Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sardis: The Autopsy Of A Dead Church

Revelation 3:1-6  And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.  (2)  Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.  (3)  Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.  (4)  Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.  (5)  He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.  (6)  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

What comes to mind when you hear someone speak of a “dead church”?  Do you think of a handful of elderly people in an older building meeting weekly to hear a dry, emotionless sermon?

When we consider this week’s church, we find a “dead church” can be filled with people and be the one that has a great reputation in town. 

The important characteristics of an “alive” church, are not measured in the number who attend, the beauty of the building, or the reputation in the community.  The important characteristic is: Are you living in the life giving presence of Christ?  Are you abiding in the vine (Jesus) from whom all spiritual life flows?

The church of Sardis reminds us that like Samson, we can seem to be flourishing, and not even know that God, the source of true life, has left us.

This is a sobering and searching message to us today.

Astronomers tells us that the light from the Polar Star takes 33 years to reach us.  That means that for all we know, the star may have burned out 20 years ago and we wouldn’t know it for another 13 years.  It looks like it is alive, but it is dead.  Looks are deceiving!

When Jesus introduces Himself as the one that hath the seven Spirits of God, He is referring to the fullness of the Holy Spirit.  We know there is one Holy Spirit, here, and in Isaiah 11:2 it depicts the Holy Spirit’s seven fold ministry.  A Jewish lampstand, or Menorah, had seven flames and was used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, but there was one lampstand. This may have significance in that they were trusting in their human means instead of relying on the Holy Spirit’s power.

To understand more of Jesus’ message to Sardis, let us look at the city of Sardis.  It was a city that sat on a 1500 foot high plateau.  It was the capital of Lydia and founded around 1200 BC.  The city was surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs and there was only one narrow road that led into the city.  That made the city easy to defend, and because of this the inhabitants of the city sometimes became lax in their watching out for the enemy.  It was this overconfidence that allowed the city to be taken twice.  Once, an enemy soldier watched as a soldier of Sardis took a secret path down the side of one of the cliffs, and the enemy soldier was able to use that path, enter the city, and cast open the gates.  Another time, the guards were caught sleeping, and the enemy invaded and overthrew the city.  This makes the command of Jesus: “Be watchful!” even more appropriate.  Your city was overthrown because you had become lax and sleepy in watching for the enemy, your church will die unless you wake up and watch out!

Sardis was a very rich city.  The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the Lydians were the first people to mint coins.  During the reign of Croesus, the king became so rich that the phrase “As rich as Croesus” is still in use in some places today!

Their riches seemed to make them complacent, even lazy.  They trusted in what their gold could do, and not in what God could do.

The phrase in verse 1 “Thou hast a name that thou livest…” refers to their reputation in Sardis.  If you would come to that city and ask where to find a good Christian church, they would point you to this church.  It had the reputation from the past of being a faithful Christian church.  At this time, Jesus rebukes them because all that was left of their glorious past, was a reputation!

When a church first starts, there is usually near 100% involvement.  There has to be since there are not very many people, the ones that do come have to step up to keep the church going.

This first stage would be called the MOVEMENT stage.  People have a vision and are motivated to do something for Jesus and their community.

As the church grows, more people are added, things that couldn’t be afforded before are bought and there is what could be called a stage of MAGNIFICENCE.  During this time, involvement dips to between 50-70%.  Since there are more people, some begin to think that they can step back into the shadows and let someone else do the work, or service of the church.

As the church continues to move forward, systems and methods are set up to ensure the proper working of the church.  The church enters what one man called the MACHINE stage.  A great lumbering mechanism maintained by systems and checks.  It is here that involvement dips again to around 20%.

Finally the church declines, involvement reaches levels of just 10%, and what was once a living, life giving movement, becomes just a MONUMENT of what it once was.  A church in this stage is dead or near dead.

***While in the Philippines, I entered an ICU unit in a public hospital and was astounded that the artificial respirator, was a bag that another person had to squeeze to make sure the patient had each breath.  Each breath required the visitor to squeeze the bag for the patient.

