Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Letter For Leaders: Ephesus

We are looking at the church in Ephesus, as it receives a letter from the Holy Spirit, commending it for certain things and warning it about other things.

Just what you'd expect the Spirit to do, right? This is the pattern of God's love language: Here are the ways you are offending Me, for it violates our covenant or a specific injunction I already made clear to you; you must do these certain behaviors, mainly repentance and its fruits, to show Me you are willing to turn away from the offense; if you choose to insist and persist in sin, these consequences will arrive at your door.  I exercise My love first, calling your heart to turn from what is a barrier between you and me. I then exercise My judgement if you fall on your knees to your idol, and not on your knees to Me.

So, as we saw earlier, the Spirit commends this church for:

"I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted."

I asked in an earlier blog what God considers "good works." If we follow Jesus, then let's follow Jesus! What does He say about His good works?

He heals the one man who had been an invalid for a long time--thirty-eight years.  He could not get down the Pool of Siloam in time to be healed; he was there along with many other people who were unable to move as well: "the blind, the lame, the paralyzed."  Wow.  What a cruel situation:  The very people who want to be healed had been left there by whoever brought them to the pool's edge.  But the blind couldn't see the water stirring; the lame couldn't move fast enough and the paralyzed couldn't move at all.  Where were the people that brought them?  Did they "park" them at the pool's edge, and hope that someone would show up in time?  Or would they run back to help?  At least, they had some hope that the person who brought them would help them.  

But this man had no one to help him; so, day after day, his hope was high in the morning: Maybe today is the day!  By the day's end, it set with the sun:  Another day.  Oh well.

But Jesus brought hope to this one man.  That is Jesus' way:  to zero in on those who are hopeless, friendless, fatherless.  Jesus helped him; He was there in time.  Not for the stirring of the water but for the moment when Heaven saw this man's loneliness and touched him with a power greater than all the pools of Siloam could muster. 

Of course, the authorities were furious, for their version of the Sabbath had been violated.  What did Jesus say?  "In his defense Jesus said to them, 'My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.'”  (John 5:17) 

He continues:  "Jesus gave them this answer: 'Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.'" (John 5:19-20)

Jesus says in John 6:38-40: "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Jesus says in John 12:49-50: "For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Do you see the operating definition of "good works"? How do we, in a leadership role, persevere as we serve the Lord?  How do we discern false teaching and those who propagate such teachings?  How do we labor and not grow weary? 

Do only what the Holy Spirit directs you to do.  

Did Jesus run around and heal everyone at the Pool of Siloam?

Did Jesus work day in and day out, never resting?  Never leaving the crowds behind?  Never taking time with just the disciples to regroup and refresh?  Feeling guilty when the need was overwhelming but He took time away with His Father?

Why do we serve Him, but try to recast Christian service as going 24/7, not taking breaks and always pursuing the next act of service without rest or respite? 

Why do we burn out, and yet Jesus did not?

He only did what His Father directed Him to do.  

Why do we burn out, and yet Jesus' disciples and Paul did not?

They only did what the Holy Spirit directed them to do.  

In Ephesus, their sin was one of forgetting "their first love." 

Love that is tired, forgets.

Love that is burned out, forgets.

Love that is resentful, forgets.

Love that is always busy, forgets.

We can return to our Jesus, our hearts aglow with first love (even if it's been ages since we received Him) with a commitment to follow His direction and His alone.

Not man's traditions.

Not our own guilt.

Not our own definition of service.

As leaders and followers of Jesus, don't take your eyes (ever!) off the Master.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Seven Churches in Revelation: Guidance for Leaders

We usually look to the seven churches in Revelation as a way to evaluate our church.  Which one do we most resemble?  Or we see the churches as representing a period in church history, with Laodicea being equal to where the church is now.

I would like to apply the churches to our pastors, to our leaders in the church and to ourselves.  Why?  We are the church.  It is not a building, nor a program, nor a denomination.  We are the Body of Christ, and unless a body moves, grows and responds to its environment, it is dead.

In Revelation 1:1, we find the letter is written to "his servants"--us.  We are all servants of Christ to be sure, but if our calling is more specific and we serve those around us and people look to us for that help and guidance, then these letters can prove an antidote to false teaching and false belief. 

