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Letters to My Children

Leaving an Inheritance in the Lord
How Bad Do You Really Want It?

How Bad Do You Really Want It?

Often I find myself asking the Lord to reveal Himself to me.  In fact I find myself, like Moses, continually pleading for God to “show me Your glory” or to at least let me experience a little of what the early church experienced back in the book of Acts.  “Lord, give me something.  Anything. Just give me a glimpse, maybe just a tiny taste of Your awe and Your power and Your majesty.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I really don’t know what I was expecting God to do.  Maybe a flash of light like Peter and John saw when Jesus was transfigured before them.  Maybe a chance to see the Spirit of God move in the wind and fire like Elijah did at the mouth of the cave.  Or maybe to feel the very foundation of the house shaken by the power of God like it did when the early church prayed.  I don’t know.  Maybe something memorable.  Maybe something out of the ordinary.

Something more than this.

Have you ever felt the same way?  Have you looked at the life of the church portrayed in the Acts and then at your own life and wondered what went wrong?  What’s missing?  And if you have, did it drive you to the Scriptures or did it drive you to a church service that made you “feel” electrified with pulsating music and long, drawn out periods of spiritual aerobics?  You know what I mean.  Churches that try to imitate what they think the Spirit “feels” like by manipulating the flesh.  We’ve all seen it done and we know how superficial it is at best.  It’s a bad copy of the real thing.  A counterfeit.  A mirage.  Smoke and mirrors.

Which brings us back to the Scriptures.

“Lord, is there somewhere in Your Word that will show us how to know You more?  Is there some passage that can give us the key to unlocking the secret of getting close to You?  Is there somewhere in Your Word that will satisfy our desire to know more of You?  Lord, can you please help us out?”

And, of course, His answer is, yes.

First, you must understand that His Word is full of places that show us what is necessary to have intimate fellowship with Him.  But many of these have to do with living right and striving for holiness, which is not a particularly popular topic in today’s Laodicean church.

So before we tackle the Graduate Level stuff like sanctification and “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) or “walking by the Spirit and not according to the flesh” (Gal. 5:16) or “not being conformed to the image of this world” (Rom. 12:2), we need to take a step back and examine our level of commitment to living a life of intimacy with the Lord.  It’s not something to be taken lightly.  It’s a radical change of existence where you will daily die to yourself in order for Christ to live larger and stronger in you.  It’s a trade, all of you for all that He is.  It will be an adventure of great heights and deep valleys, of pain and hardship and failure— but it is also an adventure of breathtaking seasons of sheer bliss.  “Is the pain and hardship worth it?” we all ask.  Absolutely!  But there’s a price to be paid to hear God speak and understand the knowledge and wisdom of God.

And the question before us is this:  Are you willing to pay the price?

If so, let’s begin with some Scriptures that speak of the required level and intensity of our desire necessary to know the wisdom and knowledge of our God.

Proverbs 2 begins this way:

My son, if (a conditional clause) you receive (or, snatch, hold, get) my words and (implied – if you) treasure (or, hide, store up) my commands (not suggestions) within you (2:1).

Uh, question.  What does it mean to receive Your words?  Can You give me some examples?

So that you incline (or, heed, hearken, be attentive) your ear to wisdom, and apply (or, stretch out, extend) your heart to understanding (2:2).

Ok, got it.  But to what extent?  In other words, do I apply my heart like I did to high school algebra or is it something greater than that, something more intense?  How much do I need to seek the wisdom of God and His understanding in order to experience true intimacy with God?

Yes, if (conditional clause) you cry out (or, call, summon) for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding (2:3).

So am I to cry out for Him like a fan at a football game or like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire when he cried “Stella!” at the bottom of the stairs or Rocky Balboa when he cried out “Adrian!” in the ring?  Or is it more like the two blind men that continually cried out to Jesus, desperate, refusing to be silenced, begging to be heard and healed, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matt. 9:27).  Or is it something more?

