The Church of Smyrna

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To the Church of Smyrna: Revelation 2:8-11

I recently read an article on the website persecution.org about a bombing that took place in Pakistan.  Last week on Easter, a suicide bomber ran into a park in Lahore where he detonated a bomb that killed 69 people and wounded 300 more. “In March 2015, suicide bombers also attached to Pakistani Taliban attacked two churches in Lahore, killing over 20 and wounding another 70.”  In the article it says that those responsible have said they are specifically targeting Christians. My heart is saddened and broken for our brothers and sisters who are suffering in such intense ways.  However, the good news is, the Bible is not silent about persecution.

Jesus said in John 15:18–21,

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

In Matthew 5:10–12 we read,

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So how is it that we can rejoice in persecution?  How is that we can stand strong in our faith when facing death because of our faith?  And for that we turn to the letter to the church of Smyrna.

First, the description of Jesus is exactly what the church needs to remember.  “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.”  Here we are reminded that Jesus conquered death.  He died but then He came to life.  Death could not hold Him, death could not conquer Him.  In fact, Jesus defeated death by dying and then raising again.  He now holds the keys of death and hades (Rev. 1:18).  Jesus calls this persecuted church to remember that their Savior, their King, their Lord has defeated death.  Because of the resurrection, death has lost it’s sting (1 Cor. 15:55) and we can also echo Paul’s words, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).

Next, notice how Jesus describes the church, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…”  Even though this church, by all physical appearances looks defeated, Jesus says, they are rich.  May we be reminded that suffering does not require us to think that we are doing the wrong thing.  The church of Smyrna is suffering greatly not because of idolatry and sinfulness but because they are standing strong in their faith. Perhaps we are to be reminded of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.  In Babylon, they stood strong in their faith unwilling to compromise and bow down before an idol.  The result: they were thrown into a fiery furnace.  But not even the fire could destroy they, for Jesus had come down with them in the fire and protected them.

At the end of verses 9 and 10 we see where much of the persecution is coming from.  Jews are slandering the Christians before the Romans and thus they are being persecuted and killed.  One commentator wrote,

“The Jews who sometimes had no qualms in semi-revering other deities (especially the Roman Emperor) along with their OT God, often were too willing to make the Roman authorities aware that the Christians were not a Jewish sect….The mention of Roman persecution in v.10 directly following that of Jewish slander conforms to historical reports of Jews allying with and encouraging Romans and Gentiles to oppress Christians (e.g., Acts 13:45, 50; 14:2-7, 19; 17:5-9; 1 Thess. 2:14-16)” (Beale, 61).

In verse 10 we read that through the work of Satan, some of the Christians will be arrested and experience tribulation for ten days.  “Ten days” most likely is not a specific time but rather refers to a short period of time.  It does not appear that after these ten days the Christians will be released but that they will be killed.  After all, Jesus says, “be faithful unto death”.  Imagine being apart of this church.  Imagine hearing this being read.  Imagine knowing you will experience intense persecution that will most likely end in your death.

So what do you do?

Jesus says, “do not fear what you are about to suffer” but “be faithful unto death.”  How Jesus?  How am I not to fear death?  What comfort is there?

At the end of verse 10 and 11 we read two beautiful promises.

The First Promise:   “I will give you the crown of life.”  A crown was given to who were victorious in the athletic events.  So here Jesus says, though you died, you are not defeated.  Though it appears the world won, you are victorious.  Jesus is reminding the church that just as He defeated death and now sits on a throne with a crown so we who are faithful will also sit victoriously with him.

And the Second Promise is that “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”  What is the second death?  It is eternal suffering in hell.  In Revelation 20:14–15 we read,

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

So here Jesus reminds the church, if they remain faithful they will not only receive a crown but they will forever dwell in the perfect holy presence of their King.  They will forever enjoy living in God’s perfect Kingdom.  They will never taste the wrath of God that will be poured out on all who have rejected Him. Now that is good news!

So here we see that suffering is not something that only comes upon those who are sinful, but it also comes upon the faithful.  And we who have faith in Jesus do not need to fear suffering or death for it has no power over us.  For even if we die, we will live forever with Jesus.  Death has lost it’s sting.

This passage is meant to fortify the church.  It strengthens our faith and confidence in our Risen King. This passage echoes the famous Romans 8:33–39.

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Praise God for our Risen King, the First and the Last!

The Church of Ephesus

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The Letter To Ephesus
Rev 2:1-7
A Description of Jesus:
“The words of Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
We already know the stars represent the angels of the church (this was discussed in a previous post) and the lampstands represent the churches. So here we have a picture of Jesus with the church. Jesus is not somewhere distant minding His own business. He is present with the church. Isn’t this good news. Jesus is with His bride, His body, His family. This means when Jesus gives us a description of the church, we know it is accurate. He is with them. Jesus is not getting his information second or third hand. He knows the church.

A Commendation of the the church:
In verse 2, Jesus commends the church for it’s patient endurance and that they test everyone who calls themselves an apostle. They are serious about guarding the teaching of God’s Word. They do not let just anyone wander in and start teaching. It seems they have taken the words of Paul very seriously (Acts 20:28-31).