Jesus, in His majesty, instructs John to write a letter to these seven churches, specifically to the "angel" or messenger of that particular church.  A pastor is in effect, a messenger.  He brings the Word of God that he has received as he ponders what the Holy Spirit would have him bring. 

The strength of any church really emanates from its leadership--the people who lead by example the very Word of God.  We all are serving the Lord, but as James 3:1 says, "Not many [of you] should become teachers [serving in an official teaching capacity], my brothers and sisters, for you know that we [who are teachers] will be judged by a higher standard [because we have assumed greater accountability and more condemnation if we teach incorrectly]." (AMP Bible)

Exactly.  Churches are a top-down affair; Jesus as our Head, and those who are called serve to bring the Word forth, by preaching, teaching and living it. 

Yes, church leaders say that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but then do they truly take from Him how to lead His sheep?  Or do they tailor the message to make the sheep happy?  The primary concern of godly leadership is not to ponder, "Are the sheep happy?"  It is, "Are the sheep growing in the knowledge of the Shepherd and will be well equipped to carry His message wherever they go?"

It must begin with the leaders of any church:  Are these leaders themselves growing in the knowledge of the Shepherd?  Are they equipped to carry His message wherever they go? 

So, let us begin this journey into being a messenger/leader/pastor of His truth, and how we can learn from these seven churches in Revelation on what godly leadership looks like.

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (Rev. 2:1-7 KJV)

God walks amongst His people, in His churches.  Each of these churches in Revelation have strengths and weaknesses, and God watches carefully what each church that honors Him is doing.  

Yet, Paul indicates that anyone who preaches "another gospel" is accursed, and says this twice. (Gal. 1:8-9)  This raises an interesting question:  Does God walk among those churches that have erred doctrinally, and who have prioritized human wisdom over the Holy Spirit's?  Are those churches who pursue an agenda that relies more on human effort than on guidance provided by the Holy Spirit still under His care?     

We have all walked into churches and sensed God's presence; we have all equally walked into churches and sense a kind of energy but not a divine one.  Everything looks like church, but the people lack something as they congregate.  

Has God removed His presence?  He sees the evil in us, in the world, and sent His Son to die for that very evil and to redeem us from the curse of sin.  Evil doesn't drive God away; otherwise He have nothing to do with this planet.  He is very well aware of what goes on in churches that claim His name, but does He give His approval?  That is another thing entirely.  

Does He leave once a particular church no longer honors His Word and His Son?  He certainly dwells in those individual sheep who cling to His truth in that church, and in those leaders who stand unflinchingly upon the Word.  But what if the overall leadership has moved away from His truth?  What if the church is increasingly sustained only by the energy of its leaders who "allow" the Holy Spirit's guidance as an add-on to what they have already planned?    

Perhaps the leaders think that every thought they have regarding their church is from God.  If the thought is not obviously antithetical to the Word, they jump right in.  But just because it's a good idea doesn't make it from God.  

Regardless of why, many churches today are lead by well-meaning leaders who are swayed by the world's values, and have been ignoring the Word when "inconvenient." 

God chastens those He loves and that leadership will feel the rod. (Heb. 12:6-11)  Why?  Who is the leadership really following?  It's an essential question, especially in today's church, where seminars touting business-like approaches to church growth, pastors claiming supposedly new revelations, and organizations providing pre-packaged food for the flock are tempting frustrated leaders to get off their knees and head to the Internet.    

Meanwhile, back in Ephesus, we hear how pleased the Father is, for the leaders have done good deeds, have been hard at work and have persevered. "Wicked people" are not tolerated, and those who bring false doctrine are evaluated and then are labelled as such.  Again, their perseverance in times of trouble, standing in the fire for His name and not allowing weariness to take over are commended by God.  

The sheep have consequently benefited from their leaders, and the church receives Heaven's praise.

So, looking a little deeper, let's ask a few questions: 
  • What deeds are considered good by God? 
  • What kind of "hard work" is honored by Him?
  • How does a leader persevere in trials and challenges?
  • How does a leader discern false teachers and their claims? 
  • How does a leader not become weary and keep pressing on when faced with hardships? 
Jesus taught an key concept here about good deeds: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 6:1) [emphasis mine] 

Good deeds are not at issue here; it's the motivation behind the good deed. Otherwise, Jesus' words of "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16) seem contradictory.  My emphasis in Matthew 6:1 is what matters the most to the Father:  Are you doing good deeds to glorify you or Him?  Good deeds are well, good:  you are not openly rebelling against the Word and doing something sinful.  But your heart is not aligned with the servant-heart of Christ.  

