Ever since the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, the Lord had promised a Savior that would give mankind victory over sin and death.Read More
Thanksgiving’s over (the holiday – hopefully not the attitude) and the Christmas season is in full swing. With all festivities and busyness that goes along with the Christmas season its fairly easy for the true meaning of Christmas to get lost in the hustle. Since the early celebrations of the Christian church, Christmas has been a time of celebrating and preparing for the Advent of Christ.Read More
Because of Duck Dynasty, the phrase "happy, happy, happy" has become a household saying. The truth is, if you have trusted the Lord, we've got every reason to be feel blessed and happy. You've got a Father who loves you and wants to bless you and at the end of the day, you know what your future holds.Read More
Our second devotion at the 2014 National High School Finals Rodeo came from PRCA bullfighter Judd Napier. Judd spent some time discussing the fear the he sees in some kids as they are learning how to ride bulls...especially if they are on stronger stock than they are ready for. Judd said that his reminder for those kids (and for us as well) is that the Bible tells us some variation of "do not fear" 365 times. We literally have a verse for every day of the year where the Lord reminds us that we should not fear.
That is exactly what my NHSFR ministry partner, Tilt James, and I pray at each performance with the contestants behind the chutes. We remind the kids of 2 Timothy 1:7, " For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control." While that verse comes in the context of our testimony for Christ...it certainly has bearing on our understanding of fear and trust in the Lord.
In my estimation, our faith isn't really doing much if it doesn't show up when we are tested. Trials stink at the time, but they build us into the tough man or woman the Lord wants us to be.Read More
At our last Ropin’ Hope Fellowship service we had the opportunity to study the book of Joshua in chapters 3-4. These chapters cover the period of time when Israel was about to cross the Jordan River from Egypt to take possession of the Promised Land.
Remember that the Lord had promised Abraham that his descendants would take possession of the Canaanites’ land, had miraculously brought Israel out of Egyptian bondage, and had cared for His people during their forty years of wandering in the desert. All of those blessings had been in preparation for this time.
When the time came to cross the Jordan the priests went first carrying the Ark of the Covenant of God and immediately the Lord dried up the river (which was a flood stage). The rest of Israel followed. Once they were safely across, Joshua commanded the leaders of the tribes to take twelve stones from the middle of the river and build a memorial pillar to the Lord on the bank where they were camping that night.
The point of the memorial was clear. It was a reminder of exactly how the Lord had blessed and provided for them. This was something that they could look to in a time of trial or when their faith was shaken and it was something that they could point their kids to as a means of teaching the Lord’s faithfulness.
We don’t have quite the same experience with the Lord that Israel did but we still have dates, places, and things that we can point back to that remind us exactly where the Lord brought us from and how He has blessed us.
One of the memorials that I look back to is a small arena just south of Black Forest, CO where I attended my first Rodeo Bible Camp. That was where I heard the Gospel for the first time (that Jesus died for my sins and that I can receive His salvation by trusting Him) and responded in faith.
My encouragement to you is this: Look back at your life and remember how the Lord has worked and tell others. Share that memorial with your kids or your friends.
If you don’t have a memorial or if you haven’t seen the Lord working in your life then trust Christ today. I promise you, over your lifetime you will see countless times where He provides for you, blesses you and loves you! Trust Him today.
(This devotion was featured on the Better Horses Radio program on the weekend of March 16th-17th, 2013.)
Picking up where we left off previously, we are going to study 1 John 2:1-2 which reads:
"My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world."
In our last study we saw that the basis for building a dynamic (growing and not stagnate) relationship with Christ is by walking in the light and confessing our sins. John continues in 1 John 2:1 by reminding us that he was writing this letter as an encouragement to build an honest and growing relationship with Christ and in so doing avoid sin.
The reality, however, is that even when we do mess up “we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” The term “advocate” is a translation of a Greek word that is used in John 14:26. In that verse the word references the Holy Spirit’s ministry to all who believe as a counselor (helper, counselor, and protector). While it is awesome to have the Holy Spirit minister to us in those ways it is equally incredible that Jesus Christ is serving on our behalf in much the same way before the Father. Just think, when we mess up Jesus Himself is “standing by our side” before the Father.
You may be asking yourself, as I often do, “Why would Jesus even want to do that?” John explains it in 1 John 2:2; “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours by also for those of the whole world.” Propitiation is a fancy word that means that God’s wrath or anger against man (because of our sin) was turned away by Christ’s gift (His sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf). It is because of Christ’s gift of salvation that we can be assured of His defense in the throne room of heaven on our behalf.
That fact that Jesus is both our “advocate” and “propitiation” should give us confidence and make us thankful for the simple truth that…
Jesus Christ bought us with His life.
Continuing in our study of Christ’s letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor we are going to focus this month on the church in Philadelphia:
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Philadelphia (present day Alaşehir, Turkey) is located twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis (discussed in our last study). At the time it was a farming community known for many agricultural products but was plagued constantly by earthquakes. As John was recording the book of Revelation in 95 AD the most recent earthquake had occurred about 37 AD. The city itself was named for a king of Pergamum, Attalus Philadelphus, who had built it. The name is similar to a Greek word that can be translated “brotherly love” (a Greek word translated into the English phrase seven times in the New Testament). Despite two thousand years of wars and cultural changes a Christian testimony remains to this day where Philadelphia once stood.
