Why study the “seven churches of Asia Minor” in the first place

(6th in a series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“Now, all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

When I asked on Facebook why we should study the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, a professor friend gave what must be the simplest, clearest and best answer:  “Because it’s easier than anything else in Revelation.”  I laughed out loud, realizing that he had expressed precisely what I have felt over the years in turning to that book.

My New Orleans buddy Jim Smith came up with he most creative answer: “Because the churches of Asia Major weren’t so interesting?”

But, back to the question:  Why should we study letters to seven churches we would never have heard of otherwise?

Maybe the Lord is using it for discipline? Like putting us through boot camp, giving us something really hard–and it is that–to toughen us up for whatever lies ahead.

Maybe He wants us to be historians?

Does the Lord somehow need His children to know what went on two thousand years ago?  Are we to be trivia buffs regarding the first century of believers?  History experts?  Why does this stuff matter?

It’s a legitimate question, one every generation asks.

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Jesus’ last word to the church: Repent.

(Fifth in a series on The Seven Churches of Asia Minor. Revelation 1-3)

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30.  Paul’s message to Athens.)

Contrary to popular opinion, the Lord’s final word to the Church was not the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  It was the message of Revelation 2-3.  To five of the seven churches of Asia Minor, that final word was: “Repent.”

I was 27 years old, pastoring a small church on Alligator Bayou west of New Orleans, a recent seminary graduate, and being interviewed by a pastor search committee.  The chairman of the committee, a distinguished businessman named Lawrence Bryant, said to me, “Pastor, what do you believe about repentance?”

I answered, “There is no salvation without repentance.  Twice in Luke 13 our Lord told people ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all perish.'”

What I did not know was that this was a big deal to that astute layman.  Lawrence Bryant had been a lukewarm church member all his life and knew from personal experience the kind of flawed product easy believism turns out.  At the age of 43–ten years before our encounter–he had been righteously, gloriously, fully saved, and nothing was ever the same.  He wanted none of the easy-going churchism that so often passed for the genuine article if he could help it.

He came to the right boy.  The Lord had been impressing upon me the importance and necessity of repentance in Scripture and in life.

The Greek word for repentance metanoia means to have a change of mind which results in a life change.  The message is preached throughout Scripture, but particularly in the New Testament.  “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

You’re traveling a highway. Suddenly, you realize you’re going the wrong way and look for the next opportunity to do a U-turn.  I’ve done t hat a hundred  times.  Before the change of direction, there is a change of mind.

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The Lord takes His churches to the woodshed

(Fourth in a series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him.  For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

The Lord Jesus was unhappy with His churches.  Five of the seven congregations scattered across Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) were already getting off-track and needed some swift attention.  The two exceptions were Smyrna and Philadelphia.  But the other five churches received stern rebukes.

To all the seven churches of Asia Minor, the Lord gave four things (with slight variations for Smyrna and Philadelphia):

HIS ANALYSIS.  This is His report card.  His “state of the state” message.

HIS WARNINGS.  Repent or else.

HIS INSTRUCTIONS.  Remedial actions the Lord would like to see.

HIS PROMISES.  To Him who overcomes, blessings await.  Each church gets its own promise.

These four blessings–for they were that–were not given to the unbelieving world, not to pagan religions, and not to political powers.  They were gifts from Heaven to seven congregations for whom the Lord Jesus had great expectations and important roles to play.

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Playing these little games with God’s Word

(Third in a series on John’s Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“John to the seven churches which are in Asia….” (Revelation 1:4).

Did you know if you take the seventh letter from the 7th chapter of each book of the Bible, it forms a secret message?  I didn’t either.  But it’s no weirder than some of the schemes people come up with to make Scripture say more than it was intended.

The cults are notorious for finding secret messages in Scripture.

God’s faithful children must be careful not to fall for such schemes and not to try to read hidden messages into God’s Word.

His Word is sufficient.

I’m deep into studying the first three chapters of Revelation, for the umpteenth time in my life.  There is so much here.

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Why our churches are not using vocational evangelists–and why they should reconsider

“And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers….” (Ephesians 4:11)

An evangelist proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers.  While the commission for this was given to the whole church, and every Christian is charged with spreading the Word, some are called specifically for this purpose. Presumably, those called are specially gifted for the task.

For me personally, the names that come to mind include Angel Martinez, Eddie Martin, Homer Martinez, Vance Havner, J. Harold Smith, and E. J. Daniels.  Billy Graham and his colleagues Grady Wilson, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows.  Mordecai Ham, Billy Sunday, Dwight L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, George Whitefield.  Roy Fish, Jim Ponder and Joe Atkinson, Bob Harrington, Gray Allison, and John R. Rice.  Billy Smith, Richard Hogue, Wayne Bristow.

I suppose there was a “golden age of evangelism,” at least in our Southern Baptist Convention, when most churches scheduled annual revivals or evangelistic meetings and brought in a well-known evangelist.  If so, the sun has set on that day.  In our denomination, fewer and fewer churches schedule these meetings and the typical full-time evangelist has a hard time filling his calendar with meetings and then has a difficult time making a living from the offerings these meetings bring in.

