Tuesday, February 28, 2023

There are still Soldiers in the Army of God: Encouragement for God's Weary Soldiers

Soldiers gather on the outskirts of a city. There are about two hundred of them gathered there, though other groups of faithful fighters are gathered in other places, some out in the woods encamped around fires, others in facilities deep within the cities. 

These soldiers are beat up, bruised, weapons still hot from combat. They've been fighting a long time. They've been fighting for years. War takes it's toll on soldiers. They are tired, exhausted, and low in morale. 

These are soldiers of the spiritual war for the souls of humanity taking place across the western world today. And I'm one of them. Gathered with my band of heroes, out in the sticks fighting a long, taxing war. 

We aren't winning, in fact our nation is ablaze with destruction. But still we fight on. We don't give up. But some of us, myself included, have become very tired. We've sorrowful from the battle. Our hands are shaking from the trauma of it. We want rest. We want the battle to end. We want things to be different.

These wants are not bad things. But the war will continue. We all have to understand that, and wrestle with that, and then keep going. We have to refocus in this battle. We have to find a new footing for this battle. Because our current attitude of bitterness, of grief, of lostness, of brokenness is not a solid footing to stand on.

It's not uncommon for a soldier to feel this way. We're gathered around fires, thuds in the distance, storm clouds brewing in the mountains. 

I was weary from the battle, bruised, and bitter, many troops who had battled with me had departed, though others joined with me, I felt exhausted, cold, and empty, and I longed for peace. But I realized that God was saying to me, "I'm with you in the battle." But God was also saying to me, you haven't kept your mind and heart on me. I had begun to disregard prayer. I had begun to lose some of my faith. I had allowed my heart to get a bit hard on the edges. I said to myself, what's the use?

I had taken big tag boards and written names, of people in the area where I served and prayed for them night and day for years, and I looked at the boards and realized most of them, if not nearly all of them, were not with the Lord, very little had changed in their lives. And I was discouraged. I was losing heart.

Ten years of battle I thought to myself and what has been gained? Not nearly what I'd hoped. Not nearly what I'd dreamed. But there had been victories, many victories in fact. But also defeats. Defeats are part of war. It's all part of what happens on Earth. Particularly in America many people don't want God. They feel like they have everything they need. They don't want to listen. That's hard on us, fighting day and night for them to turn to Christ. It's devastating to see them reject Jesus. However, when we get down, and depressed, and sullen, we start to focus on the negative, and not the positive. So we need a change of mind, from the Holy Spirit, and I'm praying in Jesus Christ name, that this will happen now for you. 

First, we need to adjust our entire mindset on this battlefield. We need to focus on Jesus Christ our glorious, victorious savior full of perfect love and grace and truth, and find refreshment for our souls. That's the first thing we've got to do, get our eyes off our problems, off our hearts, and onto the perfect Jesus Christ, the true King of the Earth, the Lord of all, and rejoice in his current total victory. We may see defeats, but our victory is so very secure. Others may reject it, we have not. And so our victory is secure. Other have their sacred choice to make. We can't help it if they make the wrong one, that's their sacred choice.  But we must keep our eyes on Jesus. I don't mean that as simple encouragement. I mean, as a matter of survival itself, you must, must, must keep your eyes on Jesus. Your salvation depends on it. So do it. He is victorious. Keep your eyes on that complete victor King Jesus, or you will lose heart and give up.

Psalm 123:1 "A Song of Ascents. To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!"

Hebrews 12:2 "Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

Two, understand, believe, and know that God's angelic armies fight alongside of us. We may look around and see only a tattered army of men and women. But, we are surrounded on all sides by soldiers who have been fighting much longer than us. They are elite soldiers, with powerful weapons, and constant direct access to our chief General the Lord Jesus Christ. These are angel armies, warring angels that stand beside us in combat and fight beside us in our desperate battles against the forces of darkness in the high places. They are with us. God commands them. They give all glory to Him.

Psalm 34:7 "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them."

Three, hope is the secret weapon of the soldier on the battlefield. Hope is the weapon of our mind to defeat any discouraging thought. Use this powerful weapon, by training your mind to counter any pessimistic thought with the truth of the scriptures, which is solid and real. 

When you think to yourself "I can't go on" stop yourself in your mind and say, "that isn't true. The sword says, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. The sword says in Christ I'm more than a conqueror through Him who loves us. God has not given me a spirit of timidity but of love and power and sober mind. Counter the negative thoughts immediately in your mind with the truth of God's word. God's word is not pessimistic. It acknowledges difficulty, it acknowledges grief and pain, but it also shows there is a Living Hope to cling to in those times. 

Isaiah 40:31 "But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."

Romans 15:4 "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

Four, find refreshment in the place of intimate prayer with God. In any time of prayer in your life, you must get alone with God and begin to praise Him, thank Him, rejoice in Him, delight in Him, and make your requests known to Him. But you need to go beyond there, and press deeper into prayer, and as you pray, longer and longer, you'll notice at some point in the prayer you'll breakthrough and begin to sense God's presence around you. Then delight in God in those moments, time will begin to pass more quickly, because you won't want to leave that sacred place. You're with God. This time when you're in God's presence is healing, and you'll find refreshment. But it takes diligently seeking His Face. At those times you'll also receive divine revelation, and guidance, so you may know His will and follow it.

Psalm 34:17-20 "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken."

Five, like Esther, you were made for this moment in history. Consider this wonderful reality of space and time and history. Think about it! You were made for this moment in history to fight this battle. As Galadriel said to Frodo, "If you don't find a way, no one will." You were crafted to be able to handle this fight in Christ and win the victory. 

See it from this perspective: This is a war that will always be remembered, and you have the incredible honor of fighting on the frontlines in this war on the side of the Light. Few can say the same. Many end up unwittingly serving the forces of evil. Consider it a great honor to serve your Master in this desperate battle. He sees your victories, and is close to you in your defeats. 

"If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” -Esther 4:14

Six, the life of the Christian is much suffering. I don't mean to be blunt, but that is a big part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And the secret to learning endurance in suffering is something very odd and paradoxical that the apostle Paul talked about, he said, "I rejoice in my sufferings." He wasn't just making a cute statement to tell us how clever he was. He was talking about something very practical. When you suffer for Jesus, turn it around on the enemy and say I'm glad for this, I rejoice in this, because this is keeping me from apostasy, this is keeping me close to Jesus, this is training me toward godliness. Respond to suffering with rejoicing. I know it sounds crazy, it's actually biblical. 

2 Timothy 2:3 "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus."

Romans 5:3-5 "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

Seventh, remember that Jesus Christ will return to give relief and victory to his dedicated soldiers. Jesus Christ will come again. I think it will be much sooner than we realize. I honestly expect it to happen within my lifetime. That's how close I think we are. So we should see that the return of Jesus Christ is very real and very close, and rejoice with hope. The return of Jesus Christ means the total victory of the cross will go from a faithful hope to a present reality, that transforms us into His likeness at last! Then, no more sin nature, no more law of death, no more suffering, it ends then when Jesus returns. 

Revelation 19:11-15 "Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations."