Jesus starts out this letter commending the Philadelphians for their faithfulness and perseverance in the faith despite their “little power” – or little strength. As a result of their heart for the Word and their refusal to deny Jesus name the Lord informs the church that He has placed an open door that cannot be closed before them – a special blessing given to them as a result of their faithfulness to Christ.
The Lord’s encouragement of the Philadelphians continues as He informs them that their opposition, the synagogue of Satan, will one day be brought to account. It is likely that the members of this group were not overt worshipers of Satan but simply followers of various false religions that could be seen throughout the region. Whether in this letter’s time (95 AD) or now, pagan religions have always been major antagonists of the church. It is not a surprise that they had opposition but it should come as encouragement that Christ promises to bring them into judgment. He guarantees the Philadelphians that their adversaries will be forced to “bow down” at their feet and “make them know that I [Jesus] have loved you.” I’m not sure of the logistics of how or when this happens but the blessing to the Philadelphians for their faithfulness is still obvious…
In the End Our Enemies Have to Acknowledge Our Faith is Real and Jesus Loves Us Because of It.
Christ’s promise to this group of believers, as a result of their faithfulness, was that they were not going to have to endure “hour of testing” (the Great Tribulation). Notice that He did not say “I will keep you through the hour of testing” or “I will keep you safe in the hour of testing.” Jesus intentions could not be clearer – as a result of their trust and faith in Him they would be kept out of (one might even say raptured) the time of tribulation.
While the Lord makes some pretty awesome promises in this letter about the Philadelphians’ enemies being brought to justice and their absence in the tribulation there is an even greater lesson to this passage that can be found in what is notincluded. Philadelphia is one of only two letters found in the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor that did not receive a rebuke or a stern correction from Christ. The first was the church at Smyrna who were under constant intense persecution and poverty yet remained faithful.
In Philadelphia’s case it appears that their perseverance was tied directly to two things: keeping the Word and not denying Jesus’ name. Of the two I am convinced that the hardest to work into our daily lives is keeping the Word. I don’t know about you but I often have the greatest intentions of spending time in the Word daily but the busyness of life usually drags me away or at least gives me the excuse to be lazy. The only way for us to survive as believers (or make it until He returns) is to faithfully grow in our knowledge of His Word. Romans 10 reminds us that faith comes by hearing the Word. I might ad that to continue to grow in that faith and to continue to led by the Holy Spirit we must remain faithful to and increase our knowledge of His Word. In short…
Study the Bible If You Want to Remain Faithful!
For this study we’re going to be turning our attention to the fifth letter to the seven churches of Asia Minor found in Revelation:
"To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:1-6 NASB)"
Sardis was located around 30 miles southeast of Thyatira on a fairly important trade route that ran through the kingdom of Lydia. Sardis had a booming industrial economy (including the manufacture of jewelry, dye, and textiles) but was fairly pagan in their religious lives.
The Lord opens this letter by reminding this church (and the readers of Revelation) that He both holds the seven churches (speaking of the Holy Spirit’s relationship to Him) and their pastors (the seven stars). He then digs into their only bit of encouragement: their reputation for being alive. Apparently the church, while spiritually dead, had the appearance to others, and potentially to other churches, that they were on fire for the Lord.
That fire was only on the surface as the Lord clearly states, as part of their encouragement/condemnation, that they are dead. Apparently this was the case with the majority of the members of the church. The fact is that it is pretty easy for anyone to fake a great relationship with Christ. While we can simulate a dynamic relationship with Christ and psych out others we cannot fool the Lord.
We must be real.
After stripping away their reputation of being alive, Jesus also rebukes them as being incapable of completing their deeds. They were falling far short of fulfilling their obligations as believers.
The church at Sardis is given the simple encouragement to “wake up” and strengthen their few evidences of life they still had. Christ’s exhortation was threefold: “remember what you have received and heard,” “keep it,” and “repent.” For this church to return to a right relationship with Christ they had to go back to (or remember) what the Lord, the Apostles, and their church planters had originally taught them. Not only that, they were to obey those teachings (do what it says) and then repent (turn away from their sin).
We wake up in Christ by remembering and keeping the Word and repenting.
This group of believers was to “wake up” because they literally did not know when the return of Christ would occur. Using the phrase “like a thief” lends itself to the idea that they would have absolutely no idea when He would return and so would not be prepared for meeting their Savior. On the other hand, the few faithful in Sardis along with those who overcame their fakeness were guaranteed a position in the Lamb’s book of life and, equally as important, a promise that Christ Himself will confess their name before the Father and His angels.
What an awesome encouragement to continue in faithful growth in the Lord and service to Him!
As we continue our survey of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor lets read the letter to the church at Thyatira:
"To the angel of the church in Thyatira write the following:
This is the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, the one who has eyes like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished bronze: ‘I know your deeds: your love, faith, service, and steadfast endurance. In fact, your more recent deeds are greater than your earlier ones. But I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds. Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, all who do not hold to this teaching (who have not learned the so-called “deep secrets of Satan”), to you I say: I do not put any additional burden on you. However, hold on to what you have until I come. And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations - he will rule them with an iron rod and like clay jars he will break them to pieces, just as I have received the right to rule from my Father - and I will give him the morning star. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 2:18-29 – NET)."
