Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Letter for Leaders: Thyatira (Rev. 2)

Let's keep moving through the letters to each of the churches with their application to church leaders in view.  We are in Revelation, chapter 2, verses 18-29.

“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.  20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.  24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’  26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Once again, it is Christ Who is addressing His bride.  His eyes are as fire: a strong light, filled with heat to warm or heat to burn.  Fire provides comfort or terror; context is everything.  Jesus stands and addresses His church not as the humble carpenter from Galilee, but the Almighty God, Whose radiance is either reassuring or terrifying, depending on which side of the cross you stand.  

His feet are of burnished bronze--this relates to metal that has been heated to a high temperature.  Christ stood in the furnace with the three young men in the book of Daniel who refused to bow down to a pagan's king's image:  

"And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, 'Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?'  They answered and said unto the king, "True, O king."  25 He answered and said, 'Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.'  26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, 'Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire.' (Daniel 3:23-26)

Christ stood in the midst of the fire then and here in Revelation, He stands not as an unknown figure seen by a pagan king and comforting three young men, but as the overcoming Son of God.  

If you know the Son of God, the Son of the Most High, then the fire and white-hot bronze is not terrifying.

He commends the church:  "I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first." (verse 19)

Wow!  They are aligned beautifully with the values of their King, and are doing more than what they did when they first started!  I hear cheers in heaven here.  What better way to show the love of Christ than to model it in a community where those values are not present and do even more as the needs of  the people become more and more apparent.

OK.  Score one for the home team.  But, and this is huge: the exhortation against them is very serious.  The Bride is being polluted.  It doesn't matter if her name is literally "Jezebel."  She is doing the very thing that Jezebel did in the Old Testament:  she is compromising the Word by Satanic practices.  Let's quickly review this woman:

"Jezebel was the daughter of the priest-king Ethbaal, ruler of the coastal Phoenician cities (now in Lebanon) of Tyre and Sidon (Arabic: Ṣaydā). When Jezebel married Ahab (ruled c. 874–c. 853 BCE), she persuaded him to introduce the worship of the Tyrian god Baal-Melkart, a nature god. A woman of fierce energy, she tried to destroy those who opposed her; most of the prophets of Yahweh were killed at her command. These cruel and despotic actions provoked the righteous wrath of Elijah; according to 1 Kings 17, he accurately prophesied the onset of a severe drought as divine retribution. Sometime later Elijah had the Baal priests slain, after they lost a contest with him to see which god would heed prayers to ignite a bull offering, Baal or Yahweh. When Jezebel heard of the slaughter, she angrily swore to have Elijah killed, forcing him to flee for his life (1 Kings 18:19–19:3)."

"A few years later Ahab perished in battle with the Syrians. Jezebel lived on for approximately another ten years. Elijah’s successor, Elisha the prophet, equally determined to end Baal worship, had a military commander named Jehu anointed to be king of Israel, an act that provoked civil war, for Jezebel’s son Jehoram (Joram) then ruled. Jehu killed Jehoram at the site of Naboth’s property and then went to Jezebel’s palace. Expecting him, she adorned herself for the occasion. Looking down from her window, she taunted him, and Jehu ordered her eunuchs to throw her out the window. Later, when he commanded that she be properly buried as a king’s daughter, it was discovered that dogs had eaten most of her body." (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jezebel-queen-of-Israel

Let's list the problems here:

1.  This historical Jezebel married a king of Israel!  That right there is violating the sanctity of the  God-ordained monarchy of Israel and God's chosen people.  
2.  Introduced a new god to be worshiped by the King and the people.  Again, the king is to honor God and lead the people as a role model of spiritual propriety.  
3.  God's spokesmen, the prophets, are killed at her command.  So, God's voice is largely silenced.  The king is accountable to God; if there are no prophets to come before him and remind him of that, he can delude himself of his right to rule, and go his own way. 
4.  Praise God for Elijah, but drought struck the land, displaying God's utter disgust at his king, for he is tolerating actions of his queen that are utterly against all Israel stands for and is in covenant with God to maintain.  If the king opts out of his obligations, God has every right tot withhold rain.
5.  Civil war comes to Israel; God's succession of kings is circumvented by the conniving Jezebel, who wanted this monstrosity of a monarchy to continue, and the practices that have dominated the land.
6.  Her sentence was to become dog food.  God will not allow His chosen to be endlessly violated, even if they are complicit in the compromise of the covenant and the Law.  

