Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Thyatira: Sexual Sin, 24 July 2016

Thyatira: Sexual Sin in the Church
7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
Revelation 2:18-29

Series Overview

Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

Big Idea

Jesus is serious about sexual sin in the church…and holiness.

Introduction

Like many of you, I found the last book of the Bible to be confusing, weird, and even a bit scary. This series is focusing on the messages of Jesus to seven churches in modern-day Turkey. We looked at his words to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum. This week’s church is Thyatira. Thyatira is another inland locale like Pergamum, the least important of the seven cities. It was built for defense and known for its textile and wood industries. It also had trade guilds of artisans who worked in copper and bronze.

There are few ruins today, just one block. Perhaps the most famous person from Thyatira was Lydia, a woman mentioned in Acts 16 as a dealer in purple cloth, a worshiper of God. Other than our text for today and the brief Acts mention there are no other references to Thyatira in the Bible. This does not, however, diminish the importance of Jesus’ message to their church.

Revelation 2

“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (Revelation 2:18)

These words are powerful, holy, and speak of judgment. They also describe feet like burnished bronze, a common element among Thyatira artists. Local coins featured the deity of the bronze trade, Apollo Tyrimnaus.

I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (Revelation 2:19)

Faith without works is dead. We are saved by faith but good works should result. They are also filled with love, something the church in Ephesus lost. There are actually six things for which Jesus commends the Thyatira church:

Deeds
Love
Faith
Service
Perseverance
Improvement

That’s a great list! They have faith and deeds. They love one another and serve others. They have persevered amidst the hostility of the Roman empire. I love the idea of continuous improvement…of growth…of sanctification. I would love for Jesus to commend us for such things! But…

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (Revelation 2:20)

Jezebel may be an actual person or symbolic for the Old Testament woman who brought paganism to the people of God. King Ahab’s wife Jezebel promoted Baal worship (1 Kings 16-21; 2 Kings 9). We’ve been reading in our One Story Bible reading plan about the good and bad kings of Israel and Judah. Some were led astray by people like Jezebel. One common problem then and now is people who claim to speak for God who are actually false prophets. How can we discern the difference?


    False prophets were real…and they are still real today. The Thyatira church wandered from the truth. The voice of the world became louder than the voice of God. They pursued happiness rather than holiness, pleasure rather than purity, sin rather than sanctification. Last week we read Jesus’ critique of the Pergamum church:

    Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:14)

    Some there embraced false teaching about sexual immorality and meat sacrificed to idols. Similar language is used in Jesus’ critique of Thyatira.

    Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (Revelation 2:20)

    As I mentioned last Sunday, in the Roman empire there were temples for and worship of false gods. People often ate meat sold in the public markets ritually slaughtered and dedicated to these Roman gods. This was not mere nourishment, but often led to sharing in the pagan festivals of the unbelievers of the day, which often included sexual immorality. If you wanted to find a prostitute, the pagan temple area would’ve been a great place to look. Many believed the spirit was all that mattered so the body was unimportant. Our bodies matter, friends. We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and body. It’s unpopular to say but our bodies belong to God…and our spouse, if married.

    Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

    Jezebel led many in the Thyatira church to engage in immoral acts of various times, including the sexual. Jesus says to stay away from pagan practices of all kinds. Jezebel will appear again in Revelation chapters 17-19 as the recipient of great judgment.

    Sexual Immorality

    Let me be clear: God loves sex. He created it…for a purpose. Several, actually, but always to be in the context of marriage. Our culture is so confused and broken over sexuality. It’s tragic how something so beautiful has become so distorted and the source of so much pain.

    When it comes to sex, the world scoffs at the “traditional” view, yet it has worked for thousands of years and is God’s design. In fact, while the world cheapens sex, God’s Word views it as sacred, holy, and special. It’s not that God doesn’t care about sex, it’s that He cares about it so much. That’s why He instructs us to have boundaries, to treat it with respect, and to maintain purity. Here’s just a small sample of the texts dealing with sexual immorality. Let’s start with Jesus’ words:

    For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:19)

    The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Corinthians 6:13b)

    The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; (Galatians 5:19)

    Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

    It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; (1Thessalonians 4:3)

    In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

    Perhaps the most ominous verse is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth:

    Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)

    Sexual sins have dire—and sometimes deadly—consequences. I wish we had time to fully unpack this subject, but suffice it to say God made you, knows you, and wants what’s best for you. Really. He’s not a killjoy. He’s not about stopping your fun. He wants you to flourish and avoid the heartache of disease, regret, shame, unwanted pregnancy, embarrassment, and guilt by engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. This includes pornography, lust, infidelity, fornication, and adultery.

