Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Watermelon, anyone? (Revelation 2: 12-17)

What is the most effective way to destroy The Church? Is it persecution? No!

Most true churches, when persecuted, actually over time get stronger!

So what is it?


If our enemy can't 'bully' us into submission by persecution, he'll seduce us into compromise, and ruin us from within.

I remember once we had a watermelon. We'd had it for some time, and I finally got around to cutting into it. It looked and felt fine when I picked it up, but when I did, I found that it was all funky inside. It had apparently been decomposing from within, and was mush! All appearances on the outside were fine, but on the inside, it was a mess.

The church in Pergamum is in a similar state. (Revelation 2:12-17). This church extisted in hostile territory ("I know where you live—where Satan has his throne..." (v. 13). In spite of this, they had not renounced their faith in Jesus, even when one of their leaders ("Antipas, My faithful witness" (v. 13)was killed for his faith. In other words, despite direct attack and opposition from those around them, they had remained faithful to Jesus--and He commends them for it!

This city was the place that the first temple to Ceasar was built...it had the largest altar to Zues in the world on the highest hill in the city, and it was known to be the place that originated the worship of Asklepios, the 'god of healing' who was symbolized by a serpant, and was worshipped with snakes.

This is hostile territory, and that hostility had resulted in the martyrdom of atl least one--Antipas. The pressure was intense, yet they remained faithful!

"Nevertheless, I have a few things against you..." (v. 14).

Specifically, he confronts them for having people in thier midst--in thier congregation--who held to the "teachings of Balaam" and the teachings of the "Nicolaitans". In both cases, they are teachings of compromise.

Balaam (see Numbers 23-25) was a 'prophet for hire'. He would basically prostitute himself and prophesy against someone for someone else, who would pay him off. Once he was paid by the kinf of Moab to prophecy against Israel, but he was stopped from doing so. Therefore, in order to accomplish his task, he tried another strategy: He got the Israelites to intermarry with Moabite women, adopt thier customs, traditions, and (eventually) gods, and thereby eliminate the power in Israel, and enable Moab to be supreme.

The Nicolaitans basically taught that, because a person was a Christian, they could (and even should) do anything and everything they wanted--to celebrate forgiveness! Specifically, they advocated for drunkenness and sexual sin.

The church in Pergamum had withstood the frontal attack of satan through persectution, but they were rotting from within because they were 'allowing' (and were gradually compromising) those who would compromise with the standards and practises of the world around them.

The warning was ominous: Repent (turn around quickly--turn back to pure faith in Jesus and the willingness to follow), or I will come to you and fight against them..." (v. 16)

Remember that He introduced Himself as the "One who holds the double-edged sword" (v. 12), and that the Word of God is called a "double edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12). Jesus is saying that they MUST get back to uncomprimising obedience to His word, and in order to do so, they MUST stop allowing those who comprimise to continue, unabated, in their church. They MUST expose this teaching for what it is--a comprimise with satan--; for what it does--rot people's faith (and thier church) from within; and for the effect it will have--the judgement of God.

Again, there is promise for those who overcome (v.17). Those promises seem a bit cryptic, but suffice it to say that it means that Jesus will personally--within thier hearts--encourage and reward them.

So, what's it mean for us today?


I believe that this is quickly becoming the #1 reason that the Church in America is so impotent and lacking...because (in many cases) we comprimise witht this world! We adopt their practises, we adopt thier philosophies, we adopt their morality...and if the Word of God becomes a problem, we are actually prone to 're-interpret' the meaning--or to disregard it altogether. All the while, we SAY that we're Christians!

WE...TODAY...must repent of our comprimise!

We must commit to the True Word of God, and to following Him--no matter what that means! Do so graciously, with humility and mercy, to be sure...but WE CANNOT COMPRIMISE ANY LONGER!

If Jesus were writing this today, I wonder if the only word that would have to change is the location--Pergamum. Could He substitute "the U.S." for it? "Michigan"? "Kalamazoo"?

Let's not keep living in a way which brings His judgment. Let us purify ourselves, stand for His name, and stand fast on His Word!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Revelation...for Today (Part 2) OVERCOME!

So, as I'm reading about Jesus' letters to the 7 churches (through John), I'm always asking: What can WE take from these letters today?

Apparently, quite a bit!

Look at Revelation 2:8-11 "I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death."

Smyrna was a beautiful, rich city...very influential in the days of this writing...but the Church there was not. (Apparently, the word for "poverty" meant...pretty dire poverty!) This was not figurative at all--this church--in the midst of thier community of plenty--was in poverty!