When we think of that in terms of a church, and in terms of reaching others, if we don’t squeeze the bag, someone will die!  We must all be involved in fulfilling God’s command of going into all the world and making disciples.  We must all be involved in telling them about Jesus!

The strange thing about Jesus’ message to this church is that we see no external enemy.  There are no “depths of satan” there is no “Jezebel” or other false teachers named.  It seems that the church of Sardis’ biggest and worst enemy was themselves!

This rings true of us today.  For many in the church in America, do not face persecution, they are not forced to bow to Caesar or some other false god, but our chief and potent enemy is our luxury, our complacence, and our comfort which lulls us asleep.

Jesus calls us to be a marching army, sacrificing ourselves, our time, and our resources to take captive souls from the clutches of the enemy.

When in reality, many have become snoozing soldiers who are allowing the enemy to sneak into their city and throw open the gates to the world.

There was good news in Sardis.  There were those, even in this sleepy, self-satisfied, near dead church, that had kept their garments white.  They had not given in to the sin that surrounded them.  They had learned to stay in the presence of Jesus!  These, Jesus says, will one day walk with Him in white, for they are worthy.

It was to these that Jesus instructs to strengthen the things that remain.  Get involved!  If we don’t do something, it will die!

James tells us:
 James 2:17  Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Let us pray the prayer of the Psalmist:
Psalms 13:3  Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;

Jesus promised that those that overcame, would not be blotted out of the book of life.  That shows us that it is possible to be blotted out, or the promise wouldn't mean anything.

What are some of the signs of a living church?
1.       Growth
All living things are characterized by growth.  As long as we are alive our bodies are growing, maturing, changing, when we stop growing, we are dead!
2.       Harmony
A living church is one that works in harmony one with another.  Cancer is when cells in the body refuse to work with the other cells and actually begin attacking its own body.  A living church has a harmoniously working body.
3.       Emotion
A living church feels joy, sorrow, elation, and sadness.  We, like our Savior, can relate to what others are going through.  Because we are alive, we laugh, cry, sigh, and sing. 
4.       Motion
The life in us leads to us moving.  Dead bodies don’t move, but living bodies, and living churches are filled with action, doing things for Jesus, and serving one another.

Jesus final words to them could be summed up in four statements.
1.       Revive!  Strengthen the things that remain.  They still had some things that had a spark of fire in them.  Stir them up!  Take action!
2.       Remember!  Look back at all the things that God has done for you, and where He has brought you from to fan the flames of love for Him again.
3.       Resolve! Hold Fast…The church was to hold on tightly to the things that are still alive and not to let them die.
4.       Repent! Change the way they are living.  Get rid of the sin that was killing them.

Discussion Questions:
1.       One man has said that the fervency of our prayer life is one sign of the fervor of our spirituality.  What other ways can we “take the pulse” of our spiritual life?
2.       If involvement is one way to stay awake spiritually, what ways can you become more involved in the church?
3.       We know that money is not the root of all evil, but the LOVE of money is.  We are blessed with great prosperity in America.  How can we make sure that this prosperity doesn’t dull us to the spiritual necessities in our community?
4.       There is a promise to those that overcome, that they would not have their names blotted out of the book of life. What are some of the ways that those in the bible overcame? (Rev. 12:11, Rom. 12:21, 1 John 5:4-5)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Thyatira: The Church That Tolerated Sin

Revelation 2:18-29
(18)  And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
(19)  I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
(20)  Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
(21)  And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
(22)  Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
(23)  And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
(24)  But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
(25)  But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
(26)  And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
(27)  And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
(28)  And I will give him the morning star.
(29)  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Last week we studied Pergamos, the church that married the world.  We saw how that there was a pressure for them to compromise and give in to the world. 

If Pergamos married the world, Thyatira is celebrating anniversaries!

Just like the camel asking the Bedouin to be allowed to put his nose under the tent flap, and then his head (ears were cold) and then his neck, and then moved in and took over!  So is the church in Thyatira, the camel (the world and compromise) is in the tent and taking over!

