Category Archives: Church

To the church in Sardis: A Church that was Dead

In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry producing 65% of the watches in the world and 80% of the profits, however just ten years later they had only a 10% market share. What happened? Their own researchers invented the electronic (Quartz) watch and the Swiss executives rejected it. The Japanese on the other hand saw a new paradigm with this technology and took over the market that the Swiss dominated with the technology that the Swiss themselves invented. The Swiss were so sure that electronics were not the future of watch making that they didn’t even protect their own invention with a copyright.

What is true of industry is also true of churches. If we rest on past accomplishments, we can start to slide. If we are not careful, we will become increasingly irrelevant.

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. In the letter to the church in Sardis, Jesus rebukes the church for its compromise that is leading to spiritual death and reassures the faithful few with promises of heavenly citizenship. This letter points out the key principle, We need to take an honest look at our present circumstances. Rather than rest on past accomplishments, we need to obey Christ and live for him in the present.

The Church (1a) – Not much is known about the church. It was possibly founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10).

The City (1a) – The city was located about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira and about 50 miles inland from Ephesus. It was located on an important trade route that ran east and west through the kingdom of Lydia. The city was one of the most ancient, founded about 1200 BC. It became the capital of the wealthy and powerful Lydian kingdom.

The citadel of the ancient city of Sardis occupied a long ridge on Mount Tmolus which rose about 1,500 feet above the area below. The city occupied a large portion of the valley below; and the acropolis, to which threatened citizens could repair in time of war, served primarily for the defense of the city. The approach to the acropolis was sheer at any point except across the saddle of Mount Tmolus, which was also steep and difficult. Hence, Sardis was considered to be almost impregnable for opposing armies.

The city was conquered by the Persians, then the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and finally by the Romans. On two separate occasions, the city was conquered because the sentries failed to keep watch and defend the city. It had fallen due to overconfidence and the failure to watch. “Capturing Sardis” became a saying for achieving the impossible.

Important industries included jewelry, dye, and textiles, which had made the city wealthy. It was the center of the dyeing industry. It was known for its manufacture of woolen garments. From a religious standpoint it was a center of pagan worship and site of a temple of Artemis. The temple dated from the fourth century B.C. They worshipped the mother goddess, Cybele. Her worship was of the most debasing character, and orgies like those of Dionysus were practice at the festivals held in her honor.

The Character of Christ (1b) – Jesus holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The seven spirits represent the Holy Spirit. The seven stars are the pastors of the churches. Christ holds each one in his hands. Christ introduces himself as the one who works sovereignly in the churches through the Holy Spirit and godly leaders.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation – What sounds like a word of approval is actually a word of rebuke. There is no compliment, only criticism. Their “strength” is their “weakness.”

The Condition of the Church: Concern (1b) – The church had the appearance of being alive. They were regarded by their contemporaries as an effective church. The reality is that the church was dead. Their outward appearance was a façade hiding their lack of life. The church had grown comfortable and content living off its past reputation.

The Command (2-4) – Jesus exhorts the church using five commands.

Wake up – Wake up from their spiritual slumber. The first step toward revival in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong.

Strengthen what remains – The verb means to “support” or “stand something on its feet” and has the idea of establishing a thing by making it strong. This was vital because what little that remained was about to die.

Remember – Remember the time when they had been spiritually alive. It is not merely a matter a remembering past truths, however, it is also putting them back into practice. “Received” refers to the truths they have been taught. “Heard” refers to believing and acting on the teaching.

Keep it, Obey it – Be obedient to the heavenly vision. Spiritual vigilance is seen in perseverance and obedient living of these spiritual realities.

Repent – Change direction of your life. The church needs to change its downward spiral and get right with God.

The Consequences (3b) – Jesus promises sudden and immediate judgment. He will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief to destroy them. Just as the city of Sardis had succumbed to unexpected military attack, so the church of Sardis will be visited by Christ’s judgment—if it does not change.

The Commitment (4-5) – While the church is dead and dying, Christ recognized a godly remnant in the Sardis church who had not soiled their clothes with sin. He promised the true believers will be dressed in white, symbolic of the righteousness of God. Their names will remain in the book of life. Christ will acknowledge them as his own before his father and his angels.

It is possible for a dead church to change. As long as a few people remain faithful, God can breathe new life into the church.

