Thursday, October 30, 2008

All Things For Good

I have been thinking a lot lately about the goodness of God. In fact, over the past several weeks it seems like every time I listen to a sermon, read a theology book, even bounce around the web to some of my favorite blogs, I keep seeing the same verse over and over again. That verse is:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28
This verse says that if we love God and are His child all things work together for our good. As I have thought about this it occurred to me that not every Christian believes this verse (and some that do take it way out of context making it say something that it does not).

So, what does it mean that everything will work for our good, and what can we take away from this verse to help us in our walk with God? That is what I want to talk about here.

To begin, this verse teaches us several things about the nature and character of God; from this one verse we can see that: God is sovereign; God is omnipotent; God is omniscient; and God is good. Let's look at each of these individually:

God is Sovereign
First, we can see the sovereignty of God in this verse. In order for God to be able to say that all things will work together for our good He must be in control of all things. That God is sovereign means that He is the absolute ruler of the universe; He is completely autonomous and free of any external control - He is King of kings. A.W Tozer wrote:
God's sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all powerful, and absolutely free.
The Psalmist wrote:
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Psalm 115:3

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
Psalm 135:6

In both of these verses we can see that God is sovereign. And we know that if the promise in Romans 8:28 is true (and it is) it is because God is in the heavens and He does whatever He pleases.

God is Omnipotent
The next thing we can see from this promise is that God is omnipotent. To be omnipotent simply means that God is all-powerful - that He possesses absolute power. Again, A.W Tozer wrote:
Sovereignty and omnipotence must go together. One cannot exist without the other. To reign, God must have power, and to reign sovereignly, He must have all power. And that is what omnipotence means, having all power.
Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,
Psalm 62:11

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
Revelation 19:1

Notice that in both of these verses (and there are many more) that the Bible says "power belongs to God." Not only does God need to be sovereign to fulfill the promise of Romans 8:28, He also has to be omnipotent because in order for all things to work for our good all things must be under His ultimate control.

God is Omniscient
Third we see from this verse that God is omniscient, which means that He is all-knowing. To be omniscient means more that just possessing all knowledge, however; that God is omniscient means that He never learns anything new - His knowledge is perfect and complete. Speaking of the omniscience of God, Tony Evans wrote:
The omniscience of God means that there is absolutely nothing He doesn't know; that no informational system or set of data exists anywhere outside of God's knowledge - nothing. He depends on no one outside himself for any knowledge about anything.
And here Tozer writes:
To say that God is omniscient is to say that He possesses perfect knowledge and therefore has no need to learn. But is it more: it is to say that God has never learned and cannot learn.

The Scriptures teach that God has never learned from anyone. "Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, or who instructed him, and taught him the path of judgement, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?"
And because God cannot learn anything, nothing that happens in this world surprises him. We read in Ephesians1:11 that He works all things according to the counsel of His will; therefore we can rest in the knowledge that anything and everything we experience in this life is working toward the ultimate goal of our good, which is that we are conformed to the image of Christ.

God is Good
Finally, this verse shows us the goodness of God. What, you ask is the goodness of God? Tozer explains it this way:
The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men.
Goodness is this attribute of God that is most easily overlooked by the majority of people; many will ask - Christians included - if God is good why does He allow bad things to happen?

Could it be that what we view as bad is really not bad at all? Could it be that what we experience as pain and sorrow is actually something that God is orchestrating to mold us more into the image of His Son? We never stop to consider that the goodness of God can be seen every time we take a breath of air, because He didn't have to give us that air. In fact, that you even awoke this morning is proof that God is good. Remember that God is also holy, and that every time we sin (or even think about sinning for that matter) He would be completely within His rights to destroy us. But He is good, and he is working everything out for the good of His children.

When I began this post I mentioned that lately everything that I hear or read keeps bringing me back to this verse, and I want to end this with just one of the many examples that I have run across lately. This is an excerpt from The Letters of John Newton:
September 28, 1774.
My dear friend,
Certainly, if my ability was equal to my inclination--I would remove your tumor with a word or a touch--I would exempt you instantly and constantly from every inconvenience and pain! But you are in the hands of One who could do all this and more, and who loves you infinitely better than I can do--and yet He is pleased to permit you to suffer! What is the plain lesson? Certainly, that at the present juncture, He, to whom all events and their consequences are present in one view--sees it better for you to have this tumor than to be without it! There is a cause, a need-be for it!

The promise is express, and literally true--that all things, universally and without exception, shall work together for good to those who love God. But they work together! The smallest as well as the greatest events have their place and use--like the movement of a watch, where, though some pieces have a greater comparative importance than others--yet the smallest pieces have their place and use, and are so far equally important, that the whole design of the machine would be obstructed for lack of them.

Some workings and turns of Divine Providence have a more visible, sensible, and determining influence upon the whole tenor of our lives. But the more ordinary occurrences of every day are adjusted, timed, and suited with equal accuracy--by the hand of the same great Artist who planned and executes the whole! We are sometimes surprised to see how much more depends and turns upon these minor events, than we were aware of. Then we admire His skill, and say, "He has done all things well!"

Such thoughts as these, when I am enabled to realize them, in some measure reconcile me to whatever He allots for myself or my friends; and convinces me of the propriety of that verse, which speaks the language of love, as well as authority, "Be still--and know that I am God!"

I sympathize with you in your severe trial, and pray and trust that your Shepherd will be your Physician. No storms, assaults, sieges, or pestilences, can hurt us--until we have filled up His appointed measure of service! And when our work is done, and He has ripened us for glory--it is no great matter by what means He is pleased to call us home to himself!
So the next time you are experiencing a trial in your life remember that our God is sovereign, our God is in complete control, and He is working everything out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Also remember that God does not do something because it is good - it is good because God did it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Christians And Politics

With just a week left until the election I thought this was a good reminder to all of us from Dr. John MacArthur. If you are a Christian keep this in mind as we head to the polls next Tuesday.

Christians & Politics
by Dr. John MacArthur
October 19, 2008

With the nation focused on the November elections, we thought a post on politics might be appropriate. The point of this article is not that we should abstain from any participation in the political process, but rather that we must keep our priorities straight as Christians. After all, the gospel, not politics, is the only true solution to our nation’s moral crisis.

We can’t protect or expand the cause of Christ by human political and social activism, no matter how great or sincere the efforts. Ours is a spiritual battle waged against worldly ideologies and dogmas arrayed against God, and we achieve victory over them only with the weapon of Scripture. The apostle Paul writes: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

We must reject all that is ungodly and false and never compromise God’s standards of righteousness. We can do that in part by desiring the improvement of society’s moral standards and by approving of measures that would conform government more toward righteousness. We do grieve over the rampant indecency, vulgarity, lack of courtesy and respect for others, deceitfulness, self-indulgent materialism, and violence that is corroding society. But in our efforts to support what is good and wholesome, reject what is evil and corrupt, and make a profoundly positive impact on our culture, we must use God’s methods and maintain scriptural priorities.

