Kept in Perfect Peace

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.

Isaiah 7-8 records an amazing word which YWH gives to Isaiah and the faithful.  Two nations were preparing for war against Judah.  They were coming.  Fear was in the air, doubt, and distress were rampant.  This coming catastrophe highlighted the sources of salvation, to which people looked.  Some looked to the necromancers.  Some looked to foreign governments.  Those who did found out the hard way that that no salvation was to be found here.

In chapters 7 and 8 the Lord describes the psychological state of two groups of people:  those who trust YWH and those who do not.  Those who trust him are in a state of peace. They are confident, they are firm, they literally experience the sanctuary of God.  Those who do not believe are characterized by fear, distress, worry, and madness.  They placed trust in things which proved unreliable.  Then, when urged to trust God they respond in ridicule and anger!  In the end, they have nowhere to turn and are ultimately released into a life of darkness, isolation from God and isolation from hope.

In chapter 36 of Isaiah we see the entire nation practice trust in YWH when Assyria came to besiege Jerusalem.  The words of the king of Assyria were specifically designed to plant doubt in the minds of God’s people.  He urged them to not trust God.  He pointed to all the cities he had just destroyed as evidence of the futility of faith in God.  Hezekiah, under the onslaught of this scoffing and ridicule approached the Lord and appealed for help.  Help came!  The Lord killed off the entire Assyrian army, 185,000 strong!

In assimilating this revelation to our souls let’s note two things.  First, trust in Christ literally results in a mind that is at peace.  This is not theoretical or intellectual.  Trust in Christ literally translates to a mind that is at rest.  Second, trust in Christ literally influences outcomes.  The Lord fights for those who wait for him (Isa. 64:4).  Christ will come through for you.

This message comes from Isaiah 8:11-22.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

To the Church at Sardis

The fifth church Jesus addresses, of the seven, is Sardis.  This one is different.  Jesus’ tone is different.  It is different because Jesus doesn’t commend them for anything, as in, anything.
Their problem is two-fold.  One, they have a reputation on which they rely.  Rather than focusing on actual health, they look to others’ opinions to determine their standing before God.  Two, their works are not complete.  Rather than focusing on their mission, they more or less walked away.  The end result is death.  They are dying by apathy and neglect.  It is a sad state.
The counsel Jesus gives to this church is simple.  Wake up and get after it.  They are to repent of their disobedience, pick up the pieces, and resume their mission.  If they do not, he will come upon them suddenly and deal with them decisively.
Yet, there are a few that haven’t gone along with the flow!  They are still pure!  It is not a foregone conclusion that everyone gets sucked up in the dysfunction.  Some have kept themselves white and this brings our Lord great pleasure.
To those who hear and respond to his words, Jesus promises white garments, eternal life, and fame in heaven.
This message comes from Revelation 3:1-6.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

To the Church at Thyatira

Thyatira was a city that buffered two larger regions.  It was an outpost city, a military garrison of whatever region was prominent.  It was also home to numerous guilds and trade groups.  More importantly though, it was the place where Christians gathered to follow God.
Our Lord introduces himself as the judge and the implementer of judgment.  His eyes are like a flame of fire and his feet are like burnished bronze.  The eyes see past drama, facade, and deception.  The feet tread upon every form of dysfunction and evil.  May we appreciate his lordship over the church…
Jesus commends this church for their love, faith, service, and faithfulness.  We have a church who gets out there, loves the people, and serves.  Jesus commends them for this.  They are doing better now then they were at the beginning!  These are good signs of growth and maturity.
However, there is a major problem.  This church, collectively, tolerates a false teacher/prophetess.  She has been warned and yet she persists in teaching others to eat meat offered to idols and commits fornication.  This is a problem.  Her followers are also culpable just as her non-followers are culpable in their passivity.  Jesus says that Jezebel has no further opportunity to repent, he will dispatch her.  Her followers will have one more opportunity to repent or he will retire them.  Aside from their toleration of Jezebel and her teaching, Jesus has no more words for the passive crowd.
We may think that Jesus isn’t showing much mercy.  This is untrue.  He has warned Jezebel in the past.  This isn’t the first time this has come up.  We need to remember too that the sin is severe and life-threatening.  It is life-threatening in the sense that if this church doesn’t confront this immorality she will lose her identity entirely in the sea of pagan culture.
The church today is fighting a battle against the inroads of sexual immorality too.  Same-sex marriage falsehoods are infiltrating the church and destroying her from without.  Complacency and disobedience will not save any church.  Purity in doctrine will lead to purity in practice.  Even so, love and service must be maintained.
Finally, Jesus promises to the one who overcomes that he/she will rule and reign with him.  To the victor goes the morning star!  If someone can hear what Jesus is saying, let him hear and respond.
What we are hearing Jesus say to the church is that unholy teaching and practice will not be tolerated.  The identity of the church is at stake.  If she doesn’t get this right she will forfeit everything including her unique status as the church.  We must go to battle in preserving sound doctrine.  It matters.

