Seven Churches, Six of them dying.

danger

The book of Revelation is perhaps the most difficult book in the Bible to read and to grasp.  Jesus gave this revelation of the End Times and what is to come to the seven churches in Asia through the Apostle John.  It is the only book in the Bible which promises a blessing upon the reader, and it looks towards things yet to come with great trepidation and hope.  Jesus reveals Himself to John standing amongst seven lampstands which represent the seven Churches who were intended to read and apply this prophecy, and then He takes two chapters (or nearly one tenth) of the book to write specific letters to these Churches regarding their individual and specific situations.

Six of the seven Churches to whom Jesus gives the prophecy of the end times are in dire situations.  Six of the seven churches have missed the proverbial boat when it comes to the faith.  Six of the seven churches are in danger of proving themselves to not even be believers – to have their lampstand removed – to not enter into eternal rest with Jesus.  Their six sins are unique, and yet similar at the core:  unbelief.

  1.  Ephesus – This church has persevered and toiled hard by performing good deed, but they are doing these good deeds without love for Jesus, they have “left their first love”.  The are morally upstanding but have no passion or love.
  2. Smyrna – This church has been faithful but yet is about about to enter tribulation and some will be thrown into jail.  Jesus warns them to hold fast or else they will perish.
  3. Pergamum – This church was tolerating the false teaching of “cheap grace” – it does not matter what you do because Jesus already forgave it.  In essence they were allowing sin and thus abusing the forgiveness and ransom that Jesus offers.
  4. Thyatira – They have perseverance and good deeds, and are even growing in them, but they have allowed a false prophet to remain and gain a following perpetuating immorality and idolatry.
  5. Sardis – This church has a name that they are alive but they are dead.  They are doing “good deeds” but do not know or honor God.
  6. Laodicea – Their deeds are lukewarm, Jesus says He will spit them out of His mouth.  They do not need God because they are wealthy and self sufficient, they are complacent.

The other Church, the Church at Philadelphia, receives no warning and only praise and encouragement.  Philadelphia knows Jesus, loves Him and is obediently serving and honoring him.  These six temptations and pitfalls are prevalent today.  Many churches in the United States are like Laodicea in that they are so wealthy and comfortable that Church is just an event or “good thing” to do on the weekend, to help us feel more comfortable about the afterlife.  Very few of us rely on Jesus daily and focus on earning eternal rewards because we are so fat and lazy here.  Many church here in the United States and around the world are much like Sardis and Ephesus in that they have good deeds, but their deeds are of their own strength and not centered in the will and power of Jesus.  These churches look really good to the outside world, but they are actually dead.

Many churches also look like Thyatira and Pergamum – not only tolerating but following false teachers.  False teachers do not infiltrate the church by preaching some crazy doctrine.  They start out sounding solid and Biblical and then slowly drift away from the Truth.  They twist the truth just enough to take Jesus out of the equation, and yet still remain convincing.  Most tolerated and followed false prophets teach half truths or promise blessings that Jesus simply does not promise, but yet they enchant the follower with their charisma and hope that people are blinded.  Turning a boat by one degree at first seems like no variation, but when it travels the length of the Atlantic, it ends up no where near its intended course.  So it is with false prophets.  And Jesus says that following such a one will lead to damnation.

Lastly, there are churches in the world today like Smyrna, who have a faith but run the risk of apostasy in the face of persecution and tribulation.  We know that Jesus does forgive those who fail in a moment of weakness like Peter, but the whole teaching of the Scripture is that those who persevere until the end are those who will be saved.  Jesus suffered greatly, and it is promised that all who love and follow Him will also suffer.  We will not all experience the same persecution and tribulation, but perseverance in faith through every trial is that which marks true believers.  There are some churches in the world who reject the idea that our faith will result in suffering, and there are many who would believe Jesus as long as it requires nothing from them, and thus suffering turns them away from their faith – like the seed sown on the rocky ground.

This admonition of Jesus should be a sobering one for us today.  There are churches on every street corner, even in cities that are considered “less churched” in the United States.  But Jesus, who sees all and knows all, and who will be the judge over everyone at the end, has pronounced condemnation over six of the seven churches.  These are not good statistics, folks.

What does that mean for us?  What is our take away?  Firstly, we need to examine closely the sins that Jesus says will lead a church away from Him and from salvation, and we need to check ourselves on all of those fronts.  Do you know and love Jesus?  Do you obey Him and preform good deeds as an overflowing of that love?  Are you persevering through trials and persecutions?  Are you faithful to the Scripture and not entertaining false teachers?  And are you relying on Jesus and storing up for yourself treasures in Heaven instead of here on Earth?  If so, then you are living a life like the Church at Philadelphia.  If you are unsure, or if you see any of these tendencies in your life, examine the commanded repentance in each situation instructed by Jesus.  There is still hope.  So long as you can repent, there is hope.