Thyatira was a small city located forty miles southeast of Pergamum known for abundant crops and the manufacture purple dye. The church itself was much smaller than the previously addressed churches in Revelation chapter two but the Lord’s direct rebuke was meant to deal with a sin problem that had become huge.
As Christ is introduced in this letter we can see a preview of the severity of this letter as it is described as “solemn” and Christ himself is described as “one who has eyes like a fiery flame.” It’s clear starting out that this is going to deal with major problems that the Lord saw in the fellowship at Thyatira.
As with the previous letters Christ first commends the church on their faithful action and growth. He says, “I know your deeds: your love, faith, service and steadfast endurance.” This bit of encouragement shows that the active members of the church were excelling in the major areas of devotion to Christ and to each other and to their service. In fact, Jesus encourages them because they had continued to grow more faithful in their deeds as they went on serving. This is the exact opposite of the Ephesians who did great things in the past but that enthusiasm waned as time went on. This leads us to a simple lesson from the faithful Thyatirans…
Growth in our walk with the Lord and in our service to Him pleases Jesus and brings honor to Him.
The Lord turns the discussion from this short bit of encouragement to the main point of this letter which is to single out a woman and her band of followers for corrupting the fellowship at Thyatira. By referring to this woman as Jezebel the Lord is suggesting that her actions resemble that of King Ahab’s wife (1 Kings 16:31-33) as she corrupted God’s chosen people with both subtle actions and overt pagan worship and immorality. This self-proclaimed “prophetess” was influencing the church to participate in both sexually immoral acts and partake in food sacrificed to idols both of which were acts of worship of false gods.
Christ’s judgment of these people and their actions is pretty straightforward as He promises violent illness and terrible suffering. He further reminds the church that He is the one who “searches minds and hearts” and promises to “repay each one of you what your deeds deserve.”
While the judgment is severe it seems fairly comparable to the intensity of the sin especially as we read in verse 21 that they were given a time to repent. I’m convinced the Lord responded so dramatically to this sin because sexual sins always begin in the mind and are very rarely shaken loose (and even then only as a result of dramatic tragedy or confrontation). This judgment would serve not only to help others see the consequences and repent but prayerfully also help others to avoid the temptation in the first place.
Though today we don’t live in a culture where temptation from pagan rituals might lead us down the road to immorality we certainly do have sufficient temptations in this area. These enticements come to us through media (TV, movies, internet, etc.), friends, and our eroding culture. The fact is we are constantly bombarded.
If we are to learn anything from Thyatira’s failure it is that we should heed the warning of 1 Corinthians 6:18 and “flee sexual immorality.”
As the Lord closes up this letter with the encouragement of the few faithful believers in Thyatira He also gives us a glimpse into what kept them from partaking in the previously mentioned evil practices. He says for those who didn’t buy into this evil teaching are to “hold on to what you have until I come.” In other words…
You remain faithful to Him by remaining faithful to His teaching (the Word) and in serving Him.
This month we are going to continue our study of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor by focusing on the letter to the church at Pergamum found in Revelation 2:12-17:
"To the angel of the church in Pergamum write the following:
This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has the sharp double-edged sword: “I know where you live - where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you: You have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people with the sword of my mouth. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it (NET).”
The Lord starts out this letter reminding the church that He bears the double-edged sword. As with the other references to the double-edged sword in Revelation (1:16; 2:16; 19:15), Christ here is reminding the readers that He is the Word and the Word of God has a two fold purpose of separating believers from the world and condemning the world of its sin.
It was important for Jesus to start the letter with this reminder as the believers in Pergamum apparently lived in a town that was so havocked by sin that He refers to it as a throne of Satan. Pergamum, at the time, was famous for its wealth (they had lots of money), its pagan worship (they had temples to Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus), and its university (boasting the largest library in the area). Any one of these things today would lead a community to be resistant and even antagonistic towards the Gospel. This city had all three.
Despite living in a morally crumbling area the Lord commends the believers of Pergamum for remaining true to and not denying His name. That is a great commendation and a great lesson for us today. These believers were dealing with constant verbal and, probably, physical torment along with the murder of a Christian brother. If there was ever a good excuse (from a human perspective – not from a godly perspective) to deny Jesus it would have been during those severe times of temptation. The fact is, and Jesus confirms this, the people of Pergamum continued to lift up the name of Jesus and proclaim His Gospel.
In today’s society it is often easy for us to deny Christ or our relationship with Him simply because we don’t want to offend a friend or lead them to think we are strange. Why do we do that? It’s likely we are doing it to take the easy route and deny Jesus rather than to make a stand for Him in our families, at our jobs, and with our friends. The fact is, the people of Pergamum were unswerving in their devotion and confession of Christ in the harshest of circumstances – and that attitude pleased the Lord!
We must profess and confess Jesus to the world.
In verse 14 the Lord gives the church at Pergamum at swift rebuke by first bringing up their adherence to the teaching of Balaam. As you recall, Balaam encouraged King Balak to cause Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and through idol-worship. Multiple times in the Old Testament the Lord forbade the Israelites from marrying those of a pagan faith and from participating in pagan rituals. The reason why Balaam gave this advice and the reason why Jesus was condemning the practice was that it is impossible to have the dynamic Christian life that the Lord wants you to have while you are constantly surrounded by both temptation and pagan worship. Along with this, the church was suffering from the same Nicolaitan affliction that plagued Ephesus. They were blending the world and its morality and standards into the teaching and practice of the church.
