Smyrna–Threough the Fire

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Re 2:8–11)

No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Cor 10:13)

Many translate the Corinthian text as testing and not temptation, which is the correct. Not just any temptation, but ‘superhuman’ kind. The Smyrna church wasn’t being tempted, but they were about to be tested and go through the fire. But as the three Hebrew boys found out when they were about to be thrown into the furnace, God doesn’t put the fire out; God meets them in the fire.

If you find yourself in a trial or tribulation, look for the Lord in the midst of the fire.

The Ephesian Fellowship

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

“ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Re 2:1–7, ESV)

Roman Ruins in Ephesus

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Eph 5:1–5)

Paul tells the Ephesian church to be imitators of God and to walk in love, just as ‘Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering.’ Talking about Christianity, Gandhi once said, “Don’t talk about it. The rose doesn’t have to propagate its perfume. It just gives it forth, and people are drawn to it. Live it, and people will come to see the source of your power.”

So, what went wrong? The old idiom says, “When you are up to your neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget that the goal was to drain the swamp.” For the Ephesian church, they were so busy standing against false teachers, and bad doctrine, that they forgot that they were there to be lovers, a fragrant rose, attracting those around. Whatever they had become, it didn’t reflect the Christ who stood in their midst, hence the call to repent and get back to their first love.

Christ in the Midst

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand, he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Rev 1:12–16).

John, seeing this vision, draws from the ancient texts of Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah to describe what he was seeing.  In apocalyptic fashion, he describes the revelation of Jesus Christ as one who is in control of the future, the robe, sash, and many waters.  He is also the Ancient of Days, going back into the past, and he is the one in the present.  Here, he is taking care of the Church, with the stars in his hand and the two-edged sword, the Word, in his mouth. Fear not Church, God’s in control!

Knowing this, the seven churches should have placed their confidence in Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the one who was, is, and is to come.  In chapter two, we see the Spirit taking inventory of the seven churches to see where they stand.  Some have the Lord in their midst, others chose to do it their way, and some have fallen into sin.  Where would your church stand?

Refocus

November 5, 2019

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

The seven churches in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, were under the control of the Romans, with Barbarians to the North always threatening to come down and raid their towns and cities. Emperor Nero had just committed suicide in 86 AD, civil war and unrest followed until Domitian became emperor. Though he was a fair emperor, he was known for his persecution of Christians. Many feared that Domitian was a reincarnation of Nero.  It was at this time John wrote his letter to the seven churches to stabilize and get them refocused.

His focus was three-fold:

  1.  Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be the answer to life’s problem and that whatever they were experiencing, the church should look to Jesus.
  2. They needed to realize that they were not of this world, and they were there to usher in God’s kingdom.
  3. As priests, worship was to play a key role. Worship comes out of a grateful heart.

Those three points are still key to us today.

Revelation of Jesus Christ–Intro

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants– things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John,  who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.  (Rev 1:1-2 NKJ)

What Kind of Book is it?

John the Apostle

The opening verses of Revelation suggest that it’s not just one style but three.

First—Revelation  of Jesus Christ. The word `revelation’ or `apocalypse’ (apokalypsis) suggests that the book belongs to the style of ancient Jewish and Christian literature, which modern scholars call apocalypses.  John used this style of writing to hide what he had to say from the Roman government.

Second, Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Rev 22:6-7 NKJ)

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; (Rev 22:18 NKJ)

So prophecy in the New Testament is more a proclamation, and should not be confused with the dispensation of Old Testament prophets. In chapter 22:18, John is so sure that he has a word from God that he didn’t want anyone adding to it or taking away.

Last, it’s a letter. This would have been set to one of the seven churches under John’s care and past on once it had been read in the congregation, often referred to as a circular letter.

Kýrie, Eléison

Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God, yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. (Dan 9:20-21 NKJ)

While speaking and praying, Daniel also confessed his sins and the sins of his people, a practice seen in other scriptures. Traditionally confession includes a cry for the mercy of God. The Greek phrase Kýrie, eléison, Lord, have mercy, was also a common response in prayer in the early days of the church, and in the Byzantine period, Kyrie became a sung chant. Today, confession is still part of the service in Mainline denominations, and in my church.

