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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Thyatira the Corrupt Church

Thyatira – The Corrupt Church
The date is approximately 95 A.D. and Jesus appears in a vision to John the apostle and gives him letters or messages to seven of the Christian churches in Asia Minor. (Revelations 1:9-20) Jesus’ messages were written in love.  But also, messages with concerns and warnings.  And  messages of hope and comfort. Today we will go over what Jesus has to say to one of these churches - the church in Thyatira.
Thyatira was a small industrial city in 95 A.D. with many trade unions or guilds.  There were trade guilds for textile workers and tanners, potters, bakers and bronze-smiths.   Each trade  guild (or labor union) would adopt an idol or god to bless their business and the all the workers in the trade guild were expected to worship their patron god.  
Many of the Christians who belonged to the church in Thyatira also belonged to one of the cities’ trade guilds where they worked. If a Christian member of the trade guild refused to go along with the others when they worshipped the trade guild’s idol god, then that Christian could be blamed when something went wrong at work.  Or blamed when the trade guild didn’t sell as many of their items as they thought they should. Perhaps the god was angry because everyone in the guild wasn’t worshipping him. The Christian could lose his or her job if he didn’t bow down to the idol god who was supposed to bless their work. There was a price for following Jesus!   
 The temple to the sun god Apollo stood in the center of Thyatira, and the town sponsored many frequent idolatrous feasts and sexual orgies around the altar. Everyone was expected to be there.  Of course, this caused a problem for all the Christians in Thyatira since God calls us to  worship only Him and no other. (Exodus 20:3-6) And, God also calls Christians to “flee sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)   
Thyatira is still around today!  It is a small modern city in Turkey. But the stones and pillars from the ruins of that ancient city of Thyatira, can still be seen today. If we travel there today we can walk where those early Christians walked – the Christians in the church of Thyatira who received Jesus’ message.  And the messages and warnings Jesus had for these Christians in Thyatira so long ago are for us too.  We too will not always fit in with the crowd.  We too will have to set ourselves apart and not worship the idols that our modern culture worships.  Or indulge in any type of porn or sexual immorality that is all around us.  
Here is the message recorded in Revelations 2:18-29 that Jesus sent to the church in Thyatira so long ago.  “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:  These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire and His feet like fine brass:  I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience: and as for your works, the last are more than the first. 
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.
Indeed, I will cast her into a sick bed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.  I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.  And I will give to each one of you according to your works. 
Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.  But hold fast to what you have until I come.  And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations.
He shall rule them with a rod of iron:  They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessel.  As I also have received from My Father, I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelations 2:18-29)    
Jesus begins His letter by describing Himself as “the Son of God, with eyes like a flame of fire and feet like brass”.  Jesus is not only our humble suffering Savior, but His eyes are like a flame of fire as He will judge the world as the almighty Son of God.  Jesus praises the Christians in the church of Thyatira for their love, service, works, faith and patience.  He sees everything they (and you) do for Him. 
But Jesus also calls the church of Thyatira out for tolerating the cult of idolatry and immorality.  Christians are not to be tolerant of false teachers! A teacher Jesus calls “Jezebel” has been allowed to teach in this Christian church in Thyatira and Jesus is angry.  Christians are to reject any false teaching or any practice that allows worshipping other gods or any practice allowing sexual immorality among God’s people.  And evidently “Jezebel” has been allowed to teach these evil heresies in the church in Thyatira. And the Christians tolerated it!!  Christians are required to be faithful to Christ, never putting anything before Him, as well as being faithful to their spouse and their marriage vows.  Jesus was angry.
Purity and restraint are underrated!  Sexual immorality and pornography bring a burden, but faithfulness and purity bring a blessing.  God gives us the gift of sex to bond us together in marriage and family.  But sexual immorality drains our ability to connect and destroys our family relationships.
  Jesus says in His letter to the church in Thyatira that those who follow Jezebel’s teachings will suffer. Instead of romance, true love and couples faithfully and joyfully sharing their lives together, there will be broken families, poverty, disease, loneliness, jealousy, and isolation. Parents abandoning their children.
 Jesus says that sexual immorality will bring sickness to those who practice it and death to their innocent little children. (Revelation 2:22-23) It seems the children always suffer most for their parent’s sins. No wonder Jesus is so angry. He calls His followers to turn around – to repent. Jesus speaks to the rest of the Christians in Thyatira- all those who do not follow Jezebel’s teachings of unfaithfulness to God and to one another.  Jesus calls those who are listening to Him to “Hold Fast”.  To Hold Fast until He comes. (Revelations 2:25)
 Jesus gives promises too wonderful to completely comprehend to those who “Hold Fast’ and stay faithful to the Christian faith.  He says:  ” To him who overcomes, and keep My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations.”  (Revelations 2: 26) The overcomer – the one who “holds fast” – that one will share in Christ’s triumph over evil and will share in His messianic rule.  (Psalm 2:8-9)   