How does this relate to our current church and its leaders?  Jesus says:  "Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling." (verses 20-21)  

This Jezebel has taken on the role of prophet and her words are not of God.  She teaches false doctrine, and the church has been convinced that sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols are not problematic.  

WHERE ARE THE LEADERS?  HELLO?  Why are they going along with this, given that they serve the community so well?  Jesus has even called her to repentance, and she refuses.  Why aren't the leaders doing something about this?

The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 makes it clear that sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols were definitely not permitted as Gentiles entered the church.  The earliest meetings were held in synagogues, and Gentiles behaving this way would have alienated their Jewish brethren.  The Law did not save anyone; it is God's grace that saves, demonstrated by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and one's belief in it.  But, the law is a schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24) and it showed new Gentile believers how to behave as they followed Jesus.  

Did the leaders not want to offend those who still engaged in such practices?  Did this woman have some good teachings interlaced with ones that violated God's Word?  Did the leaders themselves lose sight of God's standards because, Hey, after all, we are in Gentile territory!  We gotta reach them!  We can't get too hung up on Gentile practices, or we'd have no one showing up!  The people get their meat from the pagan altars, but the gods don't exist; should we then make a big deal of that?  Sex stuff...well, we are working on that.  As long as its monogamous, let's not make too big a deal.  Otherwise, who'd come to church? 

Do we really honor God by diluting or recasting His Word, just to get people into the church, so they can hear the Word?  But if the Word they receive seems to be applied only when it's non-offensive, then the Word will be preached less and less, because it is God-centered.  The flesh, even Jesus-loving flesh, will want to compromise, and end up living a life that doesn't show victory over sin but a compromise with it.  

The power of God will not be demonstrated in the lives of believers, and many will begin to believe the Christian life and its victory over sin is a fiction.  

But, Jesus will reward those who hold fast to the truth.  Jesus wants us to be like Him, drawing us deeper into who He is, and conforming our newly born spirit more and more to His image.  

But how is compromising sin in His churches, ignoring God's Word and allowing those who preach effectively another Gospel (but you have to know the true one to see the counterfeit) going to help believers do that?  

Worse still, when we encourage the culturally correct, well-meaning, and diluted message-givers to lead our churches, other leaders will follow in their steps.  The sheep walk hand in hand with wolves.  

Such churches may gain approval from the world, but from God, His response is clearly stated in this letter.  

Friday, August 16, 2019

Letter for Leaders--Pergamum (Rev. 2)

We are moving forward through the letters to the churches in Revelation, looking at them as guidelines for any leader who wishes to lead his flock as a godly shepherd.  Leaders in the church are to model Jesus; He leads us to the Word and He is the Word.  So we have an excellent way to constantly check how we are leading. 

Let us check out the guidelines in Pergamum:

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.  Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it."

The "sharp, double-edged sword" as you know, is the Word of God: "and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17).  The Word/Jesus oversees the church.  His Word and Him being the Word is the only arbiter of how a leader should lead and conduct the affairs of the church. 

This church is being commended for remaining "true to my name."  This is immensely critical given where the church is located:  in a spiritual stronghold where Satan holds sway. Death has already visited the church and the leadership has stood firm, not renouncing the faith. This church is staying true to its calling:  to preach the Word.  

The only basis for leadership direction is the Word.  This requires two things.  We must really know the Word--the Scriptures in their entirety as the whole counsel of God.  We must also really know the Word--Jesus Christ.  Both are critical to remaining true to His name, and not compromising the message.

Bill Johnson of Bethel Church once commented that he could not have a gospel that did not promote healing.  That sounds spiritual, compassionate and reasonable.  But it is not Biblical.  That is key here:  the Word is our only foundation, and even if it makes us uncomfortable or culturally out of sync, we are to remain firm.

Why?  Look what the angel says further on: Some members of the church (or perhaps some leaders) are holding to beliefs that are contrary to the Word.  Food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality are what the Nicolaitans are promoting and this church does not seem to mind their presence and their teachings.  Their sister church in Ephesus is commended for repudiating these people. 

How do we, as leaders, face our "Nicolaitans"?