To the Church at Pergamum

The city of Pergamum was the most distinguished city of Asia.  So said Pliny the Younger, an ancient historian.  The city was wealthy and very focused in their allegiance to the Roman Emperor.
To this church, Jesus introduces himself as the one who has the two-edged sword.  This is an offensive weapon designed for more than intimidation.  He references the words that he speaks as weapons and this message is to the church.  His character is revealed to us as someone who sees the situation rightly and who will enforce his will.
The church had struggled with fidelity to Jesus but was prevailing.  Even while living in the shadow of Satan’s headquarters, they insisted on fidelity to Jesus.  One of their own, Antipas was martyred there and Jesus references this event.  Even when Antipas was taken, the church would not recant.  The temptation to deny Jesus is real but also subtle.  Contextually, offering a pinch of incense to the emperor could free a Christian from prison.  This church didn’t take the bait.  Nor did they succumb to fear.
However, even while flourishing in fidelity to external threats, the church had allowed internal weakness to enter.  The corporate entity allowed false teaching to take root.  Basically, they allowed the teaching of idolatry and fornication to flourish, in their midst!  While seeming clear to us, it wasn’t that clear to the church at Pergamum.  Contextually, pagan worship consisted of offering sacrifice to idols, eating the meat in a ritual of worship, and then following this up with fornication on site.  Somehow the church had convinced themselves it was ok, perhaps for outreach purposes to indulge in this activity.
The warning came down.  Either deal with this or I’m coming to make war against this group.  To the perpetrator, this doesn’t sound like a winning proposition, does it?  They were challenged to repent right away.
Finally, to those who responded rightly, Jesus promised two things:  hidden manna and a white stone.  These two things may sound archaic or strange to us.  This hidden manna would be the sustenance which he provides in himself.  The stone simply speaks to that new identity he gives us in him.  What a marvelous promise.
In conclusion, the church at Ephesus was pure in doctrine but tainted in love.  The church at Pergamum was externally good but internally compromised.  Their desire to be relevant went too far and they lost their soul.  May we be diligent to preserve sound doctrine and our identity in Jesus.

To the Church at Smyrna

The church at Smyrna did not receive any rebukes, only commendation and counsel.
Jesus introduces himself to this church as the first and the last, the one who passed through death into life. Both of these titles are fitting in light of Smyrna’s difficult situation.  Jesus can speak to all of us from the standpoint of having been there and experienced the entire gamut of suffering, death, and resurrection.  This makes him a qualified leader to his people.
The commendation Jesus has for them pertains to their faithfulness in the midst of struggle.  The ethnic Jews are assaulting them with slander and yet they remain faithful to Christ.  This faithful perseverance in the midst of struggle brings pleasure to Christ because it is for him.
The counsel he gives them is to not fear.  Why?  They are about to be imprisoned and some will be put to death.  They need to be firmed up in courage, not fear.  Furthermore, they are counseled to be faithful unto death.  The temptation would be to withdraw from Christ’s plan and in treachery exercise non-trust.  No.  They need to be faithful.
This faithfulness will pay off with the crown of life.  This is what awaits them on the other side.  The second death, hell itself, will not hurt them for they will be under the protection of Christ.  These are the things that await them if they are faithful uno death.
These words of Jesus are good.  Are we in the midst of tribulation?  Persevere, he knows.  Are we experiencing uncertainty?  Yes.  He knows.  May we not fear and may we not resort to treachery in breaking trust with Jesus.  Let’s be faithful as we endure testing.  Coming out on the other end we will be tried as pure gold.  May we yield to his purposes for our good.

To the Church at Ephesus

The church at Ephesus was the leading church of Asia Minor.  It was the leading city of Rome in Asia Minor.  Paul spent two years there, Timothy pastored there, and eventually the Apostle John would live there.  It was a blessed city.  It was also a thoroughfare of the ancient world.
Jesus’ words to this city speak to commendation and rebuke.  To his delight, they fight the battles he wants them to fight.  This church valiantly warred against false teachers.  They did not tolerate error.  They fought and fought hard, consistently without fatigue.  Why?  They fought for “his” namesake.  Their motivations were right.  They were serving the master.  Additionally, Jesus commended them for their hatred for the work of the Nicolaitans.  This emotion toward false doctrine was the very emotion Jesus shared!
However, along the way, they also walked away from love.  They didn’t love one another as much anymore nor did they love God so much anymore.  In the midst of the battle, their love cooled.  Perhaps love was viewed as youthful zeal.  Maybe they took one too many hits in their battles with false teachers.  Whatever the case, their love was gone.
The remedy is clear:  remember, repent, do what you did at first.  If they do not obey, Jesus will extinguish the church.  These are hard words but Jesus, the ultimate prophet speaks true words.
Finally, the congregation as a whole is admonished to take heed to the words of Jesus.  He who is able to hear, should hear.  The one who overcomes will be granted a reward, to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.  What  precious promise to the believers.
As we reflect on these wonderful words of Jesus, it is clear that he loves when his people war for truth.  He approves mightily when we war against false teaching and call out the people who pedal the false teaching.  Battling for truth, persevering, all for his namesake is wonderful and precious!  I’m not sure this church traded in love for sound doctrine.  They had both for a while and walked away from one.  Love for sound doctrine and battling for purity is good and right.
However, are we loving God and loving people?  Have the battles been so many that we no longer love with a childlike love?  Have the scars and hurts so piled up that we no longer care.  Has life gone on so long that the “thrill of living is gone?”  May we become like children and love one another with an innocent and trusting love.
This message comes from Revelation 2:1-7.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