Jesus also promises to give the “Morning Star” to those who “Hold Fast.”  And He ends his letter to the church of Thyatira with:” He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelations 2:29) Let’s hear what the Spirit is saying to us today.  Like the Christians in Thyatira we live in a time where the temptations of sexual immorality are all around us and where the world calls us to put other things before God.  Let’s listen to the Spirit and stay pure and faithful to God and to our marriages.  And “Hold Fast” until He comes. 


Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Compromising Church

Pergamum - the Compromising Church
Revelation 2:12-17
Jesus sends a letter to the Christians living in Pergamum, a church that was compromising the truth.  Pergamum was a large impressive city in Asia Minor in 95 A.D. when Jesus sent his letter to the Christians (the church) living there.
 The great temple and altar to the god Zeus, a significant architectural monument, was in Pergamum and everyone in town was under intense pressure to join in the temple worship of the god, Zeus. Also, the citizens of Pergamum were expected to burn incense before a statue of the divine Caesar.  The city of Pergamum was part of the Roman empire and the Roman emperor, Caesar, was considered a god.  Worshipping pagan gods and worshipping the emperor was what everyone did in that day. 
 A Christian believer named Antipas lost his life for refusing to worship other gods and the believers in the church in Pergamum were afraid that they might be killed too if they didn’t go along with what was expected of them.  Some professing Christians asked questions like, “Can’t we all just get along?  If we don’t believe in worshipping Caesar or Zeus as a god, why not just go through the motions and burn the incense?  Why not compromise and keep out of trouble? 
It seems that Jesus did not agree with this way of thinking.  Here is Jesus’ letter to the church in Pergamum.  “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: “These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword.  I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.  And you held fast to My Name and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.  Thus, you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which things I hate.
Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”  (Revelations 2:12-17)
Jesus praised the church in Pergamum for being faithful and holding fast to Him even when great persecution had come.  Even when one of them was martyred for his faith.  But Jesus was also concerned that some of the church members in the Pergamum church held to the doctrine of Balaam!  They were worshipping other gods along with worshiping our one true God.
The story of Balaam is in the Bible. (Numbers 22,23,24) The name “Balaam” means “devourer of the people”. Balaam was from the land of Moab and he had been given a gift from God – the gift of prophecy.  The king of Moab tried to pay Balaam a lot of money to curse the nation of Israel and even though Balaam wanted the money, God wouldn’t let him curse Israel.   
So, Balaam cursed Israel another way.  He invited and encouraged some of the Jewish men to come with him to a fun party with their neighbors, the Moabites. What was so wrong with that?  Some of the Jewish men left home to join in the good times.    
 Fires lit up the night at the wild parties and sex orgies of the Moabites as they sacrificed and worshipped their heathen gods. The exciting loud drum beat and dancing, trances, drugs, food, alcoholic drinks, and lots of sex with the temple prostitutes always went along with the pagan worship to their gods. For days the Jewish men partied and even brought some of the wild women home with them.  Balaam’s influence had cursed the Jewish people after all. 
Jesus was warning the Christians in Pergamum that they couldn’t mix their faith in God with a little pagan worship.  That what they let into their lives usually will overcome them. Jesus tells them that even though they “live where Satan’s throne is” that he expects them to stay faithful to God alone.
 Bible scholars believe that when Jesus spoke of “Satan’s throne” He was talking about the “Temple of Zeus” which was right there in Pergamum.  These pagan gods or idols were backed by demons.  God’s people were always throughout Scripture forbidden to have anything to do with worshipping  other gods or religions.  And we are too.  
The first and second commandment in the Bible commands us: “You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourselves a carved image – or bow down to them or serve them, for I am the Lord your God, a jealous God …(Exodus 20:3-4-5)  It is all important to our heavenly Father that we never worship other gods.   Scripture teaches that Jesus is the only Way to God the Father.  (John 14:6, John 1:17, Ephesians 2:18, John 1:4) 
Jesus ends His letter to the church in Pergamum calling them to repent and turn away from worshipping other gods.  To purge all un-Christlike accommodations in their lives.  Jesus was calling this little church to walk in the Narrow Way.  And He calls all of us to walk in the Narrow Way as well. (Matthew 7:13-20)  He rewards those who make every decision with the Word of God.  (Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 28:13, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)   
Dangers lurk in our own culture today that threaten to corrupt our church or already has.  Perhaps our own church may be compromising the Christian faith like the church in Pergamum did.  Jesus’s call to the Christians in Pergamum so long ago is still His call to all Christians today.  To stay true to Him even when we are living “where Satan’s throne is”.  (Revelation 2:13)   Can we do it?