A Rebuke:
In verse 4 we read, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” What love have they abandoned? Have they lost their love for Jesus, for the Word, for each other, for unbelievers?
It does not appear they have lost their love for Jesus or for the Word. After all, in verse 3, we read they are “bearing up for my name sake.” This means the church’s perseverance has been for the sake of Christ. And we know they have not lost their love for the Word because everything about Jesus’ commendation is that they are guarding the Word. So have they lost their love for each other and/or unbelievers?
It appears the church is working together in guarding the Word. And it appears that church has unitedly rejected the teachings of the Nicolations. So I think we are pretty safe to say they are loving one another and working together. This would leave us to conclude that the love they have lost is primarily directed towards outsiders. Which this cannot be to hard for us to understand. They are in a very idolatrous culture. False apostles are bombarding the church. They are constantly on guard against false teaching. They are zealously adhering to the Word as they pursue a life of holiness. Because of their actions, they have unfortunately become very inward focused. I doubt the church ever voted to intentionally not love those in their city but because of their inward focus they drifted away from from being loving. I think this could be said of many churches today in America. At one time, they were very evangelistic. They regularly were sharing the gospel with unbelievers. But as the world has become more hostile to Christianity, many churches have turned inwards.

A Response:
In verse 5, Jesus says, “repent and do the works you did at first.” When confronted with sin, the first step is always to repent. It easy to neglect this step and just think, “okay, I now know that I was doing something wrong, so now, I’ll just start doing it the right way.” When we fail to repent, we forget the fact that our sinful wrong actions have offended our King. The solution is not just tweak what we have been doing, it is to be made more like Jesus. So first, we are to repent. Secondly, we are to live in accordance with our repentance. Based upon the knowledge of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit we now live as Jesus calls us. For the Ephesians that means loving others, especially those outside the church. They can no longer be a holy huddle escaping the world but rather they are to be a light drawing unbelievers to their glorious King. They are to develop relationships with unbelievers and share the gospel with them. They are to obey the Great Commission.
What happenes if they church of Ephesus doe not repent? What happens if the church thinks it’s okay to remain as a holy huddle? What happens if the church ignores the great commission? Jesus says in verse 5, “I will remove your lampstands.” Wait a minute, Jesus will remove the lampstand. Does that mean He will come and remove this church and He will no longer allow them to gather in His name?
So what do we learn? Jesus does not support an unloving church. If a church is not loving then surely the only conclusion is that they do not know God. For in 1 John 4:7 we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
A distinguishing mark of God’s people is that they love. Surely this warning is something we as the church today need to think about. Are we loving each other? Are we loving our neighbors, our employees, our bosses, our politicians, our president, other nations? As the church, we have been saved by the love of God that we would reveal His love through our lives.

A Promise:
In verse 7, Jesus gives the motivation to repent. He says, if they repent, they will “eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” The tree of life is the very tree that we have been separated from ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. Surely this represents eternal life in the presence of God for all eternity. What a promise. Through their repentance and faith in Jesus they are promised eternity with God.

So here in this first letter we learn that a church can drift towards being unloving. Just as we guard our doctrine so we must guard our lives that we live like Jesus.

The Glorious Vision of the King

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In this post I am going to look at Revelation 1:4-20.  If you are new to reading this blog I am currently going through the book of Revelation and simply blogging as a means to share my study, my questions, my thoughts and hopefully create discussion.

Recipients:

In verse 4, John says that he is writing to the 7 churches of Asia.  We read about these 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3.  Real quick, here is a little background on these churches.   The Asia minor of John’s day had become quite oppressive for Christians to live.  No longer did they enjoy the protection of being considered an offshoot of Judaism, which was tolerated by Rome.  Jews were often the ones accusing christians before the Roman government.  Life was full of persecution and suffering.  We must keep in mind that the audience  John was writing was to was largely under persecution.

Now then, the number 7 is used many times in the book: 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 bowls.  In apocalyptic literature numbers are largely used symbolically.  So while this letter is written to 7 specific churches it would seem that this message would also be for all churches, as the number 7 refers to wholeness or completeness.  To give to support to this is the fact that at end of each letter, we read “let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

John now wants his readers to know that as they read this letter they are receiving grace from God.  But John is not content with just writing the word God.  No, he wants to unpack who this God is.  Therefore, he speak of the Father (“from him who is and who was and who is to come”) the Spirit (“the seven spirits who are before His throne”), and Jesus Christ (“the faithful witness of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth”).  John make sure his readers know that grace is coming from the entire Godhead.  And then as if his heart has been moved greatly by mentioning the triune God he breaks out into doxology in verses 5b-7.

Isn’t that amazing that John so easily breaks out into absolute praise by simply mentioning the Father, the Spirit, and the Son?  I am convicted that my heart is not so easily moved to praise.

Two more things to mention here.

First, the description of Jesus’ return.  Jesus’ return will be full of praise for those who know Him and love Him but it will be full of judgment for those who have rejected him (“all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him”).

Secondly, John begins and ends this section with mentioning the eternality of the Father (v.4, 8).  John is drawing specific attention to the fact that God is the eternal and invincible Ruler of all history.  This is the God who has been present at all points of history, past, present and future.

The Vision:

In verses 9-20 we have the vision of Jesus.  This is an amazing vision full of rich O.T. imagery from passages like Ezekiel 8 and Daniel 7,8,10, and Zechariah 4.

In verses 9-10, John reminds his readers who he is and let’s them know what he was doing when he received this vision.

Interestingly, John does not refer to himself as an apostle but rather emphasizes his solidarity with his readers.  He is a fellow brother and partner in the tribulation.  He is a member of the Kingdom of God and he, just like his readers is patiently enduring until Jesus returns. He has been exiled because of his faith.  So He is writing from exile to a people (the 7 churches) that might feel like they are in exile.