This is Discipleship – Missional Living

Living on Mission through our Missional Communities should look a lot like this:

 

The Fellowship of the Believers

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

(Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

Entrust the Father with your Shameless Audacity

Jesus tells us a story.  There is a catch, though.  You are in the story.  Here is your situation.  You have company come late at night and you do not have adequate provision.  It is midnight but… your only option is to go to a friend’s house and ask him for supplies.  Swallowing your pride, you go.  He tells you to go home, don’t bother me.  Ok.  What now?  You push again.  “Bro, please give me what I need.”  Based, not on your friendship but upon your impudence, he relents.
Here is the point.  When we abandon all sense of propriety and protocol in our pursuit of provision from the Father, it is ok.  Normally, disregard for social norms is not ok.  If we sacrifice this in our desperation, the Father receives it, graciously and answers our prayers.
Jesus says very plainly, ask and you receive, seek, and find, knock and it will be opened.  Our prayer lives of petition should be this simple.  Are they?  Do we live like this?  This is the norm!
Finally, in order to encourage an approach to the Father, Jesus tells us his character.  He is good.  He does not withhold, especially the good gifts.  One is specifically mentioned:  the Holy Spirit.  Do you want to know what to approach the Father about, with impudence?  Ask him for the Holy Spirit!
The Spirit is the deposit of the age to come.  He empowers us to obey, speak our minds, bear witness to the gospel, and exercise our gifts.  His filling is such that he often alarms people with his power.  Ask for this.
This message comes from Luke 11:5-13.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

First Things

We come now to another incident in Scripture, the story of Martha and Mary.  It is a classic in every sense of the word.
Here is how it went down.  Jesus comes to Bethany and he stays at Martha and Mary’s house.  It is a big deal!  Martha seems to be the leader of the two.  She works hard to get things in order:  sweep the house, wash dishes, change linens, and prepare food.  We can imagine this is what she was doing.  Undoubtedly, she asked Mary for help.  Mary declined and chose to spend time with Jesus.
Through this situation, Martha crashed.  Judging by the words of our Lord, she crashed because of her misplaced priorities.  The symptoms of this unhealthy situation were clear enough:  frustration, blaming other people, attempting to leverage God for her own ends, and not really appreciating Jesus.
At the core, she was being pulled in different directions.  She was distracted.
We have to ask this question – who was pulling her in different directions?  The answer is, Martha!  We do not seek to condemn or judge her but if Martha is making these choices then Martha can also choose differently.  This is good news for all of us.  If we are being pulled in different directions, living anxious and frantic lives then we are in a place to yield to Jesus.  We do not have to live this way!
Let’s make wise choices, let’s choose Jesus over media, fleshly indulgences, and things that bruise us.  He is our salvation, our hope, our healing.  In his presence darkness flees and we are ok.  With him, comes life and goodness.  He is all that we need.  Should we lose the entire world, we still have him and that is enough.
This message comes from Luke 10:38-42.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

Condemnation and Rejoicing

Condemnation and judgment are words that make us uncomfortable.  Why?  They speak of finality, lack of dialogue, and generally exploit our deficiencies.  However, it does not fall to believers to engage in the work of condemnation and judgment.  This is the work of Christ.  Jesus is very explicit in our passage that judgment falls upon those who do not receive the kingdom of God.  Judgement will actually fall heaviest upon those who have more revelation.  This indicates that there are differing degrees of sin which warrant differing degrees of judgment.
Jesus will judge.  There will be a final judgment (Matt. 25) and Jesus will preside over this judgment.  He will deal with believers and unbelievers and ALL parties will be subject to his piercing infallible judgment.  It is sobering.  It provides accountability for today’s work.  It also provides continued impetus for faithfulness in missions.
Strangely enough there is juxtaposed in this passage, condemnation and rejoicing.  Even as Jesus speaks about judgment on those who reject the message he urges his followers to rejoice.  While they were rejoicing in ministry successes, Jesus redirects their rejoicing to their relationship with the Father.  Which is the more constant?  Ministry successes (or failures!) or our standing in heaven?  Our joy must proceed from first things which are constant.  When we base our joy on success then we need to ready ourselves to have our joy dashed because success comes and goes.
In keeping with the theme of rejoicing, Jesus rejoices too.  What makes Jesus pump his fist, say “yes!”, do a fist bump, or dance?  Jesus gets excited when you receive revelation from the Father!  This is what excites him.  Why?  Hearing from the Father is essential to the redemptive life.  The restoration of our relationship with the Father is what this is all about.  So when the disciple hears from the Father, Jesus rejoices.  Do we rejoice when we hear from the Father?  Do we rejoice when those around us hear from the Father?  If we want to know where to place your rejoicing, this is it.
This message comes from Luke 10:13-24.  Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.