Christ was simply calling them out on their relaxed behavior. That is not to say that we will ever be devoid of temptation (at least not until we receive our glorified bodies) but we must take steps to be different from the world and surround ourselves, in the family and in our worship groups, with those that love and honor the Lord.
We must remain apart from the world.
Christ follows up this rebuke with the encouragement to “repent.” In fact, He informs the church at Pergamum that swift judgment is coming if they fail to separate their lifestyles from that of the pagan worshipers around them. That is true today as well. While we go on about our worldly way and continue to deny Christ we are getting closer and closer to a massive judgment from the Lord. That judgment may come in the form of physical, family or occupational trials or it will come in the form of judgment at our final judgment before Him – but make no mistake…it will come.
Jesus ends this letter with a simple promise. To those who conquer compromising morals and deviating from the purity of teaching in the church and their lives will receive hidden manna and a white stone with a name written “that no one can understand except the one who receives it.” The hidden manna leads us to believe that we are to look toward a spiritual sustenance much like the divinely provided physical sustenance provided by the Lord to the Israelites during their dessert wanderings. No matter the trials or situation, the faithful servant of Jesus can expect to continue to be fed everything he needs for a fruitful relationship with Christ and an eternity with Him.
Scholars differ on the exact meaning of the closing phrase and the mention of the white stone. It is possible that the Lord was reminding this wealthy city (who undoubtedly had countless jewels and precious metals) that they have an even greater treasure stored up for them in eternity.
The basic message of the letter to the church in Pergamum is a warning against compromise in morals or teaching and against falling away from the biblical teaching required of all believers. While it is a heavy letter to read…it is incredibly relevant today in our world.
As we continue in our short survey of letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (present day Turkey) found in the book of Revelation we are going to turn our attention to the church at Smyrna. Before we go too far lets take a look at the letter:
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write the following:
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life: ‘I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty (but you are rich). I also know the slander against you by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death’” (Revelation 2:8-12 NET).
Just to give you a little background, Smyrna was a port city that is still in existence known as present-day İzmir, Turkey. During the time of the writing of Revelation Smyrna was a commerce hub for the region with strong financial ties and allegiance to Rome. As a result, the people of Smyrna were quite eager to meet Rome’s demands for the worship of their emperor.
As John is recording Jesus words, he starts out by reminding us the He is the first and the last. As we see in other parts of Revelation this is in reference to Jesus’ rule over all human history. We read in John chapter one that Jesus was present and active during creation and we know from the end of the book of Revelation that Jesus will be present and active in Earth’s recreation. Jesus is the supreme ruler over all time and creation.
We also see a quick but candid reference to Christ’s sacrificial death and His resurrection. With the simple statement – “the one who was dead, but came to life” – Jesus was reminding this church exactly what He had suffered for mankind (death on the cross) and precisely how He had conquered the death that resulted (resurrection and ascension). This is key not only to quickly remind them of the Gospel but also to turn the letter’s attention to their current trial.
Jesus’ quickly acknowledges their suffering and their poverty as a result of the slanderous (accusatory false speech) of those who would call themselves Jews. As Jesus is claiming that these men were not Jews but in fact members of the synagogue of Satan it seems clear that these where men who used the guise of religious intolerance as a pathway to persecution and torture. Add to this the fact that the non-Jewish population of Smyrna was active in the worship of the Roman emperor (as discussed above) and were probably intolerant both of Jews and believers who did not do the same. With the two major groups in the city hating Christians it is no wonder that they were suffering persecution, poverty and defamatory claims.
Jesus goes on and encourages the church not to be afraid of the suffering that was on the horizon. They already had it bad but our Lord was saying that it was about to get a lot worse. Jesus promised that members of the church were going to be thrown in prison for a period of ten days.
This church was living out what both Jesus (John 15:20) and Paul (1 Timothy 3:12) promised concerning persecution. Jesus promised abundant or eternal life in John 10:10 and we have that through faith in Him. However, nowhere in Scripture do we read that our life on earth is going to be easy. In fact, if you read Jesus teaching in the Gospels and other passages in the New Testament it seems clear that we should expect to have trials in our service and in our relationships because of His name.
The fact is that if you are going to serve God then you are going to be persecuted. Sure you’ve got people who don’t care that you are a Christian and study and proclaim the Word and they might leave you alone. For the most part, however, this world is completely antagonistic towards Christ and those who serve Him.
In fact, if you think back over the past ten years then you will remember that the mass media’s description of President George W. Bush as dumb or bumbling was not because of his slow speech and accent but rather it started when he began to share his and Laura’s faith in the Lord and how that faith had shaped their marriage, his life as a man, and his ability to lead. They didn’t hate GW…they hated GW’s God.
Persecution comes with serving God.
Now that’s a bit of a bummer if you only think about the persecution. Who would want to get in to that?
Christ follows up His talk about the future trials of Smyrna by saying, “remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.” The word used for crown here is not the same word that is used for a royal crown as a king or queen would wear but rather it was the word used for a wreath that would be given to someone who had won an athletic event. Jesus tells this church that faithful endurance, just like running a race, brings the guarantee of living life forever with the Savior.
