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!

Two Bad Examples – The Second

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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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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.

Fruit Inspector

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Fruit Inspector

The New Testament often refers to Jesus as a vine, us as His branches, and what we do for Him as our fruit. But, one passage, in particular, is often misinterpreted, which is a good example of why we shouldn’t try to interpret the word of God at all. The passage is Matthew 7:16, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” I have heard so many pastors say that we shouldn’t judge others, we should just be “fruit Inspectors”. That, if they are a true believer, their fruit will show. While it is a true statement that our fruit will show if we are a true believer, that is not what this passage is talking about, and we aren’t here to judge anyone else’s salvation.

If we take this passage in context, we see that, in this passage, Christ is giving a lot of instructions. In fact, the first six verses of this passage are telling us not to judge others, Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” In verses 7 – 11 Christ is teaching us about effective prayer, telling us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking…be persistent in your prayers. Verse 12 is what we call “The Golden Rule”, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Verses 13 – 14 are talking about the narrow gate that leads to everlasting life and the broad gate that leads to destruction.

Then we come to verses 15 – 20 where Christ is telling them, verse 15, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” Then he goes on in verse 16, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” You see, he isn’t saying that we’ll know if they are Christians or not by their fruit, he says we can tell false prophets by their fruit. There’s a big difference. Now, there are several verses that tell us how the world will know we are Christians, John 13:35 says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” I believe this is the message we need to hear. There is so much fighting and feuding among people that claim the name of Christ, but the Bible tells us that the fighting and feuding proves that they are not of God.

Most of the book of 1 John is dedicated to love. He starts talking about it in 1 John 2:7 where he says, “Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before.” Next, he goes on to tell us not to love the world and then tells us how to identify an antichrist. Then he goes right back to love. He talks about living as a child of God, in chapter 3, verse 1 he says, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” In chapter 3, verse 11 he starts talking about loving each other again, “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” In chapter 4 he takes a minute to tell us how to discern a false prophet, then he goes right back to loving one another. In verses 7 – 8 of chapter 4 he says, Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” The Greek word used for love in verse 7 is agapao, which means “to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly”. So, he is saying that we need to dearly love each other, is that what your church looks like? Does your local body love each other dearly? I hope so, but if not, we need to pull together to help them get back to their first love, Christ.

But, did you catch what is said in verse 8? Anyone who does not love does not know God! And, why is that? Because God Is Love! We could add that to the names of God, God Is Love. Friends, as I said earlier, we are not here to judge people. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs the parable of the Great Feast. When the master told his servants to go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, he didn’t say to clean them up first, he said to beg them to come! It’s His job to judge their hearts. We must discern false teachers, but our job as Christ followers is to love each other and glorify our Father.

So, what is our fruit as believers? Galatians 5:22 – 23, 22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” What was the first fruit that Paul lists here? Love!

You see, the point all of this is getting at is that the only one we need to judge is ourselves. In fact, going back to Matthew 7 where Christ is saying not to judge others, He says in verse 2, “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” Let’s start inspecting our own fruit. Let’s look at our own lives and ask ourselves; is there love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life? If I’m being honest with you, and with myself, I fall short in many of these areas. If we all inspect our own fruit and start changing our own lives, then the world will see our lives and glorify our Father in Heaven. Earnest Humphries, the pastor I grew up under, used to say, “Your life may be the only Bible that some people ever open.” So, inspect your fruit, and let your light shine!

New Year’s Resolution

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New Year’s Resolution

I have heard many pastors talk about New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve heard some say they are a great thing and some say they are a bad thing. We hear it all the time whether it’s from pastors, or friends at work, or comedians, they are always talking about making resolutions on the first, that we will break on the second. I know, I’ve said it myself.

But, let’s think about just what exactly a New Year’s Resolution is. It’s nothing more than a goal for the upcoming year, and without goals, we will never get anything accomplished. But, we’re not here to talk about what I think, or what popular culture thinks, so let’s look at what the Bible says about goals.

In Philippians chapter 3, Paul starts out, in verses 1 – 5, by talking about what he was before Christ. You see, before Christ Paul was the most religious person around. He was not only a Pharisee, but he describes himself as a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was circumcised when he was eight days old, he was a pure-blooded Israelite, which was very important in his religious circles. He even says that he demanded the strictest obedience to the law, not just of himself, but of everyone else. He was even, so sold out for his religion, that he persecuted and even killed the Christ followers.

So, before Christ, Paul had some very intense goals in his life. All of his goals were about keeping with the teachings of his religion. I know that some are thinking right now, “Aha, then goals are bad.” But, Paul goes on from here to talk about his goals in life, after Christ.