    Temptation

    What tempts you? Most—if not all of us—are tempted in the area of our sexuality. Are there ways to avoid it? Jesus taught us to pray

    And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ’ (Matthew 6:13)

    Prayer is one way to avoid temptation, but often other actions are required. Temptation is NOT sin. We only sin when we inappropriately respond to temptation. Jesus was tempted. The book of Hebrews contains one of my favorite verses:

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

    Some people feel guilty when tempted. It’s only when we sin that we should feel guilty, confess, repent—which means to turn 180 degrees—receive the forgiveness Jesus offers us through His death on the cross, and follow Christ. If you hear nothing else today, know that God forgives. No matter what you’ve done, how you’ve sinned, you can receive forgiveness by surrendering your life to Jesus Christ, making him your Savior and Lord.

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

    Hallelujah!

    Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:20-23)

    Jesus says he will cast Jezebel on a bed of suffering, perhaps a double entendre since she used her bed immorally. Sin leads to suffering and often even death. But we can repent. We can turn away from our sins. We can change…with the help of God and others. You can’t do it alone, though. Don't buy into one of the lies of the enemy that you can be holy without help.

    This past week I had two front-row seats to see the pain of sin and the hope of healing. The first was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I attended with my daughter Rachel…for her class at the University of Toledo. We heard stories of anguish and brokenness…amidst a devoted group of people present to support and encourage.

    On Friday afternoon I was with two different groups at the Cherry Street Mission Life Revitalization Center. Both were filled with people who hit bottom and finally recognized their need for help. The work at Cherry Street was so exciting to see first-hand as men and women are truly becoming revitalized one day at a time.

    Perhaps today you need to repent. First you need to confess and agree with God you have sinned. That’s the easy part. The hard part is doing the hard work of change. That’s where the church is so valuable. You can’t do it alone. You need friends, a small group, a Bible study, a Sunday School class. It all begins with that first step of agree with God that you have sinned and sharing it with someone else.

    The good news: there’s no perfect people allowed here so anyone you tell will have their own sins to confess.

    The better news: our sins can be forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross.


    Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ (Revelation 2:24-25)

    Satan may have secrets but God’s truth is revealed openly through His Word and the Holy Spirit. The church was short-lived.

    To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:26-29)

    In a passage filled with bad news for the sinners, there’s encouragement for the saints, those who obey. The works of Jesus are contrasted with the works of Jezebel. The faithful will be given authority. They will be given the morning star, the hope of the Church. Here the morning star is likely the planet Venus at its pre-dawn brightest, a sign of the dawning of the day when Jesus rules and reigns forever. Jesus’ birth was announced by a star, a symbol of authority and royalty, and this description has echoes of Psalm 2. The great reward is Jesus Himself.

    The Church is to be holy, heaven’s representative, God’s holy people. We cannot tolerate sin of any kind, especially sexual sins which can harm us with devastating consequences.

    Paul wrote this to the church in Ephesus:

    But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3)

    The word “holy” means devoted to God, special, separate from common usage. It means to be devoted to God and therefore separate from evil, satan, and sin.

    Theologian Scot McKnight says, ““Holiness is the inevitable outcome of a person who loves God heart, soul, mind and strength. Holiness is whatever is an inevitable outcome of a person who loves his or her neighbor as themselves.”

    The people of God are to look different, act different, be different than the world. Every day we choose to follow God or follow our own selfish, worldly desires. It’s hard. It’s a battle. But following God is always worth it.

    Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Pergamum: False Teaching, 17 July 2016

    Pergamum: False Teaching
    7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
    Revelation 2:12-17

    Series Overview:
    Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

    Big Idea: The church at Pergamum was tolerating false teaching in the church rather than uniting under the truth of God’s Word.

    Introduction

    Like many of you, I found the last book of the Bible to be confusing, weird, and even a bit scary. We are not studying the entire book (perhaps we’ll talk about wings and beasts and 666 in the future) but we are going to look at the Gospel according to Jesus. Perhaps that’s a new phrase to you. Many know of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus also wrote a book of the Bible, or at least he spoke much of it. If you have a Bible with the words of Jesus in red, you’ll notice chapters 2 and 3 are all red, all words of Jesus. The book begins:

    The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2)
    Revelation is not about the antichrist (a term which does not appear in the book of Revelation), but about the living Christ. It is not about a rapture out of this world (the word “rapture” is not found in Revelation, either) but about faithful discipleship in this world. As it says, this is the revelation from Jesus. We read Revelation to know Jesus better. It reveals Christ.
    The book of Revelation was written around A.D. 95 when Christians were entering a time of persecution. Emperor worship was growing so anyone who held that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord was subject to hostility. Needless to say, following Jesus was not politically correct.

    Chapter 1 describes a scene where John encounters Jesus.

    When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

    “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:17-20)

    Revelation is filled with fantastical symbolism. In this instance, it is clear. The stars are angels of the churches. The lampstands are the churches, the people.

