Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Jesus Doesn't Like Lukewarm Water?

Revelation 3

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

Observe the Context
In His letter to the church of Laodicea, Jesus warns us about the danger of self-sufficiency. Laodicea was a wealthy banking center and proud of her rich resources. In AD 60, the city was destroyed by an earthquake. Rather than accepting aid from the Roman Empire, the people of Laodicea refused any help and rebuilt the city themselves with their own resources. They did not need anyone’s charity.

Yet, while Laodicea appeared to have everything, it actually lacked the most basic of resources — water. Unlike the mountain towns that had cold water streams or nearby Hierapolis that had access to hot springs, Laodicea had no water supply of its own. Water had to be piped in through aqueducts. By the time it arrived, the water was lukewarm and full of sediment. Cold water is good for drinking, hot springs were reputed to have healing qualities, but lukewarm, sediment-filled water neither refreshes nor heals. It is disgusting.

Jesus tells the Laodicean church that they are just like their water. “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15–16). (Legioner Ministry)

Reflect on the Application to My Life
We often confuse the interpretation of this passage. We think hot is good and cold is bad. We think of hot like "being on fire" for Jesus. We think of being "cold" as being distant and spiritually dead. The only problem with the modern analogies is that they were not what the writer was intending them to mean. We see that in the explanation above.

So what does it mean? The Laodieans were complacent. Even after the earthquake, they were self-sufficient and prideful. Despite their efforts to manufacture their own water, it was lukewarm. Despite their riches Jesus says to the church, "Do you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked?"

So the question for us today is are we lukewarm Christians? Have we become so reliant on ourselves that we are neither hot nor cold, but tepid? Cold and hot water had a significant purpose in the first century. Cold water brought refreshment and revitalization. Hot water had healing qualities for all kinds of ailments. But lukewarm water had neither quality and was virtually worthless. God wants to use each of us for a specific part in his plan of salvation. Our greatest privilege in life is to be used by him to further his kingdom coming on earth before Jesus returns

Interestingly Jesus wants them to change. He rebukes them because he wants them to be relevant again and in a good relationship with him. Here the grace in his offer and invitation to the Laodiceans,

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Have You Forgotten Your First Love?

Revelation 2

To the Church in Ephesus
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. 2 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. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 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. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 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.


Observe

As I mentioned yesterday, the way we are going to tackle the book of Revelation is to understand the context when it was written. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is writing to 7 actual historical churches, which were located in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Since the believers were beginning to be persecuted, some of the believers were thinking Jesus was going to return soon. John receives this vision directly from Jesus who tells him to share it with these 7 churches.

It is important for us to keep track of the symbolic language he uses, as we go through this book. Today John mentions the "seven stars" that Jesus holds in his right hand, and the "seven lampstands" that he walks among. The stars represents angels, for each church. The lampstands are the 7 churches he is writing to. The first church mentioned is the church of Ephesus, where he stayed for quite some time before he was exiled to the island of Patmos. We will see that seven is a key number used throughout the book of Revelation. Though he writes to "the seven churches", it does not mean those were the only churches. This illustrates why a literal interpretation of Revelation will not work.

Ephesus was one of the key churches in the first century. It was the largest city in this Roman province, and at a strategic location, so that is was a commercial port. It was also the home of the goddess Artemis, who many worshipped at her temple, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Paul founded the church in Acts 20, and stayed there for three and a half years. When he left them the elders and people wept.

Reflect

Ephesus is the first church John addresses. Although they are working hard and doing many good things, John tells them they have "forgotten their first love". Jesus through John tells them to repent and do the things they did at first. The assumption is that things they were doing at the first were better than the things they were doing now. Perhaps the former were a result of their love for Jesus. Apparently the Ephesisans were defending the church and did not tolerate false teachers, but it appears they became more about what they were doing rather than why they were doing it.

When we first come to Christ and are transformed by His unconditional love, our ministry flows from this love and we share him with others. If we are not careful our ministry for him can flow from a sense of obligation or pride, rather an expression of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit. As Jesus reminds us in John 15:5, "Apart from me you can do nothing."

How is your love for Christ? Have you forgotten what it is like when you first experienced His grace? Does your ministry flow from that same love and grace? John has a simple message to them and to us, "Repent and do the things you did at first".

Saturday, August 27, 2016

How Should I Read The Book of Revelation?