Wednesday, October 9, 2019

False Teachers and Persecution - the Battle is On

False Teachers and Persecution – the Battle is On
Jesus warns His followers: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you…If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18 and 20b)  Conflicts will take place before Jesus returns. And if you love Jesus you will most likely suffer persecution.
On our side of the battle, we try to spread the Good News that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior.  That He died to take away our sins and rose again. That He is Life and Light.  And when we humbly open our hearts and believe in Him, we receive the gift of eternal life.  Jesus said:” I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one come to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) The battle is all about Jesus and who He is.  And the battle is a spiritual battle.  
But on the other side, the false teachers- mock the believers and angrily deny Jesus to be the Savior and the Son of God.  Sometimes they pretend to be believers (wolves in sheep’s clothing) and try to water down our faith by considering Jesus to just be a great teacher who lived two thousand years ago. They are too smart to believe in the real Jesus of the Bible, and they work to keep everyone else from believing in Him too. They come into our churches to deceive people who are coming to Christ and to destroy Christian fellowship. Scripture describes them as “savage wolves.” (Acts 20:29) The battle is spiritual, and the battle lines have been drawn.  
Christ-followers have received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit which guides us into all truth.  (1 John 2:20-21) But the false teachers, or “antichrists”, want to destroy the truth and they mess with Jesus’ identity. (1 John 2:22-23) 
 Christ-followers believe what the Bible says about Jesus, and this believing - or faith - on our part opens our hearts for the Holy Spirit to come in and transform us.  (1 John 2:26-27)  It is truly a miracle! Scripture says: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31a)   and “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)  
Christ followers need not fear because God’s Holy Spirit holds fast to us. The Bible says that when we believe in Jesus the Holy Spirit “abides” (or lives) in us.  (1 John 2:26-27)   We are admonished to study the Bible (abide or live in God’s Word) and learn the truths in God’s Word so well that we can be able to distinguish the truth from the lies.
There is a spiritual battle going on – the battle between light and darkness, truth and lies, good and evil and as Christians we are in it.  But Jesus won the battle over sin and death at His resurrection.  And He will return in victory.  And we will be victorious with Him if we are His followers. (1 John 2:28)  
 God’s Word, the Bible tells us that since there are many false prophets trying to confuse us, we are to test what we hear before we believe it.  (1 John 4:1-6) The truth is that Jesus is incarnate (born and lived on earth as a man) and is the Son of God.  Anyone who teaches anything different about Jesus Christ is teaching falsehood, according to Scripture.  Jesus couldn’t be our Savior and Redeemer, giving us eternal life in Him, if He was just a man and not the Son of God!  False teachers always try to water down who Jesus is and that He is the only way to God the Father. You can count on that. 
Along with false prophets, we as believers also may face persecution in this spiritual battle here on earth.  Jesus sends a message or letter to the Christian church in Smyrna, one of the early churches that was going through heavy persecution.  The year was approximately 95 A.D. and Jesus gave this message to the John, the apostle to pass on to the church.  Here is Christs’ message to the church in Smyrna that was under heavy persecution at the time.