Until that day brothers and sisters, keep the faith and never give up hope! Yes, you're tired right now, you're exhausted from the battle, you're tired of losing battle after battle in the west. But take heart. Take a deep breath, and apply these principles to your heart and life. For me friends, I had to ask for someone to pray for me, I was at a theatre play of Pilgrim in Grand Rapids, and one of the actors afterward prayed for me, that God would soften and heal and renew my heart. I had allowed my heart to become somewhat callous and hardened. If that's you on this battlefield and you're demoralized, then cry out to God, ask your church family to pray over you, and God will hear from heaven and renew your heart and mind to softness and hope and a new outlook. Take some time, rest and pray, and then get back onto the frontlines of the salvation war, because we aren't done yet! 

Until then, veritas Domini manet in aeternum.

1st John 4:4 But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.


Sunday, February 26, 2023

David gathers a band of Outcasts in the Cave Stronghold

Two roads are beginning to form, two roads in two starkly different directions. We’ve both been on these roads. Maybe not to this extreme, but we have. We’ve seen where God’s path leads, to hope, to challenges, to victory, and yes, the valley of the shadow of death too, dark times, but, we’ve also seen where the road of self-sufficiency leads, compromises, paranoia, slowly going against everything we say we believe, until we’re doing things we never thought we’d do.

Two houses are being built, one is solid, the other is brittle, and caving in on itself. These are the two paths, one of David, the man of God, and Saul, the man in rebellion.

David’s on the run, he went to Nob, then Gath, but now he’s found a place to hide out. He is hiding out in a cave. For the end times Christians, who see the rise of the anti-Christ, well, they may see that day, where Christians are living in caves.

But it says this, 1st Samuel 22:1-2 says, “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. 2 All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.”

It's nice to have family that comes and helps you in your time of need. David’s family comes and gathers around him during this difficult time. Additionally, we see people who are distressed, people who are in major debt, and just discontented people gather around him, in the cave. And he becomes the commander of this band of outcasts.

He's living in a cave, but four hundred misfits and troublemakers gather around him and he becomes their leader. And they all live in the cave together. His family is there for him too.

The Bible refers to it as the cave of Adullam, but also refers to it as the stronghold or fortress. So it may have been an old fortified structure attached to the side of a mountain, maybe that wasn’t in use anymore.

David’s character is that of a leader, even in exile, even in hiding, people see he’s a leader and they want to follow him.

To follow Jesus is to take on a sort of leadership role in relationships. You are now shepherding people closer to Jesus. And people will begin to look to you to help guide them toward God. Do you see that happening in your own life? Then I would say you need to begin taking actions to guide people toward God. What sort of actions? Simple things. Inviting people to church is one. Bringing people to church is another. There is a difference. Sitting down and reading the Bible with a friend is another thing. Inviting people to Christian events in the community. Forming a group to go to a Christian venue. Pretty soon you are a leader, sort of gathering people together to seek God. Or simply sitting down one on one with people to guide them closer to God.

But don’t be surprised if you don’t seem to have many victories. Often times we as Christians have this message that could reach millions for Christ, but God starts us off very small, doing little things, with great love. And it doesn’t seem to be accomplishing much, but, God sees the big picture, that it takes years and years of faithful service to see seismic change. Be patient and work steadily, with endurance. 

Embrace your cave experience. It's common for any Christian, or Christian leader for that matter. God tests us in the cave of Adullam. You believe you're made for great things, then serve here humbly in obscurity for a season. Show me you're able to serve. Otherwise the heroic victorious phase will destroy you, pride will corrupt your heart and you'll become a Saul in the end. 

But David is still concerned for his parents, who are getting older in years. He knows he can’t keep them safe in the caves. So then it says in verse 3…

1st Samuel 22:3-5 says, “3 From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, “Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?” 4 So he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him as long as David was in the stronghold.

5 But the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah.” So David left and went to the forest of Hereth.”

So David has been in the fortress cave for quite a while, but, God tells David to leave Adullam, and go back into the land of Israel. So David ends up with his gang of followers in the forest now. He probably sets up camp. Builds fires, and they live in the woods for a while.

David obeys God’s command quickly to move to a new area. We should be just as quick today, to obey God if he tells us to do something or make some change in our lives. David’s character is that he is very responsive to God’s will. He does what God tells him quickly, without delay.

So three key points for having a heart like David, one, shepherd people closer to God, be a leader in the lives of the people around you.

Two, be patient in obscurity. You know you could be making a bigger impact. But you’re patiently waiting on God, faithfully trusting him with the little he’s given you. You know you’ve got to stay humble, be faithful, and patient.

Three, be quick to follow God’s leading wherever he sends you. Whatever he calls you to do, do it quickly.

Three points: shepherd people, patiently waiting, and obey God quickly.

That’s the road of victory in Christ. That’s how our hearts function in God’s system. His road is great.

But there is a second road, the road of rebellion that Saul is on. Now we turn to that road.

Saul is sitting under a tamarisk tree ranting like a madman, ““Hear now, people of Benjamin; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, 8 that all of you have conspired against me? No one discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse. None of you is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day.”

9 Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, 10 and he inquired of the Lord for him and gave him provisions and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

Remember this from 1st Samuel 21? David went to Ahimilek the priest and got food and a weapon from him. But it was noted that Doeg was there and saw it happen.

So Saul is so angry. He’s a leader, that’s certain, but he is not shepherding his people closer to God, he is shepherding his people toward rebelliousness. Be careful how you live friends. Your life, your words, your actions, your Facebook posts, all of it, is either shepherding people toward God or toward rebellion.

Saul is leading his people into sin. Saul calls forward the priest Ahmilek and accuses him of helping his enemy. Ahimilek says that he thought David was the servant of the king. Saul is paranoid and thinks he’s scheming against him with David.

Saul orders his officials to kill Ahimilek and all the priests. David was quick to obey the prophet Gad when he was told to leave the cave. At the same time, Saul is told by the priest Ahimilek to not harm him, because he’s not trying to do anything wrong. Saul is quick to do evil. His feet move quickly toward evil. He orders the death of Ahimilek and all the priests of God.

But his officials refuse to do it. They don’t want to harm the priests of God. Then I verse 18-19…

1st Samuel 22:18-19, “The king then ordered Doeg, “You turn and strike down the priests.” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep.”

So a great evil is done. What began as disobeying God a little bit here and there, has now become all-out rebellion against God. And that is how easy the path of desteuction is. We start with small compromises, and they lead to bigger and bigger compromises, and pretty soon we are leading people toward destruction by the hundreds.

Instead of shepherding people to God, Saul shepherds people toward evil and sin. Watch yourself, and guide yourself against the same. Your example is being watched. Make sure it’s a godly example.

Second, Saul is impatient and unwilling to listen to reason. David was patient and willing to endure problems and difficulties and obscurity. Saul is impatient. He faces problems and he chooses the quick and easy way of lashing out in anger and paranoia.

When you face problems as a Christian, which you certainly will, our faith will often be tested, you must respond by digging in closer to God. Your first reaction might be to run back to sin and the world. But instead, dig in deeper with God. Expect trials and problems and face them patiently.

Thirdly, David was quick to obey God and move according to God’s plan. Saul is quick to disobey God, and harm the people of God. Be quick to do God’s will or you may end up being quick to do evil. God hates the feet of those who run quickly to evil. Stop running to evil. Instead run quickly toward God and his path.

