The Law

Old Courthouse Museum
Photo by Michelle Pearson

The Law

I’m afraid the Church is confusing many unsaved people, as well as many new Christians, and even many older Christians for that matter. I hear it over and over, they say, “you say the Bible never changes. Then why were the people in the Old Testament saved by keeping the law, but you say that we’re saved by grace through faith now?” I’m sure we’ve all heard this question. But, here’s the problem. They are confused because many of our churches, many well-intentioned pastors, are unknowingly preaching a false doctrine. Please don’t stop reading here and think that I’m one of those guys that think I’ve figured it out and everyone else is wrong. I just want to share what scripture says, and you can make your own decision, but remember to keep everything in context, and don’t try to interpret the Bible.

So, did the law ever save anyone? Romans 8:3 tells us, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So, God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” The campus pastor at our church, Steve Meharg, would say right now, “don’t you hate how the Bible is so vague?” So, what is the Bible saying here? The first sentence of this verse tells us that the law of Moses was not able to save us. Why? Because of our sinful nature. You see, we can’t be good enough to get to heaven, because of our sinful nature.

Here’s wherein the problem lies. We are sinners! Romans 5:12, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” Again, so unclear, right? When we try to be good enough to get to heaven, we are measuring ourselves up to other people, and we can always find someone who is worse than ourselves. A serial killer can say that he’s not as bad as Jeffery Dahmer because he isn’t a cannibal. But, here’s the catch, God doesn’t measure us up to each other, He measures us up to Himself. Galatians 5:19-21 says, 19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Do you see that…no sin can enter heaven…none! Notice that, along with idolatry and sexual sin, He also adds quarreling and jealousy…any one sin will keep you out of heaven. We also read in Ephesians 2:8-9, God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Again, he says that we are not saved by our works, not now, not ever!

We also know that they weren’t saved by just being born into one of the tribes of Israel, although they tried to make it about that too. Look at the examples of Rahab and Ruth. Rahab was a prostitute and a Canaanite, and Ruth was a Moabite. Not only did Rahab not keep the law of Moses, she wasn’t born an Israelite…that’s a double whammy. And, Ruth was not an Israelite either, she was a Moabite. But, not only did God save them, He went a step further. God did something He didn’t have to do by making Rahab and Ruth part of the lineage of Christ. We see this in the first chapter of Matthew. The first sixteen verses are giving the lineage of Christ, from Abraham to Joseph, and in verse 5 it says, “Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).” There are very few mothers mentioned in this passage, but he names two in this verse alone, Rahab and Ruth. Both of these women are in the lineage of Christ, and neither are Israelites.

So, if the Old Testament believers weren’t saved by keeping the law, and they clearly weren’t saved by being born a Jew, then how exactly were they saved? Yes, it is true that they did have to offer sacrifices every year because the perfect sacrifice had not yet come. But it wasn’t the sacrifice that saved them, it was their faith. Let’s take a minute to look at Hebrews chapter 11, the chapter known as the Believer’s Hall of Faith. I’m not going to print the entire chapter here, but take a minute to read it, even if you have read it many times, then come back.

Did you notice something about it? Let’s take a look at the people mentioned here: verse 4, Able; verse 5, Enoch; verse 7, Noah; verses 8-10, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; verse 11 Sarah; verse 21, Jacob; verse 22, Joseph; verse 23, Moses; verse 31, Rahab; verse 32, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. Everyone mentioned in this passage is from the Old Testament. They were not made righteous by keeping the law, they were made righteous by their life-changing faith! In the middle of all this it says in Hebrews 11:6, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” It is, and always was, IMPOSSIBLE to please God without FAITH!

But, something we must remember because we humans always try to make it about ourselves, is that it’s not our faith that saves us. God saves us when He sees our faith. And, faith doesn’t just mean believing. The Bible tells us in James 2:19, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” So, you see, it’s not just about believing, it’s about trusting and changing. Just before this verse, we see in James 2:14-17, 14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”

We are now, and always have been saved by God’s grace, through our faith…our life-changing faith. So, let’s stop confusing people and start living by faith.

More Churches – Thyatira

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

More Churches – Thyatira

Thyatira was an interesting choice for Jesus to send a letter to in the Revelation. You see, Thyatira was a very insignificant city, in fact, according to Barclay, “The elder Pliny dismissed Thyatira with the almost contemptuous phrase ‘Thyatira and other unimportant cities.’” The only thing Thyatira had going for it was its trade guilds, it had more trade guilds than any two cities of its size, and it was known for making purple dye and purple fabric…the fabric of royalty.