    Our series is focusing on these seven churches. This week’s church is Pergamum or Pergamon, a city in modern-day Turkey near Bergama. Heather and I were blessed to have been able to visit it earlier this year. It’s truly a city on a hill.

    It featured massive temples to Dionysius and Athena, a stadium, a theatre, a huge forum and an amphitheater along with a shrine to Asclepius, the god of healing. Its library was second in the world only to Alexandria. Mark Anthony gave the library to his girlfriend Cleopatra. Its wealth was so great that many of the library’s 200,000 volumes were written on costly sheepskin—parchment (this is centuries before the printing press) rather than papyrus.

    The city was also known for its vast medical knowledge. It was the religious center. It was the most illustrious city in Asia Minor. Some say it was the one city deserving of being a royal city.

    The ancient city today is reached by cable car. It is a fascinating place. It features a beautiful valley. It’s not a coastal city like Ephesus and Smyrna but it was built to withstand the enemy. The acropolis—city or settlement on a hill or elevated ground— dominated the entire region.

    Revelation 2

    “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

    These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. (Revelation 2:12)

    Pergamum was symbolized by a sword. The city was given the unusual independent authority to execute capital punishment.

    Jesus says he has the sharp, double-edged sword, the Word. The book of Hebrews says

    For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

    God’s word is powerful! The Roman empire would eventually come to an end, but Jesus will rule forever! The Word of God is the answer to man’s sin and man’s need. In this instance it was the answer to religion.

    I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. (Revelation 2:13a)

    Can you imagine living where satan has his throne? This was not the Bible belt! Scholars are unsure why Jesus mentions satan’s throne. It could be a reference to the emperor’s cult, the great altar for Zeus, the temple of Asclepius (the god of healing; they used medicine, psychology, etc. for 700 years it was a hospital that attracted people from around the world), or the acropolis with temples to other gods and goddesses. Whatever the reason, the Pergamum church lived in the midst of tremendous evil and idolatry.

    Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
    (Revelation 2:13b)

    Last week we talked about the persecution in Smyrna including the martyr (which is Greek for “witness”) Polycarp. Antipas—whose name means “against all”—was killed in Pergamum. This church remained true. They were faithful. They endured…and were commended for it.

    I pray we would remain faithful to the name of Jesus. It’s not always a popular word to declare—unless it’s used as profanity. It’s fine to talk about God

    Satan is not in hell…yet! At this time his headquarters were in Pergamum. Where is it today?! The heathen temples were imposing.

    Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14-15)

    Jesus does not say “but” or “yet,” instead saying, “Nevertheless.” This church has some issues. First, there is division. Some followed the faithful example of Antipas while others followed the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans (both names mean “Victor or Destroyer of the People”).

    Unity

    Unity is so essential to a vibrant, healthy church. It is one of my four prayers for First Alliance Church, that we would be united. I pray for unity—not uniformity, but unity. We are united at the foot of the cross. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. Jesus said,

    “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. (Luke 11:17b)

    One of my favorite prayers in the Bible was prayed by Jesus…for us!

    “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

    Jesus prayed for unity. When we pray for unity, we are agreeing with Christ. We know it’s his will!

    Yet there are more than 30,000 Christian denominations! Imagine if Jesus didn’t pray for us!!!

    How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

    Unity is so important, yet it must be unity around truth, not false teaching.

    I have said before and will say again our authority as a church is not in my words or even the president of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, Dr. John Stumbo. The Bible—the Word of God—is our authority. It’s obviously a big book and there are controversial issues, but we cannot do anything which contradicts the Bible. We need wisdom and discernment, especially in the difficult scriptures. Fortunately there are many clear, foundational doctrines with which millions of followers of Jesus can embrace. Here’s one example:

    Apostle’s Creed video

    Returning to our text for today, there was false teaching about sexual immorality and meat sacrificed to idols. The first is common in our day, the latter seems foreign to us, but people often ate meat sold in the public markets ritually slaughtered and dedicated to the Roman gods. This was not mere nourishment, but often led to sharing in the pagan festivals of the unbelievers of the day which often included sexual immorality.

    Have we been influenced by the unbelievers of our day? Do we embrace sinful practices? It’s easy to compromise our faith when the culture is screaming political correctness 24/7 through every screen and media outlet.

    The people of Pergamum compromised the Word of God. You cannot simultaneously love Jesus and the world. You cannot honor God and sin.

    The world came into the Church during this period. The Ephesus church hated the Nicolaitans teachings, but the Pergamum church embraced it. Perhaps it was a religious spirit. Whatever it was, it did not honor God.

    How do we know what honors God? How do we know the scriptures? How do we know the truth? We must read the Bible. We must listen to the Bible. We must study the Bible.