Next, he lets us know what he was doing when he received this vision.  On a Sunday (“on the Lord’s day”) he was in the Spirit.  Surely we are to take this to mean He was worshipping God.  Possibly he was worshipping God  through the written word or merely praising His name in song.  It is at this moment, while worshipping God, that he hears a voice like a trumpet announcing to him that he is to write all that that he sees.

Side note: Trumpets often sound judgment (Ex. 19:16, 19-20; Joshua 6:4-5,16-17).  Is this vision going to be one of judgment?  In the book of Joshua, the trumpet signaled the victory of the Israelites and the defeat of Jericho.  Could that be similar here?  Does this trumpet signal to us the victory the church has in God and the destruction of those who do not follow Him?  Something to thing about as we progress through the book.

In verses 12-18, we are given a description of Jesus.  I am not going to go much into the description right now because we will look at it again as we move through the chapter 2 and 3.  Parts of  Jesus’ description is given to each of the 7 churches in chapter 2 and 3.

Here is a brief synopsis:

The Son of Man clothed with a long robe and a golden sash around his chest (v.13)

He hair on head is white like wool, like snow and His eyes were like flames of fire (v.14).

His feet are like burnished bronze, His voice like the roar of many waters (v. 15).  I wonder if His voice is like standing next to Niagara falls.

In His right hand He holds 7 stars.  His tongue is a sharp two-edged sword, and His face like the sun shining in full strength (v.16).  Here we have a picture of immense holiness, brilliance, and strength.

Now if stop and think for a moment, this picture is very different than the nice paintings of Jesus that many people have in their homes.  Those paintings make Jesus look very kind, very teddy bear like, and sometimes possibly effeminate.  But this is not like that at all.  Jesus’ face is so bright that it is compared to the full strength of the Sun.  A doubled edged sword is coming from His mouth.  Jesus is brilliant and powerful.  He is no teddy bear.  Surely John had to put his hand before his face so he could look at the Son of Man.

How did John respond to this vision?

In verse 17 we are told he falls down as if he died.  Now just think about?  What was your response when you read this passage?  Did you (did I) have any emotional response at all?  I am once again convicted about how easy it is to read the Bible and then put it down as if I just read some fact from the encyclopedia (or I guess I should say wikipedia).  But isn’t John’s response supposed to inform us about how we are to respond?

As I have thought about this passage for about 2 weeks now I am more convinced that God is leading me to repent from areas of hardness and comfortableness in my heart.  Here we have a vision of our holy King, the one who died for us, the one who hold the keys of death and hades. It is because of what Jesus has done at the cross that I do not need to fear death.  Jesus has given us life, not just life now but life forevermore in Him.  There is no good reason that when I read this I should not follow in John’s example and also fall down.  ,

One more thing to think about.  Jesus is revealed as a man.  Jesus became incarnate when he was born as a baby and He has kept His earthly body.  Upon rising from the dead, Jesus did not say good ridden to this body, but He has kept it.  Jesus is not just our King, He is our Elder Brother, the First Born of all creation.

The Command:

In verse 19 John is once again told to write the thing that He has seen.

There is much to say about verse 19 and therefore I think I will leave that for a future post.

Mystery revealed:(v.20)

In verse 20 we are told what the 7 stars and the 7 lamp stands represent.  The 7 stars are the 7 angels associated with each church.  And the 7 lamp stands are the 7 churches.    Who are these angels?  Each of the letters are not addressed to the churches but to the angel of the church.  Some have thought these angels to be human messengers or the pastors of the churches.  But elsewhere in Revelation, angels are always God’s special messengers sent from heaven.

Dennis Johnson in his commentary also added to the possibilities by saying, “Jesus is evoking in John’s mind the picture of guardians charged with protecting the people of God and bringing his messages to them, such as the angel sent to Daniel, who reports having been delayed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia for twenty-one days…” (Johnson, 62-63).  The problem with this thought is that the letters are addressed to the angels and the message is a mixture of faithfulness and sin.  But if these are divine angels, how is their faithfulness being questioned?

I found G.K. Beale very helpful here:

The observation that ἄγγελος (“angel”) refers without exception to heavenly beings in the visionary portion of Revelation (about 60 times) points to the same identification here. These angels could be identified with the seven archangels known to Jewish tradition (e.g., 1 En. 20:1–8; Tob. 12:15), though this is far from certain.

The ἄγγελοι (“angels”) in 1:20 include both heavenly beings and the earthly churches, according to the idea of corporate representation, which is suggested further by recognizing that angelic beings are corporately identified with Christians as their heavenly counterparts elsewhere in the book: the angel in 19:10 and 22:9 says, “I am a fellow servant of you and your brothers.” In addition, the angel in Rev. 8:3–4 seems to represent saints, since he receives their prayers and presents them before God. Consequently, the “angels” in 1:20b refer to heavenly beings who also represent the church

Perhaps, referring to the angel of each church is meant to remind the church that not only do they exist on earth but they have (at least partly) a heavenly existence also.

Understanding that the 7 lamp stands represent the 7 churches is  much more straightforward.  But what is incredible is that in verse 13 we saw Jesus standing in the midst of the 7 lamp stands (churches).  How amazing, Jesus is in the midst of the 7 churches.  He is no far from them.  He is with them.  He knows them.  Again, if we understand these 7 churches to to be representative of all churches then we are comforted that our King, the Son of God, the one who possesses the keys of death and hades is in our midst also.  He is not far from us.  He is near us and extends His grace to us.