The Challenge (6) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

When Mickey Cohen, a famous Los Angeles gangster of the late 1940’s, made a public profession of faith in Christ, his new Christian friends were elated. But as time passed, they began to wonder why he did not leave his gangster lifestyle. When they confronted him concerning this question, however, he protested. “You never told me I had to give up my career. You never told me that I had to give up my friends. There are Christian movie stars, Christian athletes, Christian businessmen. So what’s the matter with being a Christian gangster? If I have to give up all that—if that’s Christianity—count me out.” Cohen gradually drifted away from Christian circles and ultimately died lonely and forgotten.

Principles (1) What matters most is not our religious reputation before human beings but our standing before God, which is related to how we live. (2) For a sick and dying church to regain its health calls for specific action prescribed by Jesus Christ, and made effective by the Holy Spirit.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 11, 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.


How well do you know what your pastor faces?

Book Review: Pastors are People Too: What They Won’t Tell You but You Need to Know, by Jimmy Dodd and Larry Magnuson

Does your pastor feel as if he needs to hit a home run in every sermon he preaches? Does he feel like he has the freedom to fail? Does he know who has his back or is he always looking over his shoulder for fear of attack? Does your pastors’ wife feel the freedom to be herself or does she feel like she has to measure up to the standard set by a previous pastors’ wife? How well does your church take care of your pastor and his family?

All of these questions and more are addressed in the book, Pastors are People Too: What They Won’t Tell You but You Need to Know, by Jimmy Dodd and Larry Magnuson. The authors provide helpful insight into what pastors face and experience on a daily basis. They also provide practical ideas on how you and the church can better support and encourage your pastor.

Jimmy Dodd heads up an organization called PastorServe, a ministry that provides care, counseling, and friendship to pastors. Larry Magnuson leads SonScape Retreats, a ministry that provides weeklong experiences in spectacular settings designed to encourage and build up pastors and their spouses. Carol and I had the privilege of attending a SonScape Retreat seven years ago. It not only allowed us to rest and reset, but also gave us insight into some of the challenges we were currently facing and how to deal with them.

The book would be a helpful tool for anyone who wants to come alongside and be an asset to a pastor rather than an antagonist.

I purchased a copy of the book myself and found it to be helpful. It expresses many of the things I would say or ask for if I was bold enough to do so. Fortunately, the authors do it much better than I could. The opinions I share in this review are my own.


To the Church in Thyatira: A Church that Tolerated Sin

A recent post on Facebook read, “Marching tomorrow. No tolerance for intolerance.” Today, tolerance is the ultimate virtue and intolerance is the only vice. The church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) not only tolerated the presence of evil, but actively participated in it.

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. The letter to the church in Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters, even though it was written to the smallest of the seven cities. In the city of Thyatira, a false teacher was leading many Christians to embrace open immorality. The believers need to know that an all-knowing, all powerful Lord will punish her followers severely. Jesus wants us to be morally pure.

The Church (18a) – Not much is known about the church. Perhaps they heard the gospel through the witness of Lydia (Acts 16:1) or through the ministry of the apostle Paul (Acts 19:10).

The City (18a) – The city lies about 40 miles southeast of Pergamum. It was a much smaller city than Pergamum. The city was located on a plain and was the first line of defense for Pergamum. However, the city was poorly adapted to such military purposes and found itself repeatedly overrun by marauding soldiers across the centuries.

The city boasted a special temple to Apollo, the “sun god.” He was the primary god worshipped in Thyatira. His title explains why the Lord introduced himself as “the Son of God.”

The city was known for the development of trade guilds to which Lydia, the seller of purple mentioned in Acts 16:14, may have belonged. From what can be pieced together, the trade guilds, which consisted of clothiers, metalsmiths, and others, became such a predominant feature in the city that they eventually took on both political and religious significance. Each guild had its own patron god or goddess.

Since the guild’s feasts were the heart of the social and commercial life of the city, there was great pressure on Christians to participate in the idolatrous life of the people. To refuse to participate meant the loss of both goodwill and business.

The Character of Christ (18b) – Jesus presents himself as the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

The eyes of blazing fire represent that Jesus sees and knows everything. It signifies his all-encompassing knowledge. The bronze feet emphasize his all-encircling power. Together, the eyes and feet emphasize the indignation and righteous judgment of Christ.

