From the BlogSubscribe Now

Called to Fervor

Revelation 3:14-22

“‘Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:

‘I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.

‘Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.

‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.’”

fervor

Ancient Laodicea

Laodicea was forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia and one hundred miles due east of Ephesus. The Roman road stretching inland to Asia from Ephesus ran straight through the city, making Laodicea an important trade and communication center.

Laodicea was the wealthiest city in Phyrgia. The Lycus valley provided good grazing for sheep with soft, black wool, which was in high demand.

Prosperity also brought the banking industry to Laodicea. Following a devastating earthquake in A.D. 60 the city was rebuilt without financial assistance from Rome.

The city also had a school of medicine and manufactured or distributed a special ointment called, “Phrygian powder”, famous for curing eye defects.

A Pauline church

The church was possibly founded by Epaphras (Col 4:12), when Paul was spending time at Ephesus during his third journey (Acts 19:10). There is no evidence Paul visited the church, although he wrote them a letter (Colossians 4:16).

A lukewarm church

Jesus claims the church in Laodicea was neither hot nor cold. Laodicea was not located near a natural water source and was piped via an aqueduct, often arriving lukewarm. Compared to the hot medicinal waters of Hierapolis and the cold waters of Colossae, the waters of Laodicea had much to be desired.

The church was also not providing refreshment for the spiritually weary or healing for the spiritually sick. The church had lost spiritual fervor, was totally ineffective, and distasteful to the Lord.

William Barclay pointed out the church was “condemned because she preferred a respectable morality to a passionate religion” (Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 85).

An affluent church

The affluent church was unaware they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. The Laodiceans interpreted their material wealth as a blessing from God and, like the farmer in Jesus’ parable, decided to eat, drink, and be merry, thinking they had laid up many good things for years to come (Luke 12:19). The Laodiceans felt secure in their spiritual attainment.

The pride of the city

Laodicea prided itself on three things: financial wealth, an extensive textile industry, and a popular eye salve being exported around the world.

Jesus instructs the church to buy gold refined in fire, a gold that had passed through the Refiner’s fire and found trustworthy.

The Laodiceans also needed white clothes to cover their shameful nakedness; a contrast to the black woolen fabric manufactured in the city.

The cause of their spiritual problems was rooted in spiritual blindness. The producers of eye salve needed to recognize their spiritual blindness, which their medicine could not cure.

Prosperity and safety

Two things cause spiritual lukewarmness — prosperity and no persecution. The Laodicean church had money and was not troubled by false teaching or civil unrest. The church allowed themselves to become self-satisfied, self-deceived and self-righteous.

John Stott writes, “Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the church at the beginning of the 21st century than this. It describes vividly the respectable, nominal, rather sentimental, skin-deep religiosity which is so widespread among us today” (What Christ Thinks of the Church, p. 113).

Loving discipline

Jesus corrects and disciplines those He loves. Reproof and discipline are expressions of love, as found in Proverbs 3:11-12, ” My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”

The church is instructed to turn from lukewarm ways and regain a fervor for righteous living.

The church is called to fervor.”

Reestablishing fellowship

To the church Jesus says, “Look! I stand at the door and knock.” In their blind self-sufficient nature they left Him out. In an act of unbelievable condescension Jesus requests permission to enter and reestablish fellowship. His desire is to share a common meal, indicating a strong bond of affection and companionship.

“It is not a mere courtesy visit, paid in the passing, which Jesus Christ offers to us. He desires to come in and to sit long with us, and to wait as long as we wish Him to wait” (Barclay, pp. 88-89).

The promise

To the victorious Jesus promises a shared throne. Paul, as well, promised, “If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.” (2 Tim. 2:12)

The message today

Are you claiming to be following Jesus but not doing His will? Have you lost the fervor of fresh faith?

Nothing less than wholehearted commitment to Christ will do. Renew an earnest zeal, fervor, fire, and passion for God and His ways.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matt. 6:33)

The challenge

Place your hope and trust in God, not wealth and possessions. Put Him first in your private and public life, seeking His glory and obeying His will.

How has dependence on self kept you from a passionate faith?  Share your comments below.

Called to Mission

Revelation 3:7-13

“‘Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open:

‘I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.

‘Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.

‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

mission

Ancient Philadelphia

Twenty-five miles southeast of Sardis, along the Hermus River valley, lays the high plateau city of Philadelphia. The city was established by the Pergamenian king Attalus II, described as “Philadelphus” because of a deep-seeded love for his brother. Along with textile and leather industries, a vine-growing district to the northeast contributed greatly to the city’s prosperity. Strategically located at the trade routes leading to Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia, the place earned the title “gateway to the East.” Philadelphia disseminated Greek culture and language into far distant regions.

Philadelphia was also a center for pagan worship, having so many gods and temples the city was referred to as “little Athens.”

A faithful church

The letter to Philadelphia does not contain disapproval or reproach; it addresses a church keeping the faith. Churches can have a strong testimony and a vibrant witness; not every church experiences trouble. Although local believers were possibly kicked out of the local synagogue, Jesus is described as “the one who has the key of David” and is the door into divine fellowship.

Long after the surrounding country succumbed to Muslim control under Turkey, Philadelphia was a Christian community until 1392. Philadelphia was a faithful church.

An open door

The church had an open door of mission for the kingdom. They had the geographical ability to widely spread the message of Jesus everywhere.

When addressing mission, Paul mentioned open doors on several occasions. Writing to the Corinthian church of his plans to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, he declares, “There is a wide-open door for a great work here.” (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col 4:3)

The church is called to mission.

A doorway to divine fellowship

The church had obeyed God, did not deny Jesus, and gained an open door to divine fellowship.

A humbling message

“I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue … to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.”

When believers are verbally attacked and denounced by others, those people will eventually have to humble themselves and acknowledge Jesus as the true Messiah. (Romans 14:11)

The promise

In a city known for various games and festivals, a promised crown was especially appropriate. Perseverance would lead to a victorious crown.

The city often experienced devastating earthquakes, causing people to flee and set-up temporary housing in rural areas. The promise of permanence within the New Jerusalem held a special meaning.

William Barclay wrote about Philadelphia, “When a man served the state well … the memorial which the city gave him was to erect a pillar in one of the temples with his name inscribed upon it.” (Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 70) Jesus promises overcomers, “All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it.” His followers are forever honored in the house of God.

Jesus promises that the faithful belong to God, are citizens of the New Jerusalem, and maintain a special relationship with Him.

The message today

What motivates you? Are you pursuing opportunities to serve in the kingdom?

Expect His help but also expect to be criticized by others. Not everyone is happy when you successfully represent Jesus.

An urgent need

John Stott accurately prescribes the church as urgently needing believers of profound zeal, willing to count all things loss for God’s glory and willing to hazard life, comfort, career, and reputation for Him. Open doors are many, but there are few going through them.

“He sets before us the open doors of salvation and of service. He bids us go in through the one to receive salvation and out through the other to give service.” (What Christ Thinks of the Church, pp. 103-104).

The challenge

Pursue open doors provided by God. Seek opportunities to make disciples and advance His kingdom.

What doors have God opened for you?  Share your comments below.

Called to Authenticity

Revelation 3:1-6

“‘Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars:

‘I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.

‘Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.

‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

authenticity

Ancient Sardis

Sardis was thirty miles south of Thyatira and fifty miles east of Ephesus on a northern spur of Mt. Tmolus, overlooking the broad and fertile plain of the Hermus.

The city was notable for the acropolis, the temple of Artemis, and the necropolis.

The acropolis rose about eight hundred feet above the north section of Sardis and due to large rock walls was virtually impregnable. Formerly the site of the original city, the acropolis became a refuge for inhabitants during times of siege.

Former glory

Sardis had considerable wealth during the time of the early church but the political spotlight as Persia’s Asian capital lay in the past. Sardis asked the Roman Senate for the honor to build a temple to Caesar but the distinction went to Smyrna. The city represented past splendor and present decay.

Citizens cherished past fame and the same mentality affected the church. Loyalty and service to Christ was now in the past.

Spiritually dead

The church appeared to be free of trouble, however, they compromised to the point of losing authentic faith. They retained an appearance of life but were spiritually dead. They no longer depended on the Holy Spirit and failed to perform ventures of faith.

Like the fig tree of Mark 11:20, they had leaves but no fruit, an example of non-offensive Christianity.