“Why are pastors not scheduling vocational evangelists for meetings in their churches?”  

I tossed out that question on Facebook.  Answers flooded in.  Many pastors were only too happy to say why they were not inviting these preachers into their churches.  (Forty-eight hours later, that question has received two hundred responses.)

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Bad things happen when a church terminates a minister

I should state up front that not everyone calling himself/herself a minister of the gospel is telling the truth.  Charlatans and hypocrites can be found in every field of endeavor, including the ministry.  Those who go from church to church preaching corrupted gospels, bullying the congregation in the name of Jesus, tearing up fellowships and ruining lives–such people need to be put out of business.

Once pastors and denominational leaders see the destructive pattern in a minister’s history, they should quit passing his name along to other churches.  And someone should speak the truth to him and say why.  Then “unfriend” the guy.

But unless a church has good cause, it should never fire a minister.  If there are reasons for dismissing the minister and vacating the pulpit, faithful and mature leaders can find ways to make it happen without ruining that person’s future opportunities for service.  But outright firing a minister forever brands him and may ruin his ministry prospects.

I hear this all the time.  “He’s outlived his usefulness here.”  “We need new leadership.”  “He’s not a good match for our church.”  “He’s offended the key leaders and no one trusts him anymore.”

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Christians afflicted with the “Mamba Mentality “

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). 

No one said it would be easy.

A police lieutenant told me why he could never live the Christian life. “I have to be tough in this line of work. I have to use language that would peel the bark off a hickory tree in order to make myself understood to the people I deal with. I couldn’t do that as a Christian.”

Perhaps he needs to take a lesson from Kobe Bryant, the retired great of the L. A. Lakers, and Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints.

According to an article in USA Today (December 19, 2018), Demario Davis lives by the code found in Kobe Bryant’s book.  “The Mamba Mentality:  How I Play” explains how Bryant adopts an aggressive personality, one different from his normal self, when he walks onto the basketball court.

Get that?  Become someone else once you don the armor.  Become a warrior who takes no prisoners.  Then, later, showered and dressed, you return to the Clark Kent persona.

Most of us might have trouble pulling that off.

Demario Davis, who plays for the New Orleans Saints,  told the reporter how that works out for him.  “For me, it’s like, I have to ask for forgiveness for what I’m about to do on the field.  And then when I’m coming in off the field, I’m asking forgiveness for what I just did on the field, because you have to go to a killing mentality.  A Mamba Mentality.”

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If you would serve the Lord, expect obstacles.

“A great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9). 

“Is this vile world a friend to grace to help me on to God?”   (Isaac Watts, “Am I A Soldier of the Cross?”)

This is a quiz.  Name the enemies George Washington faced in the Revolutionary War.

If you answered, “The British,” you’d be only partly right.

Washington did fight the British, as the thirteen colonies asserted their independence from the Mother Nation.  But Generals Howe, Cornwallis, and Clinton and their armies were only the most visible of the forces Washington had to contend with.

He had to fight the weather.  Think of Valley Forge and even without knowing the full story, your mind immediately conjures up images of a harsh winter with all the snow, ice, sleet, and freezing temperatures that includes.

Washington had to deal with starvation and deprivation.  No one knows how many thousands of his soldiers perished from the cold and starvation at Valley Forge and how many deserted in order to save their lives.  Many surrendered to the British at Philadelphia in the vain hope that the conquerors would feed and clothe them.

Washington had to deal with a Congress that was either ignorant, misinformed, or outright hostile to his situation. He wrote letter after letter detailing the misery of his army and pleading for help.  Finally, a delegation came from the national capital, temporarily at York, PA, to see for themselves, after which congress began to act.

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Jesus announces plainly who He is (2nd in series on Revelation 1-3; “Seven Churches of Asia Minor”)

What He said:  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). 

What the outsiders said:  “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

What the insiders said, eventually:  “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!  Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You.  By this we believe that You came forth from God!” (John 16:29-30)

Has it has ever occurred to you that the Lord Jesus did not begin His ministry claiming plainly and outspokenly that he was the Messiah?  We might have expected Him to walk out of the baptismal waters declaring, “Here I am–I am the Christ! The One you’ve been waiting for!”

Instead, He did the opposite.

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What to do with the problem of immature church members

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

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

A church leader was venting.  “We have so many immature members.  And the problem is, they want to stay that way!”

The leader said, “How do we deal with our discouragement?  How can we keep from becoming Pharisees who constantly see their faults and not their potential?  And how do we love those who cause so much trouble in the church by their immature actions?”

The letter concluded, “I feel like I’m in danger of becoming like the Ephesus church, the one which had lost its first love.”  A reference to Revelation 2:1-7.

My first thought upon reading the question was: “You’re not alone, my friend.  Every spiritual leader fights that same battle, although not to the same extent.”

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