God is not calling us to wage a culture war that would seek to transform our countries into “Christian nations.” To devote all, or even most, of our time, energy, money, and strategy to putting a facade of morality on the world or over our governmental and political institutions is to badly misunderstand our roles as Christians in a spiritually lost world.

God has above all else called the church to bring sinful people to salvation through Jesus Christ. Even as the apostle Paul described his mission to unbelievers, so it is the primary task of all Christians to reach out to the lost “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me [Christ]” (Acts 26:18; cf. Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9).

If we do not evangelize the lost and make disciples of new converts, nothing else we do for people--no matter how beneficial it seems--is of any eternal consequence. Whether a person is an atheist or a theist, a criminal or a model citizen, sexually promiscuous and perverse or strictly moral and virtuous, a greedy materialist or a gracious philanthropist--if he does not have a saving relationship to Christ, he is going to hell. It makes no difference if an unsaved person is for or against abortion, a political liberal or a conservative, a prostitute or a police officer, he will spend eternity apart from God unless he repents and believes the gospel.

When the church takes a stance that emphasizes political activism and social moralizing, it always diverts energy and resources away from evangelization. Such an antagonistic position toward the established secular culture invariably leads believers to feel hostile not only to unsaved government leaders with whom they disagree, but also antagonistic toward the unsaved residents of that culture--neighbors and fellow citizens they ought to love, pray for, and share the gospel with. To me it is unthinkable that we become enemies of the very people we seek to win to Christ, our potential brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Author John Seel pens words that apply in principle to Christians everywhere and summarize well the believer’s perspective on political involvement:
A politicized faith not only blurs our priorities, but weakens our loyalties. Our primary citizenship is not on earth but in heaven. … Though few evangelicals would deny this truth in theory, the language of our spiritual citizenship frequently gets wrapped in the red, white and blue. Rather than acting as resident aliens of a heavenly kingdom, too often we sound [and act] like resident apologists for a Christian America. … Unless we reject the false reliance on the illusion of Christian America, evangelicalism will continue to distort the gospel and thwart a genuine biblical identity…..

American evangelicalism is now covered by layers and layers of historically shaped attitudes that obscure our original biblical core. (The Evangelical Pulpit [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993], 106-7)
By means of faithful preaching and godly living, believers are to be the conscience of whatever nation they reside in. You can confront the culture not with the political and social activism of man’s wisdom, but with the spiritual power of God’s Word. Using temporal methods to promote legislative and judicial change, and resorting to external efforts of lobbying and intimidation to achieve some sort of “Christian morality” in society is not our calling--and has no eternal value. Only the gospel rescues sinners from sin, death, and hell.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Part 2, Smyrna

The next church that Jesus addresses is the church at Smyrna. The ancient city of Smyrna is known today by the name Izmir, and it is one of the strongest cities in modern Turkey. History tells us that there was a Greek settlement in this area several hundred years before Christ. That Greek colony was captured and destroyed by the Lydians in the 7th century B.C. and the city virtually disappeared. The city was not resettled until early in the 3rd century B.C. when Alexander the Great founded the city known as Smyrna on the shores of the Aegean Sea. The city was located on the western coast of Asia Minor, about 40 miles north of Ephesus. The ancient city of Smyrna lay at the end of a major east-west road, it had a superb natural harbor, and was surrounded by fertile farmland.

Smyrna was known for their pagan worship and they built a temple in 195 B.C. in honor of Dea Roma, the goddess of Rome. The cities leaders were consistently loyal to Rome and because of their years of faithfulness to Rome the city was given the honor in 23 B.C of building a temple to the emperor Tiberius. After the building of this temple the city became the center for the cult of emperor worship, which under the rules of Nero and Domitian became a source of severe persecution for the early Christians.

Smyrna was considered the most beautiful city in Asia, and in spite of the competition between Smyrna and its neighbors, Ephesus and Pergamum, Smyrna called itself the “first city of Asia.” The city streets were laid out in a grid of right angles much like many modern cities today. Smyrna contained many beautiful buildings including a large public library and museum. The Olympic games were held here, and Smyrna even claimed Homer as one of their countrymen.

The name Smyrna means Myrrh, which according to Dr. Vine comes from a root word meaning “bitter.” 1 Myrrh was used as a perfume, a sedative, and also used in the embalming process. Myrrh was the chief export of Smyrna and is probably where the city got its name. You will remember that myrrh was one of the gifts brought to Jesus by the Magi when He was an infant (Matthew 2:11), and was offered again to Jesus when He was on the cross (Mark 15:23), and myrrh was also used in the burial of Jesus (John 19:39). There is an interesting verse in Isaiah that refers to the coming kingdom of Jesus and people bringing Him gifts where, in contrast to the first coming of Jesus, myrrh is mysteriously missing from the list:
All those from Sheba will come; they will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the Lord.
Isaiah 60:6
The thing that I found interesting is that in reference to the second coming of Christ there is no mention of myrrh, I believe, because myrrh is associated with suffering and death. At Jesus' second coming death and suffering will be abolished and since He is coming to reign, myrrh is not mentioned as one of the gifts that will be presented to Him.

This is the second city that Jesus addressed, a poor church undergoing extreme persecution for their faith and the testimony of Jesus Christ. This is what He said to them:
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation  for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”
Revelation 2:8-11
Jesus begins by telling them that He is the first and the last, who was dead and has come to life. We first encountered this phrase in chapter one as one of the descriptions Jesus used for Himself in the vision that He gave to John. This title is one that uniquely identifies Jesus as the risen, exalted, and glorified Lord. By saying that He is the first and the last Jesus is telling the church at Smyrna (and us) that He is God. This title is an Old Testament name for God as we can see from these two verses in Isaiah:
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.”
Isaiah 44:6
“Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.”
Isaiah 48:12
The use of this title shows that Jesus is transcendent; this is, that He is outside of time and space. This is teaching us that, as God, He was here before anything was created, and He will be here after all of creation ceases to be. Jesus also says that He was dead and has come to life again. John MacArthur points out here that this is a divine mystery; that the God who was before all things, and who will be after all things could be dead. He says:
How can the ever-living One who transcends time, space, and history die? Peter reveals the answer in 1 Peter 3:18: Christ was ‘put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.’ He died in His incarnate humanness as the perfect sacrifice for sin, but now has come to life (by His resurrection) and lives forever ‘according to the power of an indestructible life’ (Heb. 7:16; cf. Rom. 6:9). 2
This title should have brought great comfort to the persecuted church in Smyrna. Jesus is reminding them here that He was persecuted to death, but now He is alive forevermore, and that as long as they trust in Him, even though they are persecuted, and may even be put to death, they have no reason to fear because He has overcome death and lives forevermore.