    Never before have there been so many ways to access the sacred scriptures. It’s on my phone, my laptop, and my iPad. I have multiple Bibles, commentaries, and study guides. The Internet is packed with blogs, websites, podcasts, and videos. We must know the truth…in a world of lies.

    Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:16)

    The only cure was repentance. The Word of God was the answer. If they did not repent, Jesus was going to fight
    against them! He would do it not to harm them, but rather to purify them.

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)

    Our text concludes with a message not only for those in Pergamum but whoever has ears, all who respond to the Spirit’s voice. Jesus promises two things to the victorious, to the overcomer who trusts in Jesus: hidden manna and a white stone.

    Manna was God’s miraculous provision for the people of Israel during their 40-year journey in the wilderness. To those who refused the food of idolatrous pagan festivals Jesus would provide a special gift. Jesus is the Bread of Life. He will strengthen them.

    White stones were used by jurors to free an alleged criminal. They were also used as entrance tickets to banquets and plays. It is possible Jesus is saying believers are forgiven of their sins, they are free from the condemnation we deserve. Jesus died to set us free. He took our punishment. We are given a white stone with a new name known only to us. We become new creations. We are made new. We are born again. We are declared righteous. We receive a new identity—in Christ. Hallelujah!

    So What?

    It’s easy to jump ahead, assuming we get manna, the Bread of Life, forgiveness, salvation, and a new identity since we attend church and call ourselves Christians. But don’t forget, this entire passage is directed at a church. Some were found faithful, others followers of false teachings. In our day, there are many spiritual people who can draw a crowd, but do they love Jesus Christ? Do they know and follow his teachings, his Word? Do you?

    Perhaps you believe you deserve to go to heaven because you’re a good person, but you’re not. I’m not. All of us sin. All of us fall short of God’s perfect standard, and therefore none of us deserve to go to heaven. It’s only because of Jesus—his death on our behalf—which allows us to be forgiven, free, and reconciled to our heavenly Father. You don’t deserve it. You can’t earn it. All you can do is surrender your life to the One who surrendered his for you. Jesus wants to be not only your Savior, but also your Lord, your King. Following him may be costly, but you’ll never regret it.

    My prayer for First Alliance Church is that God would give us protection, direction, passion…and unity, united under our Senior Pastor, Jesus Christ. United in the Word of God, the holy scriptures of the Bible. I pray we would be faithful to sound doctrine and never be lured by false teaching. I pray we would remain faithful to Christ, our Cornerstone. It’s all about Jesus!

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Smyrna: Persecution, 10 July 2016

    Smyrna: Persecution
    7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
    Revelation 2:8-11

    Series Overview:
    Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

    Big Idea: The church at Smyrna was commended for enduring persecution.

    Smyrna
    is the third-largest city in modern-day Turkey, now called Izmir. It presently has about 2.5 million people. Heather and I were blessed to have been able to visit it earlier this year. It’s about 35 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna/Izmir is a cultural center which claimed the poet Homer as a native son. The name, Smyrna, means “myrrh,” an ordinary perfume also used as anointing oil in the tabernacle and for embalming dead bodies (a prophetic gift given to Jesus). Unlike Ephesus, there are Christians in Izmir today, though perhaps only two churches in Izmir have more than one hundred people. Turkey may be the most unchurched nation on the earth.

    Revelation was written at the end of the first century around AD 95. At this time the movement of Jesus was still relatively new and spreading across the Roman empire. Emperor worship was required for all Roman citizens. Disobedience was punishable by death. Needless to say, it was not an easy time or place to be a follower of Jesus.


    Revelation 2


    “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

    These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
    (Revelation 2:8)

    Revelation is about Jesus. He is eternal. He was, is, and always will be. He endured horrific suffering, died a brutal death, and was resurrected from the grave. Jesus is the First and the Last. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

    This church was told to worship the emperor or die. As they faced death, they heard from the One who both experienced and conquered death. Earlier Jesus had said

    Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

    This life is short and temporary. I know…it’s easy for me to say today in an air-conditioned building in a nation who celebrated freedom this past week. It’s quite another to be a refugee fleeing ISIS. Nevertheless, Jesus knows suffering…and He knows the suffering in Smyrna.

    I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)

    N.T. Wright notes:

    “…the Jewish synagogue in Smyrna has become a ‘satan-synagogue’ – not just in a vague, general, abusive sense, but in the rather sharply defined sense that, as ‘the satan’ is, literally, ‘the accuser’, the synagogue in town has been ‘accusing’ the Christians of all kinds of wickedness. In particular, in a city where Roman imperial presence and influence was everything, the Jews would have been exempt from taking part in the festivities of the imperial cult . . . and they may well have been accusing, to the authorities, the Christians who were claiming that exemption as well. Perhaps it was accusations like that, with social and political consequences, that had given Smyrna’s Christians a taste of poverty in an otherwise rich city (verse 9). All this is at the heart of the message to Smyrna.”

