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Monthly Archives: January 2018

To the Church in Smyrna: A Church that is Suffering

Most Christians would prefer that suffering and especially persecution be an elective course. We don’t like Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We would just as soon avoid the topic and experience all together.

This is precisely why we need to learn from Christ’s letter to the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11). The letter to the church in Smyrna reminds us that when we face persecution, we should remember that the one who conquered death promises us eternal life.

The Church (8a) – Not much is known about the church. There is no record how Christianity came to Smyrna. It was most likely planted during the time the apostle Paul ministered in Ephesus (Acts 19).

The City (8a) – Smyrna was a large and wealthy city about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna is still a large seaport known as Izmir with a present population of about 200,000. In all of Asia, there was no more beautiful city than Smyrna—at least, if one wishes to accept the judgment of the citizens of Smyrna. Their coins had the inscription, “first city of Asia in size and beauty.”

They had a land-locked and protected harbor. The city began at sea level and climbed, even as it does today, up the slopes of Mount Pagus. The city planners laid out the architecture to make it blend together. As you stood at the sea harbor looking up toward the top of Mount Pagus, you could see a panorama that led it be called “a crown.” The winding thoroughfare, “the street of gold,” ascending Mount Pagus passed the magnificent temples to Cybele, Apollo, Aesculapius, Aphrodite, and toward the top a notable shrine to Zeus. The winding thoroughfare looked like a necklace of jewels around the neck of a statue.

Smyrna was known as a center of learning, especially in science and medicine. Smyrna claimed to be the birthplace of Homer.

The name, Smyrna, means “bitter,” and was associated with myrrh, the fragrant plant used in anointing oil and the process of embalming. It was associated with death and suffering.

The city was known for its wickedness and opposition to the gospel. Life was difficult and dangerous for the church in Smyrna. Under the emperor Domitian, it became a capital offense to refuse the yearly sacrifice to the emperor.

The Character of Christ (8b) – Jesus presents himself as the one who has power of time (the first and the last), and the power over sin (the one who died and came back to life). The fact that Jesus was persecuted and resurrected would be especially relevant to a church experiencing severe persecution. This will be just what the persecuted saints in Smyrna need in order to carry on.

The Condition of the Church (9) – Jesus comforts them by saying that he knows about their suffering. “Afflictions” refers to extensive tribulation rather than mere affliction. “Poverty” refers to extreme poverty. They most likely lost possessions, land, income, etc., because of persecution. Despite their physical poverty, Jesus reminds them that they were rich in the things of the spirit.

They were being persecuted not only by pagan Gentiles but also by hostile Jews and ultimately Satan himself. The believers in Smyrna were being falsely accused which caused them to be arrested. During the first and second centuries, believers were slandered for various reasons:

  • Cannibalism – “eating the body” and “drinking the blood” of the Lord
  • Immorality & incest – calling each other “brother” and “sister”; giving a “holy kiss”; participating in “love feasts.”
  • Atheism – refusing to accept the Greek or Roman gods
  • Political disloyalty – unwillingness to pay homage to Caesar as lord
  • Arsonists – spoke of the fire of the Spirit and the fires of divine judgment
  • Splitting families – Jewish families would disown those who became Christians

There is no rebuke for these faithful, suffering Christians. Of the seven churches, only Smyrna and Philadelphia escape criticism. Suffering, though extremely difficult, helps to keep believers pure in faith and life.

The Command (10a) – Jesus exhorts them to have courage; not to be afraid of future suffering. This is probably a message they were dreading. The suffering is about to get worse. They were facing a season of persecution which would include imprisonment and possibly death. It would be short in duration (10 days). Suffering does not prove God is powerless. This particular suffering comes because has determined to test the church. While painful, God’s testing has a good goal.

Suffering can be expected for the ungodly, but why should the godly suffer?

  • Discipline – 1 Corinthians 11:30-32
  • Preventive – 2 Corinthians 12:7
  • Teach what we can’t learn otherwise
    • Learn obedience – Hebrews 5:8
    • Develop character – Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4
  • Provide a better testimony – Acts 9:16

The Consequences (10b) – Jesus promises the crown of life to those who endure persecution. This is not the crown of royalty. This is the victor’s crown, given to an athlete who was victorious in an athletic contest. The crown symbolizes eternal life.

Up to this point, no one had died, but it could be expected. 50+ years later, Polycarp, who was bishop of the church in Smyrna, was martyred, and undoubtedly others were killed as well. When Polycarp was about to be martyred and told to recant his faith in Christ, he said, “Four score and six years have I served the Lord and he never wronged me: How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”

The Challenge (11a) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

The Commitment (11b) – There is the promise given to overcomers that they will not be hurt by the second death. The first death is physical, the second is spiritual. We don’t need to be afraid of losing our life when persecuted because our future in heaven is secure. The believers were not promised escape from tribulation or persecution. They were promised something far greater—the grace to endure afflictions without fear and the pledge that the one who died and came to life again will certainly bring them through to the crown of life.

