Friday, September 27, 2019

Letter to leaders: Philadelphia (Rev. 3)

This letter is very encouraging to all who serve the Lord and yet run into opposition.  Here we go: 

"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.  I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rev. 3:7-13) 

After reading that, I could just end here.  Wow!  Let's mine out the nuggets that we will hold in our hands as leaders.  Jesus is "holy and true" and thus are His words.  He is the forever King, Who is mindful always of the saints who serve Him.  He knows the life of a sparrow.  He knows our lives equally intimately:  our struggles, our tears, our sorrows and our joy.  Leading the Body is all of these, and we need to stand on Jesus and His words:  

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24-27) 

You cannot stand on a foundation if you don't know what it is or what it is made of--so knowing the Word is essential to standing on it.  Sadly, many leaders today pick out a verse or two, and then spend the rest of the message telling stories, showing clips and doing just about everything but help their followers to really know the Word.  Better yet, do we apply it to our lives?  Do we know it and model it well enough for others to know the Word is an integral part of our lives? 

Jesus emphasizes hearing as well as doing.  

So, when all hell breaks loose in the marketplace, and competing gospels scream for attention, the culture demands preeminence over Scripture and leaders are trying to be hip and relevant, will they or anyone in their congregation still be standing when the cultural Hurricane Dorian is done? Jesus even expressed deep concern for those living in the End Times:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,  and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matt. 24:9-13)

Why has the faith of the faithful grown cold? False teachers, pure and simple--people who are liars. Those who pretend to be of Christ but are really of Satan's congregation. But our Philadelphia church has "kept my word and have not denied my name." 

How we deny Him?  

Look at Peter: He denied Jesus out of fear of the authorities and their power to inflict pain and suffering. He hung back in the shadows, hoping that following Jesus could be a more private matter.  

Look at Judas:  He denied Jesus' words about His mission to be crucified and resurrected and instead re-imagined Jesus as a conquering king.  He tried to force Jesus' hand, by putting Him in a predicament that would demand a show of royal power to the ruling and oppressive authorities.  Jesus did the opposite.  

Look at Paul:  He denied the Messiahship of Jesus, for he thought he had this whole religious thing figured out, with all of his training and his devotion to Judaism.  He wanted these blasphemers harried and killed, all in the name of what he thought was right.  That spill off that donkey and the Voice quickly dispelled his "wisdom."

Look at you.  

Look at me.  

How do we deny Him?  Do we avoid His uncomfortable words?  Do we just want a gentle hippie Jesus, whose anger in the Temple makes us uncomfortable?  Do we want a culturally relevant Jesus, Who desires only to be our Cosmic Life Coach, therapeutically saving us and not doing the deep healing that our sin nature demands?  

We who stay true to Him, His Word and His love, will be pillars in the New Jerusalem.  We held up His name here and we will hold up His praise there.

As leaders, we must measure everything we do and say by His Word.  No compromise.  No new spins or having the Word more as an add-on than a central and foundational core to what we are and do.

Our brotherly love is desperately needed in this world, and only His Word can do the job:  

"For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For 'whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:10-14)

Let the church leaders listen to what His Spirit is saying to the church.  

Monday, September 16, 2019

Jarrid Wilson's Suicide

I would like to comment on Pastor Jarrid Wilson's suicide.  In our effort to quickly answer the question of his eternal destiny, we are missing a lot of what will happen here from now on, from his wife, his children, his church and those contemplating suicide.

His heaven will lead many to a hell on earth.

Let me explain.  My family is a testimony to the long-term effects of suicide.  My grandmother shot herself in front of my grandfather after he accused her of having an affair.  That was in 1941.  My mother was just 12 years old.   She walked in after it occurred and so did her younger sister.

Strike one. 

My grandfather, who was an eminent cardiologist, ended up losing his license to practice medicine due to his increasing use of alcohol.  He married a nurse to care for his children.  My mother hated her and wished her dead.  When this woman died of ovarian cancer, my mother never forgave herself.  My grandfather died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was three, again devastating my mom. 

Strike two.

My mother's alcoholism destroyed her marriage of 23 years. My dad divorced her when I was 16.  By the time she died in 1984, the frontal lobe of her brain was merely interstitial fluid. Her alcoholism had destroyed her brain.  I cared for her in the last year of her life, watching her became an infant. 

Strike three.

Her sister also drank herself to death, leaving two daughters behind.  Her older brother shot and killed himself as an adult, leaving three daughters behind. 

My brother started using drugs and alcohol at a very young age, to numb the pain of our very unhappy home.  He married twice and alcohol and drug use destroyed his marriages.  He fathered three children and was estranged from them.  He died this year at the age of 62, severely mentally ill, and although he did not commit suicide, he spent the last six mouths texting his children and me that we should join him in doing so.

My family has felt the reverberations of that one day in 1941 for over 80 years. 