The Lord closes out this letter by saying, “The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death”. If we conquer or remain faithful through persecution we have the promise of being saved from the second death. The second death is eternal death or separation from God for all eternity. It is interesting in this letter that Jesus never shares a complaint about the church at Smyrna as he does with other six churches. The conclusion is that the church at Smyrna was faithfully serving the Lord and, as a result, receiving constant persecution.
Perseverance brings life.
If there is one thing that you should bring away from this short letter it is that no matter what you are going through – whether it is persecution for your faith, consequences of mistakes, or trials in general – perseverance brings life. That life is spending eternity with Jesus and the Father. That life is the light at the end of a long dark tunnel of tribulations. That life is something that we should praise and thank the Lord for.
As promised, our next few studies will focus on the seven letters from Christ to the seven churches in Asia Minor (present day Turkey) that are found in Revelation 2-3.
Before we begin it would be beneficial to share a few quick observations about the book of Revelation as a whole before we dive into chapters 2 and 3. Revelation is essentially broken up into three main parts:
- Past – “What You Have Seen.” This section of the book of Revelation is comprised solely in chapter 1. Jesus reveals Himself to John in a unique way and reminds John exactly who He is, what He has accomplished, and where He went (glorified in heaven). As a result of these things John is commanded to record this vision – and so we get the book of Revelation.
- Present – “What’s Happening Now.” This section is found in chapters 2 and 3 and is comprised of seven letters from Christ to seven literal churches (specifically to their pastors) in Asia Minor. Many believe that these seven churches make up seven “ages” of the church, which will play out later in the history of the church. From the text it seems more likely that these were letters to seven first century churches and their leaders. The interesting thing that we’ll see is that the first century church (that is believers who likely either had met Christ personally or knew men who had met Christ personally) struggled with some of the same things that we struggle with today.
- Future – “What is Going to Happen.” This is seen in Chapters 4-22 and shows the events that will happen prior to Christ’s return and the final judgments and creation of a New Heaven and New Earth after His return. The Christian radio pioneer J. Vernon McGee is quoted as saying, “more people care about studying anti-Christ than they do about getting to know the real Christ.” I think that is true today as it was many years ago when he was quoted. That being said, it is a good idea not to study the future or prophetic parts of Revelation until you’ve got a good grasp on at least Jesus’ work in the New Testament and ultimately the total 65 books leading up to Revelation. Study what Jesus did for this world and how the Spirit will change your life before you seek out the End Times.
With that out of the way lets dig in…
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. (Revelation 2:1-3 NIV)"
The Lord starts this letter with praise for the Ephesians because they do not “tolerate wicked men.” It was common practice in the first century (as it unfortunately is today) for men to see the financial or influential power of pretending to be a teacher of God’s Word. We see this time and time again today - men who claim to serve the Lord but when we evaluate their life and ministry and teaching they fall far short of the Lord’s standards. That is not to say that the Lord expects those who serve Him to be perfect, but the faithful servant of God should do their best to verify if their teacher is either a shepherd or an abuser or enemy in shepherd’s clothes.
How did they do that? They tested them. That means weighing everything that is preached or taught with the Word of God and doing our best to challenge those who are using the church or the Word for their own personal gain. Apparently, as we see in verse 3, their adherence to the Word of God was so strong that it even put them in positions of persecution for His Name’s sake. What an awesome testimony.
Jesus Praised the Ephesians for their Faithfulness in Teaching.
Verse 4 goes on to say, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” It would appear that in their zeal to honor the Lord in their actions, at least with securing good leaders and enduring hardships for His name, that they completely forgot Who it was that they were serving, why they were serving Him, and how to have a basic relationship with Him. They were so wrapped up in serving Christ they forgot about Him.
It is sad to say but I often find myself in this category. I work hard throughout the year by driving miles and miles for ministry, studying for hours, preaching wherever I can, and ministering to individuals and families whenever I have the opportunity. Often times though, and I bet I’m not alone, I get so focused on those acts of service that I completely forget why I am serving Him. I forget to study His Word for my own life and not just for preaching. I forget to talk to Him in prayer. Essentially, I get too busy serving Jesus to love Jesus. That’s a bad spot to be in.
Jesus Rebuked the Ephesians for Forgetting their First Love.
Thankfully, the letter does not stop there. In verse 5 He gives us the recipe for reconciliation:
Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
If you are in that category where you are saved but you have little to no daily walk with the Lord, then this advice is for you. Remember where you were. Remember the life you lived before Christ and the change that the Holy Spirit has brought to your life since you’ve placed your faith in Him. Remember the joy, enthusiasm, and boldness that the Father gave you simply by being His child. Remember the way that you served Him with your new faith. You can’t help but have a good relationship when you get back to the basics.
Jesus’ Recipe for Relationship Reconciliation is Getting Back to Where You Started.
In verse 7 we are given one last encouragement:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Jesus, as we can see from this letter, not only wants a relationship with us, but He wants a great relationship with us. Just as it is with your spouse and close family and friends, an okay relationship simply does not cut it. Jesus wants us to have an honest and open relationship of dependence on Him. Jesus’ encouragement to those who overcome is a reminder that believers get to spend eternity with Him growing that relationship even further.
Jesus’ Promise for Reconciliation is Eternity with Him.
