The consistent, historic malady afflicting the people of God

“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but  their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).

I suspect some of us are marginal Christians,  just around the edges.

The Lord Jesus knew His Bible.  He was quoting Isaiah.

In the 8th century B.C., the prophet said: “Therefore the Lord said, ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore I will again do a marvelous work among this people….'” (Isaiah 29:13-14).

Look out at the typical congregation most any Sunday morning.  It isn’t hard at all–nor, in my opinion is it judgmental–to see on display this very thing: people honoring God with their lips while their hearts roam across some foreign country somewhere.

It’s not a new thing.  While Isaiah preached in the 8th century B.C. and our Lord eight centuries later,  you and I witness the same two thousand years afterwards.  It seems to be a human affliction.

Continue reading

When’s the last time your church was broken-hearted?

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

My preacher friend was rendering  his opinion on a certain large church with which we are both familiar.

“The people are like the fans of (a certain college football team).  Individually, great people. Salt of the earth. But put them all together, and they are horrible. Prideful, boasting, irritating.”

That’s an analysis I’ve not been able to shrug off.  If it’s true–and I’m in no position to judge–it’s a devastating assessment.

The Ascended Christ said to the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing–but you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

The reality is often far different from what we want to believe, from what we aspire to, from what we advertise.

Dare we ask the Heavenly Father to tell us the truth about our own church?

Continue reading

Mothers Day 2019 and beyond: Everything changes.

“In today’s service, we will be giving roses to  the oldest mother and the youngest mother present.”

Ever done that, Pastor?  I have.

Anything wrong with honoring motherhood in church?  Absolutely not.

We might need to find new ways to do so, however.

I started pastoring in late 1962, not long after graduating from college.  This means I led churches through the massive cultural shifts of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and down to 2004.  I continue preaching at every opportunity, and am deeply involved in our churches. .

To say the ball game has changed forever would be the understatement of the year.

Continue reading

Proud of our ignorance

“Though by this time you ought to be teachers,  you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).

Warren Wiersbe once heard a preacher announce, “I didn’t never go to school!  I’m just a igerant Christian, and I’m glad I is.”

Dr. Wiersbe countered, “A man does not have to go to school to gain spiritual intelligence; but neither should he magnify his ‘igerance.'”

Spiritual knowledge is available to all who will open God’s word and sit before the feet of the Savior.  But, we hasten to add, it does not happen in a few minutes.  We do not take a pill for spiritual maturity and godly knowledge.  It’s more the result of what has been called “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Continue reading

“Two questions that bug me about pastors”

“But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of some pastors, when I saw the success of those less gifted  than me….  Their strength is firm; they are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men.  Therefore pride serves as their necklace…. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than their heart could wish….” (Psalm 73…sort of…  With apologies to the Psalmist.) 

A pastor friend who has seen his share of troubles during his pastorates which total perhaps 25 years shared his questions with me.

One.  Some pastors live their entire lives without problems, serving church after church with a string of unbroken successes.  What sets these pastors apart?

Two.  And yet other pastors seem to know setback after setback in their ministries.  Are they to blame for this?  What are the characteristics that lead some pastors to go from trouble to trouble in churches?

After posing the questions–good ones, I think most will agree–he said, “I expect there are so many reasons for this,” and he named a few.  “God’s sovereignty, the pastor’s ability to deal with church politics, and temperament/personality.”

I promised him I would give this some thought and put the questions out here for our friends to comment on.  (Consider this your invitation.)

Continue reading

“There are those who say…” but God says otherwise

(15th article on the “Seven Churches of Asia Minor” — Revelation 2-3)

Let’s consider the Lord’s response to some of the more foolish statements heard around church from time to time.

There are those who say….

One.  “Love does not matter.  Obedience is everything.  Love is syrupy and weakness.  Sentimentality! Show me your deeds.”

The letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) proves them wrong.  Without love, no amount of good works is enough.  Reference the opening of I Corinthians 13.

“Love one another,” says our Lord to the Ephesian church, “or I will pull the plug on you.  Cut off your life support.  Cancel your franchise.”  Remove the lampstand.

God is love.

Two.  There are those who say “God will not let His faithful ones suffer.  If there is pain or suffering, someone is being disobedient.”

The letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) proves them wrong. He knows, He sees, He cares–and still He allows it.  God has His purposes.

Trust Him.

Continue reading

Laodicea: The complacent caboose! (Last of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

(Thirteenth of our articles on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the beginning of the creation of God:  ‘I know your works….'”  (Revelation 3:14ff).

Pastor Jim Phillips (North Greenwood Baptist Church, Greenwood, MS) was telling the congregation last Sunday night about his ordination into the ministry over 30 years back.  As he knelt for the laying on of hands–an interminable period when deacons and ministers slowly file by, placing hands atop his head and whispering words of challenge, encouragement or a prayer–finally, it was Pastor Frank Pollard’s turn.  He whispered words Jim would never forget:  “I’m the last; you can get up now.”

Not exactly what he’d been expecting.

Laodicea is the last.  The final stop on our tour of seven interesting churches of the western half of present-day Turkey.

You can get up now.