This time, when Christ describes Himself, He comes right out and says, “This is the message from the Son of God” in Revelation 2:18. Then He goes on to describe Himself even further when he says, “whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze.” Again, He takes this from John’s description of Him in Revelation 1:14-15. So, what did He mean by eyes like flames? Fire often represents the Holy Spirit, as we see in Acts 2:2-4, another sign pointing to the triune nature of God. Fire can also represent refinement, as with metals, or judgment. The feet like polished bronze is referring to His steadfastness. Bronze was the hardest metal known at that time and the bronze feet represent that Christ is immovable. So, this description of Him is demonstrating His steadfast, immovable judgment on the people.

He goes on in verse 19 to say, “I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.” So, as with the church at Ephesus, He starts out by complimenting them on what they are doing right. But, notice that He begins by saying, “I know all the things you do.” He’s about to compliment them, but lets them know up front that He knows it all…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then He goes on to talk about their love, their faith, their service, and their patience. Do you recognize these? You should, because they are some of the fruits of the Spirit seen in Galatians 5:22-23, 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

It’s looking pretty good for the church at Thyatira, but then He hits them with, “But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols”, in verse 20. So, there was a woman in the church leading them astray. She was obviously a woman of authority, some believe she could have been the pastor’s wife, but she was a self-proclaimed prophet. Now, this is where many churches are divided, and is where we need to take the Bible literally and in context. The Bible never says that a woman can’t be a prophet. In fact, if you look at the accounts of the birth of Christ, it talks about Anna who was a prophet, and there were many other examples. But, the problem here is that they didn’t do what they were taught. John says in 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.” So, the problem wasn’t that she was a woman, the problem was that she was a false prophet and the church didn’t test what she said against scripture, they just believed her. Jesus goes on to call her Jezebel. It is possible that her name was actually Jezebel, but it is more likely that Christ is using that name to describe what she was. So, let’s think about who Jezebel was in the Old Testament. She was found in 1 Kings 16-21, and in 2 Kings 9:30-37, and she was one of the evilest people mentioned in the Old Testament. She was the wife of King Ahab and tried to use her place of power to combine Israel’s worship with the worship of Baal, which included sexual sin and pagan practices.

In verse 21 Christ says, “I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.” Even this horrible, evil woman who was trying to lead the Christ followers astray, Christ gave time to repent. You see that? He didn’t just give her a chance, He gave her time, but she wouldn’t turn from her immorality.

In verses 22 and 23, Jesus tells them what He will do to her, and them, if they don’t repent and turn from their evil ways, He says, 22Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.” There are those who say that a loving God wouldn’t punish us. The problems with that school of thought are that, as we just saw, He always gives us a choice. He won’t make us do right, He wants us to choose Him, to choose to do right. And, secondly, He is a loving Father, and a truly loving father will discipline his children. First, to try to correct them and turn them back to the right path, and second to demonstrate to His other children that there are consequences to doing wrong, Proverbs 13:24.

He goes on, in verses 24 through 27, commending those who are victorious, and tells them that He will give them the authority to rule nations. Then in verse 28 He repeats that promise and tells them that He will give them the same authority His Father gave to Him. He ends verse 28 by saying, “and I will also give them the morning star!” So, what does He mean by this? If we look at the end of the book of the Revelation, we see in Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” This is truly awesome! What Jesus is saying here is that if we are victorious, He will give us the greatest gift of all…He will give us Himself!

Of course, like in all the other letters, Christ ended this one in verse 29 by saying, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” He wants us to hear the warning to this church, and He wants us to be victorious and claim the ultimate prize…Him!

More Churches – Pergamum

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

More Churches – Pergamum

I love how, in each of these seven letters, Christ gives His credentials in a different way. He tailors His introductions to His audience. In His letter to the Church at Pergamum, in Revelation 2:12-17, He introduces Himself this way: verse 12, “This is the message from the one with the sharp two-edged sword:” Here, He is referring to John’s description of Him in Revelation 1:12-16, where in verse 16 he says, “He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.” And, Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” So, this two-edged sword that comes out of His mouth will expose our innermost thoughts and desires.