So the priests of God are slaughtered by Saul’s man Doeg. Let’s see how the chapter concludes, 1st Samuel 22:20-23, “But one son of Ahimelek son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David. 21 He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 22 Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family. 23 Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.””

One priest escapes, named Abiathar, he finds David and seeks help. David does the right thing. He takes responsibility for the incident. Even if it wasn’t entirely his fault. He takes responsibility for what’s in front of him. That’s a character trait we should cultivate. I want to make sure I take responsibility for what is under my care. David shelters Abiathar, takes care of him. We should take care of those who are affected by our decisions as well. Take responsibility. That’s what a man after God’s own heart does.

The main points then are this, first though, what did Saul do, the opposite.

1. Saul shepherded people closer to evil and sin

2. Saul was impatient and unwilling to listen or learn, he was prideful

3. Saul was quick to act rebelliously and do wrong

4. Saul didn’t take responsibility for his actions, he had Doeg do his dirty work

In contrast, here is how we should live:

1. Shepherd people closer to God

2. Be humble and patient in obscurity

3. Be quick to obey God’s leading in life

4. Take responsibility for your decisions

Two roads, one is the way of God, the heart of God, a path leading to eternal life. The second, a road of rebellion, the path of Satan the rebel heart, a road that leads to destruction, to hell. Which will you choose? Let God change your heart. Live in faithful devotion to Christ, live for Jesus, then you’ll have the Holy Spirit within you, to guide you on the path of God, the path to eternal life.

Repentance is the Seed of Revival: Letter to the Church of Laodicea

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, the many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to God that made us It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
-April 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation for a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer.

Too proud, too self-sufficient, too intoxicated with success, all this is deceitfulness in our hearts, in the USA, ten times as much today as in Lincoln’s time, and it reminds of the letter to the church of Laodicea, in Revelation, it says this:

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” -Revelation 3:14-22

Today we focus in on the city of Laodicea in the ancient world. It was a city of about 40,000 people, which is about the size of my home town. It wasn’t as big as Pergamum, but it was powerful and affluent. This city had two theaters, not just one, like Pergamum which had a population of 200,000 people. So this was a rich city. It was located at a key point on the trade routes of Asia minor.

This was the banking center of Asia minor, working with money, and power and influence, business and jobs and industry, manufacturing, and goods and products. Reminds one of the United States of America, so much money, so many goods and services, and so much abundance.

The city was known for the productions of textiles, clothing and garments, and was known for a particular kind of wool. It was very soft, and black, and would be worn by the residents of the city, to display their wealth. You’d find a city full of black robed people.

It was also known for the production of medicine useful for the treatment of eye conditions. Once again this led to great wealth.

Laodicea had everything it needed. The people there tended to be wealthy and influential in the region. They were proud, arrogant even, and accustomed to getting what they wanted, accustomed to entertainment in the theaters, and many forms of pleasure.

But it did have a problem. It was not near any particular water sources. So water had to be piped in from outside the city. The water source they had was full of minerals as well, which gave the water a putrid taste. Additionally, piping in the water from far off, and then having to gather it in the hot sun, would leave the water lukewarm, not very enjoyable to drink.

In contrast, in nearby Hierapolis, they had hot springs to get their water from, bubbling hot springs. And in nearby Colossae they gathered their water from nearby mountains, from the ice melts, nice cold water.

So when Jesus gives this letter to the Laodicean church, it’s interesting he says you’re lukewarm in your faith, just like your water, and it’s offensive to me. I wish you were hot like the water in Hierapolis or cold like the water in Colossae, but you’re lukewarm, so I’m going to spit you out if you don’t repent.

The city of Laodicea had once been hit with a devastating earthquake, common in parts of Asia minor, the city was so wealthy and powerful, with so many resources, that Rome offered to help them rebuild, and Laodicea said no thanks, we have all we need.

This is the only letter to the seven churches that doesn’t give any encouragement, but only rebuking and correction. Jesus says to them…

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” –Revelation 3:14-16

He tells them right off the bat, I’m the ruler of the creation. You may think you have a nice car, a fancy house, lots of money, influence, but, it all belongs to me. I rule the creation. Everything in creation is a gift from God.

He says I’m about to cast you out. I’m about done with your nonsense. You are not where you need to be. You are half in and half out. Lukewarm.

I know each of the churches in Revelation have spoken to us in a unique way, but I wonder who this one is for today, I gotta say, I see few Bibles open when we read the word here. People don’t seem very hungry. I know many of you don’t really pray much at all outside of church. You just kinda think you have everything you need, and church is something you add on to the end of the list, like yeah I guess I’ll do that too. And that is lukewarm. So listen very carefully to what Jesus says here, if that’s you.

And I think from time to time we may all have been guilty of this, being lukewarm, half in, half out, but the important thing is that we repent, we let Jesus into the depths of our heart, and give ourselves afresh to Him, we repent and turn it over again, and we go deep, all the way in, because he stirs in our heart a sense of dread and concern and fear and stress and conviction to say oh my, I’m broken, I’m not who I should be, I need to repent! If you feel God stirring your heart this morning, as He did with me last night, just say in your heart right now: “Jesus help me, I repent, I let you into my heart, I open the door to you now! Change me!”

Next the Lord says to them: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ –Revelation 3:17a

That’s what the Laodicean church is saying to themselves, “I’m rich. I have money. I don’t need a thing.” They are relying on their wealth. Oh wow, this is exactly what we do in America. We rely on our wealth, our stuff, our cars, our bank accounts, our roads, our bridges, our bikes, and houses, and we think to ourselves, in blasphemy against God, I don’t need Jesus, I have all I need. I have Youtube, I have a smart phone, I have a nice place to sleep, I have all I need. Howe we should be ashamed to dare think such a thought. Repent!

Jesus says to them, you think you’re just great, sitting on a beach sipping a drink out of a coconut.

But here is your true condition before a Holy righteous God of heaven and hell, “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” –Revelation 3:17b

Jesus says you have this delusion in your mind about what you are. Very common for Americans I think, we all think we know everything, no one can tell us anything.

But Jesus says I see deeper than that delusion. He says you’re wretched, like, a total mess, miserable, callused, hard of heart. He says you’re pitiful, you’re a shame to look at, basically he’s saying. They think they’re rich but Jesus says you’re poor. You’re blind too. You can’t really see. Even though you have that fancy eye clinic in town, you can’t really see much of anything. And not only that you’re naked, they all have these fancy black coats, but Jesus says actually you’re naked. Just like Adam and Eve, naked, covered in sin, and pitiful, and hard hearted. A big mess. But they’re rich, so they think, no I’m fine. I’m just fine. Jesus says no you aren’t. In fact you’re in serious danger right at this very moment.

Many of us have been amazed to see the revivals taking place on Christian colleges like Asbury, Lee, and now dozens of colleges. We wish we could see the same thing in our area. But what I’m telling you now is the key to revival, true revival always begins with heartfelt repentance, people realizing deep down they need God desperately, completely and this total repentance and submission to God leads to revival.

There is hope for revival in our church and our city. Just like there is hope for these dirty, pitiful, wretched people described in Laodicea.

Jesus gives them the solution. This is how you solve this horrible problem you face, of all this wealth that has made you lukewarm…

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” –Revelation 3:18

He’s telling this rich church, you need gold refined in the fire. Faith refined in the fires of problems in your lives. Then you’ll really be rich.