    Jesus was aware of their suffering. They were very poor, likely because of their faith. Jesus is aware of our lives, too. He sees every sacrifice we make to honor Him. He knows when you take the high road, resist temptation, and speak the truth in love. Following Jesus was not and is not politically correct.

    Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (Revelation 2:10)

    If you could know the future, would you want to? Jesus is predicting persecution for ten days. Many scholars believe this is not 240 hours but rather figurative since a ‘day’ in literature like this sometimes means a year or more (which may explain why it has taken Jesus more than 2000 years to return “soon!”).

    I love how Jesus blames the devil for the persecution.

    Our enemy is not Trump or Clinton or Obama.
    Our enemy is not blacks or whites or police.
    Our enemy is not Muslims or Hindus or atheists.
    Our enemy is not Buckeyes or Wolverines or Spartans.
    Our enemy is the devil, satan, whose playbook is simple: steal, kill and destroy.

    Satan used Roman soldiers. He used Hitler and the KKK. He is using secular humanism, ISIS, and violent religion. But people are not the enemy.

    Smyrna was considered a city with a crown due to its architecture and location. Jesus never criticizes the Smyrna church, instead urging them to remain faithful when the persecution comes.

    They did. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna was burned alive in AD 155 or 156 after refusing to sacrifice to Caesar. A student of the apostle John, Polycarp refused to renounce Christ, saying, “For 86 years I have served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my king and my Savior?”

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

    There are two types of death. The first is the death of the body. We will all experience this within a hundred years or so. Jesus has “been there and done that” already. The second death, though, is more significant. It will do for the entire personality what the first one did for the physical body. John will address this in chapter twenty.

    His point, though, is fear not. What’s the worst that can happen? You die and spend eternity with God! For the Christian, this life is as close to hell as we will ever get. For the non-Christian, this is the closest they will get to heaven! To be victorious may mean to die a martyr, eliminating any fear from the second death. To be victorious is certainly to know and follow Jesus.

    So What?

    The persecution of Christians is growing in the United States. It should come as no surprise to us. While I don’t particularly long for suffering, Jesus never promised us rainbows and lollipops in this life. Instead, he told His first followers

    In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

    There MAY be a message in this text for us, to prepare for persecution and to be faithful no matter the cost.

    There is definitely a message in this text for many of our brothers and sisters who daily face poverty, persecution, and even martyrdom. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

    If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.


    Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:26-27)

    21 Martyrs video

    What Can We Do?

    The burden is overwhelming. This past week Russia essentially made it illegal to talk about Jesus anywhere but inside a church. Our brothers and sisters—including those in the Alliance—could face persecution for simply sharing their faith online or even in their own home!

    Great Commission Day is a reminder not only of God’s activity in our world to seek and save the lost but also satan’s activity to steal, kill and destroy. We can give to the Great Commission Fund and support our spiritual siblings who are on the frontlines in other lands.

    We can pray.

    Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

    https://www.persecution.com

    Fear Not

    This is not a happy topic, but it is not without hope. The battle is real but Jesus will ultimately win the war. But we must remain faithful.

    My friend Lewis Winkler wrote,”
    The worst thing that can happen for Christians is to forsake their Lord and compromise their calling just to retain some tattered vestige of public praise and cultural power. Christianity’s power does not come from the accolades of societal approval and respect from those who don’t love God. It’s a power that at its weakest is stronger than the strength of men, and it comes only from being faithful to Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost. To know the supernatural power of His resurrection, we must be willing to suffer humiliation and shame. We must be willing to die with Christ. There is no other way.

    Each morning Pastor Craig Groeschel declares a number of affirmations. One of them says, “
    Pain is my friend. I rejoice in suffering because Christ suffered for me.”

    That’s an attitude we can all embrace. We need not fear suffering or pain or persecution. We need not fear death. We serve a Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King who has conquered sin and death. And He is with us! Therefore, whom shall we fear?!!!

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Ephesus: First Love, 3 July 2016

    Ephesus: First Love
    7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
    Revelation 2:1-7

    Series Overview:
    Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

    Big Idea: The church at Ephesus was commended for doing a lot of good things but they forgot their first love, Jesus.