Can you feel the rising level of intensity in these words?  It’s more than simple mental assent or wishful thinking.  There’s a sense of dire urgency, of helplessness, of reckless abandonment in these words.  The Lord tells us we must seek discernment and understanding like a drowning man seeks one more breath.  We must want it more than anything else, more than life itself.

Does that seem a stretch to you?  Does it seem too radical, too over-the-top?  Then let’s read on.

If (again, conditional clause) you seek her (wisdom, discernment, understanding, knowledge of God) as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasure (2:4).

Got it, we are to seek and desire and crave the wisdom and knowledge of God more than the very treasures we spend our lives trying to accumulate.  We must want it more than gold and silver, more than comfort and ease, more than our own pleasure.  We must seek it like the man in search of fine pearls (Matt. 13:46) or the woman with the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) or the man who finds the treasure in a field (Matt. 13:44).  We must be willing to sell all that we have to possess the very wisdom of God and the knowledge of God and experience the very presence of God.  After all, nothing else really matters, does it?

Then (the result of all the previous “ifs“) you will understand the fear (or, reverence, awe, terror) of God and find the knowledge of God (2:5).

Simple truth.  Clear path.  Wonderful reward.  But are you willing to pay the price and fulfill the “if’s“, the conditional clauses, to receive the “then” at the end?

I know that I am.  Are you?  And, if so, will you join me on this grand adventure?

Adveho quis may.
Come what may.

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246:  A Warning to the Shepherds of His Church

246: A Warning to the Shepherds of His Church

Today we often forget the condemning indictment God levels against those shepherds of His flock, those pastors of His church, that have forsaken the call and left their first love and followed after the things of this world. We forget God’s anger against them, but we see this kind of church apostasy and defection all around us.

So what does God say about a shepherd that cares not for the flock? And, more important, what does God promise to do to those shepherds?

The answer is both chilling and frightening. Keep listening to find out more.

This is a study on Zechariah 10:1-12 and Ezekiel 9:1-11.

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245:  A Warning to the Church and the Nation

245: A Warning to the Church and the Nation

We are living in troubling, turbulent times… but not unlike the times of the prophet Jeremiah.  In Jeremiah’s day his nation was facing destruction and decay both from within and without.  The judicial system had been perverted and compromised.  Infant murder (abortion) was rampant and the people were engulfed in sexual sin.  Does that situation sound familiar?  I thought so.  Sounds much like today, doesn’t it.

So listen to see what Jeremiah would say today to both the church and the nation.

The following is a study on Jeremiah 7:1-34.

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The Hidden Danger of Doctrine

The Hidden Danger of Doctrine

One of the hidden dangers of striving to have correct doctrine, and then letting that striving become the mark or brand of our faith, is that we can become more concerned and focused with serving the Lord than with knowing and loving Him.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that holding fast to correct doctrine, to truth, is to be minimized or discounted or taken lightly.  Quite the contrary.  Scripture continually exhorts and commands us to teach sound doctrine (1 Tim 4:6), to rebuke those who teach a contrary, false doctrine (Eph. 4:14), and Jesus Himself even said that He was, in essence, truth (John 14:6).  So we can’t really know the Lord until we have an accurate understanding of Who He is and that, of course, comes from a correct understanding of Scriptures, or a study of doctrine.  Hence, true, orthodox doctrine is vital for the Believer and the church.  That’s non-negotiable, it’s a given for the Christian.

Let’s then put to rest the idea that I am speaking against the study of Biblical doctrine and truth.   I am not.  In fact, it is to that study of the Scriptures that I have given the better part of my life.  The issue and danger is not in the study of doctrine alone, but in only doctrine.

Let me explain.

If we focus on doctrine only and let the pendulum of our spiritual lives swing too far in one direction, we inevitably become scholars, professors, smug experts in the Law, proud depositories of Biblical facts, and not passionate followers of the Lord Jesus.  We replace intimacy with the Lord with knowledge about the Lord and then begin to filter the awe and breathtaking majesty of the Lord through the lens of our degrees and theology and orthodoxy.  We think first, and feel last.  We sacrifice heartfelt love for intellectual knowledge and brag about knowing all about Him— but not really knowing Him.

