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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Letters to the Churches in Revelation

Letters to the Churches of Revelation
The book of Revelation, the last book in our Bible, was written by the beloved disciple, John when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. The date is approximately 95 A.D. John is given many apocalyptic visions and is told to write them down for all the followers of Christ to have.  He is promised that each Christian who carefully reads this Revelation would be blessed. 
While John is worshipping, his eyes are opened, and he sees the glorified risen Jesus standing there in front of him!  John falls down as if dead, but Christ raises him up and tells him not to be afraid.  The glorified Christ has messages for John to give to His Church. John faithfully writes down everything that Jesus tells him and everything he sees in the many visions he is given concerning the end times. This is the book of Revelation.
Jesus in all His glory is standing among seven candlesticks, with seven stars in His hand, when He appears to John.  He has a golden sash around His chest and out of His mouth comes a sharp double-edged sword.  Bible scholars say that the golden sash refers to the fact that Jesus is our high priest.  He constantly prays for us. And scholars also explain that the double-edged sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth symbolizes His divine judgment.  (see Isaiah 49:2 and Hebrews 4:12) 
Jesus tells John that the seven stars in His hand are the seven angels of each of the seven churches and the candlesticks are the seven churches in Asia. It is comforting that Jesus is right there with His followers, standing there among the candlesticks -His churches.  He is also with us – His Church, today and always. Jesus asks John to write down a message from Him to each of the seven churches. 
The first church, Ephesus was given this message from Christ: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.  I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men.  That you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and you have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for My Name and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.  If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.  But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.   He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”  (Revelation 2:1-7)
Ephesus was the most important Greek city in Asia Minor.  Today tourists can walk through the ruins of ancient Ephesus, which are on the coast of modern Turkey.  The need to test for correct doctrine was widely recognized in the early church of Ephesus.  Jesus is pleased with the church in Ephesus for protecting the Christian faith from those who would water it down or bring heresies into the church.  The Christian faith needs constant protection, for there are always those who would try to destroy it. Wolves in sheep’s clothing.  (Believers are the “sheep” and Christ is the “Shepherd”.) (but the “wolves” pretending to be sheep are fake Christians) (Matthew 7:15)
Jesus praises the church of Ephesus for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans, which He says He also hates.  Bible scholars say that the Nicolaitans practiced idolatry and immorality.  The church of Ephesus tried to keep immorality out of their church and Jesus commended them.  Our church today needs to heed His warnings to the church in Ephesus to keep sexual immorality out. The church forgives the repentant one who has been sexually immoral, but the church should never say that immorality is acceptable!  Or go along with it!
But then Jesus calls the church in Ephesus to go back to their first love.  To remember the height from which they have fallen.  Evidently this church had been deeply in love with God and had sincerely loved one another.  But their love has cooled. Jesus misses their fervent love and calls them back to a close love relationship with Him. Would Jesus call us to love Him more?  To love each other with a greater love?  Jesus calls the church in Ephesus and all the churches to overcome.  To love Him all the way. To fight the good fight.  He ever lives to pray for us and help us.  Jesus promises us life everlasting at the end of the fight.
Jesus gives a second message to the church in Smyrna.  This is His message.  “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!  I know 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 the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”  (Revelation 2:8-11)
Smyrna was a proud and beautiful Asian city (modern Izmir, Turkey) closely aligned with Rome and eager to meet Rome’s demands for emperor worship.  Polycarp was the bishop of the church in Smyrna and he was a famous early martyr for the Christian faith.  Polycarp was eighty-six years old when he was burned at the stake because he refused to denounce Christ. 
Jesus comforts and encourages His persecuted church in Smyrna.  He reminds them that He is with them through their persecution and He knows what they are going through.  He feels their pain and sees their poverty.  Yet He tells them that they are rich!  Rich in faith and rich in the Spirit! Many more Christians from the church in Smyrna were martyred because they refused to bow to Caesar as their god.  Christ tells them that Satan is behind their persecution.  Scripture tells us that Satan is the accuser of the followers of Christ. (Revelation 12:9-11 and 1 Timothy 4:13) And Jesus tells the church in Smyrna that their persecution will be over after a little while (ten days).  That He will be with them. And soon they will receive the crown of life. 
The churches of Ephesus and Smyrna were actual churches when the glorified Christ gave these messages to them.  These messages were given to these specific churches in Asia minor in 95 A.D.  But some take that the seven letters to the seven churches can also be a preview of church history in its downward course over these last two thousand years to the present church today.  Others interpret the seven churches as seven various kinds of Christian congregations that have existed from John’s day to the present time. 
Jesus Christ, the first and the last, the one who has the keys of hell and of death and the One who has sovereign dominion in and over the invisible world and gives us eternal life, has a message for all the Christian churches in these seven letters in Revelation.  One of His messages is that the ministers of Christ are under His special care and protection.  All the good that they do is done by His Hand with them.  Although Christ is in heaven, He walks in the midst of His churches on earth.  He is with us always and He calls us to love Him with our whole hearts and to love one another   

