“The Witness Driven Church” – Revelations – Day 10

Let’s be honest. 

We aren’t in any danger of having to stand before a Roman official and be told to worship the emperor with some incense and words of loyalty on pain of death.  Obviously. But let’s also acknowledge that there are still places in the world today where Christians are persecuted and killed for their faith.  The International Institute for Religious Freedom estimates that about 3,000 to 5,000 Christians are killed for their faith every year, sometimes more. 

When it comes to significant persecution, around 360 million Christians each year suffer for their faith, which is one in seven believers.  In addition, approximately 16 believers are killed daily.  The Center for Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) puts the number much higher between the years 2000 and 2010 because of the civil war in the Congo which had strong religious violence at its core.  They estimate that ten percent of the deaths are directly due to religious persecution.  With those numbers included, the average number of martyrs during those ten years was closer to 100,000 believers killed each year.

“Letter to Laodecia – The Wealthy Church” – Revelations – Day 9

“It’s not about you.” 

That’s how Pastor Rick Warren begins his book, The Purpose Driven Life.  It’s a line that Christians tend to understand but others find bewildering.  What in the world is he talking about? 

He goes on to say, “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness.  It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions.”

Apparently, the church in Laodicea had forgotten this basic truth of their discipleship.  Probably of all the churches in the book of Revelations, Laodicea is remembered the most for being the “lukewarm” church that God wanted to “vomit” out of his mouth.  Strong words, indeed.  In fact, this church is the only one of the seven where Jesus has absolutely nothing good to say about them.

“Letter to Philadelphia – The Missionary Church” – Revelations – Day 8

One of my all-time favorite music ministries comes from The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in NY city.  It’s true that I love the music and the combination of lead singers supported by a large choir.  The arrangements are fantastic, and the orchestra is top-notch.  I use a number of their songs in my books sung by the angels in heaven.  I find it all quite moving.

But I also like Elvis when he sings Christmas songs, and Whitney Houston and even Pentatonix with their rendition of Hallelujah.  Wonderful music to say the least but I don’t use it in my books.  And there is a very good reason why.  In my opinion, great music is not necessarily great spiritual worship.  Worship comes from the heart of the redeemed.

I remember preaching in a poor church in Tandil, Buenos Aires, Argentina years ago and the worship was led by a young man with just a guitar.  That was not what made it so special though.  It was his attitude.  We had a teenager who was not entirely right in his mind and always wanted to come to the front of the service and participate in the music.  He had two sticks which he banged together at a rhythm that defied any kind of structure.  It threw the tempo of the songs off and interfered with the flow of the worship.

“Letter to Sardis – The Charismatic Church” – Revelations – Day 7

The acropolis stood like a citadel on the hill, impregnable and proud as the center of power in the Lydian kingdom of Croesus.  The city of Sardis was a prosperous one, full of trade and industry, and the greatest Persian city in the region.  It stood at the western end of the trade route, bringing goods from Susa to Sardis and back again.  The acropolis was only accessible by means of a narrow approach from the south and had never been taken by assault.

But everyone knew the story of the downfall of the kingdom of Croesus.  The invaders had come in the dead of night, and no one even knew that they were coming.  Soldiers climbed the narrow path to the acropolis, killing the few guards that protected the entrance and gained entry to the seat of government.  The great city fell with almost no resistance at all.  Now it was a Roman city and the imperial cult had been grafted into the local religion. 

“Letter to Thyatira – The Libertine Church” – Revelations – Day 6

Can you imagine going to church on a Sunday morning only to hear a message from somebody named Jezebel, “who calls herself a prophetess” (Rev. 2:20 NIV)?  Perhaps the Gentiles didn’t all make the connection but anyone who knew the Old Testament would certainly run away.  But perhaps that wasn’t really her name and Jesus is giving her the title of “Jezebel” as a judgment on her teachings. 

Thyatira was originally founded as a frontier military post but became more of a trade outpost and, at this point in time, was the home to a large number of trade guilds.  One of special note was the Purple Cloth Company of Thyatira and none other than Lydia, the first convert by Paul in Philippi, is described as a “dealer in purple cloth” and came from Thyatira (Acts 16:14 NIV).

“Letter to Pergamum – The Political Church” – Revelations – Day 5

Can you imagine living in a city called “the Throne of Satan?”  It would make me shiver and I would probably move – quickly!  That was the name that John (or really Jesus) gave to the city of Pergamum in this third letter to the churches of Asia. 

The letter starts out innocently enough but then it gets very deep really fast. 

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword” (Rev. 2:12 NIV).

Of course, the mention of the sword refers to John’s vision of the heavenly Jesus where he describes him with the words “out of his mouth came a sharp, double-edged sword” (Rev. 1:16b NIV).  The words “out of his mouth” are not included here and they aren’t necessary.  We know that the sword is the Word of God, and was, in fact, Christ himself as the Truth. 

“Letter to Smyrna – The Poor Church” – Revelations – Day 4

Satanism is a dirty word among Christians, and rightly so.  It evokes scenes of human sacrifice, the Satanic Bible, the dark communion, and other nefarious anti-Christian practices.  I am no expert on Satanism, but I suspect there is more of it in the church than you might imagine.  Let me explain.

“I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b NIV).

In this passage, Jesus talks about the Synagogue of Satan which we understand to be that group of Judaizers who claim to be Christians themselves but demanded that all of the Gentiles must first be circumcised and become “true” Jews in order to accept the Jewish Messiah.  It seemed like a reasonable request, and it was hotly debated in the early church during the first century. 

“Letter to Ephesus – The Leadership Church” – Revelations – Day 3

“The reason your son is so sick,” the Pastor was saying, “is to teach you patience and perseverance.”

The young couple sat on the couch in the parsonage with a blank stare.  “Well, um…thank you, Pastor.”  But they were not convinced.  They left without hope, without love, without faith in the goodness of God.

The Pastor may be right, but he misses the point.  Pain and suffering do teach us the character of Christ (if we combine them with faith) but the purpose of developing that patience and perseverance is not to prepare us for heaven. 

It isn’t as if we have to qualify to pass the pearly gates, after all.  It is only the righteousness of Christ and his spirit within us that allows us entrance.  Let me be clear.  We are not developing the character of Christ in order to prepare ourselves for heaven but rather to do effective work and ministry here on earth.

There.  I’ve said it and I’m not sorry.

“The Priorities of God” – Revelations – Day 2

One of the most difficult, if not harsh, realities of the Christian life is the realization that God may allow us to get hurt, suffer, and perhaps even die horribly. 

It seems contradictory given all of Jesus’ warm assurances that we would be taken care of, that we would be clothed and fed and protected from the Evil One.

I imagine that Peter had no idea when he was listening to Jesus on the shores of the Lake of Galilee that one day, he would insist on being crucified upside down since he was not worthy to die as his Master had died (or so the legend goes).

“The Hour of Trial” – Revelations – Day 1

What on earth is this all about?

That is the question of many inside and outside the church down through the ages since the Book of Revelations was written. 

On the one hand, the answer is obvious.  It’s about the end of times, persecution and martyrdom, and the attempts of the Roman Empire to stamp out this religion as an enemy of the human race.  It’s about seven churches that are rebuked and warned of the hour of trial that is upon them. 

On the other hand, the answer is not so obvious.  What´s with the seals, the trumpets, the bowls of the wrath of God, the death and sickness and disaster about to be unleashed on the unsuspecting throngs of mankind, it isn’t easy to correlate each item to a historical time or event. 

And it isn’t a very pleasant outlook either, is it?  It is not for the faint of heart and it is easily misinterpreted by those whose point of view is temporal rather than eternal.