In Acts, chapter 15, the early church faces a controversy about circumcising Gentile believers.  What is evident here is how the apostles gather together and speak the Word in order to settle the dispute.  Peter does a Spirit-led job in summarizing how God worked among the Gentiles: 

"The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.  And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:6-11)

That last verse is the essence of the Gospel and Peter is standing on that.  James then quotes the Word directly:  

“‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’" (Acts 15:16-17)

Peter acknowledges that the Gentiles at some point would enter in God's Kingdom.  His first sermon earlier in Acts demonstrated this; he repeatedly used the Word to underscore his points.  Here he gives a salient summary.  James then steps up and quotes a passage to give the leaders the answer:  The Gentiles received the same Spirit from God as had the Jews.  Thus, salvation comes only from "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." The Law cannot and will not save. 

The Word provided the answer.  

Therefore, in James' judgment, derived from God's Word, the Gentiles should avoid:  "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20)

Isn't that a contradiction?  Aren't these leaders putting some additional "law" on the Gentiles?  Deuteronomy says,

"They stirred him [God] to jealousy with strange gods;
with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
and you forgot the God who gave you birth." (32:16-18) 

Paul further notes: 

"Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (1 Cor. 10:18-22)

Thus, the early church is opening its arms to the Gentiles based on the Word.  But they are also limiting the Gentiles because the idols and their altars are demonic.  Why would the leaders allow their new brothers and sisters in Christ to engage with demons?  Dark and light are not to cohabitate; allowing Gentiles to still interact with the meat, the altar and the idols would be contrary to God's Word about the true nature of idols.  

Was this inconvenient to the new Gentile believers, who saw nothing wrong with grabbing a hunk of meat after it had been sacrificed to some god?  Yes.

Was it judgmental to limit the sexual behavior of Gentiles in addition to all things idolatrous?  Yes.  

But the Word of God is uncompromising on such matters.  So should the leadership be, regardless of cultural norms.  

Interesting to note that the Spirit will fight the teachings of the Nicolaitans at Pergamum with the sword--the Word of God.  It is not a battle of opinions, majorities or cultural standards.  God's Word is the only foundation for starting, running and sustaining a church.  

The Spirit promises "hidden manna" to those who remain true.  

Jesus identified Himself with manna:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:25-35)

Boom.  Holding fast to the Word means holding fast to Jesus.  Victory means more Jesus--more Manna.  More life, more strength, more joy.

Talk about a church where the people are fed with Christ as the Word by being in the Word... Whoa! and Amen!

In so many churches today, with the focus on the Word being reduced to more of an opinion, or a quick encouragement, would anyone notice if the Spirit walked away? 


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Letter for Leaders: Smyrna (Rev. 2)

Welcome back! We are exploring how the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation can be used to understand Jesus-centered leadership in the modern church. 

The guidance that Ephesus gives us is do not, in our effort to grow and then sustain a church, fall out of touch with Jesus--He is our first and only love.  Anything that threatens that love--too busy of a schedule, doing lots of church-centered activities, spending every moment trying to rescue the world, less time for devotions and Bible study--will bring God deep grief; so much so He calls such a church to repentance.  That's a strong word; God does not want His love nor relationship to us to be replaced by church.

One last comment here.  God commends the church for their hatred of the "practices of the Nicolaitans," which He equally hates.  Yup: That's the word used: hate.  Look at Vine's definition:

(b) of a right feeling of aversion from what is evil; said of wrongdoing, Rom 7:15; iniquity, Hbr 1:9; "the garment (figurative) spotted by the flesh," Jud 1:23; "the works of the Nicolaitans," Rev 2:6 (and ver. 15, in some mss.; see the AV); 

What these people were doing was detestable and evil; hence, due to the gravity of sin, God minces no words. But do you notice that it is the practices that rouse His ire, not the people themselves. God wants people who do evil to repent: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23) 

Obviously, this church was well-grounded in the Word.  To see, understand and respond to the things that are detestable to God, we must know the Word--not our culture, not our traditions, and not our personal bias.  God's Word is the only standard.  Irrespective of what the world says, God does hate sin and wants those who practice it to turn away from it and turn to Him.  Church leaders that affirm that process are commended by God.

Let's go the next letter.