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation
In the next couple of months, we are going to be going through and studying the last book in the Bible - the apocalyptic book of Revelation!  I invite you to comment and add your knowledge and thoughts to this on-going study. 
Revelation was written when Christians were entering a heavy time of persecution, approximately 69-96 A.D.  Roman authorities were beginning to enforce the cult of emperor worship onto their citizens and subjects. And since Christians held that Christ and not Caesar, was Lord, their lives were being threatened.  Already many Christians had been martyred when they refused to renounce their faith in Christ. 
The purpose of the book of Revelation is to reveal the future and show some of what will happen in the terrible last days before Jesus Christ comes again in glory to rule and reign.  Also, the book of Revelation was given to encourage the persecuted believers in all generations – believers who lived back then and believers today who face persecution because of their faith.
We believers are encouraged to stand firm in our testimony for Christ, even unto death.  Persecuted believers will soon be vindicated when Christ returns, the book of Revelation says.  The final showdown between God and Satan is coming soon. The book of Revelation shows believers something of what the second coming of Christ will be like.
Jesus’ beloved disciple, John was the writer of the book of Revelation.  Scholars believe it was written in approximately 95 A.D.  Many of Jesus’ other disciples had already been martyred for their faith in Christ by this time.  And John had been imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos because of his faith in Christ.  Patmos is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea about fifty miles from Ephesus, Turkey.
The Lord Jesus sent an angel with His message to John while he was imprisoned on Patmos Island.  In many dramatic visions the angel showed John what would be happening spiritually during the last days before Christ comes again in glory.  The battle between good and evil will be played out and soon evil will be destroyed. John saw Jesus standing among the seven lampstands (or churches), and Jesus greeted John this way: “Do not be afraid.  I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One: I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and of Hades.  Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. “(Revelation 1:17-18)
To begin to understand the book of Revelation we must recognize that the writing in this book uses a lot of symbolism.  Many of the visions and mysteries in Revelation seem bizarre to the Western mind, but the book provides some clues for a better interpretation.  When “stars” are mentioned in Revelation they represent “angels”.  “Lampstands” are “churches” (Rev.1:20) Perhaps that is because the church sends out the light of Christ.  The “great prostitute” is “Babylon” (Was that ancient Rome?) (Rev. 17:5,18) And the “heavenly Jerusalem” is the “wife of the Lamb”. (Rev. 21:9=10)
We will find throughout the book of Revelations that the number “seven” is used fifty-two times.  There are seven beatitudes(Rev.1:3), seven churches (Rev 1:4,11) seven spirits (Rev. 1:4) seven golden lampstands (Rev.1:12) seven trumpets (Rev 10:3) , seven signs, seven crowns, seven plagues, seven golden bowls, as well as other sevens.  Symbolically, the number seven stands for completeness. 
Christians who try to interpret the book of Revelations usually fall into four groups. 
  1. The first group, the Preterists, understands the book of Revelations mainly in terms of its first-century setting, claiming that most of its events have already taken place.   
  2. The Historicists take the book as describing the long chain of events from when the angel gave the revelation to John to the end of history.
  3. The Futurists place the book of Revelation primarily in the end times.
  4. And the Idealists see Revelation as symbolic pictures of such timeless truths as the victory of good over evil. 
The fundamental truths of Revelation do not depend of adopting a particular point of view.  I believe that we should read Revelation for it’s overall message and not become overly bothered with details that we cannot understand.  And we can pray that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to what these visions and mysteries may mean. 
When the angel first spoke to John the beloved apostle on the island of Patmos, He told him to write down what he saw and heard.  First of all, John was to write messages to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  These were actually seven churches in Greece and Turkey at that time and John saw Jesus standing in the middle of His churches (lampstands).  Jesus gives a short message to each of these churches.  The first three chapters of Revelation cover the messages that Jesus gave to each church, and we will cover these messages to the churches next time.  The Historicists believe that these messages weren’t just for those little churches back in 95 A.D. but that the seven messages to those seven ancient churches fit seven different problems that the Christian Church has had down through the ages.  Who is to know for sure?
Right up front a blessing is promised for those who read the book of Revelation!  Here it is in Scripture: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”  (Revelations 1:3) Let’s read this book of Revelation and receive the blessing that has been promised. 