You need white clothes to wear, to cover your nakedness. They need to turn to Jesus to cover over their sins. And real salve to put on your eyes, not that stuff in your clinic, spiritual salve of the Holy Spirit, so you can see that life isn’t about money or wealth or entertainment it’s about serving God in the fear of the Lord!

So for the church of Laodicea, and I’m sure some of us today we’re convicted by the Holy Spirit, sometimes conviction feels pretty uncomfortable, like woe is me! I’m so upset, I’m broken, I’ve done wrong, what do I do Lord!

And we start to think, wow, God doesn’t love me, no one can help me, it’s hopeless for me. It’s over. And it’s like the gates of hell close around us. And we think we’re doomed forever. We’re going to hell. We’re in sin. And there’s nothing we can do. But Jesus gives them the instruction, here’s how to repent, to change your ways and begin to live differently.

I’ve worried about many of you. I worry you’re pretending to be a Christian. You’re showing up to church but you don’t really live for Christ alone. And you’ve got to repent and give it all over to Jesus. Repent of your pride. Repent of your rebelliousness. Repent of your thefts, your lies, your manipulations, your sexual immorality, your selfish indulgence, your constant entertaining yourself, and turn to Jesus before it’s too late.

It's truly disturbing to see us marching toward hell, while sitting in church pretending to be Christians, and I’ve been guilty of it too. I’ve been a hypocrite and a white washed tomb. And I need to repent too.

But Jesus doesn’t tell us all this to condemn us, but to discipline us. He says in Rev 3:19:

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” –Revelation 3:19

He says I love you, that’s why I’m rebuking you, correcting you, telling you to change your ways. Make a change! Be earnest, be honest, be real with Jesus, and repent. Right now. In your heart. Make a change. Ask Jesus to help you. Be earnest, be real, repent.

You may think to yourself well God loves me, Jesus loves me, he would never send me to hell. Well, that’s actually not biblical. It says in God’s word he is coming for a bride that is holy and spotless and blameless. He is not coming for a bride who has soiled their garments in sin. And if we’re living in sin, or lukewarm when Jesus returns he’ll say to us, “Why did you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I said to do?” -Luke 6:46

Depart from me, I never knew you, you worker of lawlessness, you who lived a double life. I never knew you.

Jesus is love, and mercy and grace and kindness, but he is also truth and justice, and firm, and insists upon our obedience to His ways. That is how we abide in Him in fact, “those who obey me are those who abide in my Love. “

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. -John 15:10

You might be thinking “this is pretty intense pastor” I hope you see it as this is how much I love you, I’m willing to risk offending you to bring you to heaven and not hell.

We’ve made out Jesus in our modern era to be a bit of a Mr. Rodgers, but he’s not that, he’s loving he’s righteous, he’s firm, and he will by no means clear the wicked of their wrongdoing if they don’t repent (Exodus 34:7). Remember that.

So then the letter concludes like this: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”–Revelation 3:20-22

The church of Philadelphia was told, I have put before you an open door that no one can close. For the Laodicean church, they have the door closed. But Jesus is still knocking at the door of their hearts. But they need to open the door. They need to by an act of opening their heart let Jesus in.

He says hear my voice, listen for the voice of the Lord, and he will come in and fellowship with them, eat with them, together, in relationship.

He also says, if you’re victorious, if you overcome the temptations of wealth and power, and convenience and pleasure and entertainment, you’ll sit down with me on my throne, whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying right now.

So I challenge you today, are you like the Laodicean church? This is the letter for our era if you ask me. America is in shambles today, torn apart by sin and corruption because the church as not held it’s post and kept society pointed in the right direction. We’ve become smug, complacent, hard hearted, and focused on pleasure, entertainment, self-indulgence, pride, and money. It’s all around us and its’ difficult to not get sucked into it. But instead, we must be different. Totally different and realize the only reason we have anything in life is because it’s from Jesus.

All of the wealth of America is because our founders honored God in the founding of the country. And unfortunately, our generation has lost sight of that. Judgment will come one day on America, sooner than we think, and we should be ready for that, totally set apart, with faith like gold refined in the fire, white clothing centered on what Jesus did for us by dying for our sins, and Holy Spirit filled hearts that see with discernment, the truth of everything. Repent today, and give your whole heart to Him, ask forgiveness for doublemindedness, ask forgiveness for laziness, ask forgiveness for whatever sin you’re struggling with today, he will forgive you. Come the altars now. Give it all over to Him anew.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

David takes the Sacred Bread & the Sword of Goliath

David is on the run! He is in a panic. Saul had tried to kill, pin him to a wall with a spear while he was playing music for him. Then Jonathan David’s friend goes and tries to calm Saul down and make things right. And Saul tries to kill Jonathan too.

So David makes a run for it. His first stop is in a place called Nob, which is very close to the capital. He stops in to see the priest at the temple there. He’s on the run but he has no food.

It says in 1st Samuel 21:1-6, “David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”

2 David answered Ahimelek the priest, “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.”

4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.”

5 David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever[b] I set out. The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!” 6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.”

David isn’t really on a secret mission for King Saul. He’s on the run, and trying to get supplies. Maybe he’s hoping if he lies to Ahimelek he can protect him from reprisals from Saul.

But all that Ahimelek has is the bread of the presence. This was sacred bread, special bread, blessed, something symbolic of God’s presence and protection. God is protecting David even through this, and we see even a metaphor of it, in the bread of the presence of God, God is with David as he flees. And this bread is symbolic of God’s provision. He provides for David’s food. And he is keeping David safe.

First point today is this, in your time of need, when everything is going crazy, God will be with you, if you’ve been with Him. Now, that may not be as true if you’ve rejected God your whole life and now suddenly you’re in trouble and start saying God if you get me out of this mess I’ll never do it again.

But if you’re a follower of Jesus, he’s going to provide for you in your time of need. And honestly even if you aren’t a Christian, cry out to God anyway in your time of need, perhaps he will help you, and guide you out of trouble. You never know, then again, you may have to deal with the consequences of your own actions first.

David now has food. But he is still unarmed. He ran away in such a hurry, he doesn’t have much of anything aside from the clothes on his back, and now a stack of sacred bread.

But there is a problem. It says in verse 7, “Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.”

One of King Saul’s closest buddies is there, his chief shepherd, so this may quickly end up getting back to Saul.

But David needs a weapon. So in verse 8 David asked Ahimelek, “Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.”

9 The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.”

David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

Point number two, God will arm you with what you need to stand firm. Point number one, God will feed you with what you need to stay strong. Also, he will give us our weapon to fight the enemy. David is now carrying the sword of Goliath.

Today we also are suited up in the armor of God, a gift of Jesus Christ, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the sword of the Holy Spirit, the word of God.

We need all the armor to stand firm against the evil one. And we have it. Because God gives us all we need to survive and prosper and stand firm.

David’s got food and the sword of Goliath, and now he goes all the way to Gath. Gath, sound familiar? Gath is where Goliath grew up.

It says in verses 10 and 11, “That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: “‘Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands’?”

Instantly the King of Gath recognizes that David is the King of Israel. He instantly understands, this is the real King, not Saul, it’s David.

