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Archive for June, 2008

Tests

“Do not fear any of those things that you are about to suffer…” Revelation 2:10a

 

Why does God allow the persecution of His people? The church enjoyed only the briefest of time before the persecution began. In one form or another, it’s never stopped. This passage gives us a hint as to at least one of the reasons: so you might be tested. God allowed Job to be tested, He allowed Peter to be tested, He allowed the church of Smyrna to be tested, and He allows us to be tested. Testing is one of the ways God molds and shapes us, to teach us to depend on God’s strength instead of our own, to teach us to walk by faith. It’s also one of the ways He reveals who is really His. History shows us clearly; when there is a price to being a Christian, the church is strong and unstoppable. When Christianity is as easy as a Sunday stroll, the church grows weak and ineffective.

The winds of change are blowing here in America. The people who actually stick to the Word of God without apology or compromise are becoming less and less tolerated. We’re called ‘radicals’ or ‘fundamentalists.’ We stand up for purity before marriage, we’re called prudes. We stand up for marriage between one man and one woman, we’re called hate-mongers. We stand up for children still in their mother’s wombs, we’re accused of trying to take away a woman’s rights. Right now, it’s insults. Will it progress to arrests? It’s already started in Canada. It’s far worse than just arrests in much of the rest of the world. Will Christianity come with a price here in the land of the free? Will we be put to the test? And if we are, how many will pass the test?

Whatever God allows, whatever His reasons, may we face every day without fear of what the future may hold. When testing comes, may we be proven genuine, our faith refined like gold.

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“I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is…” Revelation 2:13a

 

Pergamos was a center of false, pagan religions. Apparently, some of the practices of those pagan religions had infiltrated the church there. The doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans involved indulging the sensual pleasures as a part of so-called ‘worship.’ While the faithful in Pergamos held fast to their faith, refusing to deny Jesus in the face of strong satanic opposition, they Lord called them to task for not dealing with the heresy within their ranks. When we take a beautiful gift of God’s, grace, and turn it into a license to sin, He takes it very seriously. He said if they didn’t repent, He Himself would come and fight against those spreading compromise amongst His people.

Yesterday on the news, we were assaulted with picture after picture of gay and lesbian people making a farce of God’s institution of marriage in California. As bystanders wept for joy, I felt like weeping in grief. And it’s not just homosexuality. That’s just the sin that makes the news. It seems that adultery, fornication, pornography, foul language (the list goes on) are growing so commonplace we hardly raise an eyebrow anymore. While some churches, thankfully, refuse to compromise on what God’s Word says, others are refusing to deal with lifestyles God clearly condemns. Are we, like Pergamos of old, becoming a place where Satan’s throne is? And are our churches also, like Pergamos, allowing the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans to thrive without confrontation? In a day when the world desperately needs to look at the church and see a people conformed to Christ, they instead increasingly see a people conforming to the lost and dying world.

As society around us grows darker and darker, may God’s people be the light He commanded us to be, shining ever brighter into that darkness; even if it means God has to purge us first.

 

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“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10b

 

Smyrna is one of two churches that received nothing but praise from our Lord. Imagine that! Being praised by the One worthy of all praise! Anyway, He details the things they’ve had to endure, and promises that such endurance will not go unrewarded. My commentary Bible says that the word used for crown here refers to the wreath given to winners of an athletic contest. I like that picture. Athletic events require endurance, pushing through to the end, not giving up even when you’re tired and aching. Faith is like that. Endure when your spirit is soaring, endure when your spirit is weary. Endure when all around you commend and affirm you, endure when all around you condemn and abuse you. No matter where you find yourself, endure to the end and Jesus, our King of Kings who Himself gave us the perfect picture of enduring to the end, will give us life.

I think of a young man I once knew. He was a leader in my senior class in High School. He never shrank back from speaking the truth, and admonished those who knew him to follow the Lord whatever the cost. I ran into his wife some years after High School. He was divorcing her, shaking his fist at God and telling Him He’d have to drive him to his knees before he’d ever come back. By our ten-year reunion, he was dead. Then there was my great-great grandma. At 105 light and life still sparkled in her eyes. Her love of the Lord shone clearly in her life. While her body weakened, her spirit never did. When she died, her daughter, my great-grandma, found her lying in her bed, a huge smile still spread across her face. That’s the way I want to go, should the Lord tarry long enough for me to die before He comes back.

Through good days and bad, high times and low, may we have faith that endures until death. May our Lord may have cause to say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5

 

Wow! Is Jesus really saying that unless the church of Ephesus returned to their first love they’d lose their salvation? Or is He saying something else. I don’t think He’s talking about salvation here, I think He’s talking about effectiveness. The church of Ephesus was doing plenty of good things, but in doing them they’d left Him behind. Oswald Chambers, in his classic work My Utmost for His Highest (a book I highly recommend) says, “That is why there are so few fellow workers with God and so many workers for Him. We would far rather work for God than believe in Him.”

God wants us to put first things first. Love Him, be devoted to Him, follow after Him, and He will do the works in and through us that He wants to do. Leave Him out, and whatever we do is meaningless and ineffective. I think the work that really gets the attention of the non-believing world is the work that flows spontaneously from our love relationship with Christ. I think it’s the work we’re not really even aware we’re doing because we are so focused on Him, listening to Him, learning from Him, following Him. People are turned off by the conception that Christianity is ‘nothing but a bunch of rules.’ No one wants to emulate a slave. But when we get ourselves out of the way and let the God we love work through us, that’s another story.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and lose yourself in Him. His works will flow through such a one, and His works are always effective.

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