Believers at Sardis had established a name for themselves before the community but their lives did not measure up before God. “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)

Be watchful

The church was given instructions to “wake up,” more accurately translated “be watchful.” The command of watchfulness carried special meaning. Twice the city had fallen to enemies out of a lack of vigilance on the part of the defenders.

The church, like the city, considered themselves secure but failed to remain alert and watchful.

An incomplete faith

The church was in danger of judgment because Jesus had not found them spiritually complete. In other letters acceptable behavior was noted by love, perseverance, truth, holiness, mission, and fervor.

Church members belonged to Christ in name but not heart. They would be the first believers labeled “nominal Christians.”

The church is called to authenticity.”

To repent

Sardis is the third church told to repent, the first two being Ephesus and Pergamum. They needed to make a 180 degree turn, go the opposite direction and never return to their current condition.

Jesus instructed the church to turn and be the way they were in the beginning. If not His appearance would be like a thief, at an unknown time, with their works being severely judged.

Walking with Jesus

Although the majority of the church had fully compromised their faith, there were a few people who retained an authentic faith. The faithful at Sardis walk with Christ, dressed in white, “for they are worthy.” They have withstood the pressure to live like the world and continued to follow Jesus.

A dynamic minority of awakened and responsible believers is able by prayer, love, and witness restore a dying church and bring it back to life.

The Spirit of God

The greatest gift believers are given and can ever receive is the Spirit of God. John Stott writes, “He enters our human personality and changes us from within. He fills us with love, joy, and peace. He subdues our passions and transforms our characters into the likeness of Christ. Today there is no man-made temple in which God dwells. Instead, his temple is his people. He inhabits both the individual believer and the Christian community.” (What Christ Thinks of the Church, p. 90)

When Jesus admonishes the church in Sardis to remember, He is calling them back to life in the Spirit. Scripture instructs us to pray in the Spirit, preach in the Spirit, worship in the Spirit, live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. (Jude 20; 1 Thess 1:5; John 4:24 and Phil 3:3; Gal 5:25, 16) The Spirit of God brings life where there is death. Believers are to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. (Eph 5:18)

More than simply dwelling within, does He fill you? You may possess Him but does He possess you?

The promise

If followers of Jesus turn back to authentic faith, they have the promise of heavenly white robes, of their names remaining in the Book of Life, and of Jesus acknowledging them before God and the angels.

Faithfulness during present-day trials is rewarded beyond measure in the life to come.

The message today

Was your faith greater in the past? Do you have an appearance of faith, but you know this is not true?

Have an authentic faith, be unwilling to adopt the patterns of the world. Build the future with the same Spirit-filled passion that established your walk with the Lord.

The challenge

Return to authentic faith and display God to the world. Be continually filled with the Spirit, manifesting resurrection power! The reward is great.

What does authentic faith look like to you?  Share your comments below.

Called to Holiness

Revelation 2:18-29

“‘Write this letter to the angel of the church in Thyatira. This is the message from the Son of God, whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze:

‘I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.

‘But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.

‘Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.

‘But I also have a message for the rest of you in Thyatira who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them—depths of Satan, actually). I will ask nothing more of you except that you hold tightly to what you have until I come. To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, To them I will give authority over all the nations. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star!

‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

holiness

Ancient Thyatira

On the inland route forty-five miles east of Pergamum was the city of Thyatira, situated on the south bank of the Lycus in the long north-south valley connecting the Caicus and Hermus valleys.

Thyatira was the gateway to Pergamos, the capital city of Asia.

Although not a great city, it was important in the commerce of wool, linen, apparel, dyed work, leatherwork, tanning, and bronzework.

Acts 16:14 states Lydia was from Thyatira, “a merchant of expensive purple cloth who worshiped God.”

The true Son of God

Thyatira was a local cultic worship center of Apollo Tyrimnos, a son of Zeus. Jesus starts His message as the resurrected Christ, the true Son of God.

Love and faithfulness

Jesus commends the church for their growth in love and faith. Love was manifested in service and faithfulness in perseverance.

Desiring prosperity

Jesus condemned their participation in social events, eating food sacrificed to idols and participating in sexual immorality. The economic life of the city was dominated by trade guilds where pagan religious practices were the criteria for membership. Christians were facing problems when abstaining from things dedicated to pagan deities; namely, social rejection and economic hardship.