When God has called you to himself, to His service, others will recognize that in you. You will be known as a hero of God. Not everyone will respect it. People may even fear it. But they will know God is with you.

But why did David go to Gath? Maybe the sword of Goliath gave him that idea? Maybe he felt he should go there. Maybe God guided him to go there. But when he’s recognized why Achish the king of Gath, David becomes very much afraid. Maybe he was afraid that Achish might turn him over to Saul? Maybe he had hoped to hide his identity. But then again, he was carrying the sword of Goliath, kind of hard to hide who you are, when you’ve got their greatest warriors sword, from the guy you killed.

In any case King Achish says isn’t this the king of Israel David the hero?

Then it says, verses 12-15: “David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. 13 So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.

14 Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? 15 Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

David then leaves Gath and goes to hide in a cave in Adullam. What is really going on here? Why did David have to pretend to be insane? Perhaps God was helping him to escape. We don’t know for certain.

But third point for today, God will help you in a dangerous situation. He’ll bring you through it safely if you trust in Him. Even if you went to the wrong place. Even if you took a wrong turn.

I’ve seen that time and again in my life. I’ve taken a wrong turn. Ended up in the wrong place. Done the wrong thing. But, because God is with me, he helps me escape the situation safely, even though it was my fault in the first place. That’s pretty awesome, isn’t it?

In conclusion today, I do want to draw your attention to Psalm 34, which David wrote about this encounter…

Psalm 34 - Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.

1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,

13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Letter to the Church of Philadelphia: An Open Door to a New Jerusalem

“He was christened Giovanni, the Italian name for John. His mother named him after John the Baptist in hopes that he would be devoted to Jesus. But Giovanni was hardly devout. As the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, the boy was a spoiled rich kid.

One day a beggar in the marketplace asked Giovanni for a handout. Giovanni remembered a line he heard at Sunday Mass: “When you feed the hungry, you minister to Christ.” He grabbed hold of the beggar, gave him everything in his pockets, and kissed him full on his lips.

That evening he informed his family that he wanted to give everything away to the poor. His enraged father forced Giovanni to enlist in the army, and he was sent off to war. After he was captured, he said that Christ visited him in his prison. When he returned home, he no longer wanted to party with his friends. He moved into a charity hospital where he fed and bathed the sick. On winter nights he climbed into bed with lepers, wrapping them in his arms to keep them warm.

With the pope’s blessing, he gathered disciples who gave away all their possessions to follow Jesus. They crisscrossed Europe, ministering to the poor, comforting the sick, and evangelizing the forgotten.

While still in his early forties, Giovanni caught a fatal disease from a sick wretch that he had held in his arms. In October of 1226 he died, gasped his final words to his brothers: “I have done my part. May Jesus teach you to do yours.” You remember Giovanni by the name Saint Francis of Assisi. His last words challenge each of us. As Saint Francis said: “To give largely, liberally, and cheerfully requires a new heart.” -James Petterson (abridged)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. -Ezekiel 36:26 NIV

Today I think we’ll see that for the church in Philadelphia, they proved they had entirely new hearts. What did Jesus say to them? he said this: 

“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. -Revelation 3:7-13

The city of Philadelphia, in Turkey, gateway to the east, it was the furthest east city of Greek culture and philosophy, and it was considered a gateway, an entry point into the eastern world.

Greek culture had been successfully spread along the coastal regions of Asia minor, but, as they went further and further inland they encountered resistance to these new ways of Greek culture.

The city of Philadelphia was known for it’s production of wine and vineyards. The ground was very fertile, but it was in a region known for earthquakes, so often buildings would topple in these quakes and have to be rebuilt.

So the area became known for very nice architecture, it was even called a “little Athens” because it had such beautiful structures. I suppose you get good at building when you keep having to rebuild.

In any case, in 17 AD the city of Philadelphia was devastated by an earthquake so severe that Rome actually didn’t charge them tribute for five years so they would have time to rebuild.

But later, the roman empire would betray Philadelphia, because of the beautiful vineyards and wine coming from the city, it was beginning to overshadow even the vineyards of Rome, and so an order went out and all the vineyards in Philadelphia were burned.

The Greek god Dionysus was worshiped in this city, not surprising Dionysus was the Greek god of wine.

The city had numerous different names as well, for a while it was called Flavia, Neo-Caesarea, and of course Philadelphia, which means the city of brotherly love. Which is why the city in the United States was named Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. And the Philadelphia in the USA was known as the gateway to the west, while the Philadelphia in Turkey was known as the gateway to the east.

Now the church in this city of Philadelphia apparently didn’t have a lot of influence in the city. They weren’t a big church like Ephesus, they didn’t have key figures attending. They didn’t have a great deal of power over much of anything. Yet Jesus is very pleased with this church. Every church in the letters of Revelation receives a correction, do better, aside from Smyrna and Philadelphia.

Sometime as a follower of Christ, I’ll stop, and take an inventory, examine myself, to see if I’m in the faith, that’s biblical…

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” -2nd Cor 13:5

And I’ll pray, and seek the Lord, and examine myself, and almost always God through the Holy Spirit will say, all is well, you’re in the faith, you’re of Christ.

There are times as well, when the Lord, through the Holy Spirit will rebuke me, and indicate that I need to repent of something I had done that day, or something recently, then I get on my knees and ask God’s forgiveness, repent, and keep going. And God will quickly affirm that once again I’m in a proper standing with Him.

For this church in Philadelphia as they saw the letters to the other churches in Asia Minor, I’m sure they were wondering, what is he going to say to us?

And Jesus tells them essentially, all is well, and I’m very pleased with you.

He says this, “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.” –Revelation 3:7

Without understanding the context of Philadelphia being the gateway, we might be confused, but, instead we see Jesus is speaking to them, I’m holy and true, He says. He has the key to the true gateway. Jesus is the door. What he opens, is open. What he closes, no one can open. He is the final authority. If Jesus says, you’re going to heaven, then it is so. If he says, you’re going to hell, it is also so.

He has the keys to life and death. Jesus is the King of the Universe. His command is eternal. He is the gateway.

Jesus says: “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.” –Revelation 3:8

This church has stood the test. Like all the other churches, I’m sure they were discriminated against. They were left out of activities. They were ignored. They were rejected. They were even persecuted and imprisoned. But they didn’t compromise. They didn’t change to fit in with the city. They didn’t compromise and take part in other religions.

They don’t have a lot of strength or influence. They are weak. Maybe it’s a small church, not too many members. But they have kept their witness to Christ. They haven’t denied Him.

“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.”
–Revelation 3:9

Next Jesus gives the body of believers in this city a beautiful encouragement, it reminds us of Psalm 23 when the Lord says “I will prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies.”

Apparently, this little church in Philadelphia was being persecuted by the local synagogue. Once when Jesus was talking to a crowd of people in Israel who were arguing with Him and harassing Him, he looked into their hearts and then cried out, “You are not children of Abraham, you are children of your father the Devil.”

Similarly, this synagogue is called a synagogue of Satan. The synagogue was the Jewish temple in the city.

Jesus tells them, don’t hate them, don’t let it bother you how they harass you, instead, know, that one day I will pay them back, and they’ll have to acknowledge that I’ve loved you and not them.