Jesus describes Himself as the one with eyes as a flame of fire and his feet like they were molten brass.  This is descriptive of Him seeing right through the pretense and hypocrisy and dealing with the true heart of the matter.

It is here in Thyatira, that He instructs John the author of the book of Revelation, to use the term Son of God.  Up till now, He described Himself as the Son of man, one who could relate to our infirmities, one that could have compassion on us, but now He uses the term Son of God. This is the only church He uses that term with.  Play time is over and it is time to get serious with God.

Thyatira itself was located at the end of a valley, and had no natural defenses.  It was often ransacked and destroyed by marauders, only to be built again.  When the Romans brought peace, this city began to prosper and flourish.

It was a city that was known for its purple dyeing of cloth.  They had discovered the secret of getting dye from the madders root (a plant) instead of getting the purple color from a shellfish that would only yield a small drop of dye.

When we read in the New Testament, we find Lydia, was a seller of purple, and was from this city.  Paul showed her Jesus and she became a Christian.  It could very well be that she was the reason there was a church in Thyatira.  That once she became a Christian, she returned to her city and began to win others to Christ.

Thyatira was the smallest city of the seven churches, but we find that Jesus wrote the longest message to them.

The beginning of the letter seems to go well.  They are commended for their faith, service, works and charity (Love).  This is the only church that gets commended for their love.  We know that God is love and He has told us over and over, that we should love God and love one another.
Yet here, we find that though they were filled with love and good works, they were guilty of the filthiest sins.

It is true, that some people, who have an addiction, or alcoholism, actually perform well at work!  They work hard so that their glaring faults (their addiction or alcoholism) don’t stand out.  I can imagine that this is one of the reasons that Thyatira was so involved with doing loving works, to somehow cover their guilt from all they were doing and to make up for the things they were failing so miserably at.

It didn't fool Jesus then, and it doesn't fool Jesus now.  We are certainly called to loving works after we have received Christ as Lord, but no amount of works can take away our sin!

Thyatira was a city that had many guilds, almost like our modern day labor unions.  In their time, each guild had a god that they were expected to worship.  You can see how Christians would have a hard time with this. “You want a job?  You have to join our guild and worship our god!”  Not only did each guild have a god, but they were also required to participate in their sinful get-togethers.  This sometimes equated to illicit sexual acts and filthy parties.

Jezebel, probably not her real name, was allowed by the church to teach in the church and encouraged them in giving in to these demands.  She probably said something like “Well you need a job to support your family and to give to the work of God!  It is just your body, it isn’t defiling your soul, go ahead, it will be alright!”  This is satanic, almost like the words that the devil used with Eve: “Ye shall not surely die!”  Same devil, same tactics, and unfortunately in this case, same success.
Or, she could have taught the damnable lie that “Well, once you are saved, you are always saved, so it doesn’t really matter what you do, God will have grace on you!”  Both of these ideas are wrong, and Jesus had dealt with her and warned her, gave her space to repent, but she repented not.
Now the judgment was going to come! 

I will cast her into a bed, (probably a bed of sickness) and those that commit fornication/adultery with her would be given great tribulation unless they repented of their sins.

Sin always brings a judgment.  It is either judged at the foot of the cross, when we repent and receive Christ as our Savior, or it will be judged by God, either in this life or in the life to come.
Jesus goes further and says that He would kill her children with death!  This is a stunning statement but it reveals just how serious sin is to God! 

Think of it: What Jezebel and her teaching was giving birth to (her children) or the results of what she is teaching, needs to be killed!
When it comes to sin and compromise, it is kill, or be killed!  We must rid ourselves and our church from this deadliness.  The bible still tells us “The soul that sinneth, it shall die…” Ezek. 18:20 and

James 1:(14)  But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.(15)  Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.(16)  Do not err, my beloved brethren.

There will be times when we will have to make a stand for Jesus and righteousness and it will cost us something.  They didn't want to lose their jobs and get kicked out of the guild, so many compromised and went along with the sin!