Conclusion:

There is much to absorb and think about in this opening chapter.  But the message seems to be clear.  This is a message of grace and judgment coming from the full Trinity that is meant to strengthen the church that they would persevere in the tribulation.

Photo by nicksieger

Revelation: A Gift from God

bible photoI have decided to do a study on Revelation and blog some of my notes and thoughts as I make my way through this book.

The first 3 verses of this book serve as a simple introduction as well as a summary of the book.

Revelation 1:1–3 (ESV)

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

There are 3 things that stand out in this opening verses.  The source, the timing, and the promise.  Let’s look at these one at a time.

The Source:

Revelation is a book that comes from God, to Jesus, to the angel, to John and then to the servants (representing believers).  This is a message that comes to us from God.  This is not a message that John is making up.  This is not a message that Jesus sneaks to the church while the Father is not paying attention.  It comes from the Father through Jesus and eventually to us.  The Father and Jesus are working together.  The book comes to us with the full authority of the Godhead.

The Timing:

We have two references to timing in these first few verses.  In the middle of verse 1 we read, “the things that must soon take place.”  And at the end of verse 3 we read, “for the time is near.”  At the end of the book we read very similar words, for example in 22:6 we read, “what must soon take place”, and then in verse 7 we read, “I am coming soon.”  In 22:10 we also read, “for the time is near.”

So at the beginning and end of this book we read that the contents of this book are about to take place.  Surely God is wanting us to understand that this book refers to the immediate future.  But I would say it also refers to fact that these events WILL take place.  In Daniel 2 when Daniel is about to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream he says that God has revealed “what will be in the latter days.”  Daniel was revealing what God said WILL happen, not “maybe” happen and not what “might” happen.  And that is what is happening here in Revelation.  Revelation is not a book about maybe’s but about definite’s.  God is revealing to the church what will happen (and very well may have already begun at Jesus’ first coming).

The Promise:

In verse 3 we come across an amazing promise.  God says those who read, hear, and keep this Word are blessed.  I think we need to pause for a moment and unpack this promise.  If God is promising those who read, hear, and obey this message will blessed, then are we to conclude that this book is to be a difficult mystery that we are to stay away from?  Is God warning us with these words or inviting us?  So many believers talk about Revelation as if it is a complete mystery and we have no hope of understanding it.  Others seem to say that only if we make lots of timetables and charts can we understand it.  But is that what God is communicating here? I think God is warmly inviting us to come an partake of the blessing that will be received if we read, hear, and obey this book.  We should not be scared about this book.  And yes, we will have to study and try to understand what the author is saying.  But isn’t that what we are to do with every book of the Bible?

I want to point out one other thing also.  John says we are to “keep what is written” in this book.  This book has implications about how we are to live.  Revelation is a book about how the church is to live in holiness as we journey through the tribulation (1:9).  So as we read, we must look for what we learn about who God is and what He has done through Jesus.  But we are also to then think about how those truth’s affects the way we live.

Here is my conclusion about these first three verses:

Revelation is a gift from God about the things that will soon take place so that we, the church will be blessed as we await the immanent return of Jesus.

Where He is, There I Shall Be Also

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Martin Luther once wrote to a young friend of his who was struggling with guilt and failure:

When the devil throws our sins to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell.  What of it?  Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation?  By no means.  For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf.  His names is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Where He is, There I shall be also.”

 

Excerpt from Michael Reeves book: Rejoicing in Christ, pg. 63.

 

The tradition of shaking hands

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In the first church I served in, the pastor every week went to the back of the sanctuary to shake people’s hands.  And many people in the congregation would kindly line up and wait their for their opportunity to shake his hand and saw a few words.  Eventually that pastor retired and I was asked to take his place as the Senior Pastor.  And so when the service ended I also went to the back of the room in order to shake people’s hands.  However, overtime I began to notice a few things:

  • I was not able to have meaningful conversations with people.
  • It was hard to have deep conversations with people when there was a line of people waiting to shake my hand just so they could leave.
  • I was not able to spend time in prayer with people.  Again, there was a line of people waiting to leave.  Now sure I could have prayed with people but there seemed to be a “rushed” mentality that did not allow for more time.
  • Most of the conversations were brief and superficial.  Most people who would shake my hand would simply say something like, “have a good week”, “nice sermon”, “thank you”, or of course there were the few who would say something very encouraging like, “you mostly kept my attention today.”

So those are a few of the things I began to notice as I stood in the back of the sanctuary.  So one Sunday I thought I would try something new.  I told the congregation at the end of the service that I would be remaining up front and if anyone would like to talk or pray I would be available.  Now two crazy things happened next.

First, people were still able to leave the building even if they did not shake my hand.  It was a miracle.

Secondly, I began to have real conversations with people.  I talked with people about the sermon, about problems at work or at home.  I had opportunities to sit and pray with people.  I’ve even been able to grab a few other people so we could pray for healing.  Over time I began to notice something else also.  I noticed that some of those who used to immediately leave the sanctuary through a side door began to stick around and ask for prayer.  In addition, no longer did I feel rushed but I felt free to really talk and love on people.  And from what I can tell, others felt more free to talk about things that were really concerning them.

Now there are still many pastors who do stand in the back shaking hands and I think that is wonderful.  It’s just not for me.

Biblical Motivations to Forgive

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This last Sunday I preached on forgiveness.  There were more questions and responses to that sermon than I can count.  Forgiveness is definitely something that is difficult and to some degree we all struggle with.  A book that has been helpful in my understanding of forgiveness is by Chris Brauns, and it is titled, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds.