Jesus tells them that He knows their tribulation and their poverty, but that they are really rich. The word translated tribulation here is the Greek word thlípsis, and it means “to crush, press, compress, squeeze, [or] break.” 3 These people were being crushed, squeezed, and compressed to the point of breaking for their faithfulness to Jesus. As I mentioned above, Smyrna was the center for emperor worship, and as part of this emperor worship every citizen was required once a year to bow down and declare, “Caesar is lord.” Since the Christians would not and could not do this the persecution against them increased to the point that they were losing their property, their jobs, their families, and even their lives. Polycarp, who was a pupil of the apostle John, and the bishop of Smyrna, was martyred in 156 A.D. when he refused to deny Christ and bow to Caesar. His last words were, “Eighty-six years I have been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” and then they burned him at the stake. This is the persecution that was being experienced by the church at Smyrna.

The word poverty here is the Greek word ptōcheía, which means not just to be poor, but refers to someone who is in “abject poverty, possessing absolutely nothing.” 4 Dr Zodhiates says this word “indicates complete helplessness.” 5 And Dr. Vine defines the word as “destitution.” 6 The use of this word here tells us a lot about the church in Smyrna; these people had absolutely nothing. They had lost everything because of their faith in Jesus. They were not just poor; they were completely helpless and destitute.

Jesus told them that He knew their poverty, but He said that they were really rich. What Jesus is saying is that even though you may be poor in this life, you are actually rich in what really matters - the grace of God. And even if the persecution they were suffering resulted in their death they would be better off because they had Heaven to gain. This is a great paradox of the Bible; those who have the riches of heaven often are the poorest in the things of this world, as we can see in the letter of James:
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
Revelation 2:5
Warren Wiersbe says of this passage:

[T]hey were rich! They lived for eternal values that would never change, riches that could never be taken away… In fact, their suffering for Christ only increased their riches.” 7
The church at Smyrna was suffering severe persecution and poverty, but they were not being asked to endure anything that Jesus had not already endured for them (and us), and to comfort them look at how He addressed this church, He said that He was dead and has come to life. In other words, Jesus knows what they are suffering at the hands of the world, but He has overcome the world, and because He died but is now alive, so can they.

But not only were the Christians in Smyrna being persecuted by the government, they were also being persecuted by the local Jewish population. Notice in verse nine Jesus says He knows, “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”

There was a large Jewish community in Smyrna, and since the Roman government accepted the Jewish religion the Jews were exempted from emperor worship. But the Jews did not accept the Christians any more than the Romans did, so both the Jews and Gentiles were attacking the church. John MacArthur points out here that Jesus called the Jews a “synagogue of Satan” because:
[T]hose Jews who hated and rejected Jesus Christ were just as much Satan’s followers as pagan idol worshipers.”8
Jesus calls what the Jews were doing “blasphemy.” The word translated blasphemy is the Greek word blasphēmía, which means:
[V]erbal abuse against someone which denotes the very worst type of slander… with false witnesses; wounding someone’s reputation by evil reports, evil speaking.”9
This is exactly what the Jews of Smyrna were doing to the Christians there, John MacArthur says that the Jews:
[C]ommonly accused Christians of cannibalism (based on a misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper), immorality (based on a perversion of the holy kiss with which believers greeted each other), breaking up homes (when one spouse became a Christian and the other did not, it often caused conflict), atheism (because, … Christians rejected the pagan pantheon of deities), and political disloyalty and rebellion (because Christians refused to offer the required sacrifices to the emperor). Hoping to destroy the Christian faith, some of Smyrna’s wealthy, influential Jews reported these blasphemous, false allegations to the Romans. These haters of the gospel were a synagogue of Satan, meaning they assembled to plan their attack on the church, thus doing Satan’s will. They may have claimed to be a synagogue of God, but they were just the opposite.10
After telling them that He knows what they are going through, Jesus then tells the church at Smyrna not to fear what they are about to suffer. He tells them that some of them will be cast into prison, and that some of them will be tested and face tribulation. Jesus also says something rather interesting here; He says that they will suffer these things for “ten days.” There are many different interpretations of this phrase: some believe that ten days is a reference to ten different waves of persecution that the church would have to endure, some believe that it is a reference to a Roman law that allowed a person to only be held in prison without a trial for ten days, others say that this is talking about not days but years, saying that Jesus was preparing the church for a ten year period of persecution, and some view it as a literal ten days. We will look at this more closely after we have looked at all seven of these churches and look at these messages as a history of the New Testament Church, but for now let’s just say that when Jesus said that they would endure this trial for ten days He was referring to a brief period of time.

The command that they are given is that they are to not fear what they are about to suffer. Why are they to not be afraid? Because there trust was in Jesus, the One who was dead and is alive, and who had over come the world (John 16:33). They were told to “be faithful until death” and that by doing so they would be rewarded. The command here to “Be faithful” is, in the Greek, a Present Imperative Active verb, which means that they are to keep on being faithful, or to keep proving their faithfulness to the point of death. In other words they were to be willing to die rather than be unfaithful to their profession of faith in Christ.

Then as a reword for not being afraid and for remaining faithful to the point of death Jesus promises them the “crown of life” as a reward. The word translated crown here is the word stéphanos, which is the victor’s crown. Dr. Zodhiates says that this word is:
[N]ot used of the kingly crown but of the crown of victory in games, of civic worth, military valor, nuptial joy, festival gladness.11
What Jesus is saying here then is that by being faithful to death they will be the victor and will be rewarded with eternal life; if they are martyred for their faith they will be ushered into His presence, they will inherit eternal life, and they will be wearing the crown of the victorious.

Jesus ends His message once again with the phrase “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” With this statement Jesus is letting us know that the message that He has just delivered to the church in Smyrna was not for them alone, but has application for all of the churches, as well as for us today. Jesus says that those who heed this message and overcome will “not be hurt by the second death.” Revelation 20:14 teaches us that the lake of fire is the second death, and we are told here that if we remain faithful we will not experience it. John MacArthur tells us:
Though persecuted believers may suffer the first (physical) death, they will never experience the second death.” And to make sure we get the point he adds, “Not is the strongest negative the Greek language can express.12
And Warren Wiersbe concludes this section with these words to all Christians living today:
It costs to be a dedicated Christian, in some places more than others. As end-time pressures increase, persecution will also increase; and God’s people need to be ready (1 Peter 4:12ff). The world may call us “poor Christians,” but in God’s sight we are rich! 13

1 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:423). Nashville: T. Nelson.
2 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (69). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2347). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:8). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
5 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G4432). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
6 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:478). Nashville: T. Nelson.
7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:8). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
8 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (71). Chicago: Moody Press.
9 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G988). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
1 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (71). Chicago: Moody Press.
11 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G4735). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
12 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (79). Chicago: Moody Press.
13 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:8). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

Next time we will look at the church at Pergamum.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The ESV Study Bible - It's Finally Here

After months of waiting I finally received my new ESV Study Bible today. And since I have blogged about how I was looking forward to its release, I thought I would share this with my readers.

Here is the Bible as it came from CBD. Notice how they had it wrapped in plastic to protect it from the elements.

This next picture is the box that it came in. My only disappointment so far is that this not not the quality of a box that I would expect with a top of the line Bible (but I don't anticipate this getting much "box time" so I guess that's okay)

Out of the box and ready to go.