And, what does He say next? Revelation 2:13, “I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city.” So, why does Jesus call Pergamum the city where Satan has his throne? There were several temples to many Greek and Roman gods in Pergamum, but the main one was the temple of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. And, in that temple was the throne of Zeus, which is believed to be what Christ is referring to in this book. Pergamum was a very wicked city, full of pagan gods and rituals. He also mentions Antipas in this verse. Antipas was faithful to Christ and the leader of the Christian church there. He was being so effective for Christ there, casting out demons and leading people to a relationship with Christ that the pagan priests went to the Rome governor to complain that Antipas’ prayers were driving their spirits out of the city and hindering the worship of their gods. He was martyred by being roasted alive in a bronze bull. This is the type of city these believers were in.

Verse 14 starts out by saying, “But I have a few complaints against you.” Even though they were enduring all of this, Christ still had to set them straight in a few areas. He goes on to say, “You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin.” Do you remember the story of Balaam? You know, the guy whose donkey had to set him straight. Balaam tried to sell his gift of prophecy for financial gain, but when he realized that he couldn’t prophesy against God’s people, he helped Balak by selling out Israel. He told Balak that all he had to do to weaken Israel was to seduce the men into sexual sin and pagan rituals. This brought the judgment of God on the men who participated. 2 Peter 2:15 talks about Balaam when he says, “They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong.” So, Peter is saying that the way of Balaam is to choose to do wrong for personal gain. We also hear about Balaam in the book of Jude verse 11 where he says, “What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion.” Jude’s account of Balaam is that he deceived people for money. So, the first thing Christ has against the church at Pergamum is that some of them were following in the footsteps of Balaam.

The next thing He says in verse 15 is, “In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching.” Remember in Christ’s letter to the church at Ephesus, in Revelation 2:6, He said, “But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.” So, He praised the church at Ephesus for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans and warned the church at Pergamum about some of them who were following their deeds. I know you are probably wondering what these Nicolaitans were doing. David Guzik says this about the Nicolaitans, “The title Nico-laitans has the idea of a proud authority and a hierarchical separatism. The name Nikao-laos literally means “to conquer the people.” According to ancient commentators, the Nicolaitans also approved of immorality.” So, these were immoral people trying to conquer everyone around them. But here’s the thing, God wasn’t just condemning the ones who were following the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans, He was condemning the ones who were allowing it to go on among their church.

So, what does Christ tell them to do? In verse 16 He says, “Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” He tells them that they must repent. The word repent literally means to turn around, go the other direction, do a 180. He is telling them to turn away from those beliefs, and from allowing those beliefs in their church, and turn back to Him. If they don’t do this, He says that He will fight against them with the sword of His mouth. As we saw at the beginning of this passage, that sword is the word of God, and it cuts to the joints and marrow and exposes their innermost thoughts and desires. So, if they don’t repent, God will strike them down with His word.

He ends in verse 17, as with all the others, by telling them, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” But, He goes further with this one. He goes on to say, “To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone, will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” He’s not just telling them what he will do if they don’t repent, He also tells them what He will do if they do repent. He will give them some of the manna that is hidden in heaven. So, He won’t just feed them, He’ll give them the best. Then He goes on to tell thPergamum-inscription-on-white-stone-tb010901781-bibleplacesem about these white stones.  We’re not sure what the white stones were for, but the people of Pergamum knew what Christ was talking about. Throughout the ruins of ancient Pergamum there are white stones with names inscribed on them, so they understood whatever significance they had. But, look at what He says. He tells them that he will engrave a new name on the stone that’s just between you and God. It demonstrated the intimate relationship that Christ wants to have with us.

I love how, in the end of this passage, after Christ has warned the church about following these false doctrines, after He has told them what He will do if they don’t obey, He tells them that, if they repent, he will forgive them and restore that intimate relationship that He wants to have with us. Isn’t it awesome to have a God that is so forgiving? But, never forget that He loves us so much that He will punish us if we are doing wrong, so let’s live to please the one we love…the one who first loved us.

More Churches – Smyrna

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

More Churches – Smyrna

I realize I said we were only going to look at two of these churches, but there is so much here, I believe we need to look at more of them.

In Revelation 2:8-11, Jesus is talking to the Church at Smyrna. We know that it is Christ who is talking, because He starts out in verse 8 by saying, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:” Notice that all of these warnings are written to the angel of the church. The word angel means messenger, envoy, one who is sent, a messenger from God. So, what He is saying is that He is giving this letter to the messenger for that church at Smyrna. Then He goes on with His credentials. He says, “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:” So, who is writing this? The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last…I have had some say that this must be talking about Jehovah, God the Father, because He is the first and the last, but you must finish the verse. He goes on to say, “who was dead, and has come to life.” That can only be talking about Jesus! The fact that He begins by saying that He is the first and the last only confirms the Trinity, they are one and the same.

