3. The Pergamum Experience – Endurance

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  3. The Pergamum Experience: Endurance

Rev 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write” 

Speaker: In this letter Jesus comes with, “the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” In chapter 1 we saw that coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” (1:16) This ‘sword’ clearly represents the words he speaks. Paul spoke of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:17) This pointed, sharp, two-sided sword was a serious weapon of warfare. History tells us that Roman governors were of two sorts, those who had ‘the right of the sword’ and those who didn’t.  Those who did had the power of life and death and could order a person killed on the spot. When Jesus says he has this sword he is challenging all other authority with an authority that comes with his word. He too only needed to speak a word and it was done. We see that throughout Genesis 1 that God speaks a word and it is done.

Approval & Encouragement: Again we are reminded that Jesus, walking among the lampstands sees and knows all things. Here he says, I know where you live.” (v.13a) We once had two men in our church, fairly young believers who decided the read the Bible together and they read this passage together and when they came to these words they said it reminded them of some gangster film where the hero was threatened by the chief gangster with, “I know where you live!” They said the Holy Spirit impacted them both with a sense of awe – He knows where I live, He can come for me at any time!!!!

Yet for the church there, this knowledge first comes with approval: “where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (v.13b) Now there is much speculation as to what all this actually means, but let’s just leave it that this major city, this city of culture and government administration, was a place where, for one reason or another, it seems Satan reigns. Here, Jesus says, he has his throne, here he lives. Now let’s never lose sight of the fact that he is merely an angel, fallen yes, but nevertheless a created being, created by God for His purposes, and he is limited by only acting according to God’s permission (see Job 1 & 2). He only ‘reigns’ where the human beings give him permission to do so by their willingness to reject God and follow self-centred, ungodly and unrighteous ways. Such was his activity through the people of this city that one of the Christians had been martyred here. Yet in the face of all this, the church had held firm to their faith and remained true to Christ, not giving up on their faith for one moment – despite the demonic environment, despite the opposition and despite one of their number being killed for his faith. This church has endured.

Challenge: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you:” (v.14a) That sounds worrying – a few things? More than one?  Yes, in fact there are two. First, “There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (v.14b) In the church – not all, but some – there are people who have fallen to the deception of Balaam (see this two-faced prophet who gave advice to the enemy how to undermine Israel – Num 31:16 – and died for it – Num 31:8).  The simplest way, perhaps, to summarize his tactics is to say he persuaded the Israelites that a little conforming to the ways of the world was all right. It wasn’t! I believe there is a blurring today of the boundaries between the church and the world, between righteousness and unrighteousness and so although some commentators suggest historical allegory in these letters, saying Laodicea represents the present day, the truth is that each of these errors are pertinent to every period of history, and now is no exception!

Nicolaitans? “Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (v.15) This group had been mentioned in 2:6 in Ephesus and we just simply identified them as heretics but maybe we need to say more here.  One of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, in his ‘Against Heresies’ wrote of the Nicolaitans, “they lived lives of unrestrained indulgence.” and another early church leader said they “abandoned themselves to pleasure …. leading a life of self-indulgence.” They distorted Christian freedom and turned it into licence. Doesn’t that sound familiar? I don’t know that I have heard that preached but the practice of so many lives in the affluent West seem to be characterized by pleasure and self-indulgence, and when that happens there is a blunting of spiritual sharpness which then gives way to spiritual complacency and spiritual indifference – a disarmed church!

The Challenge: “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (v.16) I don’t know if you have ever heard the expression spoken out by a parent to a child, ”If you don’t stop that out you’ll get the rough edge of my tongue,” which means unless you sort it out, you’ll get a severe scolding, a strong reprimand. In modern-day language Jesus might say, “Guys, sort this or you’ll be hearing from me – and you won’t like that!” My wife rarely has prophetic words but when she does, they tend to be corrective and you know where they are coming from. Somebody once said, “When she starts prophesying, people start diving under their chairs.” Jesus’s words, that come like this two-edged sword have the ability to wreak havoc with our pride. I’ve also noticed that my daughter, again rarely prophesies but when she does what she brings fits that biblical description, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) When Jesus speaks correctively, beware, his words carve open the heart, revealing the very soul, and then addresses the things needing correcting.

