The Seven Churches of Revelation (Part 2): The One Who Walks in the Midst

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest…. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. ‘Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Rev. 1:12-13, 18-20, ESV).

This passage reveals a great and terrible truth: the Lord Jesus walks in the midst of His people, observing each success, failure, compromise, and rebellion.

In America, we tend to think because there is such great grace, God is pleased with us. Therefore, we might wink at sin, excuse compromise, and condone false teachings and lifestyles that go against sound doctrine. While the Lord does, indeed, sympathize with our weaknesses (see Heb. 4:15), He does not sympathize or condone our callousness, compromise, or casual dismissal of His Word.

If we were to use a grading scale, only two of the seven churches received “A’s,” two churches received “F’s,” and the other four churches received something between a “B” and “D.” It is important to note that Christ so loves each church, but He also wants such love reciprocated. Such love is displayed through the upholding of His Word/ways, as well as the way we approach God and others. Too often churches hold to one side at the cost of the other. Many churches hold to sound teachings, but they lose their love and passion for Christ and others. Many churches strive to love people at the cost of sound teachings and God’s revelation of His character. Still, many churches cave in to the pressures of the culture or trends of modern Christendom.

Setting His love aside, when Jesus evaluates us, what does He see? What “grade” would He give us and to the church we belong? Do we love God and people, without condoning sin? Are we compromising, making justifications for our dabbling with sin? Are we condoning teachings and behaviors that clearly go against His Word? If our grade at all falls below an “A” Jesus commands us to repent—to turn away from our sin and to return to Him.

We cannot afford to play religious games. Christ loves His people with a passionate love, and He is worthy of such love being reciprocated. He shed His blood to redeem and deliver us from sin, not so we could continue to wallow or flirt with it without consequences. Oh, would be to God that He would revive our hearts, and that would would give Him the glory and honor He deserves! And through such a great revival may a lost and dying world witness what a great God we serve! May we be a people He is both pleased with, and honored by, whenever He walks in our midst.

The Seven Churches of Revelation (Part 1: The Messages to Them Are Also to Us)

One can learn a lot from reading about the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, and Jesus’ response to each. In America there is a tendency to believe God’s love equals God’s pleasure in; that is, since God loves His church and Christ bore all her sins, He is therefore pleased with her. Indeed, God loves His church with an undying love; however, of the seven churches only two were highly commended by the Lord, two received only rebuke, and four received both commendation and rebuke.

We have every reason to rejoice in God’s love and grace. Yet, we should also tremble, and take very seriously His warnings and rebukes. Something we can learn for today is whether “conservative” or “liberal”—both can be doing things very poorly and receive stern rebuke! Jesus takes sound doctrine seriously, as well as love. Furthermore, He is sickened by shallowness, compromise, halfheartedness, and empathy—and He will deal with these sternly, if necessary.

Some will argue, “But this negates grace—making works necessary.” No! Those who would make such an argument misunderstand grace to begin with. The purpose of grace is not simply to provide forgiveness for sin, but to also transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2, ESV).

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29).

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2).

Furthermore, Jesus’ intentions for His people is that they will be salt and light in a decaying and dark world (see Matt. 5:13-16).

Concerning the seven churches, some believe each church represents a specific “age” of the church. I do not hold this view. I believe throughout the church’s history each church has been represented to some degree. Either way, the messages to each church are still messages to churches today. We would do well to pay attention to the commendations, and to take heed to the rebukes and warnings. To ignore these is to ignore the words of the very Lord we profess to love and serve.

Perilous Times and the Christian’s Perseverance

The Bible warns of difficult (“perilous,” KJV) times to come:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (2 Tim. 3:1-8, ESV).

Notice what people will love: self, money, and pleasure. Also take note of what they will not love: God and what is good. Pay attention to the common characteristics: proud, ungrateful, unholy, slanderous, without self-control, opposers of truth, etc. Furthermore, many will have the appearance of godliness—but will deny the genuine workings thereof. The admonition here is not to become suspicious, critical, or cynical of people—no! for God still desires for people to repent and not perish (see 2 Pet. 3:9). Rather, the admonition is for the person of God to remain steadfast in the sound doctrine of faith: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (2 Tim. 3:12-14, emphasis added).

The challenge before the man or woman of God is to remain grounded in faith in Christ and to grow ever deeper roots in the teachings of the Scriptures. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

The person of God is to have their eyes fixed on Jesus, and their heart anchored in Him. One must continue walking the straight and narrow path, going neither to the left nor to the right (see Matt. 7:13-14; Jos. 1:7-8), regardless of what choices family, friends, and communities are making.

Again, this does not mean we are to become cynical of others; however, it does mean we are going to have to press in harder in the Lord. The temptations to give in to sin, to cast off convictions, and to conform to society’s ways instead of Christ’s are going to become more difficult.