In case you wondered, this Bible is HUGE! This is probably not the Bible that you will want to carry with you everywhere you go, but this will find a permanent place on my desk in my stack of essential Bibles - The Bibles that I use everyday when I study.

This next picture is to give you an idea of just how big this Bible really is.

These are the Bibles that I use on a daily basis; from top to bottom they are:

  1. My ultrathin Holman Christian Standard Bible in bonded leather - I really do like this translation. I picked this up when I was looking for a replacement for my old NASB and I still read and refer to it regularly.
  2. My thinline, largeprint, updated New American Standard Bible in bonded leather - this one was also picked up as a possible replacement to number 3 below. I love the large print and this is my go-to Bible when I just want to sit and read.
  3. My NASB New Open Bible in genuine leather - This Bible was a gift from my mom and it was my main Bible for about 15 years. It is full of personal notes and it was time to be replaced (although I still use it regularly at home)
  4. This is my main Bible now. It is a wide margin ESV in genuine leather that I picked up right after Christmas last year. This is now my daily Bible and it has proven to be a great replacement for my old NASB. (and yes, it is now full of notes too)
  5. The ESV Study Bible in premuim calfskin leather (it smells great) - look at the size of that thing.
  6. Finally, my hardback NJKV MacArthur Study Bible. I would have gotten this in NASB, but when I bought mine the NASB wasn't yet available. This is really the only study Bible I have used for the past several years (I have never really used the study notes in my New Open Bible NASB) and I highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for a good all-around study Bible (although I would get it in NASB)
Okay, now I am going to go read. Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Doctrines of Grace

Over the past few weeks I have been teaching the Doctrines of Grace in one of the Bible studies that I am in. While doing research I discovered that one of my favorite preachers was teaching on the same subject in his church. I have listened to all five of these sermons and I highly recommend them to anyone who what a better understanding of what it is that Calvinists really believe.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Deeper 2008

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Deeper Conference that was put on by Living Waters and Way of the Master. I can't even begin to express what a blessing this conference was; imagine two days of sitting under the teaching of Paul Washer, Ken Ham, Marshal Foster, Ray Comfort, Johnny Hunt, Emeal Zwayne, Kirk Cameron, and Todd Friel, and then on top of that, to be led in worship by Scott Krippayne. It was an awesome weekend!

Here are some of the highlights:

The conference began on Friday afternoon with a message by Ray Comfort entitled Gethsemane, the Missing Link to the Cross. In this message Ray showed us how Peter missed his Gethesmane experience because he slept when he should have been praying and as a result he denied his Lord. Ray reminded us that when it comes to sharing the Gospel our fear is in direct proportion to our pride. He also stressed the importance of having compassion for the lost, but warned us that compassion will cost us something: our time; our money; our reputations. So let me ask you, how well are you sharing your faith? If you're not is it because of fear - or is it because of pride?

Next up was Emeal (E.Z.) Zwayne, who spoke on the importance of cultivating the mind in a message he entitled Mind Matters. He used as his text Mark 12:28-34 with his key verse being verse 30, which says:
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Mark 12:30
From this verse he zeroed in on what it means to love God with your mind ,and he talked about the importance of theology and apologetics in the life of the Christian. He talked about how important it is that we study theology and the Bible because we cannot love what we don't know, and the more we know about our God the more we can (and will) love Him.

The next speaker was Johnny Hunt, whose church hosted the conference. Dr. Hunt spoke on the Sufficiency of the Bible. He reminded us that God has exalted His word above His name and talked about the importance of knowing and obeying the Bible. The more we feed on God's word the hungrier for His word we will become; God's word has the ability to both satisfy us and make us crave more at the very same time.

Following Dr. Hunt was one of the highlights of the conference for me, a message by one of my favorite preachers - Paul Washer. Paul Washer spoke for about an hour and fifteen minutes on the Essential Truths of the Cross. His text for this message was Romans 3:23-27, which says:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
Romans 3:23-27
In his message he reminded us that the cross is the Gospel and that the cross is the motivation for the Christian life, and he exhorted us to know the Gospel because we cannot preach what we do not know.

After this was the first breakout session of the conference where I got to hear Todd Friel explain how we can prove that the Bible is Supernatural by Following the Scarlet Thread. In this message Todd explained how the types and shadows of the Old Testament all point to Christ, who is the fulfillment of these "fuzzy pictures" we see in the Levitical system.

This was followed by a worship session that included music by Scott Krippayne and Scripture reading by Paul Washer.

Friday night ended with a message by Kirk Cameron entitled Apologetics and the Gospel. In this message Kirk talked about how Christians need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us, but at the same time we need to be careful that we do not allow our arguments for the validity of our faith to take the place of the Gospel; we need to answer the questions of people who genuinely want an answer, but not at the expense of the Gospel. In witnessing we need to always keep an eye on the cross, and as we answer the questions that are sure to come we should use them as a springboard to get conversation back to the Gospel and the cross.

On Saturday morning we reconvened at 9:00 am for another wonderful day which began with more praise and worship led by Scott Krippayne. I had never heard Scott before this weekend and I was very impressed. He is a very tallented singer and song writer and he was the perfect choice to lead the worship at the conference.

Todd Friel had the first general session on Saturday morning, and in this message he picked right up where he left off the night before with a message on Biblical Covenants. This was my favorite message of the conference and Todd ended the message with Communion, a Covenant meal. This was without a doubt the most meaningful and moving communion service that I have ever been a part of and if you ever get the chance to hear Todd speak on this subject I highly recommend that you go - you will be glad you did.

Todd's session was followed by a General session by Marshal Foster, who I must admit I had not heard of before this conference. in his message, which was on history, he stressed the fact that there is only one history, and that history is about Jesus. He had a very interesting message and I am looking forward to hearing more of his teaching in the future.

After lunch the final general session was a message by Ken Ham. This was probably my second favorite message of the conference (there were no bad messages). In this message Dr. Ham showed the importance of a literal interpretation of Genesis chapters 1-11. If we allegorize these chapters, as many modern Christians are prone to do, we end up losing the essential doctrines of the New Testament since they all have their root in these first 11 chapters of the Bible. He also pointed put the the real issue is Biblical authority; if we disregard what God said in Genesis 1-11 how can we then say that the rest of His word is accurate.

Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for the closing session due to time constraints and a 7 hour drive to get home, and if the final session was anything like the ones I did get to attend, it was my loss. This was a great weekend , it was a great conference, and my only regret is that my wife wasn't able to attend with me, but they are already planning Deeper 2009 and God willing we will both be able to attend next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Part 1, Ephesus

The Message to the Church at Ephesus.

The first church we will encounter on our journey is the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a port city in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The city sat at the mouth of the Cayster River between Smyrna to the north and Miletus to the south. The location of the city made it the most favored seaport in the Roman province of Asia, and it was the most important trade center west of Tarsus.