And this a dangerous place for a Believer to be.

Consider the church in Ephesus.  They worked tirelessly for the Kingdom and stood strong and tall against those who were evil in their midst, against those who peddled their toxic, false doctrine as truth.  They tested and vetted those who claimed to be apostles and found them to be liars (Rev. 2:3).  The Scriptures say the church at Ephesus “persevered and labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rev. 2:3).  From our perspective, they were a church that believed the Scriptures and held firm to sound doctrine.  They prided themselves on being the gatekeepers of orthodoxy, of true, Scriptural teaching.   And this was a good thing.  In fact, it was a great thing.

But Jesus said this to them, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).  They had done well in the work of the Lord, but in doing so, had failed in their love of the Lord.  They were once in love with Him and now they were in love with what they were doing for Him.  Ministry to the Lord replaced fervency for and intimacy with the Lord.  They, like us today, jettisoned the best for the good, not realizing what it had cost them— or us.

So what are we to do?  How do we keep this from happening to us?

Simply this, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5).  Remember what it was like when you first came to Christ?  Remember the joy, the excitement, the childlike wonder, the swell of faith that birthed great dreams and confident assurance that you and your Lord could do anything?  Remember when you truly believed that “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world”? (1 John 4).  Remember when you rejoiced that you were a member of His church and that the very “gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).  Or prevail against you, for that matter.  Do you remember all this?

If so, what happened to that person?  When did he go?  Who ran him off?  How can we bring him back?

Jesus told the church at Ephesus to, “repent, and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5).  The road back to the beginning starts with humbling yourself before the Lord, confessing how you have allowed the world, both sacred and secular, both good and bad, to choke out the love of Christ, and ask for His forgiveness.  And, as He promises, He will “forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  Then ask the Lord to restore your childlike faith and innocence in Him, and let the revival of our lives begin again.

Please understand, it’s really that simple.  All you have to do is ask.

Jesus wants us to stand firm and unyielding for the truth and to also have a heart that beats for Him, moment by moment.  He wants us to know all about Him and to continue to grow in that knowledge, but not at the expense of simply knowing Him personally, intimately, face to face.  It is not an either/or, Door One or Door Two type of choice.  It is both.  We stand in the truth because He is Truth and we love Him with all our being.  We strive to know more and more about Him because we love Him more and more and by knowing more and more about Him we can love Him more and more.  And yes, it really is just that simple.

Choose today to love Him with all that you are and to grow in the knowledge of Him for the simple reason that you love Him and want to know more about Him and watch how the two, doctrine and intimacy, work together as one.

Come Lord Jesus!

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The Dependency of Christ

The Dependency of Christ

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”
John 5:19

Independence is one of the hallmarks of our society.  It is literally woven into the fabric of our nation and is part of our DNA as free Americans.  We fought the War of Independence to gain our freedom from England and one of our Nation’s most sacred treasures is the Declaration of Independence.

As a capitalistic society we value and honor independence in the form of entrepreneurialism.  We throw phrases of praise around like: “He’s a self-made man.”  Or, “He picked himself up by his own bootstraps.”  Or, “He started with nothing and look how far he has come with hard work and ingenuity.”  We admire and want to be like those who have succeeded beyond anyone else, those with vision and commitment to do the impossible, those who refused to be defined, or labeled, or boxed in.  We want to emulate those who made their own way by not working for “the man.”  We idolize the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others who rejected the conventional and safe career paths, doubled-down on their dreams, charted new waters, and changed their world.  These are the ones that are seen as true American heroes, our independent icons, our own American Idols… well, at least to some.  And why?  Because as a people and as a nation:  We crave independence.

And the church is not immune to this insatiable craving.  We choose pastors that will preach only what we want to hear, we demand only the worship music that we enjoy, and we will fight to the death to control all aspects of the church in order to make sure it remains a comfortable haven for us even as our lives drift further from the Truth.  After all, we give our money, we bought our ticket, and we expect a good show.