In verses 7 – 11, Paul starts talking about his new goals, his New Life Resolutions, if you will. He says in verse 7, “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.” Once he realized that all his old goals were worthless, he took a step back and set new goals. This is something we all need to learn from. Maybe you have goals for this next year, or maybe even goals for the rest of your life. Step back for a minute and determine whether these goals match up with God’s purpose, or if they are worthless. Because, if our goals don’t align with God’s purpose for our lives, then those goals are worthless. In fact, Paul says in the beginning of verse 8, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

So, what new goals did Paul set? He sums up his first goal at the end of verse 8 when he says, “For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” So, his first goal was to throw out all his old goals and count them as garbage. The Greek word translated here as garbage, and in other translations as dung, is the word skubalon, which means, “any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs; of things worthless and detestable.” That’s how he looked at his old goals, so when we find goals in our lives that don’t align with God’s purpose for us, that’s how we need to see them, as skubalon. From the end of verse 8 and into verse 9 he says, “so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.” This should be our end game, our ultimate goal, to gain Christ and become one with Him! The Bible calls us the bride of Christ, and it also says that when two people get married they become one flesh, so that must be our goal, to become one with Christ. Now, I feel I need to say again that salvation is not about works, it’s about faith, but faith without works is dead. So, you will never be good enough to get to heaven, but if there is nothing to back up your faith it is worthless. James 2:19 even tells us, “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.” And, Paul ends verse 9 by saying, “For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” And, we know from Hebrews 11:6 that it is impossible to please God without faith.

Paul goes on with his goals in verse 10 when he says, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death.” He starts out by saying that he wants to know Christ. The Greek word translated as “know” is ginosko, which means, “to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of” and it is used as an idiom for intimacy. So, Paul was saying that he wanted to become intimate with Christ. There’s a song that I love called Your Love is Extravagant, and its lyrics say:

Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Your love is extravagant

You see, that’s how we need to know Christ. We need an intimate knowledge of Him. Paul continues in verse 10 to say that he wants to experience the mighty power that raised Christ from the dead, but he doesn’t end with the good stuff. Paul ends by saying that he wants to suffer with Christ and share in His death. That’s powerful! When was the last time that any of us prayed to suffer with Christ, or share in His death?

So, why does Paul have these goals? He tells us in verse 11, “so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” Paul wasn’t suicidal, he wasn’t looking to die, he just saw his ultimate goal as being with Christ in Heaven. As he said just a couple of chapters earlier, in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” You see, to the true Christ follower, death is not scary, because we know that it isn’t the end, it is the beginning of a new life.

So, as we set our New Year Resolutions, let’s keep this passage in mind. Let’s ask ourselves if these resolutions line up with Christ’s purpose for our lives. And, let’s start the new year right.

What is a Servant – Part 2

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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.

Making Hard Times Count

 

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

 

Making Hard Times Count

Has anyone else gone through a hard time in their life? I see those hands, I’m sure we all have. If your hand isn’t up, you’re either under 8 years old, or you’re not being truthful with yourself. I know I’ve had my share of them; financial, physical, emotional, you name it. When I was 8 years old my grandmother committed suicide, when I was in my 30’s my brother committed suicide, my dad died at 64 of brain cancer, when my kids were in high school we lost everything…and I mean everything, and just last May, I lost my only remaining brother to a car accident. But, I know that everyone reading this has been through similar hard times. Check out this video Francis Chan “Balance Beam”.

The question isn’t, “Have we been through hard times?” The real question is what do we do about it and how do we handle it? The first thing we must remember is this, the hard times don’t have to last. Let me give an example; You lose your job. Being without a job is hard, but it doesn’t have to last. If you put all your energy into job hunting, I’m talking about making job hunting your job, you will find a new job, quickly. But if you go home saying woe is me, my life is over, and just sit on your butt for weeks on end, that hard time will last and get worse as bills start to pile up.

Here’s the kicker. Everybody…I mean everybody, whether they are a Christ follower or not, goes through hard times. So, what this means is, if you are not going through hard times now, brace for it, they are coming. The problem is, so many churches out there are teaching that, if you follow Christ, your life will be a bed of roses. Oh yeah? Check out the life of Christ Himself, or His disciples. None of them had easy lives! In fact, Christ told us that we will have hard times, but as Christ followers, we can overcome them. 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.” I love that last line, “take heart, because I have overcome the world”. You see, there’s nothing to worry about if we trust in Him. 1 Peter 5:7 “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” He not only cares about you, He sings over you with joy, Zephaniah 3:17 17 “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

I know what you are thinking right now. I didn’t title this, “How to Cope with Hard Times”, I titled it “Making Hard Times Count.” So, how can we make them count? I’m glad you asked.

Matthew 11:28-30 28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” For us city folk, a yoke isn’t talking about the yellow an eggs. A yoke is that big wooden thing they put on the necks of oxen or workhorses. A yoke is a burden, they are awkward and heavy and rub you the wrong way. So, what Christ is saying here is, if you are tired and carrying a heavy burden, give it to Him. But, notice He doesn’t say that you won’t have a burden, He just says that His burden is light. Even though we will still have a burden, He will teach us and we will find rest in Him.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” The second point is, when those hard times come, just remember, God’s Got This! He has a plan for your life, and it’s to give you a future and a hope, so we need to look at these hard times as temporary and learn from them. Ask yourself, how does this hard time fit into God’s plan for my life? What is He trying to teach me? And, then…Grow.