Ionian Greeks first colonized Ephesus about 1000 years before Christ. In 560 B.C. Croesus of Lydia conquered the city and moved it from the northern slopes of Mt. Pinion to the plain south of the Artemission. Lysimachus, a general and successor of Alexander the Great, moved the city to higher ground in 287 B.C. because of the danger of flooding.

During the time of the Roman Empire it bore the title of “The finest and greatest metropolis of Asia.” The city was distinguished for containing the Temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Ephesians took great pride in this temple, which in Paul’s day was supported by 127 columns 197 feet high. During this time period the city promoted the worship of Diana by minting coins that had the inscription “Diana of Ephesus” inscribed o them. The silversmiths in Ephesus were so influential in fact that they stirred up a riot against Paul in the city because they feared that the spread of the Christianity that he was preaching would undermine their business.

Although Pergamum was the capitol city of the Asian province under Roman rule, the city of Ephesus was the largest in Asia Minor with an estimated population of 300,000 people. It occupied a vast area and became the greatest commercial city of the Roman province of Asia.

Many Jews took up residence in Ephesus and the gospel spread to this region almost immediately after Pentecost. Paul visited Ephesus on his second and third missionary journey’s and when he departed the city he left Timothy there as the pastor of the church. Tradition tells us that after Timothy the Apostle John was the pastor at Ephesus and that he lived here toward the end of the first century. It was probably while pastoring the church in Ephesus that John was arrested for preaching the gospel and sentenced to exile on the island of Patmos where he wrote this letter.

With that as background let’s look now at Jesus’ message to this church:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Revelation 2:1-7 (NASB)

The message begins with an instruction to John to write a message to the angel of the church in Ephesus. The word angel is the Greek word ággelos, which simply means messenger. It is possible that there is an angel assigned to each church, but the most obvious meaning would be that the message was directed to the pastor of the church since it is the pastor who will be able to influence the congregation to make the changes dictated by Jesus in the message. John MacArthur reminds us that:
Although [ággelos] can mean angel—and does throughout the book—it cannot refer to angels here because angels are never leaders in the church. Most likely, these messengers are the 7 key elders representing each of those churches.1
Jesus begins His message to the church in Ephesus the same way He will begin all seven of these messages, by identifying Himself using part of John’s vision from chapter 1. As we will see here, and in the other six messages as well, Jesus uses the description of Himself that best fits the situation of each individual church. At Ephesus Jesus identifies Himself as “The One who holds the stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”

We see in chapter one that the stars represent the angels, or messengers, of the churches, and the lampstands represent the churches themselves. So what is it that Jesus is saying here about Himself that the church in Ephesus needs to know?

In the Bible the right hand always represents power; by Jesus saying that He holds the ministers of the churches in His right hand He is saying that they are under His power. By saying that He is the One who walks among the lampstands He is letting them know that He is intimately aware of everything that is happening in each church. In other words:
As its sovereign ruler, He has the authority to address the church.2
Beginning then in verse two Jesus says “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” Here we see Jesus telling them that they are doing good things; they are persevering, they don’t tolerate evil men, they test those who claim to be apostles and are not, and they are enduring for Jesus without growing weary.

There are several words in this brief passage that it would be of benefit for us to look at more closely. The first of these is the word know; Jesus told this church that He knows.

The word know comes from the Greek word oída, which means:
to know intuitively or instinctively.3
John MacArthur tells us that this word,"refers to complete and full knowledge." He then goes on to say:
The Lord of the church knows everything there is to know about the church—both good and bad. Such perfect knowledge is evident in each letter as the Lord condemns and commends the churches.4
We see this as we move through this passage; Jesus tells the church in Ephesus that He knows their deeds, their toil, their perseverance, that they cannot endure evil men, and that they put to the test those who claim to be apostles and are not.

The Greek word translated deeds here is the word érgon, which means, work. The Greek word for toil is the word kópos, which means, wearisome effort, and the word perseverance here is translated from the Greek word hupomoné̄, which means to bear up under or to endure. Dr. Zodhiates says of hupomoné̄ that it:
refers to that quality of character which does not allow one to surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial.5
So what Jesus is saying here is that He has in intimate knowledge of the work that the Ephesian Christians are doing, He knows that they are giving everything to the cause of the gospel and becoming weary in the process, but that they are enduing and have a quality of character that will not allow them to surrender or give up. He knows what they are doing, and He is commending them for it.

He also tells them that He knows that they do not endure evil men and that they test those who claim to be apostles and are not. In other words, this was a church that practiced church discipline. If there was sin in their midst they were quick to deal with it (see Matthew 18:15-17). They also were on guard for false teachers and they would test those who claimed to be apostles. Paul had warned the Ephesians decades earlier that they were to be on guard for false teachers:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
Acts 20:28-31(NASB)
And that is exactly what they continued to do. From all appearances they are the perfect church, and Jesus commends them for their effort, for their obedience, for their hard work, and for their perseverance. Then He says, but I do have something against you. In verse four we see the problem with the Ephesians was not what they were doing, it was with why they were doing it. Jesus said in verse four “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” This church was doing the right things, but they were doing them for the wrong reasons, and Jesus let them know that their motives were in the wrong place. Warren Wiersbe tells us:
They displayed ‘works... labor... and patience,’ but these qualities were not motivated by a love for Christ.6
So what does Jesus mean when He says that they had left their first love? First of all the word translated first here is the Greek word pró̄tos, which means “Foremost.”7 Dr Wiersbe says that first love is:
...the devotion to Christ that so often characterizes the new believer: fervent, personal, uninhibited, excited, and openly displayed. It is the ‘honeymoon love’ of the husband and wife.8
Jesus is telling them (and us) that they have lost this passion and that they are working out of a sense of duty, not because of their love for Him; they have left their first love.

In his commentary on Revelation Dr. J Vernon McGee tells this story to illustrate what Jesus is telling us here, he says:
The story is told of two girls who worked in a cotton mill. They were friends, but when one of them quite working there, the lost touch with each other. Finally they met one day on the street. The working girl asked her friend, ‘Are you still working?’

‘No’ she said, ‘I got married!’

When that girl worked in the mill, she watched to clock, and every evening when five o’ clock came, she had here coat on and was on her way out. It was hard work, and she didn’t like it. Now she is married and she says that she has quit working.