What is the synagogue of Satan in your life today? Are there people who persecute you? Family? An organization? Even people in the body of Christ in this area? Don’t hate them. Forgive them. Pray for their welfare. And then know that God will deal with them.

Jesus continues in verses 10 and 11 like this:
“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.” –Revelation 3:10-11

Honestly, my first reaction whenever I read this scripture is to think of the rapture, the time when Jesus returns just before the great tribulation to take the saints out of the world. The NLT renders it as “protect you from.” The NASB more properly renders it “keep you from.” Take you away from it.

For the Christians in Philadelphia, we don’t really know what that may have been referencing, perhaps it was the waves of persecution that would come between 40 AD and 313 AD when the worst persecutions happened against Christians in the roman empire. But we don’t really know how they might’ve been protected from all that.

In any case, in our situation as the end times church, I think this is a good reminder for us, that if we hold true to Christ, we will be kept from enduring the wrath of God in the great tribulation.

They’ve obeyed Jesus’ command to persevere. To endure. To not give up. That’s my next point today, persevere in difficult times.

It’s a good tweak in the mind, an adjustment, to see perseverance as something good to do, but then to see it as a command. Persevere. Keep going. Honestly, that’s been hard for me lately. I’ve struggled to persevere. I’ve wanted to give up from time to time. Ministry is very difficult. And you have such high hopes, to see great things happen, and when you don’t see massive revival, it’s very disappointing, and you can become bitter and angry, and want to give up. I’m sure that was the case for these Christians who were being persecuted and excluded. But they didn’t give up. They kept the command to persevere. That’s my call to us today, keep the command to persevere. Find a way to keep going. We can do that in Christ.

He also says “hold on to what you have.” But Christ is holding on to me so I don’t have to hold on to Him. Yes, Christ holds on to us. We also hold on to Him. It’s a two sided relationship. Any relationship is. He holds on to us. We hold on to Him. Hold on tight, and don’t let go. Some of you need to be reminded to keep praying, keep reading your Bible, and don’t get lazy. Everyday is a new day. It starts over everyday. Keep living it. Keep praying. Keep reading the word.

Lastly, the Lord says…

“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.” –Revelation 3:12-13

Jesus says I will write on them the name of my God. The name of Yehovah, a permanent name. Forever citizens, of a new city, a permanent city. And Jesus’ new name for them, written on them. A city whose name had changed several times, a new name, but this one permanent, and forever.

In this city there were many earthquakes, and the pillars of the Greek buildings would often fall, tumble over, and need to be put back up. But Christ reminds these Christians, if you overcome, if you’re victorious, you will become a permanent pillar in the temple of God, which is the New Jerusalem. The door was open for them. The door was closed for others. Eventually the door would close on Earth, and will close one day forever. But, if we walk through it and stay in it, we become a permanent fixture, an eternal member of the city of God, the New Jerusalem. The streets of gold. The massive city on a new planet Earth. And it’s perfect.

If you’re searching for utopia, perfection, unity in diversity, there it is, eternal life, no more sin, no more death, on God’s terms, it’s perfect. And in a human utopia, it will never be perfect, and death and sin will always rule and reign in it. We’ve tried to build it here on Earth, from the tower of babel, to the roman empire, to the modern Babylon of the USA, and every time we try, it becomes infested with evil, sin and death, and hell, and become a nightmare society slowly over time. Whether it's babies being offered as sacrifices at the pagan temple, or at the abortion clinic to selfishness, it’s murder and death, whether it’s sleeping with temple prostitutes as worship to Greek gods, or roaming the streets of las vegas, it’s sin and destruction, orgies at the public house or orgies in silicon valley, corruption in Rome, or corruption in Washington DC, no utopia on Earth can be found, only God’s utopia, the new Jerusalem, is a true and perfect paradise. But only after we’ve gone through the tests of this life, and shown ourselves as overcomers, as those who persevere, as those who never give up our witness to Christ, and never deny His name. A New Jerusalem. A New City of God. A new citizenship. A new permanent home, fit with a new name. Forever. Amen.

All that’s left of the city of Philadelphia today in Turkey, the only ruins left, are the pillars of the church, with Christian paintings on the pillars. This church stood strong. And their memory lives on. Even today, there is an orthodox Christian church in Turkey in that area, where this church once stood. The pillars remain. They stood firm. They persevered. They never gave up. And they received the crown of life. Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Letter to the Church at Sardis: Appearing alive, but actually Dead

"No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.[a]" -John 5:44

"In an address I lately heard, the speaker said that the blessings of the higher Christian life were often like the objects exposed in a shop window, one could see them clearly and yet could not reach them. If told to stretch out his hand and take, a man would answer, I cannot; there is a thick pane of glass between them and me. And even so Christians may see clearly the blessed promises of perfect peace and rest, of overflowing love and joy, of abiding communion and fruitfulness, and yet feel that there was something between hindering the true possession, And what might that be? Nothing but pride." -Andrew Murray, Humility, p. 53

Sardis was a large and beautiful city in it’s time, with powerful defenses that made the residents over-confident in their ability to defend themselves from invading armies. Sardis was known for worship to the Greek god Artemis as well as roman emperor worship, but the city also had the largest Jewish synagogue in the ancient world apart from those in Israel itself. So there was a strong Jewish presence in this city as well.

Cyrus the greater conqueror had at one time attempted to conquer Sardis, but the fortifications on the great hills behind the city were too difficult to overcome. One night, a soldier on the battlements accidentally dropped his helmet over the side of the walls. So he snuck down and opened a secret passage to grab his helmet and come back. Unfortunately for him, this was noticed by Cyrus and his troops. They later attacked the other side of the city, and sent a group of soldiers to quietly break into the hidden doorway on the other side, and this helped them capture the city at last.

Coined money was apparently first developed in Sardis long long ago, when it was controlled by the Lydian empire. And the Lydian empire was known for being very wealthy. So we had a wealthy city, with powerful defenses, so this led to arrogance, overconfidence, and laziness. The city was captured by Cyrus, then later by the Roman empire, who controlled it during the time of the early church.

The church in this city apparently had a reputation of being a very active and spirit filled church. I’m sure in the past they had won many to Christ, and helped many people, and were growing and discipling, and spreading the word, and sending out missionaries. It was great. But, apparently this reputation over time, began to be something of the past, not the present.

They had been an active Spirit-filled church, but over the years, something had changed. Perhaps they had become lazy, complacent, and eventually, they were simply dead inside.

And I wonder if that’s true of some of us today, we used to be super active, we used to pray a lot, and read the Bible, but we’ve kind of settled back into complacency, kind of settled in and think well I’ll just show up to church and that’ll be enough.

But Jesus Christ our messiah, he sees the heart. And sitting back and going along to get along won’t be enough. It wasn’t enough for this church. Let’s look at what Jesus tells them.

He says in Revelation 3:1, “He who has [a]the seven spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, and yet you are dead.”

Jesus says I have the seven spirits of God, and I have the seven stars. We know the seven stars are the seven churches of Revelation. Good. But, what are the seven spirits of God?