One thing that I was unable to talk about during the sermon was the motivations God gives us to forgive.  So here are 3 motivations that we have to forgive.  The first two points are foundational truths that can be applied to forgiveness while the third point specifically addresses forgiveness.

  1. Forgivness is how we pursue God’s glory.
    1. God has created us to glorify Him.  Therefore when we obey Him we are glorifying Him.   When we obey Ephesians 4:32, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” God will be glorified.  Obedience to God glorifies God.  And not only is God glorified when we forgive but we maximize our joy. And that is the next point.
  2. Forgiveness is how we pursue our joy.
    1. All of humanity pursues happiness.  We are hardwired that way.  Blaise Pascal said, “All men seek happiness, this is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.  The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views.  The will never takes the least step but to this object.  This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves” (Brauns).
    2. God created us to image Him, to reflect Him in all that we do.  In Ephesians 5:1 it says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”  When we image God we are living as God created us.  We are fulfilling the very purpose that God created us for.  And it is when we image God we will experience great joy.
    3. The beauty of these two truths is that forgiveness is not some bitter pill that we have to swallow so that God is glorified, rather we can pursue forgiveness because it glorifies God and maximizes our joy.
  3. Forgivness is critical for our salvation.
    1. In Matthew 6:14-15 we read, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
    2. Now Jesus is not saying that His forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiveness.  That would mean we earn God’s grace through works, and that is not the case.  Rather, Jesus is saying, we can have confidence that our sins are forgiven when we forgive others.  And thus if we do not forgive others we should not think that our sins will be forgiven.  The point is, forgiveness is to characterize the followers of Jesus.
    3. Matthew 18 is a goldmine for understanding forgiveness.  In verse 21, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  Here Peter thinks 7 is a big number.  Jesus responds by saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  490 is a much bigger number than 7.  But forgiving someone 490 times is not the point.  Rather Jesus is saying  as a follower of Jesus you are to forgive.  Right after these verses, Jesus gives a parable on forgiveness to explain what He means.
    4. Here is a summary of the parable.  A servant is brought before the King.  He owes the King ten thousand talents which is a ridiculous amount money.  One talent is equivalent to about 20 years of wages.  Obviously this guy has no chance of paying the King.  So what does the King do?  He forgives the man the debt.  Here we see that this King must have immense riches to forgive such a debt.  We also see how gracious and merciful this King is.  But the story is not over.  The servant who had just been forgiven leaves the king and then runs into someone who owes him money.  The amount was 100 denarii.  A denarii is about a days wage.  So it’s a decent amount of money but nothing compared to what the servant had just been forgiven.  So what does this servant do?  He begins to beat this other person and then throws him into jail until he can pay what he owes.  Other servants saw this and they quickly told the king.  The King then summoned this servant and said, “You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt.”
    5. So what do we learn here?  God has mercy on us so that we will have mercy on others.  In fact, one way we know we have tasted God’s great mercy is because we are merciful to others.
    6. What does it mean that the servant is thrown to the jailers?  We should not think that this him getting his hand slapped.  The servant is not just experiencing a “timeout” because of bad behavior  No, the word jailers can also be translated torturers.  And because of the immense debt the servant owes, we should not think that the servant will ever be able released.  I believe Jesus is giving us a picture of hell here.
    7. And in verse 35, Jesus closes this teaching by saying, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”  Jesus is pretty clear here.  He is not beating around the bush.  If we do not forgive then we will not experience the eternal blessed presence of God.  Everyone who has experienced the forgiveness of God is called to forgive.  Jeff Vanderstelt said, “What God has done to us He also wants to do through us.”  God has forgiven you that you would forgive others and thus reveal the amazing gracious forgiveness of God.
  4. So why should we as believers forgive?  When we forgive others, we are glorifying God and maximizing our joy.  Our forgiveness of others also demonstrates that we have been forgiven by God.  Let us joyfully pursue forgiveness that we would glorify God, grow in joy, and have our faith strengthened.

 

Photo by timlewisnm

Praise God for the Gospel

I just finished reading Romans 3. It’s easy to read 3:9-18 and think of the wickedness and evil of the world and other people. But if I read it that way then I miss the meaning. This text is not just about others but it is about me. It describes me apart from the grace of Jesus.

I am not righteous.
I don’t understand.
I do not seek for God.
I have turned aside.
I am worthless.
I do nothing good.
My throat is an open grave.
My tongue is deceitful.
My mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
My feet are swift to shed blood.
My path is full of ruin and misery.
I do not know peace.
I do not fear God.

Conclusion: I deserve the full wrath and judgment of God. I am full of sin. Sin naturally flows from me like water flows in a river. Because I am sinful, I am not good enough to save myself. I have no means of rescuing myself. I cannot earn or merit the help of someone else. I am helpless and hopeless.

And that is why verses 24-25 are so amazing. I am “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

God’s grace in Jesus is what saves me. Praise God for His grace and mercy. Praise God that He is full of love and patience. Praise God for pursuing me when I ran from Him and wanted nothing to do with Him. Praise God for making me beautiful when I was not beautiful. Because of God’s grace in Jesus we who are helpless can have hope. Jesus has come to save and by faith in Him we are saved. May I never forget that glorious truth. May I never forget how wonderful and beautiful and necessary the grace of God is. Thank you God!