Independence.  Valued by our society and promoted by our culture as the key to success, but independence is exactly the opposite of what the Scriptures say leads to success in the Christian life.  The Christian life is a life of surrender, of yielding one’s supposed “unalienable rights” for the sake of others.  It’s a life of total dependence, helpless dependence— like that of a little child.  Remember the words of Jesus: “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4).  And later, Jesus states that you cannot even enter into the Kingdom of God or receive the Kingdom unless you come dependent, like that of a little child (Mark 10:15).

Knowing how our carnal, prideful nature would balk at the thought of humility and dependence and self-sacrifice, Jesus modeled that dependent relationship while with us on earth with none other than His own Father— the first person of the Trinity.

Think about it, Jesus Christ, Incarnate Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, Co-equal with God the Father, chose to place Himself in a dependent relationship with God the Father in order to show us what is expected of you and me.  He not only “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” but He also “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8-9).  He became our example, the prototype of how the Christian life was to be lived.

Let me give you just a few examples.

First, when the Pharisees, the religious snobs of His day, put out a contract, a hit, on Jesus because He said that God was His Father and He was equal with God, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He (the Father) does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19).  In other words, Jesus is not living independent of the Father but in a totally dependent relationship with Him.  How much of a dependent relationship?  According to Jesus, He didn’t do anything on His own initiative but only did or copied what He saw the Father doing.  He was imitating the Father while with us on earth.  He had, in effect, the mind of the Father and walked like the Father walked.  And we are commanded to have the same type of relationship with Him, to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and to “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

Next, when the religious snobs, the Pharisees, marveled at His teaching and questioned where Jesus received His theological training, the “What degree do you have and from what Seminary did you graduate” preacher prodding, He responded by saying, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16).  Did you get that?  Jesus said the very teaching we read in RED in our Bibles did not originate from Him but was given Him by His Father.  He was in such a dependent relationship that the Father gave Jesus, for example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and Jesus simply relayed the Father’s words to us.  Same with the Kingdom Parables or the Vine and Branches in John 15 or the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24.  Jesus received His teaching from the Father and expects us to do the same.  After all, He modeled that type of dependent relationship for us as an example.

Finally, after stinging the religious snobs for their ruthlessness and rescuing a woman caught in the very act of adultery, Jesus is accused and assaulted with the question: “Who are You?” (John 8:25).  The Pharisees were hoping that Jesus would condemn Himself by saying what He had been saying to them all along, that He was the Son of God.  Jesus responded to their question with this: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28).  In essence Jesus was saying that when He is crucified they will know that He is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, and that He is so dependent on the Father that all He does and everything He says was taught Him by God the Father.  He was, in effect, the Father’s mouthpiece and herald come to proclaim the Father’s words to the Father’s creation.  He was what He commands us to be.

As the time for Jesus’ return approaches, it would do well for each of us to consider the ways we have defined our relationship with Jesus as that of a servant— 40 hour work week, time and a half overtime, 2 weeks paid vacation and an incredible benefit package— and not that of a slave.  Because a slave, a voluntary slave, a bondslave, a doulos, is exactly what the Scriptures declare we are.  We are ones that have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20) and now belong to our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.

How ’bout we try living dependent on Him and not independent of His Word.  What do you say?  Don’t we owe that to the One who gave His all for us?  I think we do— and much, much more.

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The Letter to the Church at Ephesus

The Letter to the Church at Ephesus

“Nevertheless I have this against you,
that you have left your first love.”
Revelation 2:4

The best way for me to show you that these seven letters do, indeed, reveal to us an outline of church history from the time of the Apostles until the coming Rapture is to simply jump right in with the first letter.  The letter to the church at Ephesus.

But before I do I want to give you a quick introduction on how the Lord systematically lays out the design of each letter.  For example, in each letter there are seven design elements from the Lord.

First, there is the name of the church and the meaning of that name.

Two, there is the particular name or title of Christ that is different for each church.

Third, there is the good news or the commendation Jesus has for the particular church (and not all have something good said about them).