Jeremiah 17: 7-8 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” The Bible often compares us to trees planted by a river, and that’s such a great analogy. When we trust in the Lord, we are like a tree planted by a river. What does it mean to trust in the Lord: Psalm 1:1-3 tells us, Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” So, to trust in the Lord, we need to first, think about who we are hanging around with. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends with non-Christians, Christ Himself was, but who do we look to for advice, who influences us? Secondly, we must delight in God’s word and meditate on it all the time. We all give our time and energy to what, or who, we are passionate about. As Christ followers, we get passionate about God and His word.

Psalms 9:9-10 The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. 10 Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” When those hard times come, run to Christ. He alone is our shelter and our refuge, and He does not abandon those who seek Him. Matthew 7:7-8 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Notice it says, “Keep on seeking, and you will find.” We must seek Him with all our heart. Again, we need to be passionate about Him.

Isaiah 41:10 says, Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my  victorious right hand.” That’s it…don’t be afraid, don’t be discouraged. I love that the Bible tells us not to be afraid 365 times, one for every day of the year. I said it before, I’ll say it again, God’s Got This!

So, how can we make hard times count?

  1. Know that God loves you and cares about you.
  2. Remember, God’s Got This!
  3. Trust in the Lord.
  4. Keep on seeking Him.
  5. Make Him your hope and confidence.
  6. Hide under His shelter.
  7. Delight in the Lord.
  8. Know that hard times are temporary.
  9. Let Christ teach you.
  10. Be like a tree planted by His water.
  11. Rest in Him.
  12. Know that God has a plan for your life and He already knows the end of the story.
  13. Know that, when you pray, He is listening.
  14. Be Passionate about Christ.
  15. Grow!

Names of God – Jesus

King
Photo by Michelle Pearson

Names of God – Jesus

I realize I said that El Shaddai would be the last Name of God that I was going to write about, but I would be remiss in leaving out this name. “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11.

I grew up singing a very simple, yet profound, chorus by Bill Gaither called There’s Something About That Name, it goes:

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

There’s just something about that name

Master, Savior, Jesus

Like the fragrance after the rain

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

Let all heaven and earth proclaim

Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away

But there’s something about that name.”

Jesus means “Jehovah the Savior”, and as we learned before, Jehovah means I Am, so the name Jesus actually means, “I Am the Savior”. One of the first things we must realize is that His name isn’t Jesus Christ…Christ isn’t His last name. Jesus is His name, and Christ, meaning Messiah, is his title. Technically, He should be called Jesus, the Christ. The name of Jesus is only used in the New Testament, and yet, it is used 1,477 times, while His title, Christ, is used another 537 times. I don’t want to bore you with numbers, I just want you to realize that His name and title are used over 2,000 times in 27 books, that’s an average of almost 75 times per book.

I urge all of you to read Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ. In this book Lee, a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, interviews experts from the fields of science, philosophy, and history about the evidence for Christ. I love this book because it’s full of facts that, first of all, prove that Jesus wasn’t some made up deity, but that He really existed, and secondly it shows Him as the Christ.

But, back to the name. When Mary conceived Him, the angel told Joseph, “And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21. Going back to that first passage I mentioned. Notice that it says that God gave Him a name that was above every name. Okay, I’m going to say this one more time. All religions do NOT lead to the same place. We are not all on different roads to the same God. God gave Jesus a name that was above every other name! His name is above Buddha, His name is above Mohamed, and it goes on to say, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Did you get that? Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord…EVERY…that includes Buddha and Mohamed, and every other false god there ever was will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that will glorify God the Father. Acts 4:12 tells us, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” There is no other name that will save you! Romans 10:9 tells us, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” And, then it goes on to say in verse 13, “for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Salvation only comes through Christ. The world wants us to be all-inclusive, but the truth remains that those other religions will not save your soul.

In today’s society, people keep saying that Christians aren’t tolerant of other religions, but the problem is that they have redefined tolerance. If I tolerate another religion, that means I agree to disagree and go on with my life, it does not mean that I give validity to their belief…that’s lunacy. If I say that all religions are right, then I have just nullified the death of Christ. In fact, Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” So, other religions aside, even if I try to get to heaven by keeping God’s law, I have nullified the death of Christ. Hebrews 10:29 puts it this way, “Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be one of those people. I don’t want to insult and disdain the Holy Spirit. You see, God loves us so much, that He gave His only Son to die on the cross for us. Jesus, the Lord of lords, the King of kings, died in our place, and to give validity to other religions is a great insult. You see, Buddha did not die for me, Mohamed did not die for me, in fact, Mary did not die for me! Jesus, the Christ…the Messiah was the only one worthy to die for me. He was God in the flesh, He came to earth and lived a sinless life, then He died on the cross. He was the perfect sacrifice. But wait, it doesn’t end there. Three days later, He overcame death and the grave. He rose from the dead and was seen by hundreds of people. This is what I’m trying to say, there is only one name given under heaven, by which we MUST be saved…Jesus!

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name.

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