Let us test the Spirits, let us examine our hearts, and let us be ever diligent over our salvation and our souls, so that we do not find ourselves amongst those who thought they knew Jesus but never did.  It is not risking eternity for a moment of comfort or pleasure here.  Jesus is faithful and will grant salvation to all who call upon His name!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

– Phil 2.12-13

Is there a false prophet in your church?

preach (1)

Yesterday my husband and I were discussing the various ways that a demon might act in order to lead people astray.  We see in Scripture that there are demons who cause people to act irrationally and cause others to be mute, suffer from seizures, or roam around without cause.  We also see that there are demons who enable people to see supernaturally and thus work as diviners and fortune tellers.  I think, however, that one of Satan’s greatest tactics in hurting the Church and leading people astray is through false prophets and religious teaching that is so close but just not the complete Gospel:  assuring someone of a false salvation so that they never encounter Jesus is the greatest deception.

The fourth Church that Jesus addressed in His revelation to John was the Church at Thyatira.  In this warning, Jesus defined Himself as the one “who has eyes like a flame of fire” and “feet like burnished bronze”.  Jesus not only sees everything, but He is jealous for His glory and will ultimately and eternally cast into judgment (the lake of fire) anyone who does not repent of their sins and come to Him for salvation.  His feet are burnished bronze:  they will trample all of His enemies.  This self-description explains the wickedness that has infiltrated the Church:

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:  ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.  Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.  And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.  But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.  Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.  He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONSAND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 2.18-29

The Church at Thyatira had excelled in acts of service.  They met Jesus, they were transformed by His gospel, and they were growing in faith, love and persevering through life’s trials.  And they were continually adding to their faith by greater deeds of service.  In their determination to serve and in their hearts of love they chose, however, to tolerate a false prophet and not remove her from their midst.  Church discipline and inter-personal accountability is extremely difficult and many who have the Spiritual gift of service and compassion struggle with the confrontation that is required to remove someone who is walking in sin or teaching a false truth.  This is exactly what we see happening at Thyatira.

Jesus had no more patience for this false prophet.  He says that He has given her time to repent – whenever we encounter someone in sin, we should be patient with them as we attempt to hold them accountable – but there will come a point when a person either chooses obedience or chooses sin.  And once that decision is made, Jesus promises to destroy such a one.  This false prophet had led many in the Church to immorality and to idol worship.  While this might mean actually participating in worship of a foreign god or creating images of Jesus and offering sinful sacrifices to it, they had been led astray.  Jesus promises to destroy her while she is alive and all of those whom she has led astray will suffer severe tribulation with her.

Jesus then says that others will see the judgment that has come upon this church and know that He sees the hearts and minds of people and judged accordingly:  rendering to each one according to his deeds.  They will be an example.

Jesus then proclaims to the rest, who have not bought into this false teaching, to keep on keeping on.  He praises their perseverance and conviction and promises that if they continue until the end, they will be placed in a position of authority and saved on the day of judgment.  Romans 9 teaches us that God has created some people as “vessels of wrath”, who were created for destruction.  He uses the imagery of a potter creating some beautiful pots for honor and some worthless pots for destruction (picture a chamber pot), and the imagery is continued in this prophecy given to Thyatira,

“To him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces.”

Those who persevere will be welcomed into eternal rest, will rule (over the angels, Paul teaches us, 1 Cor 6.3), and will watch as God destroys and sends into an eternity separated from Him in Hell.

False prophets are wicked and have already infiltrated the Church, John says (1 John 4.1).  That is why we must be a wise as serpents but as innocent as doves (Matt 10.16).  We must hear teaching and immediately evaluate it against Scripture and test it to see if it is from God (Acts 17.11, 1 John 4.1).  We must intentionally protect our churches, our families and our own hearts from false prophets who would lead us astray and into destruction by God’s righteous judgment.  We should never be a passive listener.  When you go to church, when you listen to podcasts, when you read devotional material, test it.  No one is infallible and no one is guaranteed to always teach the truth.  That is why we have the Holy Spirit residing in us to help us discern sin and righteousness (John 16.8).

We must be on guard because the devil is prowling around looking for those whom he can devour (1 Peter 5.8).  He is actively against us, and he has sent out false prophets who will entice us and lead us astray with the smallest untruth which can lead to our destruction.  Stand firm in the faith.  Know the Word and know God, and rest in His perfect Truth.

Charge their doings on themselves, not us.