The next thing He says, in verse 9 is, “I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich!” Think back to the church at Laodicea in chapter 3, verse 17 where He told them, “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Do you see the contrast? The church at Laodicea thought they were rich, monetarily, but they were spiritually destitute. On the other hand, the church at Smyrna is poor monetarily, but He says they are truly rich spiritually. We get so caught up in the things of this world that we often forget what we are here for. Don’t let anyone tell you that you will be wealthy if you are in God’s will, that is simply unscriptural. I’ve had people give me reasons why they think Christ was wealthy, but if He was wealthy, why did He not have a home? Jesus said Himself in Luke 9:58, “But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” Also, if Christ and His disciples were wealthy, then why did He have to perform a miracle, in order to pay their taxes? We see this in Matthew 17:27, “However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.” So, Christ and His disciples weren’t wealthy as this world sees wealth because that stuff didn’t matter to them.

Jesus goes on at the end of verse 9 saying, “I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.” You see, there are a lot of people and churches and pastors out there that don’t preach the truth. Christ said that He knows who they are and that they are really serving Satan. This is why it is so important to study the Bible literally and in context, and never try to put our own interpretation on it. These people who were opposing the church at Smyrna thought they were serving God, because of the way they had interpreted the scripture, but Christ said that they were serving Satan.

He starts out verse 10 by saying, “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” I love that He had to tell them that. So often we look at people who have suffered or even been martyred for Christ as somewhat superhuman. But, they are just like you and me. They are afraid of the unknown just like we are. So, Christ needed to tell them not to be afraid. He goes on in verse 10 to say, “The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days.” Okay, He tells us not to be afraid, but it’s going to be bad, and He even says that some of them will be thrown into prison, but then He limits it. He says that He will let Satan persecute them, but only for a little while as a test. I love that when Christ allows us to be tested, He gives us the answers to the test first. In fact, He even tells us the reward for passing the test up front. At the end of verse 10 He says, “But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” So, we will be persecuted, we may even face death, but if we remain faithful, He will give us a crown of life. In the Greek language, there are two words for crown. One of those words means a crown, like a king would wear, but the other word, stephanos, which is the one used here, means a victor’s crown. Winners of athletic events and even the original Olympics would be presented with a crown, a stephanos. Christ is saying that if we endure, we will be given a trophy, a reward, for our perseverance, and that reward is life…eternal life. But, here’s the thing, we can all endure, we can all be the victor because we have the secret weapon…Jesus. Christ told us in John 16:33, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” You see, we truly have nothing to fear! Yes, we will face trials, and we will face sorrows, but we will never face them alone! We can take heart…because Christ has already overcome the world! It doesn’t get any better than that!

Two Bad Examples – The Second

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Two Bad Examples – The Second

Last time we looked at the first example from Revelation chapter 2. This time I would like to take a look at another, the church at Laodicea which is talked about in chapter 3, verses 14-22. He starts out in verse 14 by saying, “This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation.” Notice it says that the message is “from the one who is the Amen”. The word “Amen”, has several meanings, but they are all related. For instance, when your pastor is preaching, and someone says “Amen”, they are saying “Surely, truly, of a truth”. When you end your prayer by saying, “in Jesus name, amen”, you are saying, “so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled”. But, in this case, where it is referring to a person, it is a metaphor for faithful. So, what this is saying is, “This is the message from the one who is the faithful one.” And, we all know there is only one truly faithful one…Jesus.

Now, once He is finished identifying Himself, He get’s right into it. He doesn’t sugar coat anything, He doesn’t even make a compliment sandwich this time. He simply says in verse 15, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!” If you remember, when He spoke to the church at Ephesus, he started out by talking about all the good things they were doing, but not with this one. From the looks of it, they weren’t doing anything right. Notice what He says here. The problem He had with them is that they were not hot nor cold. So, in our human thinking, not being cold should be a good thing, right? But what does verse 16 say? “But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” Okay, so because they were lukewarm, or tepid, it says He wants to spit them out of His mouth. Some translations say spew them out, but the Greek word used here is emeo, which means “to vomit, vomit forth, throw up”. So, what God is telling the church at Laodicea is, “you make me want to puke!”