Following a Jezebel

Jezebel symbolizes the detrimental powers of false religion among the people of God. In Pergamum the compromise came from outside the church whereas in Thyatira the same compromise was initiated and encouraged by someone within the church. The person was unwilling to let go of an alliance with the pagan environment and was influencing others to follow similar practices, causing the church to be less than holy. They neglected Peter’s admonition to “be holy just as God is holy.” (1 Pet 1:16)

The church is called to holiness.”

Examining the heart

Jeremiah declares, “But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (Jer 17:10)

Jesus examines the heart “and will judge all people according to their deeds.” (Matt. 16:27)

Unrepentant heart

Serious as it was, the strongest threat to Jezebel and the other offenders was not with regard to sin, but their reluctance to repent.

Jesus in the sermon on the mount reveals God blesses those who mourn. (Matt. 5:4) A blessing is connected to mourning over sin, possessing a heart-breaking sorrow and unhidden sadness, and feeling toward sin the same way as God.

The Lord is walking among the Church, judging evil, but also offering deliverance to the fallen if they repent and stop doing the deeds of a Jezebel.

The promise

Jesus promises the same authority as He has been granted from His Father to those remaining holy. With authority over the nations an overcomer is promised the morning star, a victory in Jesus in a darkened world.

The message today

Disloyalty occurs by both compromise without and deception within.

Are you failing to be loyal to Christ? Are you caught up in unwholesome practices turning you away from God?

Remain steadfast in faith and continue walking in accordance to His will.

The challenge

Remain holy as God is holy. As you engage the world stay loyal to Jesus.

What are some practical ways you can live a holy life?  Share your comments below.

Called to Truth

Revelation 2:12-17

“‘Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the one with the sharp two-edged sword:

‘I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city.

‘But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.’”

truth

Ancient Pergamum

The inland city of Pergamum lay about sixty-five miles north of Smyrna, along the fertile valley of the Caicus River.
Built on a hill, a thousand feet high, it dominated the surrounding area.

The Greek name Pergamon means “citadel.”

The city maintained a 200,000 volume library, second only to the library of Alexandria.

The two main religions involved worshiping Dionysus, the god of royal kings symbolized by a bull, and Asclepius, the savior god of healing represented by a snake.

A spectacular part of the city was the upper terrace of the citadel with sacred and royal buildings, the most remarkable being the altar of Zeus jutting out near the top.

A sharp, two-edged sword

Pergamum was the official Asian center for the imperial cult, the first city in Asia receiving permission to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living ruler. Of all the seven cities, Pergamum was the one where the church was most likely to clash with imperial cultism.

To the church Jesus is described with “the sharp, two-edged sword.” In a city where the proconsul was granted the “right of the sword”, the power at will to execute, the sovereign Christ reminds the threatened congregation that the ultimate power of life and death belongs to God.

A loyal church

Jesus commends the church for remaining a faithful witness in a pagan city. They had not yielded to the pressure of burning incense to the Roman emperor and declaring, “Caesar is Lord.”

In summary, the altar of Zeus resembled a throne, a cult used a serpent symbol, and the city was a cult center of emperor worship. Pergamum had become the seat of Satan’s activity, his throne within the region.

With believers and the chief adversary living in the same location, little wonder martyrdom occurred in Pergamum.

Living in difficult places

The church in Pergamum was located in a dangerous place but Jesus did not instruct them to leave. He did not want them to pack their bags and move to an easier location. Jesus needed the church to serve Him where they were.

Accomodating the world

Although the church at Pergamum had remained faithful in the midst of severe opposition, some church members were guilty of compromise. They had disregarded the apostolic instructions to, “abstain from eating food offered to idols…and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:29) When any church compares themselves with unchurched counterparts, they begin to justify a less then acceptable lifestyle.

The church is called to truth.”

All are guilty

The fault of Pergamum was having love but not upholding truth, the opposite of Ephesus. Unless the church returned to truth, Christ would fight against them with the sword of his mouth.

Only a portion of the church had compromised, yet everyone was guilty for not taking action against false teaching.

Truth and Love

Scripture blends love and truth together. John Stott writes, “Love becomes sentimental if it is not strengthened by truth, and truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love” (What Christ Thinks of the Church, pp. 51-52).

Too often truth is side-stepped to avoid conflict or controversy, yet truth spoken in love makes an eternal difference.