The Reward: For the overcomer in this situation, the one who rejects conforming to the world and living a life of self-indulgence, the promise is, “I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (v.17) Wow, what does that mean? Manna (see Ex 16:11-15) was God’s supernatural provision for His people in the desert. Then it was clearly observable and had to be picked. Today God’s provision is hidden, it comes by the Spirit. If you hold firm to God and refuse the seductions of the world, the promise is that God will feed you through His Spirit and you will be satisfied and never yearn for more, you will have total contentment.

But a white stone? Whatever we say here has to be speculation but years ago I asked the Lord about this and what I saw was this: a husband may give to his wife a locket on a chain to be hung round the neck with a picture of both of them in it. It is a constant reminder of the preciousness of the relationship they have. Now the thing about this white (pure) stone is that it has on it your name given to you by Jesus that no one else knows. Do you have a pet name for your partner, something no one else knows? It is not uncommon. Again it is a sign of something precious and intimate between you. That is what we have here, Jesus is conveying something of the preciousness of your relationship with him, your unique relationship, no one else has what you have, they have their own relationship with special aspects to it, but your relationship is unique between you and him. Don’t try and get your sense of meaning, purpose and even fulfillment from the world around you, get it from that sense of unique relationship with him that he wants to convey to you.  Awesome!

68. God who Equips

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  68.  God who Equips

Heb 13:20,21   May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  

So Jesus, the great Shepherd has come to earth and drawn us to himself and sometimes some of us just focus on our conversion as if that was all there is, but of course the truth is that our conversion, our being ‘born again’, was merely the start of a life with Christ. We may have before us, years and years of living out the Christian life.

God’s Initial Purpose for us: Now because God has given us free will, I believe a lot of the things to come are things we choose but behind whatever we plan and want, the Lord is working in and through us to bring about His plans and purposes. These are spoken about by Paul to the church at Ephesus in general terms: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Add to that his words to the church at Corinth: “we… are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit,” (2 Cor 3:18) and we can see that God’s initial purpose in us is to change us to be more Christ-like which, I would suggests means both in character and in service. Add to this another important truth, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” (1 Cor 12:27) and the teaching that goes with it in that chapter, and we see that God gifts us in particular ways that harmonise with the gifts of other believers, so that together collectively we express the life and ministry of Christ which, in itself, was to fulfil the will of the Father.

God’s Primary Resource: So there is our target to become like Christ and do his works as he leads; that is the will of the Father. So how does He quip us to go about this, for this is what our verses above are all about? I think different Christians would put this order in different ways, but I am convinced that THE primary resource that He gives us, is Himself, His own Holy Spirit. The New Testament is quite clear that when we are born again we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who remains in us for the rest of our existence. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would teach us and guide us and empower us. I have often said that I believe every practical expression of God’s grace is in fact an expression of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is, without doubt our first resource.

God’s Second Resource: But then coming a very close second is God’s revealed word, the Bible. Those most famous of Paul’s words speak of this: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16,17) As we take and allow the Holy Spirit to apply God’s word to us, we are changed and that change makes us morel like Jesus in character and service as we said above.

Put on equipment: But how does this work? Well, the apostle Paul explained it in his graphic ‘warfare passage in Eph 6: “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:11-17)

There are certain aspects of the Christian life that we have to ‘put on’ (v.11) just like a soldier puts on armour.  We have to realise that all these things we are talking about, whether it be in respect of equipping or to do with armour, are all in the spiritual realm (v.12) so we are not talking about material or physical things here, we are talking about expression of the life of the Spirit in and through us. These things that we have to ‘put on’ are things that will equip us and enable us to stand in the face of the attacks of the enemy. (13). The things we are to ‘put on’ or apply to our lives to equip us are truth and righteousness (v.14), ready with the Gospel of peace (v.15), faith (v.16), the fact of our salvation and God’s word itself. (v.17). In Paul’s analogy truth and righteousness protect the upper body, covering the heart. The fact that the soldier’s feet are covered with the readiness to bring the Gospel of peace says that we are constantly ready to be God’s ambassadors, peace bringers, and as such we will come with the authority of God. Both faith and the facts of our salvation  equip us to ward off the lies of the enemy and then, as the Holy Spirit directs us, we can wield His word to defeat the enemy, release captives and generally do the will of God.