Well, if you could look at her life, you wouldn’t think that she has quit working. She gets up earlier than ever before to prepare breakfast for her husband and to pack his lunch. She throws her arms around him as she tells him good-bye. All day long she is busy cleaning the house and washing clothes and caring for two little brats who are two little angels to her because they are hers. Then when five o’clock comes, she doesn’t put on her coat and leave; she starts cooking dinner. About six o’clock here comes her husband. She is right there at the door to throw her arms around him and tell him how much she has missed him that day. When a man comes home in the evening, open the door, and hears a voice from upstairs or from the rear of the house calling, ‘is that you?’ he knows the honeymoon is over. But this girl is in love. Her husband’s workday is over, but hers has only gotten started. She serves dinner to her husband and feed the children. Then she washes the dishes, put the children to bed – and that’s not easy – and works around getting things ready for her husband for the next day. I tell you, she is weary when she finally gets into bed – but she is not working anymore, she says! Why? Because she is in love. That’s the difference.”9
This story, while funny in our day, is the perfect example of what Jesus was talking about here. The girl in the story was working harder than she ever had, but it didn’t seem like work to her because she was working for the one she loved. This is the attitude that Jesus wants us to have as we carry out His work, and this is exactly what he was warning the church at Ephesus about. They were no longer working because of their love for Him; they were working out of a sense of duty. A.T. Robertson tell us that they:
...had remained orthodox, but had become unloving.”10
There is one more thing that I would like to point out here before we look at what Jesus told them to do to correct this problem. Please note that Jesus did not say that they had lost their first love, but that they had left their first love. They had moved away from their love for Christ, and their love for Him was not lost - it could be gotten back - and Jesus, in the next verse, is going to tell them how.

In verse 5 Jesus says, “remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.” Here is a three-step plan for recovering your love for Jesus - for returning to your first love:
  1. Remember from where you have fallen.
  2. Repent.
  3. Do the things that you used to do.
These were the three things Jesus told the church in Ephesus to do to regain their first love, but they are just as applicable to us today as they were to them at the end of the first century. Let’s look at these one at a time:

Remember from where you have fallen

The word remember here is the Greek word mnēmoneú, which means:
To remember, call to mind, bear in mind. To exercise memory, be mindful of.11
This word is Present Imperative Active verb in the Greek, which means that we are to remember and keep on remembering. Here we are told that we are to remember from where we have fallen. In other words, we are:
To remember what we have lost and cultivate a desire to regain that close communion once again.”12

Next we are told that we need to repent. The word repent means to change direction; it means that if you are traveling in one direction you turn around and travel in the opposite direction. What we are being told here is that we need to turn around and go back to loving Jesus. We need to confess our sin to God, and not loving Jesus is a sin (see Deuteronomy 6:5), and we are to go back to doing the things we did when we were first born again - when we were first in love with Jesus.

Do the deeds you did at first

This is telling us that we need to repeat what we used to do when we were in a close loving relationship with Jesus. Remember when, as a new believer, and you couldn’t get enough fellowship with Jesus. You would spend hours in prayer and reading the Bible just wanting to spend time with Him and learn from Him. You were excited to be a Christian and to share your faith, not out of a sense of duty, but out of love for Jesus. This is what we are being told to repeat here. If you do again the things that you did when you were in love with Jesus the love will return.

This is good advice, and it doesn’t just apply to our love relationship with Jesus. These same three principles apply to our marriages as well; if you feel like you have fallen out of love with your spouse or that you have been taking them for granted just follow these three steps and you can regain your first love there as well.

Next, after telling them what they needed to do to correct the problem, Jesus says, “or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.” Remember that we saw back in chapter one that the lampstand represents the church, so what Jesus is telling them is that if they don’t repent and do the things that He has just outlined here He will remove the church from Ephesus. History shows us that this is exactly what happened here; they did not repent and the influence of this church disappeared. Warren Wiersbe says:
In spite of the privileges it had enjoyed, the church of Ephesus was in danger of losing its light! The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be… The glorious city of Ephesus is today but a heap of stones and no light is shining there.” 13
Please note here as well that when Jesus said that He would come to them He was not referring to His second coming, but to His coming to this church in judgment. This was a personal warning to the church in Ephesus, and as we will see shortly, it is a warning to us as well.

Then in verse six Jesus tells them something else that they were doing that pleased Him; He said; “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” I am going to pass over this verse at this point because I want to deal with the Nicolaitans in depth when we get to the message to Pergamum. What you need to see right now though is that Jesus is praising the Ephesians because they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, just like He does.

The message to the church in Ephesus ends with these words, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”

When Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear” it is the equivalent in our day of saying “if the shoe fits” and it is as if Jesus is telling us to listen to what He has just said and if it applies to us we need to heed His warning and do what He said to do. In this case, if you examine yourself and see that you have left your first love you are to remember from where you have fallen, repent, and do again the things that you did at the first.

This was the message to the church at Ephesus, and it is the message to us as well as we can see by the inclusion of the word churches. Jesus directed this message to the church at Ephesus, but in His conclusion of the message Jesus is clear that this warning is for all Christians and is not limited to the Ephesian church alone. As we move through these seven messages you will see that Jesus ends each message in this manner.

Jesus also makes a promise in each of these messages to the one who overcomes. There are three schools of thought as to what it means to be an overcomer:
  • The first of these says that every believer is an overcomer, and that all genuine believers will overcome. That if a person fails in these any of these areas and doesn’t repent it is proof that they were never a genuine believer and that they never experienced genuine salvation.
  • The second says that if a believer is not faithful and obedient not only will they not experience the promised blessing, but will actually forfeit their salvation.
  • Third is the view that this does not have anything to do with salvation at all but that it is actually talking about rewards, and that the believer who does not overcome will remain in their salvation but will suffer the loss of rewards.
According to Dr’s Radmacher, Allen, and House in Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary :
None of these is without difficulties, but the correct interpretation would be the one that most consistently handles the details of all seven “overcomer” passages. This means the last view is most likely. Some promises to the overcomer are clearly conditional and cannot be predicated of all believers.14
They go on to say:
If every believer is an ‘overcomer’ the reader would expect the phrase ‘he who believes’ rather than ‘he who overcomes,’ which suggests some distinction between believing and overcoming. The singular, ‘he who overcomes’ implies that the victory is made on an individual basis, that not all Christians attain it. ‘A command that everyone keeps is superfluous and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense.’ (Fuller). There is no point in warning Christians about something they will all do. There is no motivation to obey the warnings if every believer receives the ‘reward.’ There would be no true reward. 15
The Greek word that is translated here as overcomes is the word nikáō, which means:
To be victorious, prevail… to be pure… to overcome, conquer, subdue.” 16 In the Greek this word is a Present Active Participle, which means that the overcomer is one who experiences “continuous victory.”17
Lastly then we see the promise; Jesus says that the one who overcomes He will “grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.” The tree of life appears to be a reference to a tree that was in the Garden of Eden. We can see this in Genesis chapter two:
Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:9 (NASB)
We have every reason to believe that this is the same tree of life referred to in this verse. Adam was given the right to eat of this tree, but he lost that right in the Fall. We know that this tree will reappear in the New Jerusalem, and Jesus is promising here, to the one who overcomes, that they will be able to once again eat from the tree that mankind lost the right to eat from because of sin.