Fourth, there is the bad news or concerns or criticism He has for each church (and again, not all have something bad said about them).  We can call these two steps the Lord’s report card to the churches.  In some of the letters, to Smyrna and Philadelphia, the Lord only has good things to say about a particular church.  To others, Sardis and Laodicea, He only has bad things to say.  To the rest, there is a combination of good and bad news.

Fifth, there is the exhortation or words from Christ about what needs to be corrected in each church.

Sixth, there is a particular promise to the overcomer that varies for each church.

Seventh, there is a unique closing phrase for each church: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Note, that is churches, plural.  We are to hear what the Spirit says to all the churches and not just to the particular church addressed in each letter.  You will also note that in some of the letters, the first three for example, the closing statement is found in the body of the letter.  But in the last four it is found at the end, almost like a postscript.  This is not an accident.  It is by design and has great prophetic meaning that we will discuss when we get to the letter to the church at Thyatira.  Also, if these seven letters were listed in any other order than they are in the scripture, the prophetic timeline would not work. You will see God’s amazing hand in the design and placement of each of these letters.

One final comment, since we know that there are at least four levels of interpretations of these letters: (1) as a letter written to a local church dealing with situations unique to that congregation at the time it was written, (2) as a letter written to all churches in general throughout time for their encouragement and admonition, (3) as a personal letter written to each of us for our personal growth in the Lord, and (4) as a prophetic picture of church history given to us in advance— I will only focus on the fourth level of interpretation for each letter.

So, with that beginning, let’s take a look at the Lord’s letter to the church at Ephesus.

The Letter to the Church at Ephesus

The period of church history covered by the letter is defined as the Apostolic age and runs from about 30-100AD.  It is the time when the church was at its infancy, full of missionary zeal, coming to grips with its doctrines and practices, and facing persecution that would only grow more intense over the next century.  It was also the time where the church was led by the Apostles and when the inspired scriptures were written and circulated.  Much heresy was being confronted by the early church, especially Gnosticism, that is clearly addressed and refuted in John’s letters.  But as history has shown us, the early church was growing weary and lax in their stand for the truth they once enthusiastically proclaimed.  By the end of the first century all the disciples, save John, had met a martyr’s death.  Paul was beheaded in Rome.  Peter crucified.  Nero blamed his burning of Rome on the Christians and the lions of the Coliseum gorged themselves on the flesh of the struggling church.  It was a bad time to be a Christian and it was only going to get worse.  In addition, Rome had tired of the rebellious Jews and destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD, sending the nation of Israel into another exile that would last until May 14, 1948, when once again God miraculously brought His people back into their land.

To this church and to this time in church history the letter to Ephesus was written.

Church Name –  Ephesus means darling or beloved or desired one.  It was a term of endearment.  It was a church founded by Paul at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-20) and was known by its commitment to fervent evangelism.

Description of Jesus –  The letter begins with Jesus being described as “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1).  We know from Revelation 1:20 that the stars and lampstands represent the churches themselves.  In other words, Jesus is telling them, and us, that He is among the churches and His power is available to all of them.  They are not left alone.

The Good Words –  Then Christ’s good words, His commendation, to the church is as follows:

“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.  But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:2-3, 6).

First, the church at Ephesus was a church doing what God had called them to do.  They were a working church, an enduring church, a church that was not lazy or centered on itself, like many churches today.  You can see this by the accounts of the church in the Acts (18-20) and because the Lord knew and commented on their work, labor, perseverance and patience.

Second, Ephesus was a church that was separated from the world.  They understood clearly that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33) and that they were to be “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:16).  How do we know this?  Because Jesus said that they “cannot bear those who are evil.”

Third, they were a church that valued purity and genuineness in their leadership and refused to let Satan creep into their fellowship under the cover of darkness as false apostles.  There were no tares in their wheat field.  Jesus commended them of the fact that they “tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.”  Even without the advantage of having a completed Bible, the church at Ephesus was committed to sound doctrine in their dealings with church leadership.  In fact, this was the very warning Paul gave the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:25-31.