I’ve often wondered that myself. What does Revelation mean by the 7 spirits of God? And it’s in the word. It’s actually apparently from a prophecy about the messiah in Isaiah chapter 11 verse two. It says this:

“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

And [1] the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, [2] the spirit of wisdom and [3] understanding, [4] the spirit of counsel and [5] might, [6] the spirit of knowledge and of [7] the fear of the Lord;”

It’s been there all the time. All we had to do was look for it. And on a side note, I believe we as Christians can also have all of these seven spirits of God. Wisdom, understanding, counsel of God, the might of God, the knowledge of God, and the fear of the Lord. They are the hallmarks of a follower of Jesus.

But what does Jesus then tell them? Bad news. He says you are dead! Your reputation says you’re alive, but you’re actually dead. You’ve believed your own media. You’ve believed your reputation. But God sees past our reputation. He sees beyond how we portray ourselves. He sees who we really are.

My family growing up, was always about keeping up appearances. Everyone pretended to be good, ok, doing well. That’s not unique. I think most families are probably like that. But, sometimes something would sneak through, and we realize, oh they’re actually human too like the rest of us. We like to pretend to be perfect, but we aren’t. We like to enjoy a certain reputation.

First point today, God sees to the very heart of who we really are. He doesn’t care about our reputation. Or lack of reputation, in my case, in my past, everyone knew my dirty laundry, they kept publishing it in the newspaper. So, I had no reputation to guard. Everyone knew what I was.

But for you today, maybe you’ve got everyone fooled around you. But God isn’t fooled. He sees what you do in secret.

Next, the Messiah says, “2 Be constantly alert, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.”

The Lord is giving instruction to this church, who is like the soldier on the wall who fell asleep. This church is like soldiers who are watching on the walls, but it gets late and they all fall asleep. Jesus says, wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, so Christ may shine on you!

Wake up! Get up! That’s point number two, first point was God sees who you really are, second point, therefore wake up, get back to work for God’s kingdom!

Return to a state of military alertness. On a navy worship the crew members and troops are at their various tasks and duties. But when the captain issues the order to come to a state of alertness, everyone rushes to their battle stations to be ready for combat. To be ready for action.

Jesus tells them, you can’t live on your past accomplishments. What if we at the salvation army here said well, back in 2020 we did some good things, we gave away Christmas toys, we did kettles bell ringing, but well, we haven’t done any of that since, we skipped it in 2021 and 2022. Because we already did that. Would that make sense? No.

We can’t live on past accomplishments. We keep serving. We keep setting new goals. We get deeper into the mission of preaching the gospel and meeting peoples needs.

Jesus tells them hey your deeds aren’t done yet, keep serving, stay active, wake up.

Then in verse 3, he continues along those lines. He says,

“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”

Point number 3, remember who you really are. Look to Jesus. Look back to what God did for you in the beginning. Look to the cross of Jesus Christ. Looks to Jesus’ perfect life, his miracles, his healing of the blind and bleeding, look to Jesus the pioneer of perfection, looks to Jesus the giver of the Holy Spirit, look to Jesus the one who washed away your sin and guilt and shame, and this looking will raise you from the dead. You will live by turning your eyes to Jesus, even though you’ve fallen asleep and become like one who is spiritually dead.

But Jesus also includes a warning, if you don’t repent, I will come like a thief when you don’t realize it. So Jesus says, look back, remember, what you received in your salvation from me. In so doing, I will revive you. They’ll wake up, rise again.

There’s a scripture in Ephesians that explains this concept well, of waking up.

From Ephesians 5:13-17 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says,

“Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”

15 So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Christ will shine on you again if you turn to Him. Then, be cautious how you’re living from now on, keep your focus on Jesus, laser focus, don’t move from it, because guess what, the days we live in are evil. And in so doing you’ll live in a way where you’ll know and follow God’s practical will for your life.

Lastly, Messiah Jesus says to them, “4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who overcomes will be clothed the same way, in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Fascinating, so, it is possible for a Christian to soil their garments. We each right now, are wearing a robe of righteousness. It’s the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Revelation also says the white linen is the righteous acts of the saints, which is interesting too.

But the reason we’re able to enter paradise after we die is because we are robed in the righteousness of Christ, which covers our sin, and makes us pure. But, apparently, like Sardis, it is possible to by sinning, by laziness, by spiritual death, to dirty our robes of righteousness, which disqualifies us from eternal life.

But Jesus says there are some who haven’t dirties their robes, and they will walk with Him it says, robed in white, and he won’t blot out their names from the book of life. Which also implies that a Christian by willful sinning or apostasy, have their name removed from the book of life. Very interesting.

An interesting side note, is that when archaeologists studied the remains of the synagogue that was in Sardis, they found that on the pillars for the jewish synagogue the jews had written their names into the stone. But their names were written in Greek. And when it says in verse 4, you have a few people the word there for people can also be rendered as “names.”

So Jesus says, there are some names that haven’t been blotted out, that haven’t been soiled, and they will walk with me, and I will speak up for them before my Father in heaven, and the angels. Because they are worthy.

The one who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Our final point today is to be an overcomer. Even if you’ve become stale in your walk with Christ, even if you’ve become lazy, worldly, if you’ve lost prayer, lost bible reading, lost an excitement for God and knowing Him, you can repent, and find Jesus again. He will shine on you, but you have to wake up. Wake up, and He will help you. But don’t think you can hide in your complacency and just hope that everything will work out. Jesus says no, I see the truth, and I can see that you’re dead, and I’ll remove you from the book of life if you stay the way you are. It’s a serious warning. So we should take it seriously. Some of us here I think have become a bit complacent. We aren’t as excited as we used to be. We need to turn again to Jesus. Let’s do that today. Start by getting on your knees and crying out to Jesus to wake you from the dead. He will help you!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Letter to the Church of Thyatira: The Church Tolerant of Sin

I'd like to contrast two historical figures, Lot the nephew of Abraham, and Jacob the son of Isaac. One leads to disaster, one leads to overcoming. The question you should ask yourself is, which path am I on today? 

From James Petterson's One Year Book: "He left his city along the Euphrates River and headed north with his uncle. They crossed Iraq into Syria, and then Uncle Abe’s new God called them to move on to the land of promise. But high desert country could not sustain both the uncle’s and the nephew’s herds in the same place. After their herdsmen fought over grazing rights, they decided to split.

When his nephew chose the lush plains east of the Jordan River, Uncle Abe gasped. The cities of that region were cesspools of depravity: demonic gods, infant sacrifice, unthinkable perversions, and horrific cruelty. But Lot could only see grazing lands that would fatten his herds and markets that would fatten his wallet. The Genesis account says that he “pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Genesis 13:12, KJV). In short, Lot kept his family outside that wicked city, but placed his tent in such a way that his wife and daughters were able to see its bright lights. Over time they were seduced from a distance. They pestered Lot to move them into Sodom until he finally acquiesced to their pressure. Eventually, Abraham’s nephew became a member of the city council. But his business interests caused him to keep his mouth shut in the face of evil, even as his wife and daughters abandoned Uncle Abraham’s God for the pleasures of Sodom.

Then angels appeared with a warning: judgment was coming, and Lot’s family must flee immediately. The angels literally dragged the reluctant family away from Sodom and Gomorrah. No one knows whether the region was hit by a meteorite or an earthquake, but huge fissures opened, and methane gasses spewed out in geysers of hot fire and liquefied salt, raining down a holocaust that turned sand into glass balls and stones into charred lumps. Lot and his daughters ran into the mountains to the east, but his wife couldn’t tear herself away from the cities she loved. Liquefied salt washed over her, instantly encasing her so that she became a pillar of salt.