E.F. Palmer points out that the reference to the tree of life could have a more personal implication to the church at Ephesus as well. He writes:
It is also an interesting sign to the Ephesians in another way. Ephesian coins of this period contain engravings of a sacred tree used in the nature worship of first-century Ephesus. The Christians at Ephesus are assured of a source of life that originates from a deeper reality than that which the cultic nature goddess images of their city coins are able to confer. This letter has found the Ephesians where they are, and has called them to return to the source of their life, to the good beginning where they started.”18
So what is the message for us today? J. Ramsey Michaels, in his commentary on the book of Revelation puts it this way:
The lesson for all who value a work ethic is that such an ethic must be motivated by generosity, love and compassion, or it is worthless. The message to Ephesus is a message to Christians today as well. It is doubtful that the threat of the risen Jesus to come to you and remove your lampstand from its place was directed only to the Ephesian angel. More likely it is implicit in all seven messages, if those who “have ears” in all the churches fail to listen to what is said (Revelation 2:7). Quite simply, if they—if we—do not pay attention, we will lose our identity and cease to exist.19
In other words, if we don’t return to our first love we can be assured that we will loose our influence for Christ in this world, just like the Ephesian church ultimately lost theirs.

1 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 1:20). Nashville: Word Pub.
2 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (56). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3608). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
4 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (59). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G5281). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
7 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G4413). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
8 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
9 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1Corinthians –Revelation Pg.902. Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
10 Robertson, A.T. (c1932, c1960). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Volume VI Pg 299. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
11 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3421). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
12 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
13 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
14 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary (Re 2:7). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
15 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary (Re 2:7). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
16 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary : New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3528). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
17 Robertson, A.T. (c1932, c1960). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Volume VI Pg 300. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
18 Palmer, E. F., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 35: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 35: 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (126). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
19 Michaels, J. R. (1997). Vol. 20: Revelation. The IVP New Testament commentary series (Re 2:8). Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press.

Next week I will post the second letter - the message to the church at Smyrna.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Is Salvation?

Here is a brief audio clip from Tim Conway (the pastor, not the comedian) where he answers the question, What is Salvation? He gives a very good answer and this is well worth the 12 minutes it takes to listen.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Introduction

My wife and I are in an Adult Bible Fellowship (ABF) at our church. This is basically a group that meets every week to study, verse-by-verse, through a book of the Bible. The class is led by an 86 year old retired Pastor and seminary professor, so the discussion tend to be more on the scholorly side most of the time (which I just love!).

We have been in this class for almost 3 years and in that time we have studied many different books, including 1 & 2 Peter, Hebrews, and Ephesians in the New Testament, and we have also studied many different topics from the Old Testament. Currently we are studying the book a Revelation, and since I have been teaching Revelation in another Bible study for about 2 years I have quite a few notes compiled for the book. So as we work our way through chapters 2 and 3 in our ABF class I thought I would post here what I wrote when I was teaching through these chapters several months ago. I will do this over several posts because I still have other things that I want to do here in addition to this. So with that, here is the intorduction to Revelation chapters two and three - the message to the churches.

The Message To The Churches - Introduction

As we go through these seven letters we can apply these messages in three ways:

  1. As describing the condition of the seven individual churches that they are addressed to.
  2. As the current condition of any individual Christian or church congregation. In other words, examining yourself honestly will show that you fit the description of one of these churches, and the same is true for any local church throughout church history.
  3. As a progressive time line of the Church from Pentecost to the end of time. In other words, the church at Ephesus is a picture of the early church right after Pentecost, and the church at Laodicea is a picture of the church at the end of the church age.

As we go through chapters two and three we will concentrate on the first two, and then when we have looked at all seven of the letters we will go back and look in detail at number three.

Chapter two contains the first four messages that Jesus gave to His churches. Remember the instructions that John was given back in chapter 1 where he was told to “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches” (Revelation 1:11). Here, in these next two chapters we are going to see the messages that Jesus gave to each of the churches that were listed in verse 11 of chapter 1.

One important thing to remember as we study the instructions to these seven churches is that even though the individual messages were addressed to a specific church all seven churches received the entire letter, so all seven churches would have read the message not only addressed to them, but also the messages addressed to the other six as well. The reason that this is important is that just because the message was addressed to the church at Ephesus, for example, doesn’t mean that it was not applicable to Smyrna as well. And it also means that even though the message was sent to these seven churches there is practical application for us in each of these messages also.

Additionally keep in mind that these seven churches were not the only churches in Asia Minor at the time, and they were not the only churches experiencing what Jesus describes in these messages. Jesus specifically chose these seven churches for a reason - they represent a complete picture of Christ’s church; every congregation and every individual Christian can find themselves somewhere in this list. As we will see as we study this book, the number seven is used over and over again to indicate completion or perfection. In this case, what Jesus was doing by choosing these seven churches was giving us a complete picture of His Church.

Each of these seven letters has several things in common. As we study we will see that:

  1. In each letter Jesus declares that He knows their situation and their deeds
  2. In each letter there is an exhortation
  3. In each letter there is a description of Jesus taken from John’s vision in chapter one and it is directly related to the message for that church
  4. In each letter there is a commendation (except Laodicea) a rebuke (except Smyrna & Philadelphia) and a plea to hear and heed the message.
  5. In each letter there is a promise to the one who overcomes.

These seven churches, according to Dr. Halley, were connected by a great triangular highway. The churches are listed in order following this highway in a clockwise direction starting at Ephesus and ending in Laodicea. As you would leave Ephesus and head north along this highway you would come to Smyrna and then to Pergamum, which was about 100 miles north of Ephesus. Leaving Pergamum and heading southeast you would next come to Thyatira, then to Sardis, Philadelphia and then Laodicea, which was about 100 miles east of Ephesus.

Our outline for Chapter two is as follows:

  1. The message to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
  2. The message to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)
  3. The message to the church at Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17)
  4. The message to the church at Thyatira (Revelation2:18-29)

As I said above, we will look at each of these messages individually and in detail, so I encourage you, over the next few days, to open your Bible to Revelation chapters two and three and read through these chapters to get a feel for what these messages say and I will post the message to the church in Ephesus in a few days.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lame Abortion Arguments

Have you ever heard someone say that they are personally against abortion but that abortion is a religious issue and that even though it is against their personal religious convictions they are still pro-choice? Well the guys over at Way of the Master Radio put together these 2 clips to illustrate just how ridiculous that kind of logic really is.

So the next time someone tells you that abortion is a personal, religious issue show them just how inconsistent they are being.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Declare What God Has Done

"Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."
Luke 8:39a
In Luke chapter eight we read the story of a demon possessed man who was healed by Jesus. The demons have been cast out of him, and in verse 35 we see the man who just a few verses before was naked and living among the tombs now sitting at Jesus' feet and in his right mind. The people of the region are terrified and they ask Jesus to depart (which is the reaction people have when they are confronted with the holiness of God) and this formerly demon possessed man begged Jesus to let him go with Him. But Jesus sent him back to his home to proclaim what God had done for him.

This is a pretty interesting story, and one I'm sure that we have all heard many times before, but have you ever stopped long enough to think about what Jesus told this man to do and about the implications that this has for us? Every Christian, myself included, would love nothing more than to spend our whole lives with Jesus away from the day to day routine of our lives. How wonderful it would be just to spend all day at His feet in fellowship and learning directly from Him. But that is not why Jesus saved us. Sure, there will be times when we get to come alone and be with Jesus where we can pray and read His word, but that is not what we were saved for; we were saved so that we could go back to our homes, to our families, to our friends, to our coworkers, and tell them what God has done for us.