Jesus’ Mission: Let us again put God’s will in context as we consider Isaiah’s words that Jesus read out declaring to be his mission: he has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:18,19) THAT is why we need to be equipped by God, for this is His will for us to bring to the earth. That is why we pray with the writer, May the God of peace,… equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” As we receive His equipping, so we will glorify Him. Indeed, may it be so!  PS. Just note in that His equipping it will be with “everything good”. The God of peace, the God of goodness, equips us with all good things to bless us and make us a blessing. Yes? Yes!

73. Kingdom Growth 1

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 73. Kingdom Growth (1)

Mk 4:26,27  He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.

Most of Jesus’ parables are, in one way or another, about the kingdom of God, for Jesus has come to do the will of God and everything about him and us is about how we relate to God and allow God to rule and thus bring us back into a place of blessing with Him. It is clear that the rule of God is equated with blessing.

So here he uses a very simple picture. We’ve recently considered the parable of the Sower and this is yet another picture using the analogy of a Sower with seed, but this time it is a shorter, more simple picture. We can see various things from it but for the moment we focus on just one.

Jesus makes a very simple and we might say, obvious point. The Sower sows the seed and leaves it in the ground and all on its own, the seed starts to grow. The Sower doesn’t know how the seed grows or even when; he just leaves the seed and trust that it will grow, like it does each year when he sows it.

Now bear in mind that we have said that all of this chapter so far has been about the word of God and how we receive it and what it does. He has just been speaking about using the word of God but now Jesus speaks more generally about how the word of God works to bring about the kingdom or rule of God.

The fact is that when the word of God is received in good ground, or even in apparently not so good soil, it starts growing and having effect. In the bigger picture we might say the Holy Spirit takes it and quietly applies it in the heart of the receiver. Now in some ways there is nothing mysterious about this. For example you may read or hear the word that applies to a particular area of difficulty you have in your life. The word arrives and seems to lay there in your heart. Then the Spirit nudges it into your consciousness again, you remember it. You find yourself thinking about it, and you start to feel convicted by it. It now requires you to act upon it to put your ‘conscience’ at ease. You make changes in your attitude or words or behaviour and your life comes more into conformity with God’s design for you. Very simply you are coming under the rule or reign or kingdom of God and it all takes place as the Spirit is able to take the word and grow it in you.

 

72. Use it!

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 72. Use it!

Mk 4:24,25  “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you–and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

Remember, Jesus has been talking about responding to God when He speaks, and the importance of revelation. Revelation – the truth – what this is all about, about how we hear and what we hear. Hence Jesus instructs, “Consider carefully what you hear.” He is still focusing them on what they hear from God. What follows is still all about what we do with what we hear. Previously it had been the different responses to hearing; now it is to those who apparently do hear and it challenges them as to what they do with it.

You must hold on to this: it is the truth or revelation from God that Jesus is talking about here. When he says “With the measure you use it” he is saying that if you receive it and respond to us and allow it to have its work in you and change you and maybe you even pass it on, THEN you will receive even more. The crucial question or vital issue here is how much we DO with the truth. If we just hear it on a Sunday morning, or we casually read it in the Bible, and we remain untouched and unmoved and unchanged, then we will become stagnant water and receive no more.

We should be using what we have received and then receiving more from God. The old illustration of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is a good illustration. Water flows into and out of the Sea of Galilee and the sea is fresh and alive. Water flows into the Dead Sea but not out of it and so it is dead. This IS the truth and it is a challenge!  How many Christians are neutral about the word of God? Yes, it is the word of God and it is important and I do read it and I do hear it on a Sunday morning – but nothing more.