The worst was yet to come for Lot. As his two daughters cowered in the mountains above, they must have thought the whole world had been destroyed. They figured that their daddy was the only man left on the planet. So they got him drunk and took turns seducing him. Could the righteous man, who pitched his tents toward Sodom, have sunk any lower than incest? His sons became the progenitors of the Ammonite and Moabite nations, taking on the immoralities that Lot’s daughters had picked up in Sodom. Lot’s tale is the sad story of a man who lost his place in the family of Abraham, then his own family, and finally his legacy. His amazingly sad story warns us that a life of small compromises eventually leads to a tipping point and a plunge into catastrophe. We would do well to remember Lot and something Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

Sow a thought, you will reap an action; sow an act, you will reap a habit; sow a habit, you will reap a character; sow a character, you will reap a destiny."

"Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master." -Genesis 4:7

Lots story went all wrong. Though perhaps in the end, Lot gave his life to God, and was saved. We don't know for certain,
but I think we’ll see today that the church in Thyatira was being offered this course, of slow compromise, leading to bigger compromise. But, they were also being offered a path to righteousness.

It reminds me of the account of Jacob. He was a manipulator, plotting with his mother to steal the first born role from his brother. God was pursuing him all his life. And he fled from God. But, then one day Jacob, fleeing from his brother, encountered a staircase, in a dream, leading up to heaven. And he was astonished.

Later, he would wrestle with God, all night, perhaps wrestling between pride and obedience to God, and finally God asked Him, what is your name? Jacob, means deceiver. Jacob admitted what he was. And God then made a great nation out of Jacob. He became who he was always meant to be, a hero. But he had to admit, ask forgiveness, and repent, to become who he was meant to be, a hero. 

Jacob overcame himself, his own desires, his own selfishness, and ego, and manipulations, and became a man dedicated to God. He overcame. 

We'll see that these two paths, that of Lot, or Jacob, was before the church in Thyatira. Jesus gives them this message. 

Revelation 2:18-29: “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

“The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like fine brass, says these things: I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience, and that your last works are more than the first.

“But I have a few things against you: You permit that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, but she did not repent. 22 Look! I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23 I will put her children to death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the hearts and minds. I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.

24 “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, who have not known what some call the ‘depths of Satan,’ I will put on you no other burden. 25 But hold firmly what you have until I come.

26 “To him who overcomes and keeps My works to the end, I will give authority over the nations—27 He ‘shall rule them with a rod of iron; like the vessels of a potter they shall be broken in pieces’ even as I myself have received authority 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.”

In any scripture portion the challenge is two-fold, first we have to understand what the words written down meant to the original audience. The second challenge then is to take the words and understand how they apply to us today for us.

You see pictures of the ruins and remains of Thyatira on the screen. Located in the bustling town today of Akhisar, Turkey.

So we consider the context of this letter. Thyatira was a small town community. It wasn’t like Pergamum or Ephesus. It was a smaller city. It was a city known for the production of textiles, and of bright colors like reds and purples.

It was also known for blacksmiths, bronze smiths, silversmiths, and there were guilds, labor unions in the area that held a great influence in the area.

Worship of Apollo was common in the area as well. Apollo in the Greek mythology was considered the “son of Zeus” so the son of the gods. So we begin to understand why Jesus spoke this way to the people.

The church in Thyatira would’ve been challenged to worship Apollo along with the rest, and if they didn’t many of them lost their jobs in the guilds.

Jesus starts the letter by saying: “The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like fine brass, says these things: I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience, and that your last works are more than the first.” –Revelation 2:18-19

God lists the following characteristics which please Him: Love, service, faith, patience, and persistence.

This is our first point today, here's how to do it right!

They even have Greater works than before – they were building on past victories. 

Would God say the same of you, looking at your past and present? What about your future? Do you have plans to build on past victories? 

Next Jesus says: “But I have a few things against you: You permit that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, but she did not repent.” –Revelation 2:20-21

Point Two: Tolerating evil is a slippery slope (you permit)

Notice God’s generosity, he gives Jezebel time to repent.

Who is Jezebel? In the Old Testament, she was the wife to Ahab, the single most corrupt king of Israel. Jezebel was constantly influencing Ahab toward evil. He lead Ahab to worship Baal. After Elijah's victory at Mt. Carmel, she threatened to kill Elijah. Jezebel led the nation astray, through her influence over Ahab, but her end was terrible, she was finally defeated, and killed by her own slaves. 

So you had a church in Thyatira that was tolerating a false teacher in their midst, allowing evil in their midst. 

Tolerance for evil: We do this in America. We tolerate so much evil. Because we think it makes us “tolerant” and “accepting” and “inclusive.” We had been in America in the late 1800s fairly exclusive, but slowly we became more and more inclusive to other religions, more and more inclusive to ideologies, more and more inclusive to different lifestyles, and so tolerant and open that we allow just about anything in our country. And we thought to ourselves, look at us, so tolerant, so open, so considerate of other perspectives, which sounds good, looks good on paper, but then slowly, you start to see the foundations of the society crumbling, you see social norms being changed, you see different philosophies taking over the minds of young people, and pretty soon the country is a big mess, because there is no shared philosophy of life. Everything becomes so fragmented it's impossible to hold together.

For a country, we want freedom and liberty, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of personal autonomy. 

It's different in the body of Christ. Yes, we have freedom, liberty, free speech and so on, but, we can't allow false teachers to work their way in. False teachers must be apposed, and removed if necessary. 

Next, the Lord says: “Look! I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will put her children to death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the hearts and minds. I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.” –Revelation 2:22-23

Point three: God is the one who searches hearts and minds.

God knows our thoughts, our emotions, our actions. He cares about all these things. And if we slip into sin, he wants us to repent quickly, and stay free.

For those who refuse to repent, they will often go off into “great tribulation” a time where they enter sorrows and pains and difficulties, and they’re brought low again, to teach them to repent.

It’s a cycle I’ve seen play out in peoples lives. As they resist God’s leading, he begins to cycle them through sorrows, to bring them to humility again, so they may repent.

He knows our hearts and minds ,and he tests us. To make us beautiful, like gold.

“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, who have not known what some call the ‘depths of Satan,’ I will put on you no other burden. But hold firmly what you have until I come.” –Revelation 2:24-25

Point four, hold firmly to the end. Don’t go off into empty philosophies which are just the deep things of Satan. Instead, stand firm.

Stay true. No other burdens are required. Just stand firm to the end. Don't give up! Keep going, all the way to the end. All your life. 

“To him who overcomes and keeps My works to the end, I will give authority over the nations—He ‘shall rule them with a rod of iron; like the vessels of a potter they shall be broken in pieces’ even as I myself have received authority from My Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” –Revelation 2:26-29

And last portion, point number five is the reward for the overcomer.

Just like each letter to the churches, Jesus concludes it with rewards in heaven for those who stand firm to the end.

I will give authority he says. The morning star is a gift for those who stand firm. Authority, power, dominion. We Christians have little power in this world, from a worldly perspective, but, the word says we’ll share in the authority of Christ.