Then Jesus moves to comfort those that were hearing this message that were not involved in this sin.
To the rest that are in Thyatira, that have not known the depths of satan…There were those that were faithful even in the middle of all of the compromise, and as they were hearing this news of judgment, He didn't want them to be swallowed up in fear, so He comforts them. 

The promise to them was He would give them no other burden, and power over the nations that they would rule over them with a rod of iron, and finally, that He would give them the morning star.
Who is the morning star?  It is Jesus!  He promises them the greatest reward if they would stay faithful in that filthy atmosphere!  The greatest gift that we can receive isn’t a huge promotion, a big raise, or a fancy house, but Himself!

Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Jesus is the greatest gift to receive, as Savior and Lord, and He is the greatest gift to give, to share Christ with someone else and bring them into the family of God!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Pergamos: The Church That Married The World

Part 3 "Jesus Seven Messages To Us Today"
Pergamos: The Church That Married The World
Rev 2:12-17
(12)  And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
(13)  I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
(14)  But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
(15)  So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
(16)  Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
(17)  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

The quick points of this message:
1.       You can make it in the worst places (satan’s seat/throne where he dwells)
2.       They were in it for the long run (dwellest meant permanently)
3.       Believers must not tolerate sin
a.       Doctrine of Balaam (idolatry and fornication)
b.      Doctrine of the Nicolaitans (who believed the flesh was evil and the spirit was pure and whatever your flesh did, your spirit was not going to be judged for)
4.       Repent: Change!
a.       Good results if you do:
                                                               i.      I will feed you with the hidden manna
                                                             ii.      I will give you a white stone
b.      Bad results if you don’t
                                                               i.      I will fight against you with the sword (Word of God) of my mouth.

Intro:  About Pergamos
Pergamos was the political capital of Asia the less and was a very religious city.  It had temples to Greek gods, Roman gods and three temples built to Roman Emperors.
It had a huge library with over 200,000 books in it and was known for the healing temple of Asclupious.  The symbol of that god was a snake, and in that temple they would keep live snakes.  A person who wanted to be healed could go and lay in the temple and sleep there that night.  If during that night a snake slithered across your body, you were considered touched by their god and healed!
When Jesus speaks to the church there, He says “I know thy works and where thou dwellest, even where satan’s seat (Grk: thronos) is”

When we studied Smyrna, we found out there were those of the synagogue of satan, here we find he has a throne, and dwells here.

Question:  What made it a stronghold for satan?  What was his throne here? 

We don’t really know, it could be the altar of zeus that was 100 feet by 40 feet and some say it was in the shape of a throne.
It could be that they were so given to emperor worship that it was a stronghold for the devil.
It could be the temple of Asclupious where travelers would come from everywhere to be healed by a snake.

The greater question is:  What is it that makes a stronghold of the devil in our life?  What is it that creates a throne where he can rule from in your heart?

In 2 Corinthians we read:
2Co 10:4-5
(4)  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
(5)  Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

And after the word strong holds, we hear him saying: imaginations, things against the knowledge of God, and thoughts.

It shows us that strongholds are built in our mind through our thinking.

When your parents told you “You will always be that way!  You will never change!” that built a stronghold.

When your teacher said “You are hopeless!  You just don’t get it do you?” that was building a stronghold.

When you were betrayed and the thought entered into your mind “You are just unlovable, there is something wrong with you that no one will commit to you and be faithful” that built a stronghold in your mind.

From these thoughts, which are all against what God said about us, the devil endeavors to build a throne, a place where he could reign from.  This is why it is critical to tear down those strongholds, and to not give place (don’t give him a spot to work from) to the devil. (Ephesians 4:27)

He prompts the ideas “If I will never be able to change, why try? Why go to church or pray?”
He prompts the thought “If I am hopeless, there is just no use, I might as well medicate that with another drink, another hit, another drug.”

If it is too late for me, I may as well take my life, whether directly through a bullet, or indirectly by drinking and drugging myself to death.

He puts the thought in “If no one will be faithful to me, and they will betray me, I might as well live a promiscuous (player) lifestyle and stop expecting to be respected”

But the good news is the Word of God can pull down those strongholds!  Jesus described Himself as He that hath the two edged sword.  In Hebrews the Word of God is described as sharper than any two edged sword, (Heb 4:12) able to pierce to the dividing of soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the THOUGHTS AND INTENTS OF THE HEART.  By reading, meditating and applying the Word of God to our lives, we tear down the strongholds of the enemy!

Unbelief is another stronghold that we must deal with.  Worldly wisdom can war against spiritual truth.  Reason always attacks faith.  

Reason can’t figure out a resurrected Savior!

Reason can’t understand a God who loved us so much He would send His son and die for us!
Reason will never be able to comprehend a man repenting and calling on God and having his heart changed in a spiritual way to where he is never the same again!

When the doctors say there is no cure, but God heals them, reason scoffs “Impossible” but faith receives the healing and praises God!

Strongholds are built by feeding the carnal man with worldly wisdom and starving the spiritual man from faith building food for his soul!

Here is the truth. In the middle of all of this, where satan’s throne was, where he dwelled, the church hadn’t denied Jesus, they hadn’t given in on the doctrine, they hadn’t surrendered and moved out!

Jesus said “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” we could rephrase that and say “I will build my church and the throne of satan shall not prevail against it…”
Dwellest (V. 13): Greek word meant permanently!  They were there to stay! The believers were not going to leave just because it was hard and there were many enemies.  They understood that God had put His most valiant soldiers in the hottest battle and that was all the more reason to stay and fight!

Antipas was my faithful martyr.  The word martyr in the Greek meant witness.  He witnessed or bore witness to the truth by dying for it.  This is another reason we can stake our faith on the Word of God and its truth, because men and women would not die for something that was phony or make believe.  They believed and knew it to be true! Antipas believed, he didn’t sprinkle the incense on the fire, he refused to worship the false gods, and he witnessed his faith, with his life!  Martyr didn’t mean what we understand it to be today, until years after, until the many who “Witnessed” with their life, changed the meaning to mean dying for what you believe.

While the church watched all of this, they refused to leave, or give up Jesus.
If the devil couldn’t destroy them by persecution, he would change tactics and undermine them through corruption. 

Doctrine of Balaam:

He taught Balak how to have the destruction of God upon the children of Israel.  If he couldn’t curse them, he would corrupt them! Get their young boys sleeping with the Moabite women, then the women will turn their hearts to the idols, it worked!
We see how fornication is a powerful force to destroy people’s purity, and to keep them enslaved.  Once someone gets involved, they are influenced by their partner, and their desires, adapting so as not to lose the relationship.  How many give up Jesus, or ruin their testimony, because of illicit sexual relationships?

This church had been so intermingled with the world it was rebuked by Jesus.
In Constantine’s time, there was a change, the heathen temples became Christian temples, the heathen priests became Christian priests, it wasn’t so much a change of the heart as it was a changing of the times and the people adapted to survive economically and to stay in the good graces of the emperor, but not repent to have a relationship with Jesus!


They believed that your body was inherently evil and your soul was inherently good and so nothing that your body did could affect your soul’s wellbeing.  They thought it was separate and therefore you could do whatever your body wanted!

Jesus stern words indicates otherwise…REPENT!

He finishes the message to them with a promise: If you repent, I will feed you with the hidden manna.  I will give you a white stone.  If you don’t repent, I will fight against you with the sword of my mouth (The Word of God)

Discussion Questions
1.       What similarities do you see between the city of Pergamos and the city in which you live?
2.       What good traits were evidenced in the church of Pergamos? And how would this show in our church today?
3.       What strongholds does the devil try to build in our lives today? Are there some strongholds that God has helped you break free from that you care to share? How did you break free?
4.       In what way might a church today be guilty of “holding to the doctrine of Balaam”?
5.       What stands out to you as the main moral or message of this text?
6.       Are there any surprises found in this text that came as a shock to you? i.e. that Jesus would say to a Christian “repent or else”…