There could be lots of reasons for that, but chances are good that it had to do with the next verses--they were being persecuted! In that day--especially that community--you could not 'lightly' follow Jesus. In fact, they had a MAJOR "Ceasar-worship" thing going on there, so that, if you refused to publicly worship Ceasar (and thus, get 'certified'), you could not buy/sell, whatever!

Thier leader was Polycarp, a bishop who was a GREAT example of leading faitfully in the midst of trouble. In fact, Polycarp was burned at the stake for refusing to publicly denounce Jesus and worship Ceasar. This was no mere 'inconvenience' for following Jesus--you paid for it! Some paid with jobs, with reputations, with physical danger. Some would go to prison. Some would be killed.

I haven't been able to find out what the "10 days" was all about (could this have been when Polycarp was burned?), but the bottom line for us is this:

This is the ONLY letter in which their is no confrontation/admonition--only encouragement. This group--which had every circumstance against them--had shown themselves to be faithful in the past. Now, as the persecution was going to be 'amped up', they were being encouraged. (Note: they weren't being promised that God would remove them from it--simply that Jesus would be there with them, and would reward them in the end).

So, what about us?

All I know is that this level of persecution has not reached the U.S. Church...yet. Unlike our brothers/sisters in other parts of the world, we do not 'pay for our faith' with imprisonment, dire poverty, beatings, or death...yet. (Check out this link for more: http://www.persecution.com)

So...we should be 'all good', right? No complaints here!


I don't know about you, but I think I'm pretty soft. It doesn't take much for me to get my eyes off of Jesus and onto myself--my circumstances, my difficulties.

I can be a whiner! And I don't want to be.

I want to be the kind of follower that laughs in the face of danger; that confidently stands for Christ in the midst of opposition; that faithfully follows Him--without compromise--no matter the cost!

How about you?

If we want to be that way 'when the chips are down', then we need to start responding in faithfulness and obedience today--right here, in our CURRENT circumstances. THIS is the 'training ground' that God has us in right now.

The church in Smyrna had NOTHING in their favor--circumstantially. Yet, they had EVERYTHING THEY NEEDED in their favor--spiritually...they had Jesus with them.They had the Holy Spirit's power within!

So do we!

So, how about it--let's quit complaining, whining, blaming our circmumstances and instead rise above them in VICTORY through the power that the Holy Spirit provides!

"Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life...He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." (vv. 10-11)

May the Lord enable us to quit focusing on the negatives of our circumstances, and instead focus on the riches He's given us--and to rise up VICTORIOUS over them!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Crushed Ice, please!

We bought a new refrigerator this year.

Our old one was--quite literally--falling apart. The Duct-tape was no longer holding the shelves together, so we got one.

Know what's the best thing about it?

The Icemaker!

Why? Because we can get crushed ice!

For some reason, crushed ice makes every drink better. I have had more icewater since we've bought this fridge than ever before--the crushed ice somehow makes it refreshing.

I can't imagine going back!

"So what?" you say?

Well, I was thinking of how we think of our faith.

For many of us--who would say our faith is important to us--we actually live as if it's nothing all that great.

Sort of like regular water, maybe with a couple of cubes.

The very idea that there might be MORE--by God's design--not only doesn't occur to us, but, in truth, we don't really want it!

We kinda like it the way it is.

We can go to church, pray, and so on in a very 'controlled', and even 'safe' way. God is a part of my life, but not really anything more.

I don't know about you, but I think that a God who can be kept in a box, on a shelf, to be taken out whenever I need him or whenever it's convenient, is not a very special god.

...and it's NOT the God of the Bible!

Jesus said "I have come that they (that's us--His followers) might have LIFE and have it TO THE FULL!" (John 10:10, emphasis added).

I want that 'full' life!

Therefore, I want to insure that He is in His rightful place--driving and changing my life!

HE is my source; HE is my hope; HE is my guide.


In this posture, I see Him for who He really is...and myself as who I really am--humbled, needy, utterly dependent on Him.

Ironically, when I finally take, embrace, and live with that posture, He gives me all I need.

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble....therefore, humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up." (James 4:10)

It is in embracing that posture--of utter need and humble dependence on Him--that we finally are given that meaning, direction, peace...and LIFE!

THEN you--and I--can have "Life to the full".

...and THAT is refreshing...sort of like a glass of ice water--crushed ice, of course!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Revelations...for Today!

The book of Revelation is one of those books that get people in a theological tizzy..."What does this symbol mean?", or 'Who could that be talking about"?