So, in trying to make nice with suicide, these well-intentioned pastors and commentators seemed to have forgotten the long road that now faces Jarrid's wife and sons, his church members and all of those who knew and loved him.

Grief is a balm.  It numbs the pain of loss and we do everything we can to comfort those who grieve.

But grief wears off.  Anger shows up.  Then those ugly questions arise and demand answers:

Why did Daddy leave us?
Did Daddy not love us?
Could we have stopped Daddy?
Why didn't my husband come and say he was at the end of his tether?
Why didn't we go to our pastor and tell him to take time off and really focus on healing?
Did our pastor do absolutely everything he could to ease the pain?  Do he see a therapist?  Did he take medications?  Did he engage in any therapeutic procedures (like EMDR)?  Was he seeing anyone at the time of his death?
Why didn't Dad follow his own rhetoric?  
Where was our church in all of this?  Didn't they see this coming?
Where was God?
Why did Dad do this to Mom?
Why did Dad do this to us?
Couldn't God, if He is so mighty and loves us so much, have stopped Dad?

Those questions will never be satisfactorily answered on this side of heaven.  This kind of abandonment is shattering. It shatters faith, families, friendships and fellowship for years and years, and even effects those not yet born.

Why aren't our well-intentioned pastors preaching on that?


Friday, September 13, 2019

Letter to Leaders: Sardis (Rev. 3)

"Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches."  (Rev. 2: 29)

This quote is the most significant counsel we can receive as followers of Christ and those of us who lead the Body. Jesus is the Head and we follow Him.

Jesus' economy is different from the world's.  

The world says numbers mean success:  a movie with a huge opening weekend; a man with millions or billions; a company that explodes and garners the market.  In our capitalist system, money equals the dream of having made it; of being admired; of being in control and having access to all the world offers.

But Jesus talks about counting the cost of following Him; losing your life to find it; being meek and inheriting the earth (not buying it); denying self; carrying a cross; having faith like a child and going through the narrow gate, as opposed to taking the wide road.

Totally opposite of what the world would say.  Yet, today, we have megachurches with big everything:  celebrity preachers; powerfully influential worship bands; millions and millions of dollars spent on buildings, programs, jets, houses, and a lifestyle that would be hard to distinguish from Park Avenue residents.

All in Jesus' name.


When you go deeper into Revelation, you will find the city whose values are luxury, conspicuous consumption and adultery:  Babylon.  Yes, adultery.  Literal, to be sure, but when God's people lust, unite and live out the world's values, they are committing spiritual adultery.  Back in the Old Testament, we read:

"Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves..." (Gen. 11:4)  

Arrogance, self-sufficiency and pride runs through this quote:  It's not about God, it's about us.  Our city is gonna be amazing.  People will come from miles around and marvel at what we have done.  We will get the honor and the glory.  All our admirers will think about, as they walk around, is our greatness. Our values get stuff done, buildings built, and something for everybody.  No commitment, no humility...just a sense that as you walk in, you are part of something BIG.  Yup.  That's gonna be our sign right outside the city gates:  WELCOME TO BIG.

Sound familiar?  I wish this only applied to secular America. 

Our next church is Sardis:  "These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.  Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rev. 3:1-6)

Wow.  I find the word "reputation" significant here.  That's what people know about us.  So, people know of Sardis' reputation of "being alive."  How so?  What's the evidence?  Amazing services?  Amazing preaching?  Friendly folk?  But the reality doesn't fit the reputation.  All of the externals point to life in this church, but Jesus is looking deep in the heart of the people there, of the leaders there, and sadly, He finds a moribund church.

If we walked into this church today, with a worldly measuring stick of success, we too might find Sardis a happening church. In fact, its very reputation might be the draw; who doesn't want to go to a church where it's all about an experience?  A previous church I attended renamed the Sunday service, "the Sunday experience."  Yup.  That puts Sunday squarely in my lap: if I have a good experience, then it was a good service.  If I don't, then it wasn't and the church needs to know about that.  Nothing about what I bring to God; nothing about serving Him (serving the church, yes) and nothing about a humble offering of adoration and praise.

Solution?  "Wake up!"  Do the work God has called the leaders to do and do it.  No rocket science here.  Focus on the foundation:  what you have heard and received from Jesus and the Word of God.  Jesus is the Word of God and the only foundation that can sustain His Body here on earth. No big productions, stories, video clips, props and anecdotes have the power to bring forth faith.  Just preach the Word: 

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?'  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:14-17) 

No story, production or awesome worship band will bring someone to a deeper relationship.  It will be an experience, but we stand on Him, not good feelings.

How do you grow a church?  Preach His Word.  Walk in His righteousness alone, for He is enough:

"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'" (1 Cor. 1: 26-31) 

Jesus' economy is based on Him and our humble acceptance of what He did for us.  

Wake up American churches! 

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