    Introduction

    For years, people have asked me to preach on the book of Revelation. Like many of you, I found the last book of the Bible to be confusing, weird, and even a bit scary. We are not beginning a series today on the entire book (perhaps we’ll talk about wings and beasts and 666 in the future) but we are going to look at the Gospel according to Jesus. Perhaps that’s a new phrase to you. Many know of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus also wrote a book of the Bible, or at least he spoke much of it. If you have a Bible with the words of Jesus in red, you’ll notice chapters 2 and 3 are all red, all words of Jesus. The book begins:

    The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2)
    Revelation is not about the antichrist (a term which does not appear in the book of Revelation), but about the living Christ. It is not about a rapture out of this world (the word “rapture” is not found in Revelation, either) but about faithful discipleship in this world. As it says, this is the revelation from Jesus. We read Revelation to know Jesus better. It reveals Christ.
    There is some dispute about whether this John is the son of Zebedee, the apostle who wrote the gospel of John and 1, 2, and 3 John or a different person. What matters is not the recipient so much as the sender, the revelator, Jesus Christ.

    The book of Revelation was written around A.D. 95 when Christians were entering a time of persecution. Emperor worship was growing so anyone who held that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord was subject to hostility. Needless to say, following Jesus was not politically correct.

    Chapter 1 describes a scene where John encounters Jesus.

    When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

    “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:17-20)

    Revelation is filled with fantastical symbolism. In this instance, it is clear. The stars are angels of the churches. The lampstands are the churches, the people.

    Our series will focus on these seven churches. This week’s church is Ephesus. The book of Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul to this church.

    Ephesus is a city in
    modern-day Turkey. Heather and I were blessed to have been able to visit it earlier this year. The ruins are incredible, uncovered after multiple earthquakes and about 2000 years. There are streets, houses, shops, the Temple of Artemis, and a huge amphitheater with 25,000 seats.

    Back in the day, Ephesus was a thriving port city, an educated community filled with the worship of the emperor, not God. It had great commerce and culture. The Celsus Library is a great example of its sophistication.

    Revelation 2

    “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 people, 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)

    First and foremost Jesus. He is sovereign and in control. He holds the seven stars—the angels of the churches—in his hand. He is pleased with the Ephesus church. They worked hard.

    The Ephesians no doubt endured persecution. They did not have religious freedom as we think of it today in our culture. Early Christians were often ostracized both from the religious Jews and the secular pagans. Following Jesus was not politically correct, yet they were faithful.

    They carefully guarded their theology, their beliefs in God. They were clear about distinguishing followers of Jesus from frauds. They knew the truth.

    Have you ever had someone say something nice, only to ruin it by saying, “But…?” This seems to be the trend as Jesus speaks to the seven churches in Revelation. He commends them, presents a complaint, and then correction.

    Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far 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. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:4-6)

    They had forsaken their first love. As the Righteous Brothers would say, they lost that lovin’ feeling. They were no longer in love with Jesus. We don’t know what exactly took place, but they no longer had a passion for Christ. They also lost their love for one another. The Greek word here is agape. It is unconditional love. They lost the love they showed at the beginning of their relationship with Jesus and others. They knew the truth of the gospel but forgot the heart of the gospel is love. It’s not simply a get-out-of-hell-free card or membership in a religious club. It’s the good news that Jesus is Lord. He lived. He taught. He died for our sins to reconcile us to our Holy Father, and he rose from the dead. All because of love. Concern for our well-being. Sacrifice. Action.

    It has been said familiarity breeds contempt. Married spouses often take one another for granted. They may forget to go on dates, instead trudging through daily life, forgetting to love and serve one another. It’s easy to get lazy and complacent when you see the same person day after day. That’s why Marriage Encounter, date nights, and intimacy are vital.

    All relationships need attention. They are never static. Each needs an investment of time and energy. Perhaps they got caught up in ritual and tradition, forgetting Jesus in the process. I know that sounds crazy, but as time goes on entropy sets in. We go through the motions. We forget the why.

    As a “professional Christian” this is especially tempting for me. It’s easy for me to do things for God without being with God. It’s like my kids in a
    swimming pool. When they were little whenever they would swim they would say two words: watch me! Watch me swim, daddy! Watch me jump, daddy! I loved to see them play, but after a while I just wanted them to come over and give me a hug, to let me read them a story, or to just talk. This past week I was convicted—again—that while God wants me to write sermons, lead our staff, serve the elders, play music and the like, He also loves it when I just set aside the busyness to be with Him, to abide with Him (John 15). I can say, “Watch me, Daddy” as I do my work but He also wants my heart. He wants my attention. He wants my presence.

    It’s not surprise that new churches typically see more new Christians than existing congregations. There’s an energy, an awe, a wonder, a newness that is contagious. Over time, that passion can erode. Our desperation diminishes.

    The consequences of losing our love are severe. Jesus warned if they didn’t repent, their lampstand would be removed. It has been. Today there is no active church in Ephesus…or the surrounding area. None. The population of Ephesus in the first century was nearly identical to that of Toledo today, around 250,000. Imagine Toledo with no churches.

    (We don’t know much about the Nicolaitans, but they may have been introducing strange new ideas or practices that contradicted the scriptures).