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

baby photoThis last week I preached on Psalm 139 and specifically how it applies to the way the church views, thinks, and responds to abortion.  There were some technical difficulties with the audio so I thought I would make the transcript available.  Below is the sermon I preached.  While it is not word for word, it is pretty close (also please ignore all spelling and punctuation errors, this was not written for publishing purposes).  Please leave any comments, I would love to hear you thoughts.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Grasping the beautiful and magnificent knowledge of God produces wonder and worship.

Psalm 139

8-16-15

Introduction

Today is our last Sunday to be in the Psalms.  And so because of what’s been happening in the media with planned parenthood and abortion I chose Psalm 139.  I had picked up a book a few months ago called, Counter Culture, by David Platt.  It’s a great book that looks at many hot topics of today and shows how the gospel ought to affect the way we think and act.  His chapter on abortion had me convicted within the first two sentences.  He wrote, “Shamefully silent and Appallingly passive.  These are the words that come to mind when I consider my approach to the issue of abortion for the majority of my life as a Christian and my ministry as a pastor” (57, Platt).

Here’s why I relate. I have served full time as a pastor for about 12 years.  I have only preached a handful of messages on God’s love for the unborn child.  And in only a few conversations have I shared my thoughts on abortion.  I have minimally tried to equip and engage the church in how to think and respond to this issue.  And as I watched the horrific youtube videos on Planned parenthood I was reminded of the startling numbers of abortion in America and I couldn’t help but agree, I have been “shamefully silent and appallingly passive”.

I want to take a few moments to give a few facts regarding abortion.  I give these so you might be informed and/or reminded of what is happening here in America.

  • There are 42 million abortions that occur every year in the world..
  • That is 115,000 abortions everyday
  • Conservative estimates are that ⅓ of women will have an abortion at some point in their lives.

It is easy to see how some have labeled abortion as a modern day holocaust.  And that is said in no way to undermine the horror of the Jewish holocaust where 6 million Jews died.  But we cannot glaze over the truth that 42 million babies are killed every year.

In a blog article by Ann VosKamp who is an author and prolific blogger, she writes, 

“In 2012, New York City had more black babies killed by abortions (31,328) than there were born (24,758).  Sit with that. That number of black babies accounted for almost half of all abortions in New York City. More blacks aborted than were born. Three American university researchers discovered that Planned Parenthood’s “primary consideration in placement of centers is not poverty but the percentage of blacks in the area.”

Does that not make you sick to your stomach?  VosKamp continues to write, “History, genocides, Nazism, racism, haven’t they all proved at the very least this to humanity: It’s when we dehumanize anyone, that we can legitimize anything.” 

And central to abortion is the the dehumanizing of babies.  

At this moment you might be saying, that’s some strong language.  Do we really need to take like that?

Illustration: Let me read an article to you written my Mary Elizabeth Williams back in January 23, 2013.  She is wildly prochoice and she titled her article, “So What If Abortion Ends Life.

Yet i know throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me.  I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life.  And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.”

Her rational:

“Here’s the complicated reality in which we all live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-baby-storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides.  She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”

Do you hear that?  She openly admits that abortion is murder and she justifies it by convenience, by asserting her rights over a baby’s rights.  Matt Chandler, a pastor in Texas wrote, “That sounds like Nazi Germany excrement to me” and I couldn’t agree more (http://qpolitical.com/they-asked-this-pastor-is-abortion-murder-his-response-gave-me-chills/).

We live in a day an age that we can justify murder on the basis of convenience.  And there are blogs and websites now dedicated to making women feel better about their choice to abort.

In August, Lelya Josephine shared a now viral video for her slam poem “I think She Was A She.” She imagines her aborted child “would’ve looked exactly like me,” with full cheeks, hazel eyes, and thick brown hair. And yet, she defends the killing: “I would have died for that right like she died for mine.  I’m sorry but you came at the wrong time.  I’m not ashamed…When I become a mother, it will be when I choose” (world magazine, January 2015, 46).    Do you see how abortion turns us into God? I will become a mom when I want to be a mom and I will take any babies life that threatens my plans or identity.

So how are we the church to respond?  Are we to picket planned parenthood centers?  Are we to sign petitions?  What do we do?  As Christians our first priority is to ask what do we know about God and how does that inform the way we think about abortion?  And then secondly we need to see how our understanding of the gospel will affect how we think and act regarding abortion.

Transition: So let’s begin with what we know about God and for that we will turn to Psalm 139.  Now you might be thinking, how does our view of God affect abortion.  After all, isn’t’ theology just a lot of head knowledge?  Unfortunately theology (meaning our view of God) has often been divorced from our feelings and actions.  But what we see in Scripture is that an accurate view of God will inform how we think, how we feel, and how we act. So with that, let us read Psalm 139

