Sunday, January 12, 2020

Faith is Stepping Out on the Belief

Faith 2

          Last week, as we began our series on faith, I furnished you with an initial definition: faith is seeing with your heart. This week, I want to look at another facet of the gem of belief. This is another descriptive phrase designed to help you understand what faith is and how it operates.
          Let us begin with the idea that faith is first belief. That sounds redundant, I know, but follow me. Faith is my initial reaction of belief when I hear something. Think of Lot and his peers, for example. When the angels brought the news to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah of their soon coming destruction each hearer had to decide whether to believe or scoff. Lot, for all the criticism justifiably hurled at him later, reacted first with belief.
          Faith begins with the instinctive, or perhaps I should say initial, pointing of the arrow of the compass of my heart toward, “Yes, I believe that.” I was a very young boy when my parents told me the Bible was the Word of God. I believed them. I believed It. I reacted in faith. I was very young when I was taught that Jesus was God’s Son, that He died on the cross for me, that He rose from the dead for me, that He is coming again for me, and that He would take care of me in the intervening period. My first reaction, my initial response was to believe.
          Though it is true to say that faith is first belief, it is also incomplete. For intellectual honesty, personal experience, and biblical example show us that the initial belief is soon mixed with doubt. Cast your mind back to the Garden of Eden. When God limited the trees that Adam and Eve could eat from in Genesis 2.16-17 and promised them the negative consequence of death if they disobeyed they initially responded with belief. Yet within just a few verses we find the devil sowing the seed of doubt into that faith in Genesis 3. Yea, hath God said? God spoke. The initial response was belief. That belief was soon followed by doubt.
          The devil understands how powerful faith in God is and how much God values it. Consequently, there may be nothing he works quite so hard to subvert and destroy. He does this several different ways, as we shall see, but one of the very first ways he does is by attempting to sow doubt into the ground of initial belief. He casts doubt on the authenticity of God’s Word, on the infallibility of God’s Word, on your understanding of God’s Word, and on your application of God’s Word. He casts doubt on God’s timing, God’s power, and God’s willingness to honor His Word. And on a thousand other things.
          Do recall Israel’s response when they first came to border of the Promised Land? Yes, they sent spies in but it was not because they were uncertain whether they could or should go in, rather they sought to determine how they should go in. Those spies were sent under God’s direct instruction (Numbers 13.1-3) as a reconnaissance force. Only later did they resolve themselves into a Committee of Doubt, determined to vote themselves and the people of God directly out of obedience into sin. First there was faith. Later, there was doubt.
          I cast my mind back to one of my early yet serious experiences with this. I surrendered to the ministry at fourteen, and all through high school I carefully considered which Bible college I should attend. I prayed about it, studied on it, and sought counsel about it. Finally, I made my decision. I would attend Hyles-Anderson College. I believed – see the faith? – that God was leading me there and that this is what God wanted. Yet as the first semester rolled along and I kept losing jobs through no fault of my own, as I watched my school bill mount and my inability to pay it mounted right alongside guess what crept into my heart? You know the answer, right? Yep. Doubt. Maybe I was wrong? Maybe this is not what God wanted? Maybe I did not have what it took? Maybe I should quit? Yea, hath God said?
          It is important for me to stress here that I am not talking about scoffing and mockery. I am not talking about a blatantly rebellious refusal to believe. I am talking about the normal or usual sequence of events for God’s people. I am talking about someone whose initial reaction is belief, but who very soon finds doubt creeping into their mind.
          Fortunately, we are not yet done laying out this progression. The first reaction to God’s Word is belief. This initial reaction is soon followed hard on its heels by doubt. But then faith, real faith, rises back up. It casts its eye on the Word of God and choosing to ignore the siren call of doubt, it steps out on the belief. This then is the progression: faith à doubt à stepping out on the belief. Ergo, my second descriptive phrase for faith is born – faith is stepping out on the belief.
          Let us say I invite you to my home for a meal. You readily accept, and step inside the door. I kindly take your coat and hat and hospitably point you toward a rickety, cane-bottomed decorative chair straight out of the eighteenth century. You pause. Why? You are weighing – pun intended – the alternatives. The chair looks like its best centuries are behind it. Your girth is substantial. Will it hold you up? Yet why would I point you toward it unless I full well knew it was up to the job? Inside of you a split-second war rages. On the one side is faith, trusting my judgment and trusting that chair to hold you up. On the other side is doubt, accusing me of malfeasance and insisting the chair is to be avoided. How do I know which one of those two wins? By your actions. If you avoid the chair, doubt wins. If you sit in the chair, faith wins. Faith is stepping out, or in this case sitting down on the belief.