Certainly the first of the seven churches–Ephesus which had lost its first love–and the last–Laodicea, lukewarm and repulsive to the Lord–are the most unforgettable.  And probably the two most like ourselves and our own churches.  So many of our churches today imitate Ephesus and go about their work routinely and robotically, forgetting to love one another, while others imitate Laodicea in being neither fervent nor frigid but somewhere in the sickening in-between.  The Lord is neither impressed nor amused.

The city–

We’re told Antiochus II founded the city and named it for his wife Laodice.  It had much going for it:

–It was a rich city, the center of banking for the surrounding region.

–It was a manufacturing center noted for the quality of its black wool.

–It was a medical center.  The local medical school produced an eye salve much in demand.

Three Roman roads converged there.  And when an earthquake devastated the city, the fathers rejected Rome’s offer to fund the rebuilding and and took care of it themselves.  There was also a large Jewish population here.

Continue reading

Philadelphia: “What’s stopping you?” ( Sixth of the 7 churches of Asia Minor)

(twelfth article in our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: ‘I know your works….'”  (Revelation 3:7ff) 

When the Lord begins a conversation by telling you He is holy, He is true, and that He has the keys–always a symbol of authority!!–then, you and I had better listen up because He has something mighty important in mind.

What He had in mind was this church with great assets moving out and doing significant things in the Kingdom.

The Lord said to this church, “When I open a door, it stays open.  And when I close one, no one can open it afterwards!”  How wonderful–and how ominous–is that!

This church–

Called the missionary church.  The excited church.  The church of the open door.  The faithful church.  The church at Philadelphia goes by all kinds of names and titles.  It and Smyrna are the only two of the seven churches without black marks by their names.  Professor Ivan Parke (Mississippi College) says, “You would love to receive their mail!”

How about a church named “Brotherly Love.”  Contrast this with the church at Ephesus that had left its first love.  Evidently, Philadelphia believers are living up to their name since the Lord said nothing negative to them.

The city of Philadelphia–

Even a child knows the meaning of that name:  “The city of brotherly love.”  What might come as a surprise to some is that the city was founded by a brother in honor of his brother  whom he did indeed love.

Continue reading

Sardis: “The Zombie Church!” (Fifth of the 7 churches of Asia Minor)

(eleventh article in our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:  ‘These things says He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive–but you are dead”  (Revelation 3:1ff).

A seminary student once told me the only thing he feared was zombies.  I said, “Zombies?  Zombies!! They are figments of someone’s warped imagination, friend.  There is no such thing.”  But I may have been wrong.  We might have a zombie church in the city of Sardis.  Let’s look at it.

The church is known by various names in commentaries: The Liberal Church; dead church; lazy, clueless, and “The weak church, one on life support.”

Jesus had only rebuke for this congregation.

The city—

Sardis was some six hundred years old.  It’s glory was its past.  It was wealthy but degenerate. It had been a capital city and administrative center for the Persian government, but was in decline now.

Five roads converged on Sardis.  That was great for commerce. The area was noted for its colored woolen fabrics.

Twice in its history the city had been defeated because its citizens were too lazy to defend themselves.  Located 1500 feet about the surrounding plain, the city should have been impregnable.  but it wasn’t.  The two times it was defeated (529 BC by Cyrus and 216 BC by Antiochus), the watchmen were asleep.  So the city had a false sense of confidence.

The citizens worshiped a nature god named Cybele (pronounced as though it were Sybil).

The church–

Had a better reputation than it deserved.  One writer said it was located at the corner of Self-Satisfaction and Complacency Streets.  Know any churches like that?  Pity their pastors!

Continue reading

Thyatira: “Anything goes!” (Fourth of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

(tenth of our articles on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:  ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: ‘I know your works….'” (Revelation 2:18ff)

David Jeremiah calls Thyatira “The Suburban Church.”  J. Vernon McGee called it “Paganism unlimited.”  Other commentators call it “The Corrupt Church.”  I call it “The Easy-going, Overly Tolerant Church.”  Apparently it stood for little and fell for a great deal.

This was the home church for Jezebel, a morally corrupt woman who was not to be trifled with.  No one dared cross her, so she was allowed to spread her poison within the church and beyond.

The City–

In 190 BC Thyatira became a Roman city.  It was famous for its production of wool and purple dye.  Lydia, leader of the church at Philippi, was born here (Acts 16:14).  When the city was destroyed it was never rebuilt.  Ruins today cover only a city block.  In the first century, it was the headquarters for many guilds: potters, tanners, weavers, robe makers, and dyers.  It was the center of the dyeing industry.  (The color purpose spoken of in the New Testament is today called “turkey red,” according to J. Vernon McGee.  He said, “And I mean that color is red!“)

How the Ascended Lord spoke of Himself

“These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like fine brass.”  This must be one of the few times where the Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “The Son of God.”  In most cases throughout the New Testament, it was “Son of Man.”  But here He calls Himself by that distinguished title.

What must those eyes have been like?  I have a personal feeling that the eyes of Jesus in their natural human state were something special, and have two scriptures that suggest it.  Both are in Luke 22. “Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face….” (vs. 64) They could not stand to look into the eyes of the One they were beating.  Earlier, we read of Peter’s denials.  “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord….and Peter went out and wept bitterly” (vs. 60-62).  Those eyes!

Eyes afire!  This speaks to us of judgement.  And He does have stern words for this church, but they’re not all bad.

Continue reading