Welcome to Leaving LaodiceaThe Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church
Jesus chastised the religious elite of His day for their confidence in predicting things like the weather, but not being able to discern the signs of the times. In fact, He called them hypocrites. Remember? “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” – Matthew 16:2-3. I wonder if He would say the same about His church today? After all, it appears we all seem to know everything about everything. Just ask us.
It seems we resemble those that Isaiah was called to address.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight – Isaiah 5:20-21.
But there is one prophetic statement of Jesus regarding the times before us that is hard for many, including me, to understand. That is until today. Jesus said “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Got that. He also promised that “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). How is that possible? How can our love for our spouse or children grow so cold we will treat them as enemies to the extent of hatred and betrayal? (Matt. 24:10). How can that be true? What sort of perverted human would turn on his own family for the sake of himself? What kind of depraved mind or personality disorder would produce sociopaths with a love this cold?
In a word, it’s called narcissism. And it is the ultimate end-time personality disorder.
One of the vital truths regarding our desire to follow Christ is to fully understand our union with Him. After all, we are invited to become one with Him and are described in Scripture as being “in Christ.” In Romans 8 we are called “children of God” that are “adopted” into His family and are now “joint heirs with Christ.” Romans 6 tells us our old man has died and Christ now lives in us in the Presence of the Holy Spirit. But do we really understand the implication of what this means?
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, states “Union with Christ is a phrase that summarizes several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit
of salvation. These relationships include the fact that (1) we are in Christ, (2) Christ is in us, (3) we are like Christ, and (4) we are with Christ.” Ok, I’ve got that. But is there more to this union with Christ than dry theology? Can I really experience union with Him? And, if so, how is that done? What do I have to do to experience the fullness of my union, my relationship, with Christ?
Great questions. And the simple answer is, “Yes, you can know the wonder of our union with Him.” And the wonder of it comes with the invitation of Christ to be joined with Him.
Consider the following invitation found in Matthew 11:28. It is a familiar passage:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Now, let’s see what it means by defining a few terms.
“Come to Me, all you who labor (to be worn out, fatigued, faint, weary) and are heavy laden (to overload, heavily burdened, like with the freight of a ship), and I will give you rest (to cease from labor, to refresh, relax, loosen, to be at peace or rest).”
Do you see the trust relationship implied in this invitation? Do you see Christ’s invitation to let Him carry your troubles and you rest in Him? To be united in Him?
Many of us struggle with this and ask how is that accomplished? How can I truly experience rest in Him? Is it just a mental thing? Or is it some sort of resolution I make and then fail at when things get uncertain or tough? Is it a mantra I go over and over again in my mind, like “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”? Or is it something else?
Oh, it is definitely something else. Let’s look at the second invitation.
How does one receive the Holy Spirit? Simple. As Peter said in Acts 2:38-39, you “repent” and “believe.” Which just happens to be the same requirements for salvation. After all, the guarantee of our inheritance in Him is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). This is a truth most Christians know and understand. No Holy Spirit, no salvation. It’s as simple as that.
But how does one experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit? How do we find our joy in Him? Or, how do we experience the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) as a daily, living reality? How is that possible?
Consider the following:
Every believer has received the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is only received by repentance and faith in Jesus at salvation.
There is a fullness of the Holy Spirit that is usually greater than what is experienced at conversion. Your own experience confirms this truth.
As there are certain conditions for receiving the Holy Spirit, there are also certain conditions for experiencing the fullness of the Spirit.
They are primarily found in Romans 6 and 12.
Let’s dig a bit deeper, shall we?
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His initial message was the same as John the Baptist. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). And throughout the next three years, one underlying theme in His teaching was about life in His Kingdom. When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach His message, He said, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt. 8:11). Jesus even told those close to Him why He spoke to the crowds in parables. And His answer had to do with concealing from some the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven. He said, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11).