          Every person reading this blog post knows what it is like to entertain doubt in God and in God’s Word. But entertaining that doubt does not damn you. Acting on the doubt would but entertaining it does not. Your heart is revealed to God by your actions. If you act on the belief even while doubt is present in your heart you are not condemned for such. You are applauded in His world. Why? You are stepping out on the belief.
          If you care to examine the stories of the great men of faith in the Scripture you will find this pattern repeated ad nauseum. They were not scoffers. They did not have a faith unmixed by doubt. Instead, when God spoke to them they reacted with initial belief, entertained doubt as it crept in, and then stepped out on the belief even thought the doubts were still present.
          God instructed Abraham to leave his home and family, and God promised to give him a new land and many, many descendants. His initial response is belief, as evidenced by his leaving Ur. Doubt, however, rears its head, as evidenced by the events surrounding Ishmael. Yet when all was said and done we see in Romans 4 that Abraham had clearly risked everything on the faith side of the ledger, and was thus blessed. 
          Peter, on the darkest night of the Apostle’s lives that side of the crucifixion, in desperate excitement turned to a Jesus walking on the water and said, Bid me come unto thee on the water (Matthew 14.28). Jesus uttered one word. Come. Is that being an apparition, a ghost? Or is it his Messiah? Peter’s initial reaction is faith, evidenced by the fact he stepped out of the boat. That faith was soon mixed with doubt, as evidenced by the fact he began to sink. But in the final analysis, Peter trusted in Christ, evidenced by the fact he cried out, Lord, save me (Matthew 14.30). There are layers of faith and doubt interwoven through this story but it is glorious to see Peter step out on the belief.
          Understanding this puts the lie to one of the more egregious scriptural fallacies about faith. That fallacy says faith has to be pure, entirely unmixed with doubt, for God to bless it. The truth of the matter is the complete opposite is revealed from one end of the Bible to the other. This side of eternity faith is often mixed with doubt yet it is exercised as faith and blessed as faith nonetheless – when we act on the faith regardless of the doubt we feel or hold.
          It is not unusual for me to come across some long-standing saint of God making a second profession of faith in Christ, or even making repeated professions of faith. It is not a lack of understanding of the Gospel that drives such actions; it is rather a lack of understanding of what faith is and is not. “Well, I’m not sure I really believed the first time” is the rationale. It is an unscriptural rationale. We are not saved by a pure faith unmixed with doubt. We are saved by a faith that steps out on the belief, that casts itself solely on Christ as our hope for redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life, a faith that views itself as unworthy and wonders from time to time but obtains salvation for us nevertheless. Even a little faith can move mountains. Even just a grain of faith. Yes, there is Bible teaching that a strong faith is not mixed with doubt, but faith does not start there. It must grow to that point via long experience with God. And to say that God does not honor faith unless and until it is entirely free from doubt is not only illogical, it is just plain wrong.
          Let me prove it to you.
          In Mark 9 we find the story of a man afflicted with a demonically oppressed son. Jesus was not available but the next best thing – His disciples – were. So he presents his son to the Apostles asking for deliverance only to see the Apostles fail miserably. In one of the most encouraging personal interchanges in the entire Gospel record we find Jesus seeks first to ascertain the man’s faith. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. That sounds like it comes straight out of a Pentecostal television broadcast. What follows next most assuredly, however, does not. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. If the fallacy is true, if our faith has to be pure, unmixed with doubt, in order for God to honor it this guy and his son do not have a snowball’s chance in hell. But that is not the case. Instead, we find a rejoicing father and a young boy gloriously delivered. Why? Because the father, though justifiably filled with doubt, stepped out on the belief. He came to Christ. He asked of Christ. He threw himself, doubts and all, on Christ. And was delivered.
          Beloved, you do not have to be some kind of super-Christian in order for God to respond to your faith. You do not have to measure up to the stature you imagine Bro. So-and-so to be. No. When the doubt comes – when, not if – you just have to step out on the belief.
          That is faith.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Faith is Seeing with Your Heart