It is supposed to change us and transform us; it is supposed to be passed on to others, to seekers and to new younger Christians. The word is not to be listened to; it is to be responded to, it is to change us and change others. But there is a terrible negative in what Jesus says. If you don’t do all we have been saying about God’s word, what has been given to you will be taken away. Yes, you will start to lose the significance of what you have heard and the truth will start to cease being important to you and it will soon stop being a deterrent against sin in your life. It is a downward slope. Beware!

 

54. God be Praised

Meditations in 1 Peter : 54: God be Praised

1 Pet 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Speaking and doing. There are echoes of verse 7 here: be clear minded and self-controlled.” where we said it was about thinking and then doing. Here it is about speaking and doing. But note that this is a continuation of verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” These are the expressions of the ‘gifts’ we have.

Seen in that context the speaking that is referred to here is to be seen as a gift from God and an expression of the Lord and so if we are someone who has the privilege of being in a position in the church where we speak publicly, we should recognise the honour and the responsibility that is ours and we should recognise that if we are motivated, energized, inspired and directed by the Lord in this ministry, what we are bringing is to be seen as the very word of God. That is a very high calling! I wonder how many of us who are either preachers or teachers, see it in this way? There is an implied challenge here to be careful as to what we say, and to seek the Lord before we open our mouths. for we will be answerable to Him.

Now there is something else involved in this. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk 6:45) i.e. what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our hearts. If our hearts are given over to God, that will be observed when we speak. If we are still self-centred and not God-centred, that also will be revealed. We will, in other words, only speak the words of God if we are filled with God and given over to God. How we are with God will be observed in the words we speak. The preacher and teacher cannot help but reveal their spiritual state when they speak – and that is a real challenge!

But it isn’t only our words; it is also what we do, our serving. Is doing and serving the same thing? No, ‘doing’ can be self-centred or simply an expression of self. Serving is doing for the benefit of others. Serving is done as a purposeful act of the will to bless other people, something we choose to do. Now not everyone has come to the place of desiring to be a servant, even though Jesus calls us to it: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) There is an implication there that followers of Jesus will want to grow, develop, get on, and to achieve great things but, says Jesus, they only can do that by becoming a servant, by having a servant attitude. Serving is an expression of maturity so, according to Peter, if you have reached the level of maturity where you desire to be a servant, “do it with the strength that God provides.” In other words, if you are going to be God’s servant, you can only do it with His strength. Working (or serving) is hard and tiring and so to be able to continue doing it, you will need God’s ongoing strength, which will mean waiting on Him for it (see Isa 40:28-31)

Now there is an outworking to all this and it has been hinted at by Peter more than a few times: so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” We do what we do so that God will be revealed and glorified. Peter started praising God in Chapter 1 for having “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1:3) In chapter 2 he spoke of us having been called so that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2:9) He then continued, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2:12). In chapter 3 he put it slightly differently: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (3:15) but the end is the same – praise to Him. And that brings us here to chapter 4 with, “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (v.11).

The ultimate goal? To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When that happens, truth is being observed. Any glory is due to Him and only Him, for any power is His and so whatever we say or do is to be an expression of the life of the Spirit of Jesus within us, and that will always glorify the Father. Speaking of his own glory, Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me,” (Jn 8:54) i.e. any glory we have comes from the Father and belongs to the Father. Near the end of the Last Supper Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (Jn 13:31) i.e. Jesus will be glorified through his death and resurrection and that will glorify the Father. This was made even more clear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (Jn 17:1)

In all of this we see that the outworking of Jesus’ life was to glorify or reveal the wonder of the Father. It is the wonder of the Father’s character that is being revealed, the wonder of His thinking and His planning and His love for mankind. Everything flows from and returns to God the Father. Jesus executed His will in a human body, and the Holy Spirit continues to do it in and through Christians today. That is where you and I come in! May He be glorified in us!