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and come to life.  I know your works, tribulation, and poverty, but you are rich.  And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer, Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested and you will have troubles for ten days.  Be faithful unto 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 shall not be hurt by the second death.”  (Revelation 2:8-10)
Smyrna was one of the cities in Asia Minor (now Turkey).  In 95 A.D. Smyrna had built a large magnificent temple to the worship of the Emperor Augustus.  The people of Smyrna took great pride in the imperial cult. They worshipped the emperor as a god, and they insisted on zealous support from all the citizens.  History reveals that there was a law that once each year every citizen in Smyrna was forced to kneel before the statue of the Emperor Augustus and burn incense to him and worship him as his god. Of course, this caused a problem for the Christian church in Smyrna, since they (and we) are only to worship God and serve only Him. (Exodus 20:3) There are to be no other gods before Him.
Each person who bowed before the Emperor and burned incense to him was given a receipt for the year which allowed him or her to buy and sell their goods in the cities’ large marketplace for that year.  When the Christians in Smyrna stood up for Jesus and refused to worship another god, they were denied a receipt to buy or sell their goods. The believers in Smyrna were willing to give up selling their goods and receiving the money that those sales would bring.  They were willing to live in poverty for Christs’ sake.  And He sees their poverty.   
  Jesus tells them that He knows about their troubles and about their poverty.  He knows that they would rather be poor and needy than to forsake Him.  And He tells them that they are really very rich.  Rich toward God.  Spiritually rich!  Jesus tells the church in Smyrna that some of them would be thrown in prison for their courage in standing up for Him.  But that their troubles would only last a little while. And some would die.  But after death, He promises them a crown of life.
We have read the history of the Christian churches and we know that soon after 95 A.D. a large number of believers in Christ had to face prison, slavery, torture and death because of their refusal to participate in worshipping the Emperor.  Not to participate in emperor worship was interpreted as a lack of loyalty and friendship. The price of disobeying Roman law was death. Down through these last two thousand years there have been many martyrs for Jesus.  – people who refused to compromise with evil and deny Christ, even though it meant their death.
One of the early slanders widely circulated about Christians, accused them of being “haters of all mankind.”  When we Christians refuse to join in on some of the sins that our friends are involved in, some of the actions that are popular, when we don’t “fit in” with the lifestyle of the world around us, we are often excluded, laughed at and persecuted.  Are we willing to stand up for Christ even when we won’t ”fit in” with what most everyone else is doing.  Are we willing to take the heat?
What similarities can we see between the culture of Smyrna and our own?  Have we seen society’s pressure on Christians to compromise our faith growing?   Would we be willing, like our brothers and sisters in Smyrna, to not buy and sell – and to suffer poverty – in order to stay true to our Savior?
Let’s live today like it won’t last forever.  Not expect in this life to get everything that is promised to us in the next.  (Matthew 19:29) Lets’ pursue being rich toward God rather than being rich in this world.  (Luke 12:21) And lets’ remember that if you stand up for Jesus you can   know that He will stand up for you.  (Acts 7:55-56)                   