Christ is the one who searches mind and heart (23b). Nothing can be hidden from the penetrating gaze of the Lord of the churches.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation (19) – While there is much that is wrong with the church, Jesus commends them for their love, faith, service and patient endurance. The first two are motives. The second two are deeds. Their love produced greater service and their faith led to patient endurance. Unlike the believers in Ephesus, these folks were doing more and more as time went on. They were not content to stand still in loving deeds and faithful perseverance. They had grown in faith and thus were stronger in love than when they first came to know Christ.

The Condition of the Church: Concern (20-21) – The criticism Christ has is severe. They tolerated the intolerable. The major condemnation concerned a woman named Jezebel (most likely a nickname). The name, Jezebel, suggests she was corrupting the church much like Ahab’s wife Jezebel corrupted Israel (1 Kings 16:31-33). She claimed to be a prophetess. She convinced gullible Christians that she spoke for God. She taught believers to compromise and engage in sexual immorality. She deliberately led Christians into sexual immorality. She encouraged believers to violate their conscience. If the believers were part of a guild, they were required to participate in the guild feasts, which themselves involved meat sacrificed to idols, the patron god of the respective guild was always worshipped at the feasts.

Their departure from morality had gone on for some time. She had multiple opportunities to repent but had not done so. She refused to repent.

The Command (21-22, 25) – Jesus exhorts those who compromised to repent. He encourages those who were faithful to hold fast. Today, believers who find themselves in liberal or apostate local churches can usually leave and join another fellowship. That was impractical under the circumstances in Thyatira.

The Consequences (22-24) – Jesus promises sudden and immediate judgment. The judgment would be so dramatic that all the churches would know that Christ is the One who searches hearts and minds.

There are three types of people identified in these verses. Christ will repay each according to their deeds. The first group were those who commit adultery with her. This indicates those who had compromised morally. The second group were her children, those who wholly committed themselves to her teachings. Suffering would extend also to her followers. The third group were the faithful believers who did not follow her teachings.

The Commitment (26-28) – Christ promises that those who are faithful will join him in his millennial rule. They will not simply be administering justice but will also, like a shepherd using his rod, be dealing with his sheep and protecting them as well. Believers will have authority just as Christ does.

In addition, they will receive the morning star. This has two possible meanings. (1) Since the morning star appears just before dawn, this may refer to the church being removed in the Rapture before the Tribulation and the dawn of the millennial kingdom. (2) Later in the book, Jesus is referred to as the morning star (22:16). This may refer to fellowship with him. The reward is Christ himself, who will end the long night of sin’s rule in the universe.

The Challenge (29) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

It is not known how many in that congregation responded to Christ’s warning, but, tragically, the Thyatira church as a whole apparently did not heed it. History records that it fell prey to the Montanist heresy (a movement led by a false prophet who claimed continuing revelation from God apart from Scripture) and went out of existence by the end of the second century.

Principles – (1) God will judge continued, unrepentant sin in the church. (2) A pattern of obedience marks true Christians. (3) In spite of our struggles with sin and error, God’s gracious promise is that believers will experience the fullness of Christ as they reign with him in his kingdom.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 4, 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.


To the Church in Pergamum: A Church that Compromised

In her book, When is it Right to Die: A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying, author Joni Eareckson Tada makes a statement about euthanasia and assisted suicide that could be applied to any number of social issues today.

“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.”

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. Though each message is different, the letters have some similarities. The letters address the problems churches have faced throughout history and provide insight into how Christ evaluates local churches.

The message to the church at Pergamum (2:12-17) is a warning against compromise in morals or teaching and against deviating from the purity of doctrine required of Christians. Jesus Christ does NOT approve of compromise. Don’t Flirt with the world.

The Church (12a) – Not much is known about the church. Most likely it was founded during Paul’s three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).

The City (12a) – The city was about 70 miles north and 20 miles inland from Smyrna. As the ancient capital, Pergamum was considered Asia’s greatest city. Pergamum was a wealthy city, but it was wicked. People in pagan cults worshiped Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus. It was a religious hub. Pergamum was the first city to worship the emperor. In other cities, Christians might be in danger one day a year when a pinch of incense had to be burned in honor of the emperor. In Pergamum, however, Christians were in danger every day of the year for the same reason.

The city was an intellectual center. Pergamum was famous for its university with a library of about 200,000 volumes. It was also known for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper called pergamena. There was a famous hospital and temple of Asclepius located on the plain close to a large modern military command.