This is what the formerly demon possessed man in Luke chapter eight did; look at what the end of verse 39 says:
And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Luke 8:39b
So how are you doing? Are you proclaiming to all those around you how much Jesus has done for you? If not, why not, this is what Jesus has commanded us to do.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Nature Of True Repentance - Part 2

In part one of this series we talked about what true repentance is not. This time we will look at the positive side and see what true repentance is, and once again I will be quoting from Thomas Watson's book The Doctrine of Repentance - a book that I highly recommend.

Watson begins:
Repentance is a grace of God's Spirit whereby a sinner in inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.
He then goes on to say that true repentance is made up of six parts and that if any one of these is missing repentance has lost its virtue; these six ingredients are:

  1. Sight of sin
  2. Sorrow for sin
  3. Confession of sin
  4. Shame for sin
  5. Hatred for sin
  6. Turning from sin

We will look at each of these individually: the first two now, and the final four over the next two posts.

1. Sight of Sin

Before repentance can occur one must first know from what they are repenting. The Hebrew word for repentance literally means to turn around and the Greek word means to change your mind, but before we can turn around or change our mind we must first know what it is that we are turning from or changing our mind about. This is what Thomas Watson calls the sight of sin; we must see our sin for what it is - an offense against a holy God and a violation of His laws; he writes:
It is a great thing noted in the prodigal's repentance: he came to himself (Luke 15:17). He saw himself as a sinner and nothing but a sinner. Before a man can come to Christ he must first come to himself... A man must first recognize and consider what sin is, and know the plague of his heart before he can be humbled by it... The eye is mad for both seeing and weeping. Sin must be seen before it can be wept for.
This is a major problem in our modern Christianity - there is no sorrow for sin. And Watson writes:
Where there is no sight of sin, there can be no repentance.many who can spy faults in others see none in themselves. They cry they have good hearts.
But do we have good hearts? Not according to God's word; the apostle Paul wrote:
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Romans 3:10-18
This is not the picture of someone with a good heart - and this is what we are all like. We have been blinded to the sin on our lives and until we see it clearly for what it is we have not repented. Thomas Watson writes:
The devil does with them as the falconer with the hawk; he blinds them and carries them hooded to hell...

2. Sorrow for Sin

The next ingredient of true repentance is sorrow for sin; the Psalmist writes:
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
Psalm 38:18
And we cannot repent without sorrow over our sin. When we truly see our sin as God sees it the next step will be sorrow. Sorrow that we have offended God, sorrow that we have broken His laws and His commandments, and sorrow that we have violated His holiness. When we see our sin as God sees it we will repent in dust and ashes, we will turn from our sin and we will never want to return to it again. Watson writes here:
The Hebrew word 'to be sorrowful' signifies 'to have the soul, as it were, crucified'. This is a must for true repentance: 'They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn' (Zech. 12:10), as if they feel the nails of the cross sticking in their sides.
He then goes on to say:
A woman may as well expect to have a child without pangs as one can have repentance without sorrow.
Watson further explains that while sorrow for sin is necessary, not all sorrow is evidence of true repentance; he writes:
There is as much difference between true and false sorrow as between water in a spring, which is sweet, and water in the sea, which is briny.
He then gives us these six qualifications for godly sorrow; they are:

1. True godly sorrow is inward

By this he means that it is not a hypocritical sorrow that is outward only; he writes:
The sorrow of hypocrites lies in their faces: 'they disfigure their faces' (Matt. 6:16). They make a sour face, but their sorrow goes no further, like the due that wets the leaf but dies not soak to the root... Godly sorrow goes deep, like a vein which bleeds inwardly. The heart bleeds for sin... As the heart bears the chief part in sinning, so it must in sorrowing.
2. Godly sorrow is ingenuous

Our sorrow over sin should be for the offence rather then the punishment; Watson writes:
God's law has been infringed, his love abused. This melts the soul into tears. A man may be sorry, not repent, as a thief is sorry when he is taken, not because he stole, but because he has to pay the penalty. Hypocrites grieve only for the bitter consequences of sin... Godly sorrow, however, is chiefly for the trespass against God, so that even if there were no conscience to smite, no devil to accuse, no hell to punish, yet the soul would still be grieved because of the prejudice done to God.
3. Godly sorrow is fiducial (trustful)

By this he means that our sorrow must be intermixed with faith; Watson writes:
Spiritual sorrow will sink the heart if the pulley of faith does not raise it. As our sin is ever before us, so God's promise must be ever before us... The weeping is not good which blinds the eye of faith. If there is not some dawnings of faith in the soul, it is not the sorrow of humiliation but if despair.
4. Godly sorrow is a great sorrow

Here we have two questions that we must answer: (1) Do all have the same degree of sorrow? and (2) How great must sorrow for sin be? In answer to the first questions Thomas Watson writes:
No... in the new birth all have pangs, but some have sharper pangs than others.

Some are naturally of a more rugged disposition, of higher spirits, and are not as easily brought to stoop. These must have a greater humiliation, as a knotty piece of timber must have greater wedges driven into it.

Some have been more heinous offenders, and their sorrow must be suitable to their sin. Some patients have their sores let out with a needle, others with a lance.

Some are designed and cut for higher service, to be eminently instrumental for God, and these must have a mightier work of humiliation pass upon them. Those whom God intends to be pillars in his church must be more hewn.
And in answer to the second question he writes:
Sorrow for sin must surpass worldly sorrow. We must grieve more for offending God than for the loss of dear relations... Sorrow for sin should be so great as to swallow up all other sorrow... We are to find as much bitterness in weeping for sin as we ever found in committing it.
He then concludes:
The Christian has arrived at a sufficient measure of sorrow when the love of sin is purged out.
5. Godly sorrow in some cases is joined with restitution

This one is self-explanatory - true godly sorrow will lead one to repay or make restitution for whatever ill-gotten gain sin may have come through a sinful act.

6. Godly sorrow is abiding

By this he means that the sorrow of true repentance will not be something that only lasts for a brief time and is then forgotten. Watson writes:
True sorrow must be habitual. O Christian, the disease of your soul is chronic and frequently returns upon you; therefore you must be continually physicking yourself by repentance. This is that sorrow which is 'after a godly manner.'
Thomas Watson then concludes this section by saying:
The more bitterness we taste in sin, the more sweetness we shall taste in Christ.
I hope this has opened your eyes, as it has mine, to what true repentance is. I encourage you to take some time today to examine yourself; ask yourself honestly if you have seen your sin the way God sees your sin, and if you have experienced a true, godly sorrow that leads to life, or if your sorrow has been worldly sorrow that is only concerned with escaping the punishment and consequences of your sin and not with the realization that you have offended a Holy God.

And rest assured that while you are searching your own heart I will also be searching my own.

Next time we will look at what Thomas Watson had to say about confession of sin and shame for sin.