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)

    I believe this refers to us. It’s not just for the church in Ephesus, it’s for whoever has ears. It’s for those who are conquerors, victorious through Jesus, faithful in the midst of persecution and even death. Jesus, of course, is the ultimate victor, conquering sin and death.

    The
    temple of Artemis had a particular tree in its surrounding garden, a tree that appeared on some of the local coins. If criminals came close to the tree, they would be free from punishment and capture.

    Of course God has a paradise reserved for those who repent, who love Jesus. The tree of life in the Garden of Eden will be planted many times over in the new Jerusalem, the garden city (Revelation 22:2).

    So What?

    Have you lost your first love? Have we, church family? It’s so easy to get caught up in small groups, camps, church services, and religious activity without actually being with Jesus. It’s common for people to study about him as if Christ is a textbook subject rather than knowing him as a friend.

    One of my great prayers is for us to use the baptistery for the first time in about two years. Church is meant to be a
    hospital for broken people, not a museum for perfect saints. The only part of a hospital I like to visit is the maternity ward. That’s where new life is visible, where families celebrate. We’ve been like a hospital without a maternity ward, caring for the needs of the hurting but not experiencing the joy of new life.

    As people age, they tend to lose their energy. New babies rejuvenate the old. I wonder if some of us have lost our first love for Jesus. I believe new followers of Jesus would create a renewed sense of
    awe and wonder as we begin to view the glory of God
    through the fresh eyes of a newly adopted son or daughter of our heavenly Father.

    Do you love Jesus? An hour on Sunday isn’t enough to cultivate a healthy relationship. Time and energy are required.

    For many of us, we’ve lost our first love to the things of this world—work, sports, social media, politics, hobbies, school, or even family. These aren’t necessarily bad—unless they replace Jesus as Lord. Let me see your calendar and your checkbook and I’ll tell you what really matters to you.

    For others, religion has become an idol. Many are so focused on trying to fix the world, do the right things, and attending every church event they forget why they’re doing it…or for Whom. We must be abiding in Christ, spending quality time with Jesus in prayer and the scriptures, enjoying God’s creation, worshipping through music or the arts, serving the poor, or fighting injustice. We all have different ways we connect best to Jesus—the point is connect. Be with your first love, Jesus. Be with His Bride, the Church, loving and serving, offering hospitality and help to those in need.

    Love was the hallmark of the early church. They were the only ones who cared for the widow, stranger, and orphan. They loved others as a response to the love they received from Jesus and the love they had for Christ. It was contagious!

    Communion

    One way we can remember our first love is to come to the table and participate in communion or Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said to remember him because…we are prone to forget.

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    My Two Dads, 19 June 2016

    My Two Dads
    Father’s Day 2016
    1 John 3:1-3; Hebrews 12:7-11

    Big Idea:
    God is the greatest Dad!

    Happy Father’s Day! I realize like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day can be emotional…….

    This morning I’d like to read two letters. I’ve written one to my biological dad and the other to my heavenly Dad. I wish I could introduce you to my earthly dad, though hopefully you’ll get a glimpse of him through my letter. If you don’t know my heavenly Father, I can and will introduce you to Him!

    Dear Dad,

    It has been so long since I’ve spoken with you. I can’t remember the last time I heard you say my name. I miss you SO much.

    It was horrible watching you fade away over the past decade or so, your mind ravaged by Alzheimer’s. I’m grateful you never got angry and loud but instead remained so calm. You seemed to be comfortable, even during your final days two years ago. I’m so glad I was with you on May 5, 2014 to watch you take your last breath, surrounded by mom, Heather, and other family members.

    Thank you.
    Thank you for loving me, for loving my sister, and for loving mom. Everyone who knew you knew you were a man of love. Jesus summarized the entire Law of the Bible in two commands: love God and love others. You were a great example of love.

    Thank you for disciplining me. I know that sounds strange. I certainly didn’t like it when you made me write every verse in Proverbs which speaks about wisdom. I didn’t like being spanked! You disciplined out of love, though. The writer of Hebrews said

    Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

    You disciplined because you loved me. I appreciate that now.

    Thank you for music. I am grateful for my musical heritage. You not only had a love for black gospel music which I share to this day, you were a skilled musician and encouraged me to become one, too.

    Thank you for loving Jesus. He was the most important person in your life and He’s the most important person in mine.

    Thank you for discipling me. Actions speak louder than words. You provided me with both. You were not perfect, but you were a living example.

    I saw Jesus in you as you cared for the least of these, repairing cars for single moms.

    I saw Jesus in you as you were generous, giving to not only our church but other ministries, too. I’m not sure how much you gave, but I know it was far beyond the 10% tithe set as a minimum in the Old Testament.