He goes on to say in verse 17, “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” I think we all know this person. They are wealthy, so they are very condescending and think that people without a lot of money are not as wise as them. They think that because they have all this money and have traveled the world, that they have a handle on life. But, the truth is, that these people are often lonely. Don’t get me wrong, they probably have a lot of “friends”, but no one who is loyal and trustworthy. They are empty inside. These people are miserable, they are wretched, they are poor, blind and naked, and they don’t even realize it.

Jesus tells us in verse 18 how to remedy those problems, He says, “So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.” You see, we could have all the money of Bill Gates, but we would still be empty spiritually. The Bible tells us in Mark 8:36-37, 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?” The answer is, nothing!  Watch this video by Francis Chan that describes our life here on earth as compared to eternity (insert video). Mark 8:38 goes on to say, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” So many people today want to believe that any religion is good when the truth is that NO religion is good. Jesus and His disciples fought against religion constantly, and the New Testament has nothing good to say about religion except in James 1:27 where James tells us what God sees as true religion. This type of person is ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and in the end, Christ will be ashamed of them. But, God always gives the answer to the problem. Verse 18 is telling us that we must come to Him for our gold, gold purified by the fire. This reminds me of when, in John 4, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, that if she drank from His well she would never thirst again. In this verse, Jesus wasn’t talking about a literal well or physical thirst, He was talking about spiritual thirst. And, when He is talking about gold in Revelation 3, He isn’t talking about the precious metal, He is talking about spiritual riches. You see, if we trust in God, we may never be rich, but He will take care of all our needs…He promises, Philippians 4:19. God loves us and wants to take care of us, the problem is that we want to be self-sufficient when we need to rest in Him. God not only tells us to seek His gold, He also tells us to go to him for clothing, He wants us to be clothed in righteousness, Job 29:14, “Everything I did was honest. Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore justice like a turban.” He also tells us that He will give us ointment for our eyes so we can see. In Ephesians 1:18 Paul said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”

But, He doesn’t end there. In verse 19 Jesus lets us know that He corrects us because He loves us. Then, verse 20 is that well-known verse, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” He pleads with us to fix the problem, so we can have the friendship that He wants. In verse 21 He lets us know that if we have victory over our sin, we will sit with Him on His throne. And, of course, He ends it by saying, verse 22, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

We need to have an ear to hear. We need to take heed of what He is saying to these churches and get victory over our sin. We have all become very complacent to sin and need to turn back to our first love.

Two bad Examples

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Two Bad Examples

In the book of the Revelation, in chapters 2 and 3, God talks about seven different churches. For each one He either gives praises or warnings or both. After each one of them, He says, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” Does this sound familiar? It should, because Christ used those same words when He was talking to the crowd about who John the Baptist was, and He used them again at the end of the Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed. In the case of the parable, Christ told the parable and ended it by saying, Matthew 13:9 “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” We learn in Mark’s account of this, that after He said that, He walked away, kind of a drop the mic moment. When His disciples came to Him later and asked Him the meaning of the parable, He explained it to them. You see? The disciples were the ones with an ear to hear. They wanted to understand what he was saying. They wanted a deeper relationship with Christ. All those other people just wanted to hear Him speak. They were either just curious or were following the crowd. Either way, they didn’t want to be changed, they just wanted to be entertained. Our churches today are full of people like that. These people are just filling some religious checklist, but have no desire to be transformed.

So, going back to the churches mentioned in the book of the Revelation, He gives these warnings, as well as what they were doing right, and wants us who have an ear, those of us who want a deeper relationship with Him, to seek out what He was saying. I’m not going to have time to focus on all seven churches, this is a blog after all, not a book. So, I would like to focus on just two of them. Then I encourage you to go back and study the other five if you have an ear to hear.

The first one I would like to take a look at is the first one mentioned in this passage, the church at Ephesus. You can find this one in Revelation 2:1-7. He starts out by praising this church for all the things they are doing right. In verses 2 and 3 He lists those things, 2I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.” So, they were hard working patient people, they didn’t put up with evil people, they study out everything they hear, and they Patiently suffered without quitting. This all sounds pretty good. If we were to look at the church at Ephesus from the outside, we would think they were a pretty good church group.

But, then in verse 4, He tells them that He has something against them. He says, “that you have left your first love.” This is interesting, because judging by those first things, it appears that they truly love God, but the problem He has with them is that they have left their first love. This wasn’t just their love for God, it was their love in general…their love for God, for each other, and for the world. They were complacent. Notice it doesn’t say that they lost their first love, it says they left it. It was a conscious decision. They had walked away from their first love. Charles Spurgeon said this, “A church has no reason for being a church when she has no love within her heart, or when that love grows cold. Lose love, lose all.” God is much more emphatic about love, He says in 1 John 4:7-8, “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” So, if you don’t love others, you don’t truly know God, because God IS Love!