The Character of Christ (12b) – Jesus presents himself as the one who has a sharp, double-edged sword. The sword is the long, flat, heavy sword, used by the Romans in battle to kill their enemies. This sword symbolized Jesus’ power to judge and conquer his enemies. This note gives the letter an ominous tone.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation (13) – Jesus recognized the difficulty of their situation. He is well aware of the efforts of Satan to destroy the work of Christ and of Christians in the city of Pergamum through its various pagan affections. They lived where Satan had his throne. This may refer to the great temple of Asclepius, a pagan god of healing represented in the form of a serpent. It may also refer to the huge altar to Zeus that overlooked the city.

The saints were commended for being true, even when Antipas was martyred. Nothing is known about this incident. “Martyr” and “witness” are the same word. A martyr is one whose witness for Christ led to his death. While believers in other places may have buckled under pressure, these believers did not renounce their faith in Christ. Jesus complimented them for this.

Obedience in one area does not cover for or make excuse for disobedience in other areas.

The Condition of the Church: Concern (14-15) – The believers in Pergamum were guilty of tolerance. Rather than testing and rejecting false teachers like the church in Ephesus, they had uncritically accepted people who held the teaching of Balaam. Balaam had counseled King Balak to cause Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and through idol-worship (Numbers 22-25). Intermarriage with heathen women was a problem in Pergamum where any social contact with the world also involved worship of idols. The issue of eating food sacrificed to idols is that Christians are never to violate their consciences. They may have been subtle pressure to say that sin is all right.

They were also condemned for following the Nicolaitans’ teaching. The name means “devourer of the people.” It probably speaks of a group that dominates rather than serves people. While the details are unknown, this sect probably is tied in the practices of Balaam which involved sexual sin in worship. The religion tried to redefine faith to allow Christians to fit in with the surrounding culture with its idolatry, immorality, deceit, and false worship.

The Command (16a) – Jesus rebuked the church with an abrupt command, “Repent!” They were warned. They needed to recognize and forsake their sins. The church must take action if we want to receive the blessings of God.

The Consequences (16b) – If they don’t repent, Jesus will be their enemy. The Lord himself will become their opponent and will fight against them with the sword of his mouth.

There is a distinction between “you” and “them.” The Balaam-like teachers and Nicolaitans are not truly part of the people of God, even though they have succeeded in infiltrating the congregation. Using the sword of his mouth, Jesus would contend with them. The word of God sharply judges all compromise and sin.

The Challenge (17a) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

The Commitment (17b) – There is the promise of hidden manna and white stone with a new name written on it.

The children of Israel received manna. The hidden manna may refer to Christ as the bread from heaven, the unseen source of the believer’s nourishment and strength. Whereas Israel received physical food, manna, during their 40 years of wilderness wandering, the church receives spiritual food (John 6:48-51).

There are different meanings for “white stone.” One is found in a legal setting. In a courtroom, a white stone was given to someone who was acquitted while a black stone was given to someone who was guilty and condemned. Another meaning is that a white stone was given to the victors in an athletic contest. The stone, possibly with the athlete’s name on it, was their ticket to the awards banquet. In this sense, Christ promises the overcomers entrance into an eternal victory celebration in heaven.

Principles – (1) It is difficult to persevere in certain environments. (2) Staying faithful to Jesus is directly related to being a faithful witness. (3) Christians are often tempted to compromise with the world in the areas of idolatry and immorality. (4) Jesus’ future promise of acceptance, fellowship, and identity can help us endure now.

Jesus Christ does NOT approve of compromise. Don’t Flirt with the world.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on January 28, 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.


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.


To the church in Ephesus: A Church with Misplaced Priorities

Since I broke my leg/hip in early November, my vital signs have been checked countless times. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists all want to make sure my health is stable and improving.

If your church was given a “physical exam” today, what do you think the doctor’s diagnosis would be: healthy, slightly sick, very sick, or dying? In Revelation 2-3, Jesus takes the “pulse” of seven churches. He diagnoses their health and prescribes a remedy for their illnesses.

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. Though each message is different, the letters have some similarities. Each one gives a particular description of Christ that is related to the message which follows. Each one includes a promise to those who overcome. Each one addresses the condition of the church through a commendation, a rebuke, and/or an exhortation. In general these letters to the seven churches address the problems churches have faced throughout history and provide insight into how Christ evaluates local churches.

In addressing the church in Ephesus, Jesus challenges them to reexamine their priorities. Though busy doing many good things, they had lost their love for God. They focused on duty rather than devotion. This letter provides the instruction that we are to love and serve Christ with our head, our hands, and our hearts.