    I saw Jesus in you as you shared Christ with customers and co-workers, never pressuring people but rather inviting them to a personal relationship with their Creator.

    I saw Jesus in you as you used your gift of leadership as the head of the elder board. Your wisdom was deeply needed many times and without you and mom that church would’ve closed decades ago.

    On a side note, do you remember when I asked your forgiveness for judging you? I told you I once thought if you were a REAL Christian you’d become a pastor but I came to realize it would be as wrong for you to leave the marketplace and become a pastor as it would for me to leave vocational ministry for a marketplace career. You impacted so many lives no pastor would’ve ever been able to reach.

    There’s so much more I could write, so many great memories of vacations, ball games, Boy Scouts, car repair, …and your amazing laugh! I love you, Dad. I want to be like You and I can’t wait to see you!

    Your son,

    Kirk

    ==========================

    Dear heavenly Dad,

    Thank you.
    Thank you for blessing me with such an incredible earthly dad. He remains my small-h hero. I miss him so much…and look forward to a reunion someday in heaven. He was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received and I hope to be half the man he was to my wife, kids, and friends.

    Thank You for loving me. Everyone who knows You knows You are a loving Dad. In fact, You are the definition of love! John wrote

    Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

    I know we often misunderstand love. We confuse it with being nice. Love is not tolerant. In fact, they’re often polar opposites. You don’t tolerate us. You’re not passive. Your nature is to give, to have our best interest at heart, and to do whatever necessary to ensure not necessarily our happiness but our holiness.

    Thank you for loving my sisters and brothers here in this room and beyond. Eight months ago you brought our family to Toledo to join this First Alliance family and we are so grateful! We have been encouraged, challenged, and loved-on by great men, women, and children, too. It all began with You and Your love.

    See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

    There’s so much in those three short verses. You have “lavished” Your love on us…on all of us. We are Your children which means not only a relationship with You but also with one another.

    Thank You for hope. John continues

    Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

    This world is so broken. It is groaning and grieving. Violence, heroin, injustice, corruption, hunger, hatred, and pride are just a few of the many sins ravaged our planet. They don’t reflect Your glory, purity, love, or peace. We are to be a faithful presence here and now, but we also live with the hope that Christ will appear, we will be like him, and we will see him…which reminds of my greatest thanks.

    Thank You for Jesus! I can’t imagine how people could possibly live without Jesus. You proved Your love to us by sending Jesus (John 3:16).

    This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

    Oh how I love Jesus! He was the wisest person to ever walk the earth. He was the greatest teacher. He healed the sick. He cast out demons. He modeled for us what it means to be truly human. No other life has been more analyzed or emulated. Yet his life was only part of the story.

    His death was horrific and scandalous, yet so glorious.
    The cross is a symbol of love, of our sins being atoned for, paid for, and ultimately forgiven. You sent your only son on a mission to die…and there’s not greater pain than watching your child die. We’ve seen movies of the crucifixion and imagine the agony of Jesus, but You, Dad, experienced horrific anguish, too. Your one son received the penalty of the sins of your adopted children. No dad has given a greater gift than the gift of Jesus You have given to us. Without the broken body and the poured-out blood of Jesus I would have no hope, no forgiveness, no joy, no peace, and no love. Because of the cross every man, woman and child has the opportunity to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord and experience abundant life with purpose.

    Thank You for disciplining me. The writer of Hebrews was so right!

    No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

    You disciplined because you loved me. I appreciate that now. I have grown through trials. My character has been shaped through testing. I know You’re not done with me yet (which scares me sometimes!) but I can see how You’ve always disciplined out of love, not hate or anger. You want what’s best for me, and sometimes what’s best isn’t a banana split on the beach (though I’d enjoy that!).

    On a side note, I’m so sorry judging you. There have been so many times when I wanted You to do what I wanted rather than truly seeking Your will. The older I get, the more I realize Daddy knows best, but sometimes it’s hard to trust, especially when I have to wait. I know You are good, though…all the time! Hindsight is 20/20 and now I see the reasons for many of the trials.

    Thank You for music. I love music. I love using music to worship and praise You, though worship is so much more than just singing songs. I want all of my life to bring You honor and glory because You’re worth it. You deserve all worship.

    Thank You for Your Word.

    The vast majority of people throughout history have not had 24/7 access to the scriptures. I’m so blessed to have a copy of the Bible…several, really! I love reading and listening to it on my iPhone. I love studying it. There’s so much to learn and explore about You…and me, too! I’m grateful for the Bible not only for knowledge but also wisdom and understanding…and to know You!

    How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.

    Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:103-105)

    There’s so much more I could write, so many great memories of answered prayers, perfect timing, unexpected blessings, and unending faithfulness. I love you, Dad. I want to be like You and I can’t wait to see you!

    Your son,

    Kirk

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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