Wednesday, October 2, 2019

You Have Left Your First Love

You Have Left Your First Love
Jesus appeared in a glorious vision to his beloved disciple, John, (Revelation 1:9-20) and gave John letters to give to seven of the early Christian churches of Asia Minor. The year was approximately 95 A.D. and these messages to the churches are recorded in the book of Revelations in our Bible These seven churches were actual churches of John’s day.  But they represent types and conditions of churches in all generations.
Jesus’ first message was given to the church in the city of Ephesus.  Ephesus was (and still is) on the Mediterranean Sea.  And in 95 A.D. Ephesus was a large bustling commercial city and a major intersection for trade between the ancient nations. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world was (and still is) in Ephesus – that is the magnificent Temple of Artemis. 
  In 95 A.D. the people who lived in Ephesus, the Ephesians, worshipped the goddess, Artemis.  She was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and chastity.  She was the protector of children and the goddess of childbirth.  Statues and idols of Artemis were sold in shops and stores all over Ephesus. It was a big money-making business – making statues of Artemis - since most of the city worshipped this idol.
 Paul had started the little church in Ephesus a few years earlier and these new Christians were surrounded by a hotbed of false teaching and idol worship. (1 Timothy 1:3-11, 4:1-9, 6:3-10) It must have been challenging to be part of the church in Ephesus where everyone there was worshipping and sacrificing to the goddess, Artemis. Ephesus the was “Sin-City” of Asia minor.  The new Christians in the church at Ephesus burned all of their idols and books that had to do with Artemis, in order to follow Christ.
This is the letter that Jesus gave to John to give to the church in Ephesus: “ To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. (The “golden lampstands” represent the churches and Jesus is there walking in their midst.)  I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars:  and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for My Name’s sake and have not become weary. 
Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen. Repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.
But this you have that you hate the deeds 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 to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”  (Revelation 2:1-7)
This was Jesus’ message or letter to the Ephesian Christians - the church in Ephesus. Jesus starts out by praising them for examining and rejecting false teachers.  And for their patience and for all their hard work. For all that they had given up to follow Him.  Jesus sees all that the church in Ephesus had done for His Name’s sake. And He is pleased. He praises them.  
 The fact that they hated the Nicolaitans and ran away from evil when they saw it, was something Christ gave them credit for.  The Nicolaitans were people who pretended to be God fearing but they were rebels and brought sexual sin into the church.  They were proud of their sexual misconduct and attended sexual orgies and idol worship and committed fornication and bragged about it. Jesus says He hates that.    The church in Ephesus stood firm against the Nicolaitans and against false teachers and evil.  And Jesus was pleased with them for that.
But still something was lacking!  An unloving attitude permeated the Ephesian church, perhaps as an outgrowth of their zeal to defend Truth.  It hadn’t always been that way.  The church in Ephesus had loved their Savior, their Jesus, with their whole hearts when they first believed!  But gradually they had drifted away from loving Him.  So much work, and so much evil to stand against.  Instead of worshipping the Great “I Am”, they were busy with the great “to do”.  They were up against so much evil that they didn’t take time to come apart and be with the One who overcomes evil – and the One who loves them so.
 Their lack of love was inconsistent with Christianity and it was deadly.   Scripture says: “Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14) The church of Ephesus had lost their first love and Jesus missed that so much. Is it possible in the Christian life to do everything right and still get it wrong?  When they worked so hard that they didn’t have time for Jesus, they were getting it wrong. Jesus calls them back to Himself. If they don’t have time for all of their good deeds when they take time to worship and love Christ, then they should put worshiping Christ first. 
Another time we read in Scripture of Jesus expressing His desire for His followers to take time to sit at His feet and love Him, even if they don’t get as much work done. Loving Him was more important than extra work. This is what He was expressing to the church in Ephesus! And He also expresses that same feeling to His dear friends, Mary and Martha.  Taking time to sit at His feet and love Him is all important.   
 One day, when Mary and Martha were preparing dinner for Jesus and His disciples, Martha complained to Jesus that she had many chores to perform in cooking and serving their dinner and Mary wasn’t helping her enough.  Instead Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him and loving Him.  Martha wanted Jesus to tell Mary to get up and go help out in the kitchen. And Jesus answered that Mary had chosen the best part and He wouldn’t take that away from her.  (Luke 10:38-42) Are we like Martha or like Mary?  Have we chosen the best part- sitting at Jesus’ feet?
The message Jesus is giving to the church in Ephesus is timeless – it is also a message for us today. Jesus wants to be our first love. He wants us to take time to listen to Him and to sit at His feet.  Perhaps set a time apart each day to be with Him. He wants to hear our simple words of adoration and He wants us to spill out our love for Him.  He wants our head and our hands and our hearts.  He wants us to want Him and to wait for Him. To be alone with Him.  And He also wants us to be more about our love for one another. To love with a sacrificial love as He does. He calls us to walk in love. – for Him and for others.   
Let’s answer Christ’s call.  Be intentional in loving Jesus.  Love Him first, afresh every day.  Take time. Love is a choice.  Let’s choose the best part. Let’s choose to love Him.