Sunday, 25 January 2015

Smyrna – the Suffering Church

“I know your afflictions and your poverty – but you are rich!” (Revelation 2:9)

The message of the risen, glorified Christ to the buffeted, impoverished church of Smyrna could well apply to persecuted churches today. Smyrna, in that first century AD, was the ‘nicest’ of the seven cities that feature in the visions of Revelation chapter 2. Smyrna was the birthplace of the poet Homer; its beautiful temple was a centre of Caesar-worship.

The Jews there were permitted to pursue their own religion, unmolested – but not so the Christians! What really counted, however, was the view that Christ had of this oppressed, battered minority.

1. They were the poorest, but purest (v. 9) – and not only in Smyrna itself, but among the other seven churches of the Revelation. The Greek word used for ‘poverty’ here is that used for a vagrant in utter destitution. And from the word ‘rich’ we get our term ‘plutocrat.’ Jesus Christ will not hear a word against these believers. That’s richness!

2. They were the lowest, but honoured. Things would get even worse for them (v. 10) – to the point of prison and death – but to them would be given by Christ ‘the crown of life.’ It was indeed one of the most honoured of all Christian martyrs – Polycarp – who originated from Smyrna; he was burnt to death on September 22nd, 155 AD.

3. They were the feeblest, but unconquerable
. Verse 11 – with its promise that those who ‘overcome’ will not be hurt by the ‘second death’ of eternal judgment – applies to all who follow in the line of the Christ-honouring Christians of Smyrna.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Ephesus – a backsliding church

“Remember then from what you have fallen” (Revelation 2: 5 RSV)

Music from Mozart; then from the film theme of ‘Dr Zhigavo’ - and the music played on and on. I was standing in the Cathedral square of Salzburg, listening to a violinist and a guitarist. Suddenly my whole body tingled as a piece from Brahms drifted across the square. My saintly mother used to play it on a rickety piano years earlier, in the missionary home where I was raised, in Kenya. I could feel the tears coming….

Such is the power of memory. Now think of the book of Revelation, where, early on, Christ’s message was imparted to seven churches in turn, through a series of visions recorded by the apostle John. Here, the church in question was at Ephesus, founded earlier by apostle Paul. The church had done well in its early years – situated on the West coast of what today is Turkey. Under the gaze of the risen, glorified Christ, the Ephesian church had passed the Service Test, the Doctrine Test and the Endurance Test! Only in one area – a vital one – was it falling short.

“Yet I hold this against you,” comes the message of Jesus. “You have forsaken your first love.” This is a warning to every church. Without that primary love of Christ – spilling over to meet the challenges and needs of a dying society – a church can virtually cease to be a church. ‘Look back!’ comes the message. ‘Remember those earlier times – and repent!’

When such a purification happens to enough churches, a heaven-sent Revival could be on its way…. and not before time!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

A race of clever devils?

Another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord, nor what he had done (Judges 2:10)

Even when widespread God-awareness characterises a society, rank paganism is lying only just below. Take out vibrant spiritual leadership – as happened in the case of Israel, with the passing of Joshua – and it isn’t long before naked heathenism or outright idolatry begin to surface once more. For human nature, left to itself, will always dip. As Winston Churchill commented to President Rooseveldt’s emissary Harry Hopkins in the dark days of World War II, “Only one thing in history is certain; that mankind is unteachable.”

Every generation requires a few spiritual die-hards (even a few are enough) to challenge and then lift plunging contemporary viewpoints:

1. To learn backwards. The vast majority of mistakes are repeated again and again across the years. To get – even if only a little – into the world of books, can be enough to spot past errors, and be pre-warned!

2. To learn upwards. The most productive, creative and kindly societies in the whole world emerge when the Scriptures, that speak of CHRIST (as against a distortion of Him), touch both church and state. Everything is then lifted; sport, the family, art, education, politics and business standards. If we cannot learn this, we can only expect one result.

3. To learn forwards. What – supremely in our homes - are we aiming to create for the future? For the next generation will be shaped by this!

Two hundred years ago, Ashley Cooper wrote, “Education, without instruction in moral and spiritual principles, will merely produce a race of clever devils.” It only takes one generation!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The future - Can I keep going?

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40: 31 KJV)

Why does this chapter end with a climax in reverse? Surely faithful believers should be walking first…. then running…. yea, even flying! No…. Flying is exciting, but in the long-term, walking is more important!

Certainly this applied as God’s ancient people began to rebuild their lives after oppressive exile. And walking steadily with God over the months is the vital secret of today’s disciple. How is it done?

1. STAY SERVANT. ‘Wait.’ Every day ask ‘How can I best please and serve you, Lord - and others?’ When working with people, nothing of value can be achieved until we have proved our servanthood.

2. STAY STUDENT. ‘Waiting’ also implies spiritual appetite! Got a Bible? What about a bit every day? Friends at any Bible-aware church should be able to help any one of us find the right approach and programme for regular Bible intake, both at church and on our own.

3. STAY VIGILANT. Strength is ‘renewed’ by watching out – for one’s own soul and for others. In prayer the thought will arise, “What’s happening to John? To Susan? I’ll find out!” And there’s something about small groups that is mutually protective.

4. STAY VALIANT. The returning Jews had little idea of what awaited them as they returned to their homeland. It is as God’s servants ‘wait on the Lord’ daily that a reservoir of courage builds up against whatever the forthcoming weeks and months may bring. Four tips; let’s get going!….