Principles – (1) Those who follow Jesus faithfully can expect opposition/persecution. (2) It costs to be a dedicated Christian, in some places more than others. (3) The great Christian hope is not removal from trouble but resurrection from the dead.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 21, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 
 

The downward spiral of compromise

“In the last few decades, though no one can say exactly how it happened, the unthinkable became tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And now, God help us, applaudable.”

Joni Eareckson Tada, When is it Right to Die: A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying

The context of the quote is that Joni is talking about society’s acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The quote can also apply to any type of sin. What was taboo only a generation ago is celebrated today. Compromise is a slippery slope that leads to destruction.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2018 in Culture, Quotes

 

Living and Dying with Dignity

Book Review: When is it Right to Die? A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying, by Joni Eareckson Tada

“No thinking person chooses suffering. But we can choose our attitude in the midst of suffering.” This is one of the many truths presented in Joni Eareckson Tada’s latest book, When is it Right to Die? A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying. It could also serve as perhaps the theme of the book. Joni wants to change how the disabled view their suffering. Rather than choosing the easier way out through euthanasia or assisted suicide, Joni presents the reasons why we should choose life.

The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 focus on “A Time to Live?” She acknowledges the truth that pain is real. She also addresses some of the common reasons given for suicide. Part 2 looks at “A Time to Choose.” Through four chapters, Joni explains why our choices on this subject matter—to others, to you, to the enemy, and to God. After spending two-thirds of the book arguing for choosing life, Part 3 finally addresses the issue of “A Time to Die.” It includes a helpful chapter on the difference between sustaining life versus not prolonging death. Joni also argues for the importance of each person having a health care directive where we wrestle with important issues before they are ever needed.

The book was originally written and published twenty-five years ago. Time and culture have changed as well as the author has much more life experience of living as a quadriplegic, dealing with chronic pain, and surviving cancer. With new perspective, Joni rewrote and updated the book. It provides a biblical and practical look at one of the important topics of the day.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2018 in Books

 

No commitment religion

Many people approach following Jesus in the same way that Zoe approaches becoming vegan.

On two different occasions, Jesus taught that we need to count the cost of following him. If we are not willing to pay whatever it costs, we are not truly one a Christ follower.

Matthew 16:24–26

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Luke 14:26–33

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2018 in Baby Blues, Jesus, Scripture

 

Making the playoffs

Charlie Brown expresses my sentiments to my rehab process. 😉

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2018 in Peanuts, Personal growth

 

Worship Matters

Book Review: The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life, by Louie Giglio

Far too many people view worship as simply the music portion of a church service. People often limit worship to one hour a week on Sunday. In contrast, pastor and author Louie Giglio believes that every breath we take should be an act of worship. That is the thesis of his latest book, The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life.

The author begins by explaining that we were created for worship. Worship is what makes us human. We tend to worship what we value the most. For some, that is work, sports, shopping, family, or possessions. While some squander their worship, those who find the wonder-filled life of a relationship with God discover life at its best. When worship becomes as natural as the air we breathe and when our words and actions resonate with God and his purpose, that is we discover the true purpose of life.

While the book does not present anything new about worship, what sets it apart is the passion of the author. It is very evident that the book is written by someone who not only understands true worship, but one who experiences it on a regular basis. The book was originally published in 2003 and is now reprinted in a mass market paperback edition.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2018 in Books, Worship

 

Of walkers, crutches, and baby steps

For those who have been following my baby steps back to health, I made a couple of significant strides in the past two weeks.

  • Sunday, January 7 – I started preaching again after a two month absence. I’m sitting on a chair instead of standing. Because of the frigid weather that weekend, we only had one service which allowed me to gradually work my way back.
  • Monday, January 8 – I started using crutches instead of the walker. Now I hurt in different places due to using new/different muscles.
  • Wednesday & Thursday, January 10 & 11 – I attended two board meetings, Awana, and a weekly lunch/prayer group. I’m starting to get out more. However, I was pretty tired in the evenings.
  • Sunday, January 14 – I preached two services. Between being out a lot on Saturday and preaching on Sunday, I fell asleep watching football in the afternoon. I still need to build up my stamina and endurance.
  • Monday, January 15 – I wrapped up 9 weeks of in-home physical therapy. Tricia, my PT, praised my progress and encouraged me to keep going. Next Monday, January 22, I begin six weeks of outpatient physical therapy at a facility.

It has now been ten weeks since my accident. There are things I can do, but still some I cannot do. I am mending, but not yet mended. I am on the road to recovery and making progress, though some days the finish line still seems far, far way. But overall, I’m encouraged.

Thanks for the support, encouragement, and prayers.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2018 in Personal growth