Finally, they hated the things that the Lord hates.  The word Nicolaitans comes from two Greek words: niko, meaning “to conquer, overthrow” and laos, meaning “the people or the laity.”  The followers of Nicolai had two serious heretical views that the church at Ephesus and the Lord both hated.  One, they indulged in gross sensuality and sin due to their radical separation of the physical and spiritual natures.  They practiced what we today would call postmodern compartmentalism, where we place all our fleshly desires in one compartment and our life as a follower of Jesus in another compartment and then make sure our Jesus compartment never influences our flesh compartment.  In essence, it is a denial of absolute truth.  And therefore, with no absolute truth, each part of someone’s life can have a changing truth of its own.

For example, someone’s religious life may say that Jesus is the only way to God and that the Bible is true in all matters.  And, within the sphere of religion, they may passionately hold to that belief.  But in a person’s entertainment life, they may believe that anything is permissible for them to watch as long as it has a “good” meaning in the end regardless of the profanity, blasphemy, gratuitous violence or nudity in the film.  But, doesn’t watching this R-rated movie contradict the religious beliefs or truths held by that person?  Not necessarily.  You see, a post-modernist compartmentalizes their life into various segments or compartments that have their own truth or set of values and do not seem to communicate those truths among themselves.  And, even if these compartments contradict each other (such as holding to the holiness of the Savior and still watching the profanity, nudity and blasphemy of an R-rated film) the person feels no tension because each segment of their life is in watertight compartments that don’t communicate with each other.

Again for example, you can go to someone’s Facebook page and see (actual example) a statement about themselves that reads: “Hey, I’m Kaetlenn, some of you guys know me as Katie.  I am a Christian and proud to be one.  My favorite Bible Verse is Roman 6:23.  I have the most amazing family.  My Favorite song is F#^&#$* Perfect by Pink!”

Really?  Anybody see a problem with this?  For a non-postmodern, yes.  How can you claim to be proud to be a Christian and have a favorite song that is laced with profanity?  You can’t.  The two are inconsistent, contradictory.  But for Kaetlenn, she would say, “No, I do love Jesus will all my heart (in my Jesus compartment) but I don’t see anything wrong with telling the world my favorite song is F#^&#$* Perfect by Pink (in my music compartment).  I don’t see any problem with the two.”  Of course you don’t. You hold to a postmodern view of Christianity and life in general.

In essence, compartmentalism leads to a schizophrenic view of Christianity that says we can embrace the Lord in any way we want and yet not have Him affect any of the other parts of our lives.  Why?  Because each of our compartments has its own truth… and since truth is not absolute, we find no tension with that.

And this teaching is one the Lord hates— as much today as back then.  We might want to take notice of that fact.

The second heretical teaching of the Nicolaitans was trying to set up an ecclesiastical order within the church and rob it of its autonomy.  For the first time the distinction between clergy and laity is promoted and it appears they wanted to establish bishops, archbishops, cardinals, popes and the like which would enslave the church to one man or a small group of men and not to the Lord Himself.  And this, like postmodern compartmentalism, the Lord hates.

The Not-So-Good Words –  When you see the word, nevertheless, coming from the Lord, it usually is not a good thing.  And that also holds true with the church at Ephesus.  The no-so-good words from the Lord are: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).  What does this mean?  Had the church walked away from God and the Gospel?  Had they devalued Christ and begun worshiping idols like in the days of the Northern Kingdom?  Were they now apostates, alienated from the love of God?  Absolutely not.  Leaving their first love meant they were focused on the eternals, sound doctrine, building the church, discipleship and all the other trappings that go with Christianity.  But what was missing?  Passion.  Love.  Fervency.  Excitement.  Wonder.  Awe.
They were so busy doing the work of the King that they had no time for the King Himself.
In other words, the honeymoon was over and the incredible joy and giddiness of knowing the Lord of the Universe had become commonplace, second nature, almost boring.  They had substituted the good for the best— and their relationship with the Lord was, at best, strained.  More likely they took the Lord for granted and their “familiarity bred contempt.”

“Lord, we are doing all the things you commanded us to.  So what’s the big deal?”  You are doing them out of duty and not out of love.  And to the One who gave His life so we can live, that is a big deal.