The biblical roots of this prayer first appear in Psalm 31:9,”Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; My eye wastes away with grief, Yes, my soul and my body!” The prayer is simultaneously a petition and a prayer of acknowledgment of what God has done, doing, and will continue to do, and the result of sin on and in the human body. It is refined in the Parable of The Publican (Luke 18:9-14), “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The lament in prayer appears to be a dying practice for today’s Christian. Have we forgotten that it is humility and not haughtiness that God is looking for? So as we speak the Word, pray and confess our sins, and the sins of our nation, let us ask the Lord, “in Your judgment remember mercy.”

How Can God Use THEM!

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! (Mt 8:5–10).

Peter said to Cornelius, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.” (Ac 10:28)

It wasn’t that Jews were forbidden to mix with Gentiles in general, it was the idea of entering a house, or eating and drinking. And in the Midrash Rabbah on Leviticus, 20, there is an interesting example of the sort of ceremonial defilement which association with the the gentile might bring about, “It happened that Shimeon the son of Kimkhith (who was high-priest) went out to speak with the King of the Arabians, and there came a fleck of spittle from the King’s mouth upon the priest’s garment and so he was unclean; and his brother Judah went in and served instead of him in the high priest’s office.

Clearly, this didn’t seem to bother Jesus, who ministered to the Centurion, the Canaanite woman, the Samaritan woman, and the Samaritan leper.  In each case, it was as if Jesus wanted to shock the Jews into realizing the opportunity they had; God had come into their midst. It was the unclean Gentiles that seem to express faith, as opposed to the Jews who showed their unbelief.

Perhaps we, too, need to open our eyes and be willing to receive from the Muslim, the Jew, the Buddhist, the mystic or even the atheist. The shock value might change our thinking.

Join the conversation on the Asheville Progressive College’s Facebook page.

Be a Good Neighbor

October 21, 2019, Just Thinking

“He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:26–29).

In the twenty-first century, with the aid of modern technology, media, business, and commerce, I can have neighbors that live all around the world, and not just next-door. The world that once seemed so vast and remote has become a global village. Below is a quote by Brian D. McLaren in his book ‘Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.’

Global poverty is on the increase

“More and more reflective Christian leaders are beginning to realize that for the millions of young adults who dropped out of their churches in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the Christian religion appears to be a failed religion. And for a reason not unlike the one expressed by the young healthcare worker from Khayelitsha: it has specialized in dealing with “spiritual needs” to the exclusion of physical and social needs. It has specialized in people’s destination in the afterlife but has failed to address significant cant social injustices in this life. It has focused on “me” and “my soul” and “my spiritual life” and “my eternal destiny,” I would add to that the theology of exclusivity and triumphalism.

Brian goes on to say, “but it has failed to address the dominant societal and global realities of their lifetime: systemic injustice, systemic poverty, systemic ecological crisis, systemic dysfunctions of many kinds.”

The gospel isn’t just words; Jesus reminds us that the gospel is practical too. “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25:44–46).

Now, being a good neighbor means thinking about the gospel on a global level. Join the conversation on the Asheville Progressive College’s Facebook page.

The Real Deal

So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important. Col 2:20-23

It has always amazed me how those preachers and priests cannot walk out of their houses without putting on a suit or clerical clothing.  It’s almost as if, like Superman or Batman, the clothing gives them special powers. Somehow I get the impression that the Apostle Paul would have been a big disappointment to them, more concerned about the words he preached than the clothes he wore. Elbert Hubbard once said, “God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.”

So often, a suit, clerical collar, rhetoric, empty words,or a position gained through family ties is meaningless. I want to hear from those that have been through and still going through life’s battles. 

Do Christian hold others in contempt?

Contempt shows on your face

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income. Luke 18:9-12

The Pharisee saw prayer and his spiritual life as a way to be exalted, but the tax collector approached God in humility.  

Are we any better? Our triumphal language, our hymns, and our attitude can unconsciously speak the language of contempt.  We can’t be a good neighbor if we hold those different to us in contempt.  The problem is, we may be the last to know.  We need to listen to ourselves.