He goes on in verse 5 to say, “Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” So, He starts out by saying, “Look how far you have fallen.” He wants them to see where they went wrong because until they see that, they will not be able to fix the problem. This is good advice for any church. We need to step back and see if and where we have fallen. I used to manage restaurants. I would regularly remind my employees to stop and look around as they were walking into the store, and look as if it were their first time there. This helps us see what we are missing. When you do something over and over for years, you stop noticing things that would have bugged you in the beginning.

Once we see where we are going wrong, He says to turn back to Him and the things we did in the beginning. Stop and think about what it was like when you first came to Christ. Sadly, this is a normal process with us humans. We grow calloused over time. It happens to us in everything, our marriage, our job, even that new boat or car we had to have. So, we need to regularly step back and think about what it was like in the beginning. We need to return to our first love.

Well, is it that important that we do this? He tells us at the end of verse 5, “or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” I’ve heard pastors say for years now that there is no mention of a country that even resembles America in the book of Revelation. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean we will be wiped out…removed from the lampstand…it means we need to repent. Repenting means that we need to do a one-hundred and eighty-degree turn. We need to do the opposite of what we are doing now. We need to stop chasing religion and focus on a relationship with God.

Okay, so that’s a lot to think about for now, so we’ll talk about the second church next time. Until then, let’s all determine to step back and see what our church looks like. Are we making disciples or just congregations? Are we fostering strong relationships with Christ, or are we playing church? Is glorifying God our main goal, or have we become a religious institution? Just a little food for thought.

Simeon & Anna

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Simeon & Anna

When Jesus was eight days old, His parents did what the law told them to do. They took him to the temple to be circumcised. After that, they went to give their purification sacrifice. While they were doing this, a prophet named Simeon came up to them, took their child from them, and began praising God. Put yourself in their shoes. Yes, they knew that He was the Messiah, but for a total stranger to come up to them and take their child and say, Luke 2:29-32 29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” It’s no wonder that verse 33 says, “Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him.” Of course, they knew it, but Simeon realized who He was without being told, even though He was just eight days old. But, Simeon didn’t stop there. He went on to bless Mary and Joseph, and then say, in verses 34 and 35, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Okay, so let’s look at what just happened. First, he picks up Jesus and starts praying that God can take him now because he has seen God’s salvation. And, he adds that this salvation is for ALL PEOPLE! This is huge! The Hebrew religion taught that salvation was only for the Jewish people…you had to be born into salvation. This was never God’s plan, He saved Rahab and others who were not Hebrews all through history. But that’s what religion does, it divides. So, Simeon, speaking through the Holy Spirit, said that salvation has come for all people. He then expounds on it when he says, “He is a light to reveal God to the nations”. Some translations say a light to the Gentiles, but the Greek word used here is ethnos, which is where we get our word ethnic. Christ is a light to reveal God to everyone. He then says that Jesus will be the glory of Israel.

So, this is where it says that His parents were amazed at what was being said. Then Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and it’s great, it’s all good stuff up until now. Then Simeon goes on to say that their child is destined to make many in Israel fall, and many others rise. You see, that was Jesus’ destiny, to make many fall and many rise, and we see this over and over throughout Jesus’ ministry. We see Peter rise from denying Christ, to leading the Church after His resurrection. And, we see Judas fall, even after spending day and night with Christ for three years. We also see most of the Pharisees fall because they are unwilling to let go of their religion and traditions, while we see Nicodemus tell Jesus that he knows He was sent from God. Actually, he doesn’t say he knows, he said we know. Nicodemus was saying that all of the Pharisees knew that Jesus was sent from God, but for most of them, their religion and their place of authority was too important.

Simeon goes on to say that even though Jesus was sent from God, many will oppose Him. He knew the hearts of mankind, and how we seek signs and wonders, but even when we see them, we still don’t believe. I talk a lot about taking scripture literally. Had the Hebrew people taken the Old Testament literally, and not tried to add their own interpretation, they would have seen Jesus as the Christ. All of the scriptures pointed to Him, but they wouldn’t believe.