Is that why the Spirit in Ephesus is reminding them of their "first love" and "first works"?  (Rev. 2:4-5) The Spirit is calling this loss from the church's "first love" a fall that requires repentance, and a return to what the Spirit celebrated about this church in the first place.  The Spirit calls this church to repentance twice.  This is a serious error on the church's part, on the leaders' part, and will cause the church to be removed from its sphere of influence if the leaders and people do not repent.  

The Spirit is warning them that time is short; with all the events soon to unfold, the church leaders must realign with the Lord, giving Him the glory as they work in His name.  The times to come will not allow church leaders to serve God without a full commitment to Him and to Him alone. 

So, we have the answer to the first question:  Deeds considered good by God are done by those leaders who glorify Him and show by example this attitude to their congregation.  These leaders will repent quickly when they are shown that they have erred by stealing God's glory--any of it--for themselves.    

This is gonna be fun!  Stick with me and I will post more often on this subject.  I am not done with Ephesus yet, and we have six more churches/leadership qualities to go!  Boo-yah!


Friday, July 5, 2019

Yesterday: How I Spent My 4th

I will take a slight detour today from looking at the state of the church.  We just passed July 4th.  My husband was so impressed by President Trump's speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, that I sat down and watched it this morning.  It was very good, and reminded us of how people make the difference in history.  No matter where we serve, if we serve God by serving one another, history marches to a better beat.

I spent my 4th with a dear friend over lunch, and then I went and saw the movie, Yesterday.  It was brilliant and reminded how much The Beatles are part of who I am.

I was a little kid when my older brother ran in a neighbor's house where I was playing and said, "You've got to hear this!" to the neighbor's son.  There were four guys on the album cover, and I could read the title: Meet the Beatles.  The year was 1964.  I was only four years old, but I remember my brother's exuberance.  He was in a state of excitement I remember to this day.  I didn't understand why, but over the course of ten years, I would hear every Beatles' album, playing on my brother's stereo. 

In 1967, another explosion of excitement:  Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out.  I was seven.  My mom read the lyrics on the back cover and was very impressed by them.  My brother played that album over and over.  I wondered who Mr. Kite was, what getting "high with a little help from my friends" meant but loved the music all the same.  The orchestra arrangements, the carnival sounds, and the eerie sound effects were compelling and fueled my imagination.

When Yesterday was released, I told my daughter I was going to see it.  She said, "Of course you will, Mom."

It is brilliant, as I said, and a lovely reminder of just how innovative The Beatles were.  In trying to explain to my daughter how they alter popular music forever, she listened patiently, but today's music echoes those innovations, and seems so normal that it is hard to imagine a time when music wasn't  like that.  It struck me as I talked to her: you'd had to be there.

The movie explores the idea that how would the world look now had the Beatles not been around.  This young man wakes up in a alternative universe where certain cultural icons we all know, are not part of Western culture--coke and the Beatles, to name a few.  He then tries to remember all their songs and takes credit initially for writing them.

I won't say anymore, but the defining moment for me was when he was sticking sticky notes to his wall of all their song titles.  The bounty of songs those boys managed to produce was breathtaking.

I have grown weary of my country over the last few years.  I have grown deeply disturbed over the state of the church in America.  But for a few hours yesterday, I could relive and relish a time when popular culture made me excited, and music was powerful, meaningful and impacted the culture for good.

Yes, I know:  the 60's were not perfect, not every song and not everything the Beatles was sublime.

But the exuberance of the music and the joy it brought millions--my brother and I included--was evident in Yesterday.  An odd way to celebrate the country's birthday, but it was a lovely walk down memory lane.  My brother died earlier this year, after a long battle with drugs, alcohol and mental illness.  I was saddened remembering his life, but I was grateful:  his love of the Beatles drove me to love music as well.  His legacy shone out of that movie.

Perhaps this is what growing old is:  remembering the beauty in the ashes, and celebrating those moments when the world was less wearisome.

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