Revelation, Chapter 1

Verses 9-11 John's Vision of Christ

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

Observe
The book of Revelation is one of the harder books in the New Testament to interpret. So it is important to start with what we know. The book is written in a certain historical context, which will be really important to keep in mind. The letter and its visions were recorded by the apostle John, who is often thought of as "the disciple who Jesus loved. As the text says, John was exiled on the island of Patmos due to his testimony for Jesus Christ." Patmos is small, Greek island, situated off the west coast of Turkey, next to the continent of Asia.

John's purpose is to strengthen and encourage believers throughout the area, specifically he writes to the seven churches throughout Asia Minor. These seven churches represent specific Christian communities located in key strategic areas. As we will see through his affirmation and rebuke for each church, we will probably be able it to our own churches. As we continue to await Jesus' return and are still being persecuted today, this book continues to have relevance for us today.

Reflect
As we read through the book of Revelation, I encourage you to think about your thoughts and feelings regarding Jesus' return. There is always a lot of attention given to it, and there has often been lots of diverse options on how this might happen. As we read through this book, think about are you ready for Jesus return? Jesus did not know, at least when he was on the earth, the date or time the Father had appointed for His return. One thing is for sure though, Jesus taught clearly that He would return to judge the living and the dead. And his judgment would be based on whether one has believed in Him as the true Son of God, or rejected and refused His testimony. Our belief in these basic tenets of our faith should compel us to reach as many unbelievers as possible before his return. If we don't believe in these tenets I guess it wouldn't really matter what we do.

Question for the day? If Jesus were to return today, what would you say to him? This might help us to understand how aligned we are with the Great Commission he gave to us.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Are You A Welcoming Person?

Readings for the Day
Jeremiah 50-51, 3 John

Verses for the Day
5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. 7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.

Thoughts for the Day
3 John is the shortest letter in the bible, and is a relatively obscure letter. The letter is from a specific person, most likely John, to his friend Gaius. John commends Gaius for his faithfulness in welcoming the missionaries that came to his church. He was hospitable to these travelers showing his faith, generosity and hospitality. He was unlike another leader in the church, Diotrephes, who only thought of himself and did not welcome them.

Hospitality is a spiritual that some have more of than others. Here is a brief description of this gift, "This gift equips one to enjoy making guests, strangers, and members feel welcome. An example of leading through hospitality would be greeting visitors, directing them to a class, or inviting them into one’s home (Mt. 25:35)."

It can be used simply as a "greeter" welcoming guests to church, or someone offering their home or resources to those in need in the Christian community. It is not easy to offer your home to another person, especially in our culture.

1 Peter 4:9-10 says this about hospitality,

"Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others."

Here are the characteristics of a person with this gift:

- Like to meet and greet new people and have “never met a stranger”
- Are willing to open up their home to local and traveling members, visitors, and neighbors, perhaps even for extended amounts of time
- Enjoy putting together social parties and get togethers
- Have a strong desire and ability to make strangers and visitors feel welcome.

In an increasingly secular and fearful culture, hospitality sets the Christian community apart as those who welcome people in Jesus' name.

In the book of Hebrews the writer says we may not know who we are welcoming when we offer hospitality.

"Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." 13:2

Do you offer hospitality to others? Why? Or, why not?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Does It Mean to Water Down the Gospel?

Readings for the Day
Jeremiah 37-39, Psalm 79, 2 John

Verses for the Day
7 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we[a] have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

Thoughts for the Day
2 John is a short letter usually assumed to be written by John, or someone from within the Johannine community. The main focus picks up on the letter of 1 John, which warns the church about the heresy of "docetism". As the passage says, these teachers do not acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh. Meaning Jesus did not truly come to the earth as a human being. He calls this person a "deceiver" and the "antichrist". I believe the context of "antichrist" does not mean "THE Anti-Christ" or Satan, but someone under the influence of the Anti-Christ. Why? Because they are Anti-Christ. They are against Christ! They are against Christ because they deny His humanness. To deny His humanness completely changes the Gospel, who Jesus was, and how he literally died on the cross and rose from the dead.

So why all the fuss? Why are teaching and doctrine so important? Because false teaching can infiltrate the church very subtly. The most common form of this is when someone says, "Jesus was a really good teacher!" Or, Jesus' death was the ultimate metaphor for the good triumphing over evil. Or, he was not really human he just appeared to be. The writer goes on to say, "Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for." He is saying we have fought and given our lives for the sake of the Gospel, don't water it down.