Read Psalm 139 and Pray

  1. This chapter is broken in to four 6 verse sections.  The running theme throughout this chapter is the omniscience of God, meaning He knows everything.  But in addition to His perfect knowledge, we will see 2 other essential attributes that are related to His knowledge.  As we move through this text, I want you to consider David’s description of God and his response to who God is.
  2. Verses 1-6 God’s knowledge is all-inclusive.
    1. In verse 1, David affirms that God fully knows him.  He knows everything that David does. In verse 2, we see God knows whether he sits or rises.  God also knows every thought that David has.  We read that God discerns his thoughts from afar.  Meaning, God knows Davids thoughts long before David knows his thoughts.  In verse 5, David says, God hems him in.  Here God is pictured like a blanket surrounding all of David.  The point is that God’s knowledge of us is all-inclusive.  There is nothing that God does not know.
    2. Now this knowledge that God has is not to be thought of in the same sense as George Orwell’s Novel, titled 1984.  In the novel, Big Brother is like this fictional character or symbol within a totalitarian state, called Oceania.  The citizens are regularly reminded that they are under constant surveillance, Big Brother sees everything.  The result was fear and chaos. But look here in verse 6.  David praises God.  He says, your knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.  David is not filled with fear or anger.  He does not feel somehow violated.  But rather he is in humble awe of God.  You get the sense that David falls to his knees in awe and wonder at the awesome all-inclusive knowledge of God.
    3. So this is our first foundational stone.  God is omniscient (all-knowing).
    4. Transition: Now let’s look at the next attribute of God.
  3. Verses 7-12 God’s presence is all-encompassing
    1. In these verses we see that there is no where we can go to escape the presence of God.  In verse 7, it reads, “where shall I go from Your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?”  In verses 8-12 David says he can go up or down go from the east to the west (that’s what it means when he says, “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea”).  Or he can even go and cover himself in absolute darkness and there still God is with him.  There is no hiding from God.  There is no place in which God is not with you.
    2. Illustration of Jonah:
      1. If you remember the story of Jonah.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh but instead Jonah fled to Tarshish.  Did Jonah get away from God?  No, God was still there and in fact God was even with Jonah in the belly of the fish.  There is no where in all creation that we can go in which God will not be with us also.
    3. Do you know that?  Do you know that God is with you?  Do you know that you are not alone?  Listen, you may right now feel all alone.  You might feel like nobody knows, understands you, or loves you.  But the truth is, God knows you.  In fact He knows you better than you know yourself.  And He is with you.  You are not alone.
    4. Transition: And to illustrate that God knows us and is always with us we look at verses 13-18.  In these verses we come to the third section of this Psalm where we see some of the most beautiful, rich, and intimate words in all scripture.  I want to read them one more time.  READ VERSES 13-18.
    5. Here we see that in the darkness of a mother’s womb God is there.  And what is God doing?  He is actively working.  He is forming and knitting the child.   We see that…
  4. God’s creative power is life-giving. (v.13-18) 
    1. God creates life in the womb.  In verse 15 we see that God know’s our frame before we are even formed.  And in verse 16, God sees our unformed substance. And we even read that God has a book and before we are formed or born, God has written out our days.
    2. Now let’s just step back for a moment.  Here we have and infinitely huge God,  A God who whose knowledge is all-inclusive, who presence is all-encompassing, and whose creative power is life-giving, and yet He is personally involved in the forming of every child and establishing their days.
    3. And so what is David’s response? Praise and Adoration.  In verse 14, he cries out, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.”  David’s response to the hugeness of God and also His most intimate involvement in our formation is praise.  What we see here is that proper response to who God is and how He is involved in our lives from even before we are formed is praise and adoration.
    4. So what does Abortion do to this truth?
      1. Now I want to take a moment and look at how abortion denies the truth’s we see here in Psalm 139.
      2. Abortion denies the activity and intimacy of God in the womb
        1. God is the who is creating life through the act of a sperm and egg coming together.  Abortion often treats pregnancy as an accident, a mistake, an inconvenience, but what we see here it is a divine act of God that He is personally involved in.(v.13)
      3. Abortion denies that the child in the womb is fearfully and wonderfully made.  In verse 14, David says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  You don’t destroy that which is wonderful.  You destroy that which is accidental, which is horrible, which is not important, which is irrelevant.  Which is exactly what we saw in the words of Mary Elizabeth Williams when she said her rights were more important than the life of a baby.
      4. Now some people attempt to say that the baby, especially in the first trimester is simply just tissue. But that is a foolish and unsubstantiated argument.  It is universally accepted and taught in academic textbooks that the zygote, which is a fertilized egg is the beginning of life.  In fact one abortion doctor said, “I know that we are killing children.”… “It’s simply a matter of justice for women. It would be a greater evil to deny women the equal right of reproductive freedom” (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/we-know-they-are-killing-children-all-of-us-know).  What he means is that because men can have the option of being a dad or not, shouldn’t mom’s also?  While David is moved to praise and worship because of God’s involvement with a child in the womb, abortion exalts the right of the women and diminishes and/or denies the works of God and justifies the killing of a life.  To make a dark picture even more horrendous,  A pediatric geneticist at Boston Children’s Hospital reported that “and estimated 92 percent of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies.”  Let me unpack that for a moment.  Our medical community says, if you have down syndrome you are not fearfully and wonderfully made.  You are a mistake.  You are a financial hardship.  And that is a blatant outright lie and blasphemous of God’s Word.  Every child God makes is fearfully and wonderfully made.
      5. Illustration: of blind man
        1. I am going through the Gospel of John right with Isaac.  And this last week we read chapter 9 which is about a man born blind who then was healed by Jesus.  And when asked why this man was born blind, this is what Jesus said, “it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in Him” (Jn 9:3). God created this man that through His blindness God’s glory might be made known.  God loves to use what is considered insignificant or even foolish for his glory.  Isn’t that the gospel?  Through the death of Jesus Christ at the cross, what many considered to be proof that Jesus was not the son of God, is the very means in which we are saved and forgiven. Let us not think that we are in a position to judge and determine who has value and who does not.  Every child is fearfully and wonderfully made.