Finally, He shared parables specifically pointed to revealing what the kingdom of heaven, His Kingdom, was like. He said it was like a “man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matt. 13:24). Or, it was like a “mustard seed” which, being small, grew into a tree “so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matt. 13:31). Jesus likened His Kingdom to “leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33). And to express how wonderful His Kingdom is for those who possess it, He said it was like a “treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44) or a “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46) that was worth all one had on earth.
Jesus then asked His disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord” (Matt. 13:51).
I wonder what our answer would be today? Do we understand His Kingdom? Do we fully know what it means to follow Him? Can we honestly say we are proficient in following Jesus?
I’m not so sure. And maybe you aren’t either.
As I shared this last Sunday, I’ve been rather overwhelmed with the phrase found in Ephesians 3:8, the “unsearchable riches in Christ.” It has literally taken me a few days to get my head around what all that phrase entails. Paul begins this verse by expressing his profound gratitude for God’s choice of him by verbalizing how unworthy he is of such grace. He calls himself “less than the least of all the saints,” yet he received from the Lord the divine calling to “preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
You and I, like Paul, have different mission fields. For Paul, it was the Gentiles. For us, it may be our families, work associates, neighbors, those in our extended sphere of influence, or anyone the Lord places in our path to shine His light in their darkness (Matt. 5:14, Eph. 5:8). But the message we preach is the same as Paul’s. And that message is simply this; we preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Our verse to help focus our prayer time today reads as follows:
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ – Ephesians 3:8.
The word Paul uses, “unsearchable” (anexichníastos), means “untraceable or impossible to trace,” like looking for fading footprints in the snow. Elsewhere it’s translated as “unfathomable, incomprehensible, endless, boundless, incalculable, inexplorable, inexhaustible, and without limit.” It conveys the idea of something never-ending and beyond human measure.
When Jesus instructed His disciples, and the others, about what it meant to follow Him in Matthew 16:24-25, He spoke of “desire to come after me” and then “let him deny himself.” We looked at desire in our last message, and now we will turn our focus to what He meant by “deny himself.” Note the requirement and sequence in the verse below. First, there must be desire (“if anyone desires to come after Me”). Then, a denial and the corresponding action showing the commitment to deny himself (“take up his cross”). And finally, the invitation to “follow Me.” Jesus shows surrendering to Him must follow in this order. In essence, first meet the conditions, and then come “follow Me.”
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” – Matthew 16:24-25.
The word deny (aparnéomai) when followed by the pronoun heautón (oneself, himself) means “to deny oneself, or to disown and renounce self and to subjugate all works, interests, benefits, and enjoyments to another.” The word is also translated “to speak against, contradict, to avoid, reject, nullify, to stand firm against, resist, oppose.”
When Jesus said we must “deny” ourselves, the impact of our denial affects all areas of our life.
As we prepare to meet with the Most High, we’re going to use Ephesians 3:8 to help focus our prayers today. This verse is one of the most incredible passages in all of Ephesians. In it, we see Paul’s candid assessment of himself, despite how much the Lord used him and how much we honor and respect Paul. It’s a glimpse into his heart of humility and a picture of how each of us should view our lives. But we get a glance at the magnitude of the blessing God gave him by calling him into the ministry. He uses this phrase, “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” to explain what a life hidden in Christ is all about (Col. 3:3). And, as we will see tomorrow, it’s beyond description!
Ephesians 3:8 reads as follows:
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Once again, we come face to face with the word that seems to sum up Paul’s life, given. We see this word in Ephesians 3:2, and again in verse 7, and now once more in verse 8. Paul says, “this grace was given” to him as a gift, an unmerited blessing he did not deserve. And the key to Paul’s life is found in his faithful commitment to properly execute his stewardship and calling according to the gift he received from God.
Paul understood who he was in the sight of God and how undeserving he was for anything other than judgment and condemnation. Grace, if you remember, is getting something you don’t deserve, such as love, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life. Mercy, on the other hand, is not receiving what you truly deserve, such as guilt, condemnation, judgment, and death. Paul never forgot God’s inexhaustible mercy nor the grace he received. And this grace included not only a ministry, but a divine purpose for his life.