It's enough to cause us to stay away entirely!

Yet, we have to remember that it IS in the Bible, which means it IS the Word of God, and He DID inspire John to write it...so we should at least be aware of it.

Besides, in the 1st 3 chapters, there's a lot of "low-hanging fruit"--teaching that is easy for us to grasp and apply today.

John writes 7 'letters' to 7 influential churches in Asia Minor...and they are important for us to read. These letters do not originate with John, but come in a vision from the Risen Lord Jesus himself!

In Revelation 2:1-7, he writes to the Church in Ephesus. In vv. 2 and 3, He notes all the good things they've done. This church stood for purity of belief, obedience to the teachings of the Word, and utmost allegiance to Jesus. They openly defied the mindset of their culture, which was very much an 'anything goes' culture. They stood for doctrinal purity--and opposed groups that would come in--like the Nicolaitans (v.6)--who were teaching that one could be a Christian and live a Biblically immoral life at the same time.

Yet, this very commitment to 'doctrinal purity' led them to over-correct. They lost the most important thing about thier faith: Their intimate connection to Jesus Christ! He said that they had "Lost [their] first love".(v.4) They had become so 'rigidly committed to the Truth' and to the correct doctrines (ie, beliefs) that they had become...'religious' more than faitful. They were functioning now out of judgment, not out of love, grace, and mercy.

There are many Christians...and many churches...that struggle with this today. We sometimes get so committed to what we understand to be 'the teaching of the Word' that we forget that our ultimate aim is to Love God, follow Jesus, and live by the power of the Holy Spirit. WE have become like the church in Ephesus--more 'religion' than personal 'relationship' with Jesus Christ.

The bottom line: We've so intellectualized our faith that it's become a set up beliefs...little more. The personal connection to Jesus is there, from a technical theological standpoint, but the close, intimate, loving relationship with Him--through which we are made more like Him--is missing.

What's the answer? Same as it was for them: "REMEMBER the height from which you have fallen, REPENT (turn back to Me), and DO the things you did at first" (v. 5)

WE--us--today...need to Remember what it was like when we first understood about our sin, our need and desperation, and the grace and loving self-sacrifice of Jesus, which gave us new life! WE need to remember what that close connection was like, how new and life-changing it was, how committed we were to do anything He asked, by faith!

WE, today, need to REPENT--to admit our sin, our 'religiosity' and our callousness to what really matters to Him. WE need to turn back to become people of grace, mercy, and love--of Him and of others. WE need to embrace not only the DOCTRINES of the faith (which we absolutely need), but also the passion and love of Jesus--which drives and compells us to be more like Him.

WE, today, need to DO the things we did at first. We prayed all the time, we devoured the Word of God, we looked forward to going to church, enthusiastically participating. We told others about Him, and we dedicated all of our lives to Him.

Are YOU infected with the 'religious spirit', like the church in Ephesus? If so, you now know what to do...DO IT!

Seeking pure devotion to Him,


Thursday, September 9, 2010

...So, what does it mean to LIVE?

I've been thinking alot lately about what it means to "Live by Faith". I've been emphasizing the "Faith" aspect of that. (You can look at recent blogs if you're interested.)

It's important--after all, if we don't start with FAITH in Jesus Christ, the Scriptures say that we don't have Spiritual LIFE at all! (Jesus said that we must be "born again"...born both physically, and "of the Spirit" (John 3). Paul writes that our faith is what gives us new LIFE..."This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:17), so clearly, FAITH is crucial for the beginning of Spiritual Life.

...but it has me thinking: I understand the "faith" part of it, but what is the "LIFE" part of it? In other words, if the Holy Spirit gives us new Life, What is that Life supposed to be?

Is it merely the hope of heaven when I die, or is it more?

(Obviously, that's a leading question...of course you know that I think it means more--MUCH more!)

Jesus said "The thief (Satan) comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; but I have come that they (Those who Live By Faith in Him) will have LIFE...and have it TO THE FULL!" (John 10:10, emphasis mine).

What is "Life in the Spirit" and "Life to the full"?

I believe it's a lot of good things: Victory over my 'flesh'--the things that tempt me to turn my back on God's will; Victory over my circumstances--the events of my life that I frequently allow to mess me up; the Power to overcome obstacles that come between me and God's plan for my life...so many things!

How does this LIFE show itself?

Well, like today: Our family all has to get out the door for school @ 7:00 (all except me--which is how I can write this). 3 different sets of people heading to 3 different schools, all getting ready at the same time, finalizing lunches at the same time, combing hair and brushing teeth at the same time, then leaving--all at the same time.