Faith 1

          One of the most important things for every Christian to well understand and apply is faith. It is involved in the birth of the Christian life for we are saved by grace through faith. It is also involved in every aspect of the Christian life that follows for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Not only is faith an omnipresent requirement in the Christian life, it is also a varied spiritual grace. What I mean by that is faith, like the best of diamonds, has a multiplicity of facets, angles, and applications. For these reasons, I have long wanted to write about faith at some depth. Thus it is I have decided to spend the next thirteen weeks writing a blog series on faith.
          To begin properly in any theological discussion we must carefully define the word under discussion. Today, I want to give you a working definition of faith that we can continue to draw upon as the series moves forward. It is this: faith is seeing with your heart.
          The normal way you and I see is with our eyes. For the blind, they use their fingers and their ears. But in either case, seeing involves sensory input and a reasoned, logical response to that sensory input. For example, if I see snow when I glance out the window before walking out the door first thing in the morning I may well adjust my course of action. I may exchange my shoes for boots. I may exchange my driving gloves for a thicker pair. Etc. As I write this it is January in Dubuque, Iowa. If someone came along and told me it was going to be 100’ Fahrenheit at noon today I would not believe them. I would look at the snow. I would look at the calendar. I would call to mind my long experience with January weather at this latitude. Then I would compile all that I see and know into an evidence that calls such a prediction ridiculous and proceed to ignore it.
          Christianity is, in a word, the exact opposite. We cannot, we dare not, we must not live our life based on what we see. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (II Corinthians 4.18). For we walk by faith, not by sight (II Corinthians 5.7). Which two passages immediately call to mind the classic definition of faith in Hebrews 11.1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The eyes of our logical human reason cannot adequately see the proper way to approach life. God is a spirit. The spiritual is unseen. God moves in mysterious ways, as William Cowper says, ways our minds cannot
William Cowper
by Lemuel Francis Abbott c 1792
comprehend. We must be willing, instead, to embrace doctrine and practice that appears on the surface as illogical, unreasonable, and even hard to pin down sometimes. We must step out on an invisible bridge, one which we cannot see with our bodies or our minds. One we can only see with our heart. One which we believe is there even though there is no evidence of such to our senses.
          For scriptural example I offer you Moses. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible (Hebrews 11.27). He chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. He left the best job in the most advanced civilization on Earth. He observed the Passover and sprinkled blood on his doorpost. He walked between walls of water in the Red Sea. All of these Hebrews mentions in the context of Moses’ faith. And not a single one of these decisions made any sense based on what Moses could see or could reasonably infer. They weren’t made by sight; they were made by faith. He didn’t use his eyes or his human reasoning to see as he made decisions. He saw with his heart.
          Let us turn again to the very beginning of our Christianity, our salvation. It is no coincidence that God tells us the lost are blinded. He chose that word on purpose. Those who come to Christ are said to have the eyes of their understanding opened. Well, how do they get saved? By trusting Christ in their heart. Faith does not use eyes; it uses the heart. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness (Romans 10.9-10). You and I have never laid eyes on Christ. It does not make sense to believe a man who lived and died two thousand years ago on a different continent can take us to Heaven. We ignore that. We believe anyway. We make a decision by what we see with our heart.
          Doubt is often called the opposite of faith. I do not hold that position, as I will explain later in this series, but it is true that the most famous skeptic in human history just might be Doubting Thomas. Why is he called thus? Because he insisted on seeing with his eyes when he should have been looking with his heart. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe (John 20.25). But that would not be faith, would it, beloved? Not at all. It would be sight. And sight is not faith.
          This is why the Christian science of apologetics, while helpful, will always be limited in its usefulness to the cause of Christ. That is why I do not and will not make it a major point of emphasis in my ministry. The battleground of belief is not sight or reason; it is the heart. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved (Luke 8.12). I have read more philosophy than a man can shake a stick at. In fact, just last week I finished a history of the era of Bacon, Locke, Spinoza, and Leibniz. For dozens of pages Will Durant rambled on comparing this philosophy to that one, this argument about the existence of God with that one. The problem was not the writing; Durant is brilliant. The problem is not the thinking; Bacon, Locke, Spinoza, and Leibniz outclass me by a country mile. The problem was rebellion. They refused to humble themselves and believe God. Instead, they embraced the wisdom of their own minds, what their own reason and senses could perceive, and built a god in that image. They would not lay aside their own reason and in humility believe in their heart the simplicity of God’s revelation contained in Scripture.

          What does all of this mean for you and me in a practical, everyday sense? Mature Christians learn to look beyond what their eyes/reason tell them and judge things through the eyes of faith. I do not mean to say that faith is always unreasonable. But faith is always invisible. Faith is not visual; it is presuppositional. It presupposes certain things to be true, whether they appear to be true or not, and then acts on those presuppositions. Faith says, “I know how it looks, but I do not care how it looks; I care what God told me.” This applies to societal and personal standards of right and wrong. It applies to our priorities. It applies to our fears. It applies to how we deal with past hurts. It applies to our relationships. It applies to my concept of what I am to be and do, about how to live the entirety of life.
          Peter often gets a bad rap in our day, but say what you will we cannot get past one fact – he got out of the boat. His eyes, experience, and logic told him he could not walk on water. But when Jesus said, “Come”, he ignored the evidence before him and believed in what Jesus said anyway. And he did just fine. Well, until he started to squelch the faith in his heart with the evidence of his senses.
          Beloved, when we are called to walk by faith let us keep looking squarely at the invisible Christ. See him with your heart. And make your decisions based on seeing with your heart rather than your eyes.      

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Available Immediately: Freed From Sin

After three years of work, my third book is finally here. Freed From Sin, A Primer on Holiness is, as the title suggests, an exploration of what holiness is and is not as well as a scriptural manual on how to grow into it. You can find it here on Amazon in paperback, hardback, or Kindle. It is also available on Nook for Barnes and Noble and Apple's iTunes bookstore. It is not a little book, and I do not apologize for that. I have no interest in being another source of independent Baptist fluff. Its forty-nine chapters spread over 438 pages are divided