The Church (1a). The church had a long history and was the most prominent one in the area. The apostle Paul visited Ephesus about AD 53, about 43 years before this letter was sent to them. He found a group of people who believed in Jesus but only knew John’s baptism (Acts 19:1-7). Paul remained in Ephesus for several years (Acts 20:31) and preached the gospel so effectively “that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10).

The City (1a). Ephesus was a major city in Asia Minor, a seaport, and the location of the great temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. While not the capital (Pergamum was the capital), Ephesus was a prominent city. The Roman governor resided there. The population of Ephesus was between 100,000 and 250,000. The city was a center of business, religion, and civic life.

Emperor worship was a dominant influence in Ephesus, which was the leading center of the imperial cult in Asia Minor. The temple to the Emperor Domitian had a giant statue of the emperor. Christians faced enormous social and financial pressure to engage in the worship of the emperor.

The city was the center of occult and magical practices. The worship of at least 14 other deities has been documented in the city.

The Character of Christ (1b). Jesus holds the pastors & leaders of the churches in his hand and walks among the churches. As he walks among the churches, he observes what is taking place. Because he has been observing, he can both compliment and criticize their deeds and motives.

The Condition of the Church (2-4, 6). Commendation (2-3, 6). Jesus commends the church for three things: hard work, perseverance, and doctrinal purity (they don’t tolerate false teaching or false teachers). They hated the practices of the Nicolaitans. While the details are unknown, this sect probably is tied in the practices of Balaam which involved sexual immorality in worship. The religion tried to redefine faith to allow Christians to fit in with the surrounding culture with its idolatry, immorality, deceit, and false worship. Concern (4). Jesus soundly rebukes the church. The church had “heart trouble.” They lost their love. This could be love for God, love for each other, love for the lost. They had misplaced priorities.

The Command (5). The road to revival involves three key steps: remember, repent, and repeat. Remember what it was like when you first trusted Christ. Repent and change the direction of your life. Repeat the spiritual disciplines that you practiced in the beginning. Change is possible but it demands drastic action.

The Consequences (5b). If they don’t change, Christ will remove the church. Removal of the candlestick indicates God’s judgment. The church could come under the influence of the surrounding pagan culture and lose their identity as a church.

The church continued and was later the scene of a major church council. However, after the 5th century both the city and the church declined. The immediate area has been abandoned since the 14th century.

Could that really happen today? Might God remove a church? How many church buildings are now community centers? How many churches have been turned into museums or art galleries? Yes, God can and does remove a church when they lose their love and purpose.

The Challenge (7). Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

The Commitment (7). There is the promise of eternal life in heaven. This should be the normal expectation of all Christians. The idea of overcoming is a reminder that we are in a spiritual battle.

Principles. Our deeds are important, including the hard work of contending for the truth of the faith. We must retain biblical love in our pursuit of truth. Repentance is essential for believers who have forfeited love.

We are to love and serve Christ with our head, our hands, and our hearts.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 14, 2018. It is part of a series of messages on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


Measuring Church Health

Book Review: Building the Body: 12 Characteristics of a FIT CHURCH, by Gary L. McIntosh and Phil Stevenson

While some people may appear to be healthy, that doesn’t mean they are fit enough to run a 5K race, let alone a marathon. The same is true for churches. A church may appear to be healthy with no obvious issues or conflicts. In contrast, a fit church is not satisfied with merely coasting along. A fit church is actively making disciples, helping people mature in their faith, mentoring future leaders, meeting the needs of their community, and much more. These are the convictions of authors Gary L. McIntosh and Phil Stevenson in their book, Building the Body: 12 Characteristics of a FIT CHURCH.

The book is divided into four broad categories related to health and fitness—cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. Within each category are three characteristics of church fitness—outreach, effective evangelism, community engagement, personal ministry, God-honoring stewardship, leadership development, Christ-exalting worship, disciple-making strategies, pastoral leadership, loving community, vision-directed systems, and divine empowerment.

What sets this book apart from most church-growth books is the inclusion of a very practical strategy to identify where your church and ideas on how to move it forward. The authors describe five levels of church—beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, and elite. They describe how each characteristic is demonstrated within that type of church. They also include practical suggestions for each type of church to strengthen the characteristic and how to move to the next level.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Posted by on January 11, 2018 in Books, Church