Simeon says that because so many will oppose Him, the deepest thoughts of their hearts will be revealed. And, then he says directly to Mary, “a sword will pierce your very soul.” You see, Mary had to realize that, yes, giving birth to the Messiah was a huge honor, but it would also be a huge burden. Think about it. Thirty-three years later, Mary had to watch her son be brutally beaten and crucified for crimes he didn’t commit. But, even before that, He was homeless for three years, He was hated by all the religious leaders, He was even hated by her other children. The Holy Spirit used Simeon to remind her of this.

Next up, Anna. Let’s look at her backstory. First, it says she was the daughter of Phanouel. This is the only time that Phanouel is mentioned in the Bible. He isn’t a prominent figure in the Bible, or in history. His name is given here because of its meaning. Her father’s name literally meant, “the face of God”, so Anna was the daughter of the face of God. And, on top of that, she was from the tribe of Aser, which means “blessed”. So, she was the blessed daughter of the face of God…wow. It goes on to say that she was eighty-four years old. It doesn’t say how old she was when she got married, but we know that Jewish tradition was that a girl was usually twelve to fourteen when they got married. So, this tells us that she was probably nineteen to twenty-one when her husband died seven years later. Then it says she lived as a widow, to this point about forty-four years, and never left the temple, but worshiped God day and night. So, it’s safe to say that Anna was pretty dedicated to God.

When Anna heard Simeon, she began praising God, then it says, “She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” Luke 2:38. After living in the temple for forty years, she knew who these people were. She knew exactly who was diligently looking for the Messiah.

Here’s the thing. The Christmas season is a good time to remind ourselves that we need to be more like Simeon and Anna. First, we need to be like Simeon, we need to listen to the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 tells us, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” So, the Holy Spirit is teaching us EVERYTHING…we must listen. Second, we need to be like Anna. Once we hear from the Holy Spirit, we must tell

EVERYONE. The world needs God, but they don’t know it. Jesus is as dividing today as He was when He was on earth. So, some people will hate us for what we believe, but that’s okay, we’re not here to please people.

As we go through this last week of 2017 and into 2018, we need to ask ourselves, how can I be more like Simeon and Anna? What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to me? Remember that prayer is a dialog, not a monolog, so when you talk to God, listen to what He is trying to tell you. Then, when you hear from God, go tell everyone. James 1:22 tells us, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” So, when you hear a word from God, act on it! We have all missed so many blessings because we didn’t act on what the Holy Spirit is telling us. Stop missing out on blessings!

What is a Servant – Part 2

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

What is a Servant? – Part 2

So, to pick up where we left off last time, what can we bring to the Lord? The prophet Micah asked this question and then answered it, let’s look. Micah 6:6-8 What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? (plural) Should we offer him thousands of rams (what a king would offer Him) and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? (what every king put together would offer Him) Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? Here’s the answer. No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” This is service. Do what’s right, all the time. Bob Jones Sr. used to say, “Do right till the stars fall.” Love mercy! Not just God’s mercy on us, that’s easy, but we need to emulate that mercy on those around us, Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Walk humbly with our God. James 4:10 Says, 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”  And in James 4:6 it says, But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but favors the humble.’” Do you want to know what service is? If we’re always doing right, and showing God’s mercy to everyone around us, and walking humbly with God, WE WILL BE SERVING.

Is there a price to serving God? Of course, there is. Nothing that is worth anything comes free. If it does come free, it’s just a blind sacrifice. Sometimes the price is financial, in fact, it often is. Sometimes it’s your time, again this is often the case. To tell you the truth, it will probably be both and more. But if we love God half as much as He loves us, we will gladly sacrifice for Him. Let’s face it, He gave His life for us, it doesn’t get bigger than that. Let’s look at Matthew 6:31-34 it says, 31 So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Notice, it doesn’t say we’ll be rich. If you’re listening to a pastor or teacher that tells you that you will be wealthy if you are living for God, walk away. The Bible never says anything like that. If that were the case, then Christ Himself wasn’t living for God, because He was homeless. He said Himself, Luke 9:58 But Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.’” The Bible also tells us Acts 14:22 “where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” And again, 2 Corinthians 6:4 “In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.” And, Paul said about the illness he had that he had prayed three times for God to remove, 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” The verses go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

So, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you the Christian life is going to be easy, but I will tell you that the reward is great. Philippians 3:12-14 12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Believe me, when I say the prize is worth the trial.