Ghost_of_Christmas_Present

In 1843 Charles Dickens penned what has become a Christmas staple and tradition in many households, “A Christmas Carol”.  We all know the phrase “Bah!  Humbug!”, the term Scrooge forever holds the connotation of a stick-in-the-mud, and from this story also came the now politically incorrect holiday greeting “Merry Christmas”.  The story, though secular, exhibits spiritual depth at points as Ebeneezer interacts with spirits throughout the entirety of the play.  While completely fantasy, one of the spirits made a comment that has stuck in my mind since I watched it this past Christmas season:

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived.  Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

– Ghost of Christmas Present, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

This caught my attention and was etched onto my mind as I immediately reflected it to Jesus’ terrifying teaching in His sermon on the mount:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’.”

– Matt 7.21-23

What is so dramatic about both assertions (Jesus and the Ghost) is that Jesus calls these false believers “you who practice lawlessness”.  But they were casting out demons and performing miracles in His name!  A person, doing deeds that look like the things of God, if done for their own pride, benefit or betterment, are not of God.  In fact, to do the things that He commands in our own strength or not unto His glory is considered lawlessness and damnable.

God is concerned about our hearts and faith leading us to obedience.  Hear me.  He is concerned about obedience.  But it is essential that obedience is performed out of love for Him, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, through His strength.

Thus James can say,

“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

– James 2.26

People who are out preaching and acting like servants of Jesus can be useful for the Kingdom.  Paul says,

“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…”

– Phil 1.15-18

If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, this is a good thing.  Even if the preacher does not know Him.  However, it is not good for the preacher to be so deceived as to think he is saved when he indeed is not.  And it is a terrible thing when grievances are enacted in the name of Christ which God does not endorse.

This is why we must examine both our hearts and the Scriptures.  We cannot believe every spirit and prophet (preacher, teacher, political leader) just because they say that they are a Christian, or just because they have done good in the past.  We must examine the Scriptures to find out if what we are being taught is true and of God (Acts 17.11) and we must also test the deliverer of news and deeds to see if he himself is of God (1 John 4.1).

But most importantly we must examine ourselves.  Are you living in your own strength?  Performing good works, or miracles even, in the name of Christ but of your own effort?  Or is Christ living in and through you (Gal 2.20)?  This is the issue of greatest importance, as it will mean the difference of the greeting, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matt 25.20) and “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt 7.21).

Can a preacher be a liar?

Then [Jacob] came to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?”  Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me.”  Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.”

– Gen 27.18-20

Do you remember this Sunday School story?  Jacob and Esau were twins, Esau was the first born but Jacob stole both his birthright and his blessing.  Jacob, the very name meaning deceiver, deceived Isaac, his father, to steal Esau’s blessing as Isaac was preparing for death.

As I read this story again last week, what stood out to me was that Jacob invoked the name of the Lord to enhance his deception.

As a child when I would hear about false teachers and liars, I often wondered, “Who would follow such a person?  If he is a liar, can we not just see that?”  I heard the analogy that Jesus often used of wolves in sheep’s clothing, but in my imagination the dark, mangy hair of the wolf was always visible on the legs of the wolf (Matt 7.15).

wolf

Movies, folklore and fairy tale also paint villains as evil.  Maleficent in “Sleeping Beauty” bore the namesake of wickedness!  And while there are times in modern entertainment that we pull for the character breaking the law, it is usually for good reason.  The health care system will not help his dying child, so it is honorable for John Q. to hold up the hospital at gun point.  Or the owners of the casinos are liars, so we want Ocean’s 12 to steal all the money.

But rarely do we consider that the kindhearted, endearing preacher who has given his life over to ministry could be a liar and a cheat.  In daily life, those who do evil do not appear evil through and through to our onlooking eyes.  In fact, they often attribute their work and success to the hands of the Almighty God.  Just like Jacob the deceiver did.

Peter warns us:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

– 2 Peter 2.1-3

False prophets will arise in our churches, and they will claim lies that smell sweet, heresies that carry our hearts in their sinful longings without us even realizing it.  The most prevalent and most destructive lie that I have heard is this:  “God wants you to be happy, so do whatever it is that will make you happy.”  Yes, God does want you to be happy and satisfied and fulfilled – but that only by enjoying Him and obeying His commandments.  If something that you want to do is a sin or against God’s standards, He will not condone you for the sake of your happiness.  God is concerned with your holiness first.  Your happiness is a byproduct of your holiness.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

– 1 John 4.1-3

False prophets can be false Christs.  Some will come proclaiming the name of the Lord and they will twist and distort the Scriptures just enough to draw us away from the ultimate goal of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

Test every word you hear.  How?  By examining the Scriptures.  Is what you are being taught in the Word of God?  Is the passage being taken out of context to say something that the author did not intend to say?  Is the one presenting an idea to you honoring God, or building up himself?  Let us be aware.  Let us be on guard.  Let us seek diligently the truth and not be tossed about by weak and false doctrines.  Let us test the Spirits and let us honor God by following Him and His teachings alone.  Even if someone claims His name, let us weigh his words against Scripture and the the Word alone be our standard.

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.  Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.

– Acts 17.11-12