The promise

God provides for His people manna from heaven in place of food offered to idols.

The church is also given a white stone, a symbol of triumphant faith. The stone is marked with a new name and used as entrance to the marriage supper of the Lamb. A new name, marking a new age of eternal communion with the One whose Name is above every other name.

The message today

Have you compromised your faith? Are you finding it easier to “take-on” a life with worldly standards and neglecting to abide in biblical truth?

Stand firm in faith and live according to truth. The presence of Jesus should be cherished more than a compromising life.

The challenge

Stand up for truth with the knowledge of having entrance into full fellowship with Jesus for eternity.

What challenges have you encountered while standing up for truth?  Share your comments below.

Called to Suffer

Revelation 2:8-11

“’Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

‘I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.'”

suffer

Ancient Smyrna

The community is located approximately forty miles north of Ephesus on the east shore of the Aegean Sea, a harbor town with an important road extending eastward providing excellent trade from the rich valley nearby.

Smyrna was a proud and beautiful city with a famous stadium, library, and public theater. The city maintained a strong allegiance to Rome. The large Jewish population was actively hostile to the Christian population.

On threat of death, Emperor worship was compulsory for every Roman citizen. Citizens were required to burn incense and say, “Caesar is Lord”.

Early martydom

Polycarp, an early church leader in Smyrna, was instructed to worship Caesar but he refused.

Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and He has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

An angry mob grabbed him and placed him on a stake to burn. “It is well,” said Polycarp, “I fear not the fire that burns for a season, and after awhile is quenched. Why do you delay? Come, do your will.”

As the flames of the fire began to burn he prayed,

I thank Thee that Thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour, that I may receive a portion in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of Thy Christ.”

Spiritual wealth

Jesus recognizes the believers in Smyrna as economically poor but spiritually rich. The antagonistic environment towards followers of Jesus made it difficult for them to make a living. As a result of their suffering, however, they experienced extra grace.

Promised persecution

Jesus considers followers blessed as they are persecuted, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” (Matt. 5:11)

Paul affirms that believers will be persecuted, “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12)

Amidst persecution, Jesus tells His disciples not to fear, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28)

The church is called to suffer.”

The persecuted church

“Voice of the Martyrs” lists an online newsroom detailing the stories of persecuted Christians around the world. Pakistan, Tanzania, Iran, Indonesia, Sudan and Nigeria are just a few of the many places where they are persecuted for their faith.

In many stories you find joy in the midst of persecution. James wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

John Stott shares, “As gold is purified of dross in the furnace, so the fires of persecution can purge our Christian faith and strengthen our Christian character. We need to look beyond the trial to the purpose, beyond the pain of the chastening to its profit.” (What Christ Thinks of the Church, p. 47)

Enduring hardship

Persecution can be endured as long as there is hope. Divine assurance of everlasting life with God and other believers is the greatest hope in life.

The promise

A crown of life is promised to those who remain faithful while enduring suffering. Citizens of Smyrna, famous for its games, would have easily recognized the crown that goes to the victor.

Overcomers are not harmed by the second death, eternal separation from God. William Barclay summarizes, “Fidelity to Christ may bring death on earth, but it brings life in eternity. Infidelity may save a man’s life on earth, but in the end it brings something far worse; it brings the death of the soul. The man who is faithful unto death dies to live; but the man who saves his life at the cost of principles and at the price of his loyalty to Christ lives to die.” (Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 28)

The message today

Are you afraid of facing hardships because of faith? Have you allowed daily pressures to affect the way you live as a follower of Jesus?

As you become more like Christ, persecution may come. Put your trust in the First and the Last who promises eternal life to those suffering.

The challenge

Endure suffering and hardship as part of living in His kingdom. An eternal reward is promised by remaining faithful until the end.

What persecution have you faced for your faith?  Share your comments below.

The Church – Called to Love

Over the course of the next year I will be writing a book about the church. This series of blogs about the seven churches will serve as a precursor for my manuscript. I look forward to hearing your comments along the way!

Matthew 16:18 records Jesus telling the disciples that He will build His church. The word “church” comes from a Greek word meaning “an assembly of people called out for a purpose.”

The church is a faith community called out for a divinely expressed purpose; namely, “to make disciples.”