I believe we have already entered these last days. Our world is quickly changing; people are becoming more calloused; and there is a growing malice against God and what is good. Many churches are abandoning sound doctrine, and finding teachers who will tickle their itching ears. I believe God can still bring revivals and great awakenings, but will the true people of God call out to Him—pleading to Him for such?

I realize teachings and warnings like this are not popular. One of the major reasons I wanted to start my own blog is because such teachings are neglected in so many pulpits, for fear of parishioners leaving. No, this is not an exaggeration. This might or might not be the generation Jesus returns, but how will the church be prepared if pastors neglect such passages? If all we hear is what we want to hear, how will we endure the trials and persecution to come? How can we travel to heaven if our hearts are clinging to the things and passions of this world?

The Bible explicitly warns us of perilous times, and describes some of the things to watch for. Granted, such attitudes and behaviors have existed since the Fall, but only in modern times have each of these become common place and accepted as the norm. To ignore the Bible’s warnings are foolish. To withhold the warnings is wicked. Although uncomfortable, the wise in heart will study the Scriptures and pray that they may persevere, through Christ, to the very end.

A Call for Prayer for the Church

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says, “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matt. 5:13, ESV).

While salt is used to add to flavor, in Jesus’ day it was especially used for preserving. If salt is not doing what it is used for, what good is it? According to Jesus, nothing.

Jesus calls the church “salt.” Our lives and churches, indeed, should add flavor to the lives of those around us. However, just as important is the fact that these should also have a preserving factor. Yet, somehow, like the Israelites of old, churches and believers are yielding to the customs and behaviors of the world and idolatries around them. By and large, many have lost (if ever having possessed at all) a passion for Christ or burden for the lost. One area of idolatry is that of sports (not that sports are inherently wrong). How many of us have loudly and excitedly cheered for our favorite teams, or have felt nearly devastated because of a loss—sometimes even to the point of tears? But when was the last time you were this excited about Christ and what He has done for us? When was the last time you felt devastated because of the knowledge that so many do not know Him and are presently traveling the path to hell?

Although we are told we are are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1Pet. 2:9), and “this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thes. 4:3), it is estimated that seventy to eighty percent of men in the church struggle with pornography—this includes persons in pastoral ministries!

Many churches are not only sympathizing, but even condoning, sinful practices God condemns. Recently I was passing by a church that had on its sign, “Pride” along with rainbow colors. Strange, God condemns pride, as well as homosexuality. Yet, many churches are boasting of both. Understand, God loves gays and lesbians, just as He loves murderers, thieves, liars, gossipers, etc.; nevertheless, He condemns the actions of such. We are told, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Each of these sins are forgivable, for we are also told, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). The church does a great disservice to others when it condones sin of any kind. If we deny the disease (sin), why then do we need the cure (a Savior)?

But let us not ignore the more acceptable sins common in more “conservative” churches and denominations, such as gossip, pride, greed, jockeying for positions of leadership, tale-bearing, partiality, self-sufficiency, lust, various idolatries, and the list could go on.

A great evil condoned in many churches and by many believers is that of abortion. In fact, during a political convention a couple of women clergy smugly applauded this practice along with other advocates. Persons can seek to justify this barbaric practice all they want with religious jargon, but it goes directly against the very character and purposes of God. Part of the purpose for marriage is child-rearing, and this is to be done within the protection of the family unit. All through Scripture God is known as the God of life, and His desire for people is abundant life. Psalm 139:13 tells how God “knits” persons in the womb. Jesus declares, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). God condemned the practice of parents sacrificing their children: “They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin” (Jer. 31:35). To try to justify abortion from a biblical standpoint is sheer absurdity, and to seek to defend it on any basis of “love” is to misunderstand the very purposes of love. Those who seek to defend abortion do not know the character of God.

It is no wonder our society and world are in such a wretched condition, sickened with immorality, violence, and corruption. How can there be preservation if the salt has lost its potency? The modern church is in desperate need of true revival and spiritual awakening. It is not enough for churches to sing praise and worship songs. We need true, deep conviction of sin, and to repent of them. We would do well, and our world would benefit, if we would sincerely follow the example of Nehemiah. He fasted, prayed, and wept as he confessed his sins, along with the sins of his fathers and people:

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: ‘Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws” (Neh. 1:4-7).

We need to pray. We need to confess. Oh, would be to God that He would send great revivals and spiritual awakenings to our present generations!

Besetting Sins and Running the Race

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, KJV)

Imagine a coliseum filled with people charged with enthusiastic energy. Countries from all over the world are representing these track and field events. The runners are taking their places.

“On your mark. Set. Go!” The runners are off. The thunderous cheering of the crowd is nearly deafening. The runners make their first round, then, oh no! One of the runners stumbles and falls. Some in  the stands gasp. Others begin shouting, “Get up! Get up!” Some of the teammates of opposing runners silently applaud the fall. What is the fallen runner to do? Should he just give up and walk off the track? Or, for the love of his country, get back up and finish the race, regardless of what he places?