Saturday, January 13, 2018

Jesus Tells us to Love our Enemies

Jesus Tells us to Love our Enemies
Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  This is what He said: “Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you.  Bless those who curse you.  Pray for those who mistreat you. …Do to others as you would have them do to you. “(Matthew 5:44)
We may feel like Jesus is asking us for the impossible.  What a challenge to love someone who is cursing us and perhaps trying to harm us!  But Jesus wouldn’t ask us to love our enemies if it was impossible for us to do.  Jesus will give us the love to love our enemies with, if we will let Him.  He will give us the strength to obey if we are willing.  Scripture says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8)   and since we are children of God we are to live lives of love also.
A group of people in Chicago, Illinois banded together to love the enemy.  This group of do-gooders is trying to make a difference and it seems that their experiment in love is paying off.  The homicide rate in Chicago had been extremely high and growing.  And this “love” group wants to bring the murder rate down.
 Many young men in Chicago become involved in gang related drug trafficking.  These people, who often live in poverty and have little social capital, find community in joining gangs. They learn violence at an early age. And often never have the opportunities or advantages to learn how to make their way in society in other ways.
But in comes our “love” group who targets these angry young men.  Men on the streets with guns and knives pushing drugs and killing people.  Angry men who are not easy to “love”. Our “love” group knocks on the doors of these violent men.  Men who society has given up on.  Young men who statistically are most likely to murder or be murdered.
 Our “love” group confronts these men, one at a time.  Surrounds them with hope and love. Tells these bad boys that they “love” them.  They want to open doors for them.  Reminds these would-be criminals that if they continue in their criminal activity they will probably not live long. Many of these young men decide to leave their old lives and give these people who will help them a chance.
Our “love” group offers to take these desperados step by step through job training.  Go with them to get driver’s licenses and teach them how to navigate modern life. Mothers who have lost children to gang related crimes hug these men.  Tell them they want to be considered “family”.  They want to be involved in their lives. After a year or more now this little “love” group has already made a big difference. The homicide rate in Chicago is lower today. This is just one example of how loving the unlovely – the enemy - can make a difference.  Jesus is calling you and me to love the unlovely – the enemy in our lives. Can we do it?     
As Christians we try to follow Christ in loving others, But, why do we so often fail?  Our marriages sometimes end in divorce.  And our relationships are fraught with problems.  We want to follow God’s command to love one another but we don’t always know how to do that. 
One way we can try to love is to bring out the best in the other person.  Love always liberates. It creates a climate of security.  Listen to the other person. Learn the art of listening. Allow for differences and negotiate problems.  Respect the other person and expect respect in return. Do not demand or condemn.  Look for positive things and give the other person verbal affirmation. 
Love is a choice.  Love is always freely given.  You cannot make another person love you.  Manipulation is not the language of love.  Demands stop the flow of love.  Love makes requests.  Love is humble and kind. Love does not insist on its own way. Each of us must decide daily to love or not to love.   Even God gives us the free will to love Him or not.  He never forces us to love Him. 
Also in learning to love, never mess up every new day with yesterday.  Love doesn’t bring into today the failures of yesterday. If you are to learn the language of love, let the failures of the past be history.  Forgiveness is not a feeling: it is a commitment.  It is a choice to show mercy, and not hold the offense up against the offender.  Everywhere in Scripture we find God telling us how important it is to forgive.  Even in the Lord’s Prayer we read “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  (Matthew 6: 12) 

The “Love” chapter in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) tells us how important love is and what love looks like. Our love for others may not reach the lofty heights of the perfect love described there.  But we can all choose to love those we find unlovable.  And we can always work harder at learning to forgive.  New difficulties and annoyances in our relationships may come up. But we can keep on learning to walk our “love” walk as we follow Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us.