The Exhortation of Jesus –  Jesus said that to correct this lack of love the church at Ephesus must do the following:

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen” – They were to re-examine their life with Jesus and remember what it was like when they first came to faith in Him.  And if they were more in love with Him, more enamored with Him, more excited about being in His presence then than they were now… uh, “Houston, we have a problem.”

“Repent” –  Admit, confess and turn away from their apathy and indifference and coldness and run back into the arms of Jesus.

“And do the first works” – Or, go back to your roots, your beginnings and do the things that pleased the Lord in the beginning and not the things that seem to please you now.  After all, it is all about Christ and not about us.  We are to follow His commands (John 14:15) and produce the fruits that can only come from Jesus (Mat. 7:16).

And what if we don’t?  Fair question.  But the Lord has a frightening answer.  He says, “Or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand (symbolizing the church) from its place— unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5b).  In other words, the early church, as us today, needs to repent and act like the church or Jesus will remove that church from its place of safety, influence and blessing.  It was a warning to the early church to get back to the center of their faith because stormy, no bloody days or persecution were coming and their self-centered, cold, stale orthodoxy won’t be enough to see them through.

As you can see, the exhortations and warnings can fit almost any church in any church age as well as for us as individual believers.  But they historically fit perfectly the early church during the first century (you will see more clearly how they all fit together as we go along).  After all, it was the desired and beloved church that Christ gave His life for.  It was the only church that mentions Apostles and it was a church striving to remain doctrinally pure and was working tirelessly for the Lord.  But that was not enough.  They had left their “first love” and needed to rekindle their love for the Lord.

Tomorrow we will look at the letter to the church at Smyrna, the persecuted church.  And this is one of two churches that the Lord only has good news for.  Do you wonder why?  We shall find out tomorrow.

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The Outline of the End Times

The Outline of the End Times

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are,
and the things which will take place after this.”
Revelation 1:19

One of the key truths that explains almost everything pertaining to the Christian life today is found in the second and third chapters of the Revelation.  Here our Lord Jesus writes seven letters to seven churches that are, on the surface, intriguing.  But once you dig deeper into the meanings of these letters, they are breathtaking and prophetic.  In fact, they chronicle all of church history from the days of the Apostles until now.  They are a timeline of church history and, for us, present church life.  And once we come to grips with that fact alone, the meaning and purpose of the life we live, or try to live, or claim to live, or don’t live in Christ today opens up and unfolds like a spring flower.  Everything becomes clear and focused.

But, as usual, I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me step back and explain.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches

In Revelation 1:19 John is given a command by the risen Lord Jesus.  He is told to, “Write the things which you have seen, the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”  Here we have the outline from Jesus Himself for the entire book of the Revelation.

First, John is told to write what he has seen— the seven lampstands, the seven stars, the sharp two-edged sword, the Lord Jesus in all His glory, for example.  All this takes place in chapter 1.

Next, John is told to write “the things which are”— the current church situation, the seven letters to seven churches in what we would now call Asia Minor.  He is to write what the Lord says to the churches at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7), Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11), Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17), Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29), Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6), Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13), and Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22).  When we look at these seven letters to these ancient churches with strange sounding names we often see them as something mystical, something confusing, and something that we don’t really need to bother ourselves about except maybe in a purely academic sense.  But that would be a grave mistake on our part.  These seven letters are anything but dry, academic and boring.  As stated before, chapters 2 and 3 reveal to us all of church history, our history, from the Apostles to the coming rapture of the church.  They show us why we do the things we do, good or bad, in the name of Christ.  They show us why we worship the way we worship, why we “do” church the way we do, and why we live the way we live.  These letters show what the Lord commends in His church and what about His church He abhors.  And they also show us what about His church literally makes Him sick on His stomach.  But I am getting ahead of myself again.  We will talk more about that later.

Finally, John is told to write the “things that will take place after this.”  He is to write about events that will take place in the future, the incredible events that make up chapter 4 to the end of the Revelation.  These events speak of great tribulation, of two witnesses, of the throne of God and the scroll sealed with seven seals, it speaks of the Lamb as if slain, the woman and the dragon, the Whore of Babylon and much more.