The New Testament compares the Christian faith and life as a race—a difficult and strenuous race. There are times the follower of Christ gets tired. Some runners, because of besetting sins, stumble and fall. Perhaps you are one of these runners. Humiliated, feeling frustrated and defeated, what are you to do? You can choose to give up and simply walk off the track. This is quite easily done, albeit disgraceful. Or, for love of your King and country (His kingdom), you can choose to get up and continue running. For you see, the goal is not to come in first, second, or third place, because the race has already been won. Victory is already yours, in Christ. Sure, some will gasp at your fall(s), others will mock and applaud. Nevertheless, there is a great cloud of witnesses—runners who have ran before you. Many of whom felt the humiliation of stumbling, such as Adam, Samson, and David. But by the grace and mercies of God, they got back up, in spite of pain and the jeering of their antagonists. They finished their race and entered the land of Glory. They became champions, not because of perfection, but because of the perseverance of their faith in God. These men (and there are many women as well: Sarah, Hannah, Ruth, etc.) are amongst the great cloud of witnesses cheering you on, encouraging you to not give in and to not give up.

Regardless of the stumble, in spite of the fall; no matter the pain, shame, or regret—get up and keep running the race! Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. Get up—for love of God and Country—keep running the race! It is not perfection that will make you a champion, but the perseverance of your faith. And remember, in Christ you are already more than a conqueror (see Rom. 8:37)!

Regret Might Sting, but It Does Not Define

“Amazing grace” almost seems like a cliche, but grace truly is simply amazing! Regardless how degenerate, repulsive, immoral, depraved, and evil one’s sins might be, if he or she will but look to Christ in faith grace comes in like a flood washing all sin away! “Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” Jesus says (see John 3:16). One is not to earn grace, for one cannot earn grace; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” (Eph. 2:8-9, ESV).

“Oh! But you don’t know what I’ve done!” some might say. I do not need to know. What I do know is: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:6-10).

Ah, but we still feel the sting of regret. However, regret, guilt, and shame do NOT define us! Regardless of our past sins or present struggles, for the true believers in Christ, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:1, 38-39).

The writer of Ephesians is not shy in stating what we were: dead in our sins, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath (see 2:1-3). Again, these do not define those who are in Christ. The writer also states that those who are in Christ have been adopted (1:5). In Him, we also have redemption through His blood and forgiveness of sins (v. 7). Furthermore, we have been sealed with His Holy Spirit (v. 13).

Indeed, regret stings, but it does not at all define our new identity in Christ. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Regardless what our thoughts and feelings might say—or what others might say—if we are in Christ, we are completely accepted, and our identity is in Him.

What If? Are We Ready?

The magnificent hope of the Christian is the return of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Before that great day, however, the Scriptures reveal that the times will be extremely difficult, the days will be extremely dark. Love will decrease as lawlessness increases. There will be an abundance of false teachers and a great falling away from the faith. The world will become a very turbulent place. During that time a charismatic, smooth talking leader, filled with absolute evil, will rise.

Although both the Old and New Testaments give strong warnings, many preachers and churches do not want to talk about these. Some do not do so because of the “end times hype” or the times the church has been wrong thinking certain leaders were the Antichrist (for good reason). Other churches neglect talking about these things for fear persons will leave. As a result, many churches are further entertained and encouraged in God’s love, but not prepared for the dreadful times to come.

We do not know the day or hour Jesus will return. It might not be for another thousand years, but it might be much sooner than we think. What if His return is to be in our lifetime or our children’s? Are we ready? Are we prepared to brace against the coming storm? How can we be if pastors are not reminding congregations of the warnings and signs, let alone neglecting any equipping for such times! “We/they will be fine,” some will say. Really? Can we be so cavalier? Jesus warns that false prophets and teachers will so craftily spin their deceptive teachings and wonders that many will be lead astray (Matt. 24:24). Paul warns that people will no longer tolerate sound (true) teaching so they will seek out the false (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

So, will Jesus return soon? I do not know. The signs of the times seem to indicate that His return is drawing ever closer, regardless if it occurs in our generation or not. The pastor’s responsibility is to nourish, protect, warn, and equip the sheep. He is to give the whole counsel of God. What are neglectful pastors going to say to King Jesus when they give account to Him? “But Lord, we kept people from leaving our church. Lord, we did not want to offend anyone.” Only to hear His rebuke, “You kept them from leaving but you also kept them from hearing truth. You did not want to offend them, but it did not bother you to offend Me.”

What if the storm hits during our lifetime? Are we truly ready? What if it hits during the lives of our children or grandchildren? Will they be ready? We might not know just when the storm is going to begin, but it is coming. And the Word of God is a faithful radar giving us signs to watch for. Are we paying attention or just assuming it is not going to hit us because it has not hit for two thousand years now?