March 2010

Dear Friends,

            "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (and to each of us as believers)." (Rev. 2:7) In chapters two and three of Revelation we see Jesus warning and commending His church (all believers then and now). Like a good professor He wants us to know what we need to learn so we will do well on the final exam (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-11). And since we don't know when we are going to die or when the church (all believers) will be raptured (1 Thess. 4:13-18) we would be wise to learn it now. Some people confuse the rapture with Christ's second coming. In the rapture we meet Christ "in the air" (1 Thess. 4: 13-18) whereas Christ's second coming is when He comes to earth. (Rev. 19:11-21) Nothing has to happen prophetically for the rapture to occur, so we must be ready; for it could happen any day.           

Ephesus (2:1-7) – This church had good deeds, hard work, perseverance, did not tolerate wicked men, endured hardship, and hated the practice of Nicolaitans (probably idolatry/sexual immorality). Jesus sees and is blessed by our every act of obedience in big or little things. He affirms perseverance and will reward us for it. He applauds us when we hate evil and speak out against it and the lies of this world. "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love."  (They had forsaken their first love – Jesus, not lost their salvation.) Our Lord is a Jealous God and will not take second place to anyone or anything. (Matt. 10:34-39) He commands us to love Him with all our heart and to seek Him first. (Matt. 22:37-39; 6:33) Jesus exhorts them to remember, repent and do the things they did at first and, "If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."  When we lose our first love for Jesus we lose our bright light (lampstand/witness) for Jesus.  Paul had established this church some 40 years earlier and prayed for it to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. (Eph. 3:17-19) Knowing God's love experientially is the fountainhead of our love for Him, our love for others and even our love for self (self-acceptance). Paul through the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 13 says that agape love for God is greater than preaching, prophesying and even martyrdom, and that without love, nothing we do for God really has any spiritual or eternal value for us or others. "Do the things you did at first." When we first get saved we feel in love with Jesus and want to know Him and share Him with others. Knowing Him takes spending time alone with Him and this is what our Lord wants most from us. Young children spell love –T-I- M-E (spent with them) and our Lord does as well. In Luke 10:38-42 Martha let duty come before intimacy with Jesus and He rebuked her.                              

Smyrna (2:8-11) – The name Smyrna comes from "myrrh," which is a sweet smelling perfume that was used for anointing oil in the Tabernacle worship (Ex. 30:23) and in some ancient cultures was used for embalming the dead – a picture of suffering. This was a suitable name for a church facing persecution. "I know your afflictions and your poverty-yet you are rich!" The comforting news is that Jesus knew about this, meaning He felt their pain and sympathized with them in their struggles (Heb. 4:15-16). I will never forget how my Dad comforted me in the loss of my first wife to suicide. He and mother called to check on me a month or so after the funeral when all the calls and cards had stopped coming. I told them this and my father simply said: "I'm sorry son"- and I still remember how this greatly encouraged me even though my circumstances/suffering didn't change. Knowing Jesus understands and cares likewise should greatly encourage us. "I know your afflictions and your povertyyet you are rich!" "Listen my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor." (James 2:5-6)        {"God has made those heirs of a kingdom whom you make of no reputation, and has given very great and glorious promises to those to whom you can hardly give a good word or a respectful look. Take notice that many of the poor of this world are the chosen of God. Their being God's chosen does not prevent their being poor; their being poor does not at all prejudice the evidences of their being chosen. (Mt. 11:5) God designed to recommend his holy religion to men's esteem and affection, not by the external advantages of gaiety and pomp, but by its intrinsic worth and excellency; and therefore chose the poor of this world. Again, take notice that many poor of the world are rich in faith; thus the poorest may become rich; and this is what they ought to be especially ambitious of. It is expected from those who have wealth and estates that they be rich in good works, because the more they have the more they have to do good with; but it is expected from the poor in the world that they be rich in faith, for the less they have here the more they may, and should, live in the believing expectation of better things in a better world. What is laid out upon them is but little; what is laid up for them is unspeakably rich and great." Matthew Henry} Jesus offers no words of rebuke to this church (or the church at Philadelphia) but encourages them to not be fearful but to be faithful (obedient) even to death and He would reward them (in heaven – the crown of life). Paul reminds us that our suffering always has a limit (" ten days" probably means a brief period not ten literal days and compared to eternity all suffering is brief) and can always work to our eternal good if we trust the Lord in the midst of it. (2 Cor. 4:16-18) And if we do, we can give off the fragrance of Christ as we suffer for His glory. "I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him." (See 2 Cor. 2:13-14) Suffering with hope in the overarching goodness of God makes us a good witness to others versus being bitter towards God and therefore others. And this makes us like our Lord:  "Therefore be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father].And walk in love, [esteeming and delighting in one another] as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a slain offering and sacrifice to God [for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance." (Eph. 5:1-2)  Pearls are made by certain oysters by coating an irritating particle such as a grain of sand with a substance called nacre (mother-of-pearl) to make it less irritating. And we can "cover" our irritating trials with the substance of faith (Heb. 11:1) by believing and affirming the truth that in all things and at all times God is always working out His purposes in our life for our eternal good and His glory and honor. (Rom. 8:28)

Questions for reflection and application                      

Ephesus – Evaluate your love for Jesus Christ on a scale of 1-5,  with 1 meaning you are just going through the routine and trying to do the "shoulds and oughts" whereas a 5 is the love of a grateful child and passionate lover of Christ. Be ready: What will you do to change this if needed and when will you do it?

Smyrna – Evaluate your response to trials and suffering on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being an angry bitterness and 5 being a trustful obedience and hope in the goodness of God. Be ready: What will you do to change this if needed and when will you do it?

                        Until He comes,

                        Len and Kristen          

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