Saturday, January 6, 2018

Righteous Thoughts are My Secret

Righteous Thoughts are My Secret
As we greet the new year, 2018, the media pauses from its normal routine to remember events that occurred during 2017, the year we are leaving behind.  Some of our famous American movie actors, artists and musicians who died during 2017 are remembered.  Each beloved performer has left behind some words to live by.  During their lifetimes, when each entertainer was asked what their secrets for success and fame were, they each gave their answers. 
Surely these beloved actors can leave us some wisdom about how to be successful.  Jerry Lewis, comedian and actor, died in 2017 and his answer was this: “People hate me because I am a multifaceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius.”   Wow!  Not much humility in those words! 
Chuck Berry, a famous musician who died last year had these words to say: “I always knew who I was.  I was going to be famous if it killed me.”   It sounds like his goal was to be famous no matter what!  Is that his secret?
 Another famous actress, Jeanne Moreau, who died last year, described her life like this: “The cliché’ is that life is a mountain.  You go up, reach the top and then go down.  To me, my life is going up until I am burned by flames.”   
Sam Shepard, a famous writer and actor left these words last year for us to live by: “One of the strangest and most terrifying things about being human is the need to come up with an identity.  It has always bewildered me, and I can say that even now it is still mostly unresolved.  Who am I?”  That wasn’t too helpful, was it?
Trisha Brown, a famous choreographer, died last year and left these words about how she became a success.  “I’m trying to make the perfect dance: that’s what drives me.”   Is she saying we must be perfect to be successful?
And then there is Fats Domino, who died in 2017 at 89 years old. He was a famous musician, singer, and comedian who answered this way: “Clean living keeps me in shape.  Righteous thoughts are my secret.  And New Orleans home cooking.”
Fats Domino’s real name was Antonio Dominique.  Fats was a good father to his eight children and a faithful husband.  He was married all his long life to one woman, his wife, Rosemary.  And the two had eight children. He left behind eight million dollars. Throughout his long career there was never a hint of wrong doing, money problems, other women, anger management or misbehaving!  Fats was a Christian and recorded some gospel songs.  He seemed to live a clean good life.  Like he said, clean living must have kept him in shape!  
What is “clean living”? Scripture says to “stay on the narrow road.”  (Matthew 7:13-14) And: “Make straight paths for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:13) Is that what Fats Domino meant when he mentions his “clean living” as helping create his successful life?  Doesn’t “clean living” mean trying to do the right thing? Being honest and kind? Loving God?   Forgiving others and forgiving yourself?  Staying away from bad influences?
Fats Domino gave three answers as to how he found success in his life!  (1) Clean living, (2) righteous thoughts. And of course, that good ole (3) New Orleans cooking!  Yes, good food is important for good living.  How could we forget?
Fat’s says that his second answer to good living is his “secret”.  “Righteous thoughts” are his “secret”.   The Bible says that if we believe in Christ that the Holy Spirit is in us and “teaches” us and “leads” us in the ways that we should go.  (John 14:26: John 16:12-15) The Spirit of God gives us “righteous thoughts” They are there if we will listen! if we will accept these thoughts! The Holy Spirit opens the Bible to us and speaks to our hearts.  Could this be what Fats was talking about when he mentioned his little secret – the righteous thoughts? 
As Christians we know that we belong to Christ and we should do good deeds. But do we forget that our thoughts are to be given over to Christ also? Scripture says: “Be not conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good and pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)
We are to be transformed by “renewing” our minds.  We are to grow and change as God’s children.  Be transformed. God’s Spirit is there whispering words of life along our way.  Dropping those “righteous thoughts” that light up our lives if we let them.  Are we listening?