a skunk.  Experts say they can spray up to 30 feet.  But anyway, there is not one danger, there are many obstacles that need to be watched for and avoided.

Christians there are obstacles everywhere we turn.  Satan has little traps and snares that can bring us down.  Satan is referred to in the Bible as:

  • the prince of this world – John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11
  • the rulers of the darkness of this world; spiritual wickedness – Ephesians 6:12
  • the prince of the power of the air – Ephesians 2:2
  • the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. – Ephesians 2:2

A mark of a healthy church is that they will lay aside and avoid adding these areas to their life.  Movies are fine but are you ready to walk out if there is excessive violence, nudity or swearing?  There is nothing wrong with eating out, but there are restaurants that no growing Christian can enter.  There is art and there is pornography and society gets the two confused.  I am a supporter of “Midland Center for the Arts” but sometimes what they call entertainment and art is nothing more that filth and porn.

The throne of Satan is all around us…Christians have to be careful we do not get bogged down by getting ensnared in the seeming innocuous schemes of Satan.  Mingling with the enemy doesn’t negate salvation but it will get us in trouble with Almighty Jesus, the Judge of all.

We, like Pergamos, live where Satan dwells…be careful.

But the church is commended for their firm stand.  Christ commends:

“And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you…..”

The church stood firm and strong for God even as it was being brutally attacked.  The temptation to give in and submit to whatever the enemy was trying to force would have been great, but they would not.  They continued to stand for purity regardless of what it would cost.  For Antipas, a person we know almost nothing about, it cost him his life.

Do we stand for our faith?  Do we stand up for godliness even when all the world is pushing to accept compromise?  When it comes to holiness in the Church we need to be relentless and often unpopular.

See, that’s the problem here with this church.  While they are commended for their faithful stand they are reprimanded for allowing compromise.  Look at verses 14 & 15:

14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.  15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

As a whole the church in Pergamos stood firm against wickedness, but they tolerated some who were compromising.  Though as a whole the church stood firm even in the face of martyrdom, they allowed compromise to remain in their midst.

The “doctrine of Balaam” comes from the account of Israel trying to cross the country of Moab on their way to Canaan.  Balak, king of Moab, tries to hire Balaam to curse Israel.  Balaam tries to curse them but God forces him to bless Israel instead.  This makes Balak furious so Balaam gives him an alternative.  He says to get the Moabites to entice the Israelites to worship their gods and have sex with Moabite women.  Balaam knows the hearts of Israel are weak and they are easily seduced away for Jehovah.  And it works, Israel is led astray by the spiritual and physical seduction of Moab.

That’s what is happening in Pergamos.  The Christians are accepting pagan practices and were becoming involved in pagan practices.  Again, it did not necessarily negate their salvation but it hindered the Gospel and called for punishment.

One of the marks of a healthy church is that they avoid compromise.  They do not go to violent movies, they do not view nudity, they do not watch illicit sex under the guise of a “mostly good movie or book.”  A healthy church does not fudge on traffic laws, does not violate laws just because they will probably get away with it.

I read a person’s FaceBook post some time ago.  They mentioned they attended a movie and said it was great, funny, amazing, thoroughly entertaining.  I looked up a review and the review showed it to be laced with profanity, sex and violence.

When the movie “Titanic” came out some in the church heralded it as entertaining and fun.  But again, the reviews revealed nudity and that it was laced with filthy language.  A healthy church cannot support that, it’s compromise.

Most of us would never have an affair on their spouse…but we’ll go to movies and watch others have affairs.  Most of us would never look into a neighbor’s window and watch them undress…but we’ll watch it in a movie or read about it in a book.  Most of us would never use filthy language…but we’ll sit through ad 2 hour movie and listen to it.

It’s compromise.  It is what we will be judged for if we participate in it.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m no angel.  I wrestle with sin and compromise like we all do.  But we will pay a price for compromise.  Remember the letter to Pergamos ends with:

16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

Have you seen the TV ads for “Letgo.com.”  Letgo.com is a mobile classifieds application that allows users to buy and sell locally. You can use Letgo to bargain shop or to let go of things collecting dust around your house.  The commercials generally portray people dragging something around that is weighing them down or making it hard to do their jobs.  They are encouraged to “letgo.”  My favorite one portrays two people skydiving in tandem and she is holding a sewing machine.  Her instructor encourages her to sell it on Letgo so they can pull the parachute cord.  They snap a picture and immediately another skydiver soars into the picture and buys it from them.

What do you need to “let go” of?  What is slowing down your service to God?  What questionable activity have you picked up?  Where are we compromising?  What purging does Jesus need to do in our lives?

God says, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Heb. 12:1

A healthy church is an uncompromising church.  A healthy church is a pure church.  A health church will be characterized by weird people; people who avoid compromise when the rest of the world participates with seemingly no adverse affects.

A healthy church is uncompromising because they know their Savior and Master will return and they want to be holy and righteous.  They are also promised a reward.  Verse 17:

17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’

This is a mysterious puzzle.  What is the “hidden manna” and what is the “stone [with] a new name?”

The “hidden manna” may be as simple as renouncing current cultural appetites so that God can reward His people with an abundant supply of spiritual food.  In the context of Pergamos the people were satisfying their physical and spiritual appetites according to the “doctrine of Balaam,” idol worship and sexual immorality.  Jesus is offering greater fulfillment by telling them to reject false cultural lies to be satisfied by God’s true food.

Too often we buy into society’s idea of what is satisfying.  We compromise because we refuse to be satisfied with Jesus.  We accept false spiritual worship and illicit physical displays because our neighbors or friends say it’s okay.  It will lead to purging and punishment.

In relation to the white stone commentators give between 5 to 7 possibilities, most are somewhat of outlandish.  The one that makes the most sense is rooted in Roman culture.

There was a Roman custom referred to as “tessera hospitalis,” [TAY-sir-ah   hoss-pi-al-us] roughly translated it means “tie of hospitality.”  It was one of the oldest and most sacred bonds known among the Romans and was scrupulously observed by those who originally entered into it and by their descendants.  The “tessera” was an actual object or amulet.

When houses of public entertainment were less common, private hospitality was more necessary. When one person was received kindly by another, or a contract of friendship was entered into, the tessera hospitalis was given.  It was a four-sided object, sometimes of wood, sometimes of stone, that was divided into two by the contracting parties.  Each party wrote their name on half the tessera. Then they exchanged pieces.  The two parties each kept one half as a mark of identity for himself and posterity.  Should they or their descendants meet again, they would in this way know each other and so they could renew or repay the tie between two families.  The tessera was carefully prized, and entitled the bearer to protection and hospitality.

To me the “white stone” is a symbol that God in Christ has made a protection pact with us concerning salvation and heaven.  We have entrance into the presence of God because of our relationship with Christ, the Son of God.

But it all hinges on our desire to avoid compromise; to avoid Satan’s traps and let go of sinful activities.

We are commended and condemned at the same time.  We are applauded for calling on the name of the Lord and we are warned to stop compromising by the way we satisfy our appetites.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.   Heb. 4:12 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Heb. 12:1

 

*END*