      6. Abortion denies the sovereign actions of God.  Abortion says that we are in charge of who is born and who is not born.  Abortion attempts to make us the giver of life and not God. God might be the author of a book with our days written in them, but abortion says, we are the publisher and we choose to either accept or reject his book.
      7. There are many other things we could say here.  But I hope you see that our theology of God is of the upmost importance in determining how we are to think and act.
    5. And in the last section of Psalm 139 we see that David experienced and inward and outward response to his understanding of who God is and what He has done. And both of these responses are linked by a hatred of sin.
  5. Accurate theology will always produce humility before God and animosity of sin. 
    1. In verses 19-22 David is asking God to judge those who reject Him.  David is asking for God to judge those who deny His knowledge, His presence, and His creative power.  The more we know God the more our hearts and minds are made like His.  That is why in verse 21, David says, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?”  The reason David says this is because he knows that those who reject and deny God are committing the highest of crimes. They are sinning against the Most High God, the very one who made them in the womb.
    2. And in verses 23-24 we see David not only looks at others but he looks at his own life and he says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there by any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The more we know God, the more aware we become of our own sin, and the more we will ask God to reveal our sin that we might repent of it and that He would lead us into “the way everlasting.”  So what I want to do as we close, I want to ask based upon who God is what He has done for us through Jesus Christ (meaning the gospel), how are we to respond to abortion.
  6. Application for how we respond to abortion:
    1. We must Repent.  I began this sermon by saying that I have been “shamefully silent and appallingly passive.”  I have not hated the things that God has hated.  I say that because while my words may condemn abortion my actions have done nothing to stop it. Can we as the church be passive when a 115,000 babies are murdered everyday and that’s just here in America, we haven’t even looked at abortion in other countries?
    2. We must be known by our love.
      1. We will not overcome abortion by simply yelling louder than the other people, although we should speak.  We will not overcome abortion by simply picketing planned parenthood, although we should at times make a public stand. We will not overcome abortion by simply knowing more facts, although we do need to be educated.
      2. We will overcome abortion when we the church love the mothers and the babies to such an extent that we welcome the changes to our lives that it will require to help them. When Jesus came, He left heaven, He became the son of a carpenter, He was beaten, spat upon, and crucified.  His love for His Father and us is what brought him to earth and ultimately the cross.  And this is how we are to love.
      3. There are many women who will have an abortion who readily know they are killing a baby.  But there are also those who will have an abortion out of fear.
      4. IN Ann VosKamp’s blog she wrote, “Abortion isn’t so much about a woman having a choice — but a woman feeling like she has no choice at all. Sheer terror can make people feel like all they have is terrible choices.”  No choice.  Are we willing to accept that there are women who will have their babies killed because they are so scared they don’t have a choice?
        1. What if we the church became known as the place women could turn to?
        2. What if we told these women who are scared that we will walk with them through their pregnancy?
        3. What if we helped them raise their child?
        4. What if they still were not sure or able to raise the baby, we adopted the baby.
      5. Throughout God’s Word we see Him looking after and protecting the orphans and widows.  He loves to help those who are outcasts and have no choice.  And because of our faith in Jesus we become the body of Christ and therefore it is through the church that God will meet the need of those who are outcasted.
      6. Now what about when the woman says, but I was raped, if I have this baby I will be continually reminded of that horrific event.  Let’s walk with them through the pregnancy and birth, let’s counsel them, and let’s tell them that God specializes in turning the horrible into something beautiful.  That’s the gospel. The most horrific event in history, the crucifixion of the Son of God is also the most glorious event in all of history where man can be saved and forgiven.  Let’s also tell the the amazing truths of God.  We let them know that God sees them and is with them.  We let them know that what is happening in their bodies is a divine act of God, and the baby is fearfully and wonderfully made.
      7. Listen, we are the church. That means we are the body of Christ, the very hands and feet of Jesus.  And we have been given the blessing, the privilege, the opportunity to love others as He has loved us.
      8. Now you may be here today and you have had an abortion.  I in no way want to minimize your pain or act like I know why or how you made your decision.  But I do want you to know there is forgiveness in Jesus.  In Jesus you have hope.  Jesus came and died so that our sins, our rebellious acts, would be forgiven if we believe in Him.  So I want you to know the cross of Jesus is sufficient to cover you in grace.  I want to urge you to share your story with me, one of our elders or another believer so that we would be able to pray with you, to come alongside you and help you.
      9. But for those who do not repent.  For those doctors who think they can take life each day and not be judged.  For those women who think their right to their freedom is greater than their babies right to live.  For our political officials who think they can advocate the killing of babies, there is a day of judgment coming.  In verse 19, David cries out to God, Slay the wicked, O God!”  Our hope is that through our acts of love abortions can be decreased.  But, one thing for sure the day of abortions is coming to an end.
      10. So I ask you, i beg and plead with you, do not be “Shamefully silent or appallingly passive.  Let us be filled with love and compassion for women and their babies.  Let us proactively go and look for women who are scared, who are making choices more out of convenience then for the life inside of them.  And let’s not just focus on women but let’s focus on men.  Let’s help men understand the consequence of sex and their role as a father.  Let’s come along side men and pray with them and let them know we will help them become good husbands and fathers.    In order to do that it will take time and developing relationships.
      11. Let us be known for more than just words, but for our love and compassion.  Let us dig deep into the treasure chest of God’s Word that we would love what He loves and hate what He hates. And let’s worship the God who knows us, is with us, and because of His creative power we are fearfully and wonderfully made.