A revelation

The book of Revelation gives special emphasis to seven churches in modern-day Turkey. The seven Asian churches represent the local church in every age and every country.

A light to the world

John the Revelator received a vision of seven golden lampstands and seven stars. (Revelation 1:12, 16) Jesus, standing among the lampstands, tells him the lampstands represent seven churches.

The church is the light-bearer in a darkened world.”

Revelation 2:1-7

“‘Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:

‘I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.

Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.’”

called to love

Ancient Ephesus

Located on the western coast of Asia Minor, at the convergence of three highways from the north, east, and south, Ephesus was a trade center in the region.

The city of Ephesus was also the worship center for the fertility goddess “Artemis” (Greece) or “Diana” (Rome).

Ephesians were cosmopolitan and transient, living in a city with a history of cultural-political change.

Enduring hardship

The Ephesian church is considered founded by Aquila, Priscilla, and later Paul.

The believers had toiled to the point of exhaustion and dealt with hostility from a society at odds with their faith. Challenges included disbelieving Jews (Acts 19:9), the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:16), and a mob stirred up by Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:29).

Loving truth

Early in the church’s formation, Paul commended the members for loving each other, “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you” (Eph 1:15, 16).

Revelation records the church being commended for having a low tolerance for false teachers. Their quest, however, for truth and holiness left them without love for God and neighbor. They lost a quality they first possessed, divine love. They became overly critical of others.

Recognizing disciples

Jesus shares, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

Love for others is an important characteristic of followers of Jesus.

The church is called to love.”

Working for God

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work.” The Ephesian church was a busy church, actively serving God in various ways.

The church had a distrust of false doctrine and a desire to engage in works of faith. Unfortunately, they allowed the fresh glow of love for God and one another to fade.

The message today

Are you overly critical of others? Have you made yourself busy “doing” things for God? Have you forgotten to abide in Him?

Be intentional about abiding in Jesus. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.” (John 15:5)

Bearing godly fruit

As you meditate on God’s word, spend time in prayer, and encourage fellow believers, you are abiding in Jesus. Holy Spirit fruit will then be evident.

“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23).

The promise

If a community of believers return to their first love they inherit eternal life. By displaying love for God and love for one another there is hope of a great reward, God and followers of Jesus restored to perfect love and fellowship.

The challenge

Abide in Jesus! Ask Him to ripen the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Display God’s love to the world so that others will turn to Him.

How can you show love to God and others?  Share your comments below.

Storming the Gates of Hell

Bringing love, justice, and peace to the world

What is our role as the church? To discover this we need to look at Jesus and His work on earth. 1 John 3:8 states: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

The cross is victory over the powers holding people in bondage; sin, death, and the devil. As God’s emissaries, believers are called and empowered to continue the work Jesus began with his life, death and resurrection.

Jesus desires to use you to build His church and advance His kingdom. Matthew 16 helps you to better understand your role.

Matthew 16:15-18

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied,

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Gates of hell

Caesarea Philippi – Temple of Pan and Cave known as the Gates of Hell

City of false gods

Jesus travels with His disciples 20 miles north of Galilee to the district of Caesarea Philippi. In this area is a rocky hillside where shrines dedicated to the god of Pan, Echo, and Hermes existed. Next to these shrines is a large cave where a powerful stream once flowed, called the “Gates of Hell”.

The worshippers of Pan would perform human sacrifices in the cave and cast the remains into a natural abyss at the back of the cave.

The living God

In this area where other god’s required human sacrifice, Peter confesses Jesus to be “the Son of the living God.” God brings life, not death. Jesus promised in John 10:10, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”

An advancing kingdom

In this passage Jesus is saying,

The church will overcome these lesser gods – the god of Pan, Echo, and Hermes. Other gods focus on self, materialism, pride, fame, sex, power and bring death. I will build my church over these things and the gates of hell shall not prevail against my advancing kingdom.”

Storming the gates of hell

We advance the kingdom by charging the gates of hell, as inaugurated by God’s reign of love, justice, and peace. Where there is despair, bring hope. Where there is unbelief, bring faith. Where there is hatred, bring love. Where there is sickness, offer healing.

We are to be walking, talking, representatives of Jesus to the world.

Committed to the Church

Connect to a community of faith. You cannot effectively advance the kingdom of God on your own. Believers working together with a common goal make it happen.