We started with the prophet Malachi, so let’s end with him. Malachi 3:16-18 says, 16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. 17 “They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. 18 Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” We have been called to a life of service. Not serving ourselves, but serving God and serving others. If the Church in America was doing the job that God gave us, we would have no need of government welfare, we’d be taking care of each other and those around us. In the new year coming up, lets purpose in our hearts to stop bringing God blind sacrifices. Let’s focus on serving each other, our community, and the world. The Bible tells us to be a light to the world, so let’s focus on being a light this year. God bless you all in 2018.

What Is A Servant? – Part 1

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

What is a Servant? – Part 1

A few weeks ago, we talked about the Greek word, Doulos. We learned that this word means, bondservant. But, what exactly does it mean to be a servant? We’ve all seen maids and butlers on television shows, but what does it really mean. In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus told His disciples this, 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Wow, so if we want to be great in God’s eyes, we must serve each other. That isn’t exactly the message we are getting from the mainstream media, is it? But, it doesn’t stop with simple service, because our perfect example is Jesus, who gave His life for us.

First, we must ask ourselves who we are serving. In Matthew 4 we read about the temptation of Christ. This is the story of when Christ was fasting in the wilderness and Satan came to tempt Him. In verse 10 Jesus said, 10 “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” In this passage, Jesus was referencing Deuteronomy 6:13 which says, “You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.” Christ made it clear that we are to worship and serve, only the one true God. So many people today, including many that consider themselves to be Christ followers, serve Satan by serving themselves. We are a selfish generation looking only to please ourselves. We even see it in many popular pastors who preach that, if you are truly following Christ, you will have all you want. This message goes directly against what scripture tells us. In fact, 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Do you see what it says there? It doesn’t say we might suffer persecution, it says we will suffer persecution!

This leads us to the second thing. Where is our treasure? Jesus told us in Matthew 6:21, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Notice that He didn’t say that we’ll put our treasures where our heart is, He said that our heart will be where our treasures are. For example, if someone asked you about Aids in Africa, you probably wouldn’t know a lot about it. But, if you are giving your hard-earned money to Aids relief in Africa, you’ll probably be somewhat of an expert on the subject. You see? Where you put your treasure, that’s where your heart will be.

Take a minute to read Malachi 1:6-14. Malachi told the Israelites that they had defiled the Lord’s sacrifice by offering blind animals. Now, obviously we don’t offer animal sacrifices today, so how do we as 21st century Christians offer blind sacrifices and therefore defile the Lord’s sacrifice? For one thing, the Israelites didn’t like the expense of serving God. They were supposed to offer the most expensive sheep they had, but they were offering their junk, sheep that were worthless. They were giving God a worthless sacrifice. God expects our best, and He deserves nothing less. Stop and ask yourself, am I giving God my leftovers? Am I giving God my Junk? I know that I am often guilty of this.

Now, when we think of service, we often think of financial giving and that is definitely part of it, but there’s much more to service. The Old Testament is full of instructions to give at least a tithe, which literally means a tenth of your income. The New Testament goes even further when it tells us that the Church gave everything. If there was a need, they gave it, no matter what it cost them. In fact, they would even sell personal property and give that money when there was a need.

But, service doesn’t stop with money. Christians in America believe that as long as I give God an hour or two a week that we’re good. That is exactly why I have a problem with the concept of Sunday being “The Lord’s Day”. The Bible never declares Sunday to be the Lord’s day, a fourth-century pope did that after taking Acts 20:7 out of context. When that verse says, “on the first day of the week, we gathered”, it was not a declaration that Sunday was the Lord’s day, it was leading into a story, and talking about that particular service. If you go back eighteen chapters, you’ll see where it says, Acts 2:46 “They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.” Did you get that? They met daily. Psalm 118:24 tells us that every day is the Lord’s day. This one belief has caused many Americans to offer God blind sacrifices. We think, “well, as long as I give God His day then I’m good and the rest of the week is mine.” And, of course, giving Him, His day means going to a church service for an hour. This belief is absolutely untrue. Every day is His. Every breath we take is His. Every beat of our heart is His. If we were to only give God a tithe of our time that would be almost 17 hours a week. Compare that to the TV. Now, I know that some of you are saying, “I don’t watch much TV” and that may be true, but according to the A.C. Nielsen Co., “the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day.” Do the math, that’s 28 hours per week or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year. In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube. Here’s a crazy thought, what if we gave God the 28 hours a week we give to the media, that’d be a start anyway. Oh, and by the way, that’s just TV. It doesn’t take into account the time we spend on the internet, social media or our smartphones.

There’s more to say on this subject, so we’ll pick up from here next time.

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