How’s your relationship with the Lord? Is it strong and healthy? Is that strength just in your actions or is it in your heart too? Seek the Lord about answering each of these questions as you study the Bible and pray this month. If you get a chance, dig a little deeper into this passage and see if there is a more personal way that you can apply it to your life.
As you are looking for a more personal application you may consider that this passage and the idea of “remembering the height from which you have fallen” is a great recipe for reconciliation not only for your relationship with Christ but for relationships in general. You can apply the concept to a broken marriage, forsaken children, or forgotten friends.
As we dive into this month’s Bible study lets take a quick look at Matthew 7:24-27:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; andyet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (NASB)
This is a passage that, if you’ve been a believer very long, you’ve probably heard preached or referenced many times. And why not, it is a great passage for those looking to start and build on the journey in Christ!
If you have ever been a part of a construction project or a remodel job you know that nearly everything you do to repair or improve a building is always going to be subject to the quality of the foundation that you are building upon. A foundation and frame that is crumbly or non-existent will never provide a good base for any development – no matter how grand your plan may be.
So it is with our walk with the Lord. Jesus makes it pretty plain that anyone who hears His words and does not act on them is as foolish as someone who builds a house on a sandy or a weak foundation. They may make their life and family look perfect to us and seem to be a “super-Christian”. No matter how impressive they appear, any little ol’ storm will bring them crashing down.
In contrast, Jesus says that if you hear His words and act on them you are like one who built his house on the rock (the most solid foundation you can have). I love the way that the NASB translates this passage because it not only emphasizes hearing Jesus’ words or the Bible but it also emphasizes putting them into action. We aren’t to simply study the Word of God (although that is a great place to start) we are to live out the Word of God. We are to make it a part of our daily life.
Over the next few months’ studies we’ll be taking a candid look at our personal relationships with Christ. You might be thinking, “what’s he talking about…I’ve got a great relationship with Christ. Me and Jesus are like peanut butter and jelly.” If that’s true then boy are you blessed. More than likely you are in the boat with me where you know that there are areas of your life and specifically your relationship with Christ that need to improve.
At the foundation of this study is (you guessed it) Jesus own words. We’ll be looking at Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor found in Revelation 2 and 3. These letters were written to the pastors of seven literal first century churches as both confirmation and correction of the individual church’s relationship with Christ at the time. He was judging their heart and how it affected their relationship with Him.
As we study these seven letters it should become obvious that each one of us falls into at least one (maybe more) category of heart attitudes that Jesus rebuked. The awesome thing that we’ll see is that Jesus Himself gives us the solution to overcoming those attitudes and the key to building a great relationship with Him.
I hope you’ll join me next month as we start this study. Until then I encourage you to inspect the foundation in your life and, if possible, study the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.
As we get ready to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this month I’d like to turn your attention to Philippians 2:1-11:
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
I love the way the Apostle Paul starts this passage. In verses 1 and 2 we are given a classic if/then statement. If you took a math or geometry class during your time in high school, then you have studied if/then statements before. (Like how I snuck that if/then statement in on you?)
When I was in high school I was constantly confused by the technical terms for if/if then statements, which are usually postulates, logical axioms or non-logical axioms (depending on the problem you were working on). Whenever you come across one in Scripture, an if/then statement is pretty easy to understand and apply. The “if” portion of the statement is the starting point that “then” leads to a fairly standard conclusion. It is as if Paul is saying to us “if this is true…then this must be true.”
In verses 1 and 2 Paul teaches that if we have been given new life through salvation in Jesus (as evidenced by being united with Christ, fellowship with the Spirit, and a new tenderness and compassion) then we should have a desire to be like Jesus – being like minded, having the same love, and being one in spirit and purpose. Essentially, we can’t be changed on the inside without showing some signs on the outside (how we treat others).
How are we to be like Christ? We are not to be selfish or conceited but we should rather “consider others better than ourselves.”
If we are to be like Jesus then we have to care more about everyone else than we do about ourselves.
That’s a tough statement for a prideful cowboy like myself – but it’s absolutely true. Paul goes on in verses 5-11 and tells us that Jesus is the most excellent example of humility.
First, Jesus was fully God from even before the foundation of the earth. Jesus knew that if He were to come to the earth in the form of a virgin birth that He could not show Himself as He was in heaven – radiant and glorious. So verse 7 says that He made Himself “nothing” and took on the form of a servant. That does not mean that He was no longer fully God – He simply set aside that same radiance and glory during His ministry here.
Second, verse 8 carries on and teaches that Jesus ultimate act of humility was submitting to death on the cross. Crucifixion was easily the most painful and torturous form of death known to man at the time and still probably is today. We don’t often talk about it but death on the cross was also easily the most humiliating form of punishment. A man condemned on the cross could literally be taunted and harassed for hours or potentially days as he waited for death to overtake him. And that was after days or weeks of cruelty from Roman guards.
Jesus, what was already bearing the humility of veiling some of His deity and who was fully God and could speak and stop the shame and pain at any time, endured the cross and was eventually overcome by death. Why? He thought of others before Himself. As we’ve all learned from John 3:16 He loved us more than He loved Himself. What an incredible act of humility! What an incredible example for us to follow!
Verses 9 through 11 share the rest of the story with us. We know that Jesus was resurrected and that same resurrection was the Father’s seal of approval on His Son’s sacrifice for our sin. That’s why to this day we celebrate the resurrection every spring.