We need one another. Paul refers to the church as the Body of Christ, with everyone having an important function. You need the church and the church needs you.

Promised victory

When we work together what does Jesus say will happen? “They shall not prevail against us!” The keys of the kingdom have been given to us.

Victory has been promised. We simply need to be willing to advance on the gates of hell.

The challenge

Commit yourself to the task of storming the gates of hell until His imminent return. Be intentional to turn people to Jesus at home and work by displaying His love, justice, and peace to the world.

Listen to my podcast “Build the Church, Advance the Kingdom” The podcast gives a more in-depth discussion of this passage of scripture.

What are some ways that you can storm the gates of hell? Share your comments below.

Direct Access

The profound accessibility of a living God

Dark, candle-lit hallways adorn the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of Jesus’ death and burial in Jerusalem. My son, Nate, did not fully understand what we were visiting but he did like the candles being lit by others as they prayed.

Holy Sepulchre

A shrouded area

After seeing the location where many people believe Jesus was crucified, we went to the shrouded area marked as His burial place. The gothic edifice monitored by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches is an interesting place.

An interior chamber

The Aedicule, the structure built on top of Jesus’ tomb, has two rooms that can hold only 4 or 5 people. We entered the first room and waited for others to be ushered out of the interior area. Nate and I entered the innermost chamber with a couple of other people. They knelt at the altar and prayed.

Access Everywhere

After we walked out Nate asked, “Dad, why didn’t we pray in there?”

I replied,

Because we can pray to God anywhere. There is no difference if we pray to Jesus in our home or in that small room.”

“Oh, okay!” My 5-year old was satisfied with the answer.

Holy of Holies

I never cease to be amazed how God sent His Son to die on a cross that we might have direct access to Him, regardless of location.

Matthew records what happened upon Jesus’ death. “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Mathew 27:50, 51)

The curtain was tore in two, separating the main sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. The place was only accessible to the high priest, where he presented the needs of the people. Meaning, they could not have direct access to God.

Jesus broke down the barrier. With His death and resurrection we come directly to God. We can pray at home, in the car, or at a place dedicated to worship. All locations are equally significant because the Holy Spirit abides in you. You have become His temple.

The challenge

Take time to consider the cost Christ paid for your access to God. Thank the Father for sending His Son. Thank Jesus for His sacrifice on the cross. Thank the Holy Spirit for filling the temple of your heart.

We should never take for granted our access to the Creator of heaven and earth. Talk to Him daily. Through Jesus you have been given a wonderful opportunity.

How do you take advantage of your access to God?

Redefining Faith

A lifestyle of sharing Jesus

Lion of Judah - redefiner of faith

Lion of Judah – redefiner of faith

In my opinion some of the scariest verses in the Bible are Matthew 7:22-23,

On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”

Makes you think twice about your relationship with Jesus, doesn’t it? These verses contributed to the “Redefining Faith” name on my website.

Faith as a motivating belief

One definition of faith is a “system of religious belief”. Faith is important and necessary yet James takes it a step further by stating, “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:17). Genuine faith should motivate you to love God and love people; should motivate you to action.

Verse 21 declares, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter (emphasis added).”

Life in Jesus involves “doing.”

When Zacchaeus encountered Jesus he was motivated to give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times as much from anything wrongful gain. Jesus declared, “Salvation has come to this home today” (Luke 19:9). His actions were not necessary for salvation but they were evidence of a life changed by encountering Jesus.

Knowing Jesus

Weekly attendance at church, reading daily a chapter in the Bible, and saying grace before dinner may better represent familial habits than a genuine relationship with Jesus.

Ask yourself this question: Do your conversations about Jesus match your lifestyle? Maybe you should start with, are you telling others about Jesus at all? If you know Jesus, if you have genuinely encountered Him, you cannot help but talk about Him. The better your relationship with Jesus, the more you love people and the more you want others to have this incredible gift you have been given.

May you redefine faith as you pursue Jesus. There is no better way to obey Christ’s command then to “make disciples”.

The challenge

Begin today to live out a faith motivated by pure love for God, a faith that requires more than taking up space on a pew or saying a prayer before dinner, a faith that brings real meaning and hope for the future.

In what ways has your faith motivated you to action? What are you doing to display the love of Jesus to those you know?