THOSE are some chaotic circumstances!

...and while we do everything possible to lessen it (clothes out the night before,lunches mostly packed the night before, etc.), it inevitably gets pretty intense...tears are sometimes shed, frustration is voiced, words are tersely spoken...and our day starts out anything but peaceful and victorious!

I'll bet you can relate!

So what does "Life in the Spirit" mean there?

I think it means that we each--those who are indwelt by the Spirit (see earlier posts)--can take a breath, speak a prayer, and overcome those circumstances. In SPITE of the circumstances, we can be a blessing! If words were spoken in anger, we can heal and forgive...if tears were shed, we can encourage.

Make no mistake: this is not 'trivial' in God's eyes! These are the very kinds of circumstances in which "LIVING by Faith" shows itself!

Today, may you--family, friend, and stranger alike--LIVE by Faith!

"So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear:...hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,...and other sins like these...But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:16-23)

I want the Fruit of the Spirit--LIFE in the Spirit; don't you?

Let us each TODAY not only "Live by FAITH", but open up to Him in such a way that we "LIVE by Faith"!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Ancient Lessons Apply Today!

So, I feel like God has given me a message with increasing clarity lately about the importance of "living by FAITH". I've written about it, talked about it, I've prayed about it and been challenged personally by it.

Part of the reason, I think, is that the American church has been distracted...busy with way too many worldly pursuits to really "live it out". I believe we need to be challenged and reminded and, in many cases, we need to repent and come back to a REAL, Intimate relationship with God.

I've been reading in the book of Jeremiah recently, and he had that same message for the people of Israel. They had been carried into exile, and some prophets were saying "peace and safety", but he was not. In fact, he called those prophets out as liars...but the people would not listen.

Fortunately, God did not leave them in "discipline" mode...He promised a new day would come...a day when He would establish a NEW COVENANT with them!...a day when they would KNOW God, and would have a RELATIONSHIP with Him, by faith! This would be a time in which they wouldn't need to be told how to live--they would obey the Spirit within, and would live thier faith out, prioritizing their relationship with God above all others.

"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time" (of discipline), declares the Lord. "I will put my law in thier minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor...saying "(this is how to)Know the Lord", because THEY WILL ALL KNOW ME, from the least of them to the greatest." declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember thier sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The GREAT NEWS is that WE are living in "that time"! We--because of Jesus Christ--can "KNOW the Lord"! We can have the Law written on our hearts and in our minds! We have the amazing, enormous priviledge of being forgiven, and having the Lord as our God!

How can we possibly take that for granted? How can we possibly be too distracted by our pursuit of 'worldly things'...fitting into the pattern of this world, being conformed to the mindset of this world--when we have such a priviledge?

I believe that many of us must repent of our worldliness, ask God's forgiveness and give Him the place of pre-eminence in our lives that He--and He alone--deserves!

...and rather than pointing the finger at everyone else, I realize that God's Spirit is saying to me that I have to start with myself.

What about you?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why won't God show up?

Ever wondered why God moves sometimes, while other times He seems to remain silent?

Why He seems to be 'at work' in some people's lives...but not in others?

There could be many reasons for this, but I want you to consider this one:

Maybe God doesn't "show Himself" because...we don't need Him to!Our 'faith' doesn't require us to depend on Him, on a day-to-day basis, at all!

He says in His word that "The righteous will live by FAITH" (Romans 1:17)

Maybe we've created a life of faith that is so safe, so secure, so predictable that we don't NEED God to 'DO' anything!

Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that God isn't there--just that He's not called upon in any real way, so He doesn't act.

It's not because His power is limited...not because He doesn't care...just because we have made our faith so 'sterile' and bland that He moves somewhere else.

One of my favorite verses is 2 Chronicles 16:9: "The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth, seeking to strongly support those who's hearts are fully committed to Him".

To be sure, God is STILL searching...

He is STILL interested in "strongly supporting us", but we have to ask ourselves:

Are our hearts--is YOUR heart "fully committed to Him"?

I still believe God has big things to do. I still believe He wants to 'show up'. I believe He wants to encourage those who step out in faith to serve Him, willing to move into whatever adventure He calls us to.

The question is, 'Will we have the courage to step out'?

Will we act on faith?

Are we...are YOU...willing to step into the adventure He's been calling you to, knowing that 'If He doesn't catch me, I crash'?

Are you willing to NEED God?

If so, have faith! Be of good courage! He WILL strongly support you!