Watering down the gospel is a consistent temptation for the church. I was talking to a man who has terminal cancer today. I asked him what he was thinking about lately. He said, "Jesus dying on the cross and how painful that must have been. We don't talk about that much anymore." When we don't talk about the human Jesus dying a brutal and tortuous death on the cross for the sin of all mankind, we water down the Gospel. Sometimes it is offensive to people to think Jesus died on the cross for them. What happens with this tendency is we begin to not take sin seriously. And soon we really don't need Jesus' death, because we are pretty good after all. Jesus has helped us to be a better person, because he is a good and moral example to us.

The only problem with this downward spiral is that it is not the Gospel. It is not who Jesus claimed to be. And if Jesus really wasn't human, he didn't really rise from the dead. This is why the writer says, "Whoever runs ahead and does not teaching of Christ does not have God." Although you can see this is a short letter we mustn't forget it. It is needed today as much as it was then.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How Can We Show We Love God?

Readings for the Day
Jeremiah 33-34, Psalm 74, 1 John 5

Verses for the Day
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

Thoughts for the Day
John re-affirms that a person who believes that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) is born again. They are born into a heavenly family with God the Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit. John is very relational, as he talks about our new relationship with God, and our new identity in His family. Since John is writing against the heresy that Jesus wasn't really human, John uses familial terms such as Father, Son and child.

But like any relationship, there needs to be love shown in action. John says the way we can show our love is by obeying His commands. Let's be clear here, we don't obey God to get His love, but because we have it. This is often the most misunderstood teaching in the Christian church. Why? Because we are always afraid obedience is going to lead to legalism. We are afraid that after starting with grace, we will return to the Law. That is a real danger, but it is But it is equally dangerous to have an allergy to the word obedience.

Key verse. His commands are not burdensome. Many people think talk of being obedient to God's commands is somehow laying a burden on people. When in fact a bigger burden is when we don't obey God. It not only hurts our relationship with God, but also with others. If we really trust God as our Heavenly Father, Would we not trust that His commands are for our own good. After all how could any good Father not do what is best for their child?

So when we trust God by obeying His commands, we not only see they are not burdensome but a way we show our love for God. How do you view obedience to God's commands? Do you see them as burdensome or freeing?

Paul in Ephesians says,

"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."

In fact as we obey God's commands we are doing what we were created to do in advance. We not only glorify God in these works, but experience the life we were meant to live.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What Does Love Have To Do?

Readings for the Day
Jeremiah 31-32, 1 John 4

Verses of the Day
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. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Thoughts for the Day
The theme of 1 John is to affirm that Jesus truly came in the flesh, and to teach the believers how to recognize the false teaching that Jesus really did not come in the flesh. If Jesus did not truly become human then his primary purpose could not be fulfilled. The primary purpose of Jesus' coming to earth is to reveal what God is like and especially that He is love. In the past, God revealed Himself in many ways, but God specifically revealed Himself and His character when Jesus came from heaven to earth.

If God is love, as verse 16 states, then God's purpose is to show His love to those who He has made in His own image. It then would make sense that God's love is fulfilled when it is made complete in us. Most important in this passage is the order and flow of God's love. The passage says, "not that we loved God, but He sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." We can't know love unless God has revealed what it is like. It was through God's love for us that he initiated His restoration project.

As we receive and accept God's love in Jesus, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit of Jesus lives in us, we can love like God does. So therefore spiritual maturity could be defined as the extent to which God's love is in us and flows through us to the world. God's love is made complete when it does it work in us, and then is shared with others in Jesus' name. This is why unless someone has experienced God's love in Jesus, it is hard for them to really know Him. But if one has experienced God's love it is impossible to keep it to one's self.

Like any relationship, our love for God can wax and wane and grow cold. I think this happens when we get so busy that we don't make time for God. We don't take time to pray. We don't take time to read the bible, and reflect on the Gospel of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. We don't take time to have deep friendships with other believers that go beyond superficial and syrupy religious platitudes. We don't take time to worship on a regular basis. Or, we are not prepared to truly worship and spend our time thinking what we are going to do when church is over. Okay enough blubbering.

Bottom line: God loves you so much. You are His delight and prized possession. As His love permeates our lives, we can love others. This is our supreme purpose and what we were made for.