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death."  (Rev. 2:8-11) 

I go to a football game, but that does not mean I am a football player.

I go to university, but that does not make me a student.

I go to church, but that does not make me a Christian.  

Clearly, this church is under heavy fire by those claiming to be Jews but are emphatically not.  They slander this church and in doing so, are joining forces with Satan to demean its message about the saving grace of Jesus.  Satan always joins forces with those who denigrate the Gospel.  Are the afflictions a result of this slander?  Or is the pagan community already hostile and this slander just adds fuel to the fire?  

Persecution is coming and God is warning His leaders and people.  A "victor's crown" is promised; prison and torture will not diminish the power of God in His church in any way.  

Jesus had earlier promised:  “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:17-18)   The "rock" was Peter's declaration of who Jesus is, and His Lordship cannot and will not be removed nor diminished, despite all that Hell may throw against it.  

The Smyrna church, and us as well, are included in that promise.

Now, as then, leaders should expect persecution, even from those who use the same theological terminology.  Calling a church "Christian" or people calling themselves that simply does not make it so.  

However:  If someone uses the Word is used to evaluate a church and it falls short, that is legitimate.  If the church is of Jesus, its leaders should be "teachable," one of the qualities Paul cites that characterizes a pastor/leader.  (1 Timothy 3:2) 

If the leader responds by slandering those who are evaluating him with the Word, this moves him precariously close to the "synagogue of Satan" mentioned in this letter.  Satan will do everything in his power to hamstring the leadership in a church.  Expect it.

Leaders should expect temptations that will lead to "prison" if the leader succumbs.  Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

"Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.  Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife,temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap."

OK, leader/pastor:  Here we go: 

Satan will tempt you to compromise your walk any way he can, making your behavior questionable.

Satan will tempt you to commit adultery, whether with a person, in your head or on your computer.  The method matters not; imprisoning you in sin and regret is Satan's goal. 

Temperate?  No.  Be free in your use of alcohol.  You are not like other people; you have this under control.  But if you do behave badly, (whether in secret or not) you will reap the whirlwind.

Self-controlled?  Nah.  Tweet with a vengeance those who mock or call you out.  Being self-controlled is weakness; be assertive, aggressive and let people know you will not tolerate any accusations or trash-talk--even from your own people. 

Respectable?  Hey, don't worry if you are conforming to the culture.  The world will see you as hip, progressive, relatable.  In fact, at first glance, the world might not even know you are a pastor.  Good thing, huh? 

Hospitable?  Kinda hard to do that if you have thousands in your church.  Just delegate.  Besides, who has time to give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoners, if you have such a megachurch? Let others do that.  Your main concern is the church stage and how your music and message will fill your church.  

Teachable?  Gotta know the Word to do that.  Gotta teach the Word in its fullness to do that.  Gotta live the Word to model it to your sheep. But if you are limited in your knowledge or are trying so hard to be relevant, (is that another word for shallow?) then it is hard to see error in yourself or in your theology.  Satan loves shallow.

Drunkenness?  No, you don't get, well, drunk.  Whether your weaker sheep are stumbling over the leadership drinking, well, that's their problem.

Violent?  Not you!  Not at least in person.  But when you get on Twitter or Facebook, whoa...watch out.  Or, despite all of your sweetness and light in the pulpit, if anyone talks to your wife or children off the record, another portrait of you emerges entirely.

Quarrelsome?  Well, not if people stay off your bad side.  Everyone has a bad side--whether it is under the Lordship of Christ is another matter.  

Lover of money?  C'mon.  God wants to open the coffers of heaven and rain wealth down on you.  Cars, jets, houses, you name it!  If God is blessing you, who has the right to question that?  Jesus? Well, yeah,  He lived a simple and devoted life to serve us, but He wants you as a follower to look nothing like Him in lifestyle.  In fact, you look remarkably like the 1%.

Respectful kids, well-run home?  How can anyone do that in today's culture?  Satan has seen to that, for sure.

Celebrity pastors?  New-born renegades who get an immediate platform?  You can handle it, gentlemen!  You got God!  (His Word doesn't agree with you, but ya gotta know it to see that!)

So, we are called, just as the leaders in Smyrna were, to be faithful.  

To who?  Christ alone and His Word, even if it costs us everything. But no worries!  A victor's crown awaits us!  


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