On any given Sunday, if a pastor asks by a show of hands how many in the congregation consider themselves followers of Christ, most would raise their hands. But if he followed up that question with: “And how many of you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?” – the number of raised hands would drop considerably. Maybe even to none. Why? Because our view today of following Jesus is a far cry from what it meant in the time of Jesus. Think about it for a moment. Today, following Jesus means agreeing to a set of doctrinal facts, going to church regularly, tithing, volunteering for some service ministry, adhering to a moral code, and reading and praying as often as we can. But in the New Testament, following Jesus meant something quite different.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Note the components of His invitation. First, it begins with a conditional clause, if, like a classic if / then statement. “If you desire to come after Me, then these are the conditions.” Next, we have self-denial or self-subjugation to God. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself.” And finally, we are now privy to the degree to which self-denial must take place. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself even to the point of death, and a horrific death at that.” And only then does Jesus say, “and follow Me.” First, meet the conditions, and then “follow Me.”
As we prepare to close out this section of Scripture, I want to remind you that the seven verses that begin Ephesians 3 are all one long sentence. Therefore, it is difficult to understand the whole without examining each individual part. And it is equally difficult to understand the various parts, or verses, unless we first have a grasp of the entire meaning of this single sentence. It seems this sentence has at its beginning and end two bookends displaying both the humility of Paul and the grace given him by the Lord. We find these two bookends revealed in the word: given.
Paul begins with the “dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:2) and ends with “I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me” (Eph. 3:7). In both instances, Paul humbly reflects he was nothing more than the blessed recipient of something from God given to him for the sake of someone else. In this case, the Gentiles. But he ends by stating the gift given him, his calling into the ministry, was only accomplished by “the effective working of His power” and for no other reason (Eph. 3:7). So both the gift and the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry, is all according to God, and not of any inherent merit of Paul.
Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power – Ephesians 3:7.
Paul claims his calling to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gift from God. He never ceased to be amazed that God took someone like him, a murdering, vile, angry, detestable, blaspheming Pharisee, and turned him into not only a believer, but one called to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).
Paul understood everything that happened in his life was because of grace. God gave him the grace of revelation to be able to tell the Gentiles about the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). But God also called him into service as a minister of Christ and a servant of others, which gave his life more meaning and purpose than anything else, ever. His old life as a Jew, “born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law” (Acts 22:3) meant nothing now. Compared to the Lord’s gift of ministry and revelation, Paul considered it, like all things, “rubbish” – save for the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).
One of the most amazing privileges of being a Christian is knowing the answers to the so-called hidden mysteries of life God reveals to us in His Word. Philosophers spend a lifetime trying to determine the meaning of life, and we already know. Artists and musicians try to capture the image of true, faithful, unselfish love in their paintings and music, and we have an unrivaled masterpiece of love on display in the person of Jesus Christ.
The answer to all of life’s mysteries or hidden truths are available to us because we are beloved children of the Most High – which is one of the most glorious blessings of being in Christ.
Today, we are using Ephesians 3:5 to help focus our prayer time with the Lord. This passage reads:
Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.
We know, of course, this specific mystery has to do with both Jews and Gentiles making up the church together. But the underlying principle is the fact there is a truth God has chosen to keep hidden from men for thousands of years for His own purpose. And now, by the Spirit living in each of us, He has decided to reveal His heart and plan to those who belong to Him. Not to everyone, just to those He calls His children (Rom. 8:16-17).
Something About Us
This is a collection of the many questions I have struggled with and the answers I have found regarding the relationship between authentic faith in Christ and much of what is portrayed today as Biblical Christianity. Especially with the coming darkness looming over all of us, including the church.
Come with me. It should be a wild ride!
To find out more about us and what we believe, just continue reading…