As you can see, John is given the outline for the entire book of the Revelation and of human history.  In fact, the Revelation is the only book in the Bible that promises a special blessing to those who read it.  It begins with these words, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written in it; for the time is near.”1   Or, as Chuck Missler would say, “Read me, I’m special!”2

Tomorrow we will look at the seven letters in detail and show how they reveal to us past church history and, amazingly, our current church situation.  These letters from the Lord to His church are as timely as any news blog and as prophetic as the book of Daniel or Ezekiel.  In fact, you will learn more about yourself from these letters, especially the last one, than you would have thought possible.  And finally, you will see how God views His church, and you and I, compared to how we view ourselves— and the difference will take your breath away and drive you to your knees.

Are you ready for an incredible journey?  Then let’s begin.

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1.  Revelation 1:3
2.  Missler, Chuck.  2002.  Learn the Bible in 24 Hours.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 271.

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Leaving an Inheritance

Leaving an Inheritance

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,
But the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.
Proverbs 13:22

I was recently the recipient of an inheritance.  My first.

On Wednesday, May 23, 2012 my mother, Delores McCranie, passed away while vacationing at Myrtle Beach.  We knew, for the last couple of years, that she was in declining health but her sudden death caught us all by surprise.  She closed her eyes at the beach listening to the sounds of the waves, feeling the heat of the sun on her skin and the smell of salt in the ocean air and quietly passed into eternity leaving all her earthly possessions behind.

Over the next month or so her will was probated, her life insurance redeemed, her bank accounts closed, her final bills paid and her estate settled.  And what was left became the inheritance my mother left to me and my brother.

Now don’t get me wrong, the inheritance I received from my mother’s estate was a great financial blessing.  We paid off our mortgage, gave money to our children, remodeled our kitchen and became, for the first time in my 35 years of marriage, debt free.

But as wonderful as those blessings were, they are temporary at best.  You see, what my mother left me I will someday leave to my children.  When I close my eyes for the last time they will probate my will, pay my bills, close out my accounts and divvy among themselves what is left.  That will be their inheritance.  And when they die they will pass their inheritance on to their children and then on to their children’s children— and the cycle just goes on and on and on.

In our culture, we pass on to our children houses and money and toys.  All the stuff we spend our life accumulating but never having the time to enjoy.  And, if we consider ourselves good parents, we will strive to leave them more than our parents left us.  Why?  So our children can enjoy the life we were not able to and we can rest easy in our graves knowing we left them better off in the beginning of their lives than we were at the onset of ours.

But what an incredible short-sighted view of parental responsibility and the blessings of an inheritance.

All that my parents left me could only be used or spent in this life, the life of today, the temporary life of the here and now.  But no inheritance was left regarding the real life, the life after death, the life that never ends, our eternal life with the Lord.  All the trinkets and toys of this life will someday pass away and be left to another and we will enter the Kingdom empty handed having nothing to show from the lives that have gone on before us.  This is not a true inheritance.  It is simply the passing of wealth from one generation to another.  There has to be more we can leave to our children that this.

Jesus spoke of these things when He said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 1

My desire is to leave you, my children and grandchildren, an inheritance that will last a lifetime and reap, not just temporary financial blessings, but eternal ones as well.  My joy would be to be able to impart to you some of the wisdom I have gained from the many lessons I have learned walking with our Lord and to help you not make the same foolish mistakes I have made.  After all, there is no need for us both to step on the same landmine.  If it blew me up, then you would do well to walk in another direction.

Consider this book my inheritance to you— and to your children.  And rest assured, you will also get all my stuff, the standard inheritance stuff, when I leave this body and have no more use of houses or money or toys.  For you, it will be the best of both worlds.

As Solomon said, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”2  And I want, with all my being, to be that good man that leaves a lasting inheritance to each of you and to your children.

My prayer is that what He is able to accomplish through you will eclipse the small things He was able to accomplish through me.

So, let’s begin.

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1.  Matthew 6:19-21
2.  Proverbs 13:22

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