Through humility Christ conquered sin for those who believe in Him.
As you celebrate the Lord’s resurrection in the coming weeks I pray that you’d walk out Christ’s example of humility as you serve Him.
As we are getting ready for a great summer of Rodeo Bible Camps I thought that it would be good to present a quick study on why we do what we do at the camps.
As you have undoubtedly studied in the past the last major teaching that the Lord Jesus gave His disciples was what we commonly refer to as the Great Commission. The most familiar teaching on the Great Commission usually centers on Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (New English Translation)
The ordinary theme that most focus on when studying this passage is “going.” Others focus frequently on the importance of “baptizing” and “teaching” in this passage. While all three of these actions are immensely important the Greek structure of this passage places an emphasis on the phrase “make disciples.” In fact, the idea of making disciples is the only imperative or command found in this passage.
An interesting result of a quick word study shows that the Greek word used for the command “make disciples” is a verb form of the noun that is translated in the book of Matthew as “disciples.” Matthew always uses that same specific word in reference only to The Twelve disciples of Jesus. I share this brief grammar lesson to present a simple point: Jesus was telling us that the pattern for discipleship in the Great Commission was His work with The Twelve.
Jesus’ command, in the Great Commission, is to make disciples.
If we are to make disciples the way that Jesus did then we are going to pour our lives into those that we have ministry relationships with. The Lord Jesus trained His disciples both academically and practically as they studied and served Him for three and a half years. By that we can see that real discipleship takes time and relationship equity. It is not something that can be accomplished in one weekend or at only a few church services.
True discipleship is accomplished through a long-term relationship.
As we look toward the Rodeo Bible Camp season and a great summer of serving the Lord it is important to remember that our greatest priority should be to seek out discipleship relationships. Whether camp students or contestants that we meet at a rodeo we should be honestly committed to maintaining a relationship that the Lord can use to encourage their walk with Christ.
In the Rodeo Bible Camp world the natural way discipleship works is with the team leaders or counselors keeping up with their campers throughout the year. It doesn’t have to stop there; instructors and other camp volunteers can do the same thing. If the Lord can use you to influence a student or family with the Word and your relationship during the week of camp then He can use you in an even greater way throughout the rest of the year.
My encouragement is this: Keep up those relationships and you will make disciples!
If you would like to study further I encourage you to check out the other references to the Great Commission found in Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-27, John 20:21-22, and Acts 1:8.
The last few Bible studies have focused on the basics of following Christ. We’ve looked at the importance of the Word of God in our lives and the necessity of commitment to a local church. I thought in this study it might be good to study what should be the most basic action of all believers…love.
Those who have known Christ and served Him for any length of time are familiar with love and use the word daily as we interact in our families and communities. But sometimes we forget what the word should mean to us. I use the word “action” above because that is the context that we have from the Bible as to how we are to experience love. It is not a warm gooey feeling (at least not only a warm gooey feeling) it is something that we do…an action!
Take a look at Matthew 22:37-40:
“…‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
As with many of the questions that Jesus answered in the Gospels this passage is an answer to a question posed by the Jewish leaders in an effort to trap and indict Jesus with His own words. Obviously, Jesus knew their hearts and intentions and turned the ambush into an opportunity to share the most basic premise of the Christian faith. He simply said that love for the Lord and love for others is the greatest act of service.
The first part of this passage is a paraphrased quoting of Deuteronomy 6:5 and essentially tells us that we are to love the Lord with everything: with our heart (the seat of our thought, will and emotion), with our soul (what makes us who we are), and with our mind (the way we reason). Every part of our being should be devoted to loving Jesus and the Father. Jesus uses the familiar Greek word agape but in a verb form in the future tense. By using agape in that manner He’s essentially telling us that as we serve the Lord—from this point on (future)—our will needs to be focused on finding our ultimate joy in Him and nothing else! What a powerful thought!
Loving the Lord with Everything is Finding Our Ultimate Joy in Him!
The second part of this passage is a quote of Leviticus 19:18 which was, in the Leviticus context, a contrast of the two major aspects of most people’s relationships. The full quote of Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” If we are honest with ourselves then we can see that most of us (myself included) throw nearly everyone we know into one of these two camps: grudging or loving. And we act out (action word again) our relationships to varying degrees depending upon which camp our acquaintances are in.
Jesus tells us that if we are truly to serve the Lord we are going to love others as we love ourselves. How do we love ourselves? When I am at my most selfish the way that I love myself is by doing whatever pleases me first and foremost. I put my needs above everyone else’s. If we are to love as Jesus wants us to love then we have to turn that around. Biblical love is placing someone else’s needs before our own!
Loving Our Neighbors is Placing Other’s Needs Before Our Own!
Jesus ended this passage by making the bold statement “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The Law would have been understood to be the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the Prophets would have been understood to be the remainder of what we know today as the Old Testament. At the time, it was like He was saying “everything you believe in is centered on love for God and love for others.” The truly amazing thing is that we have no record of the Jewish leaders contesting this idea for even they new that love was the most important act of worship to the Lord!
Today we can say the same thing. There are a whole lot of things we need to study and learn and do as we serve Jesus but love is the foundation for them all. Loving admiration and service to Jesus and loving service to others is unique to Christianity. It is the one thing that the world should see when they look at us. In fact, by loving others we are acting out the love that Jesus showed the world when He placed our needs before His own and endured His sacrifice on the cross!
Love is the First and Last Word in Christian Theology!
As you continue to serve the Lord in your family, local church or community I encourage you to evaluate your “action” of love! Do you love the Lord? Do you truly love others?
If you’d like to study further I encourage you to search the Bible for the word “love” and search out other passages that answer these questions:
How does the Father love us? (John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-11)
How do I love the Lord? (1 John 5:3)
How should I love others? (1 John 4:7)
Easily one of my favorite passages is Hebrews 10:24 which states, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” In fact, that has been the unofficial theme verse of the Fellowship of Cowboys for many years. Who among us wouldn’t love a verse that mentions spurring? As cowboys we are among the few in the English-speaking world that can properly understand and explain that spurring literally is encouraging (sometimes strongly encouraging) a horse to do what’s right.
In the context of this passage we can obviously see that we, as believers, are to spur one another (that is, other believers) to do two things. The first action that we are to spur towards is love. We’ll prayerfully discuss this at a later time but for now the simplest definition of the biblical action of love is “placing someone else’s needs before your own.” That is precisely what the Father did for us when Jesus died on the cross. He placed our needs before His own. The second action that we are to spur other believers towards is good deeds. That is pretty simple…doing good stuff! I am convinced that we are to do these good deeds not out of guilt or because we have too but because of the love and grace that Christ has shown us and because of our love for each other. The two spurring actions go hand-in-hand: we love because of Christ’s love and because we love we are to share good deeds with each other.
As you read the context of Hebrews 10 you might notice that the verse immediately following verse 24 is another highly quoted verse. This verse is usually quoted by our pastors when we’ve missed a Sunday or two when we are on the road. Hebrews 10:25 reads, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—all the more as we see the Day approaching.” I mention this verse because one inescapable truth can be found in the context of Hebrews chapter 10: We are to regularly gather together as believers for mutual encouragement!
Over the past several years, as I have served with the FCC I noticed that the strongest witnesses for the Lord are often people who have a strong commitment to their local churches. That does not mean that they are in their church every Sunday—but when they can be, they are active in their home churches. In fact, when Grant Adkisson, our president, was initially asked to help with some FCC ministries it was because of his great history of service as a pastor of a local church. Today, one of our most active chapters has members who are all equally active in their home churches. It is obvious that as believers we need to be in a position where we can spur other believers and they can spur us. We call that mutual edification and it happens within the ministry of a local church. It seems obvious: You cannot grow in Christ without a commitment to a home church!
I use the term home church because that is what it is…a home. The nature of the rodeo world means that we are on the road quite a bit but in the end we always come home. So it is with your home church. You may miss several Sundays away from home and have the opportunity to be blessed and encouraged by a service at a rodeo or a chapter event but you’ll always need to come home. Your home church will be the church that keeps you accountable in your relationship with the Lord even after a long season on the road.
Do you have a home church? If not, find one! As you search for a home church I encourage you to search for one that displays these qualities:
- Teaching – mentioned around 30 times in the New Testament, most notably in Acts 2:42
- Praying – Acts 2:42, 1 Timothy 2:1-8 and Ephesians 6:18-19
- Singing – Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19
- Eating – sounds crazy but eating together builds a bond; Acts 2:42
- Giving – both financially and physically (possessions and time); 1 Corinthians 16:2 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, James 1:26-28, Galatians 6:6, Galatians 6:10, and Philippians 4:19
- Reading of Scripture – 1 Timothy 4:13
- Ministering to one another – do a simple word search on either love or encourage and you’ll see that nearly 30 times in the New Testament we are commanded to love one another in one form or another
This is not an exhaustive list but it covers the major things that you should see happening in your home church or fellowship.
As you continue to serve the Lord and grow in your knowledge of His Word my prayer is that you will continue to grow in your commitment to and activity in your home church!
Coming back from the NFR and heading into a New Year seems a great time to evaluate how we approach the work of the ministry. Prayerfully many of you are serving the Lord in your home church or on the road as you rodeo.
The fact of the matter is that as we serve the Lord we sometimes get confused on what our priorities should be as we minister to the “flock” that the Lord brings our way. This becomes even more evident as we all struggle, both in our personal lives and in our chapters and churches, to serve the Lord in a tough economy. Even the most honorable of ministries can fall into the “anything for a buck” mentality when things get tight.
While I was in school the president of our Bible College mentioned that a great philosophy of ministry is “love your people and give them the Word.” As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus and gained experience in serving Him I am more convinced than ever to apply that philosophy in every way that that I serve. I’ve been blessed with many mentors in the cowboy ministry world but as I think of the very core of how I try to serve I am thankful for Tilt James’ example of how to unconditionally love and Harold Daniels’ model of faithfully presenting the Word of God to those precious people that the Lord brings along my trail. My prayer, as I start this New Year, is that I will be found faithful in “loving our people and giving them the Word.”
Do you have a “philosophy of ministry”?
You certainly don’t have to use the philosophy that the Lord gave me…but I encourage search the Scriptures and seek the Holy Spirit’s direction with your family and determine a philosophy of your own. What a great way to start this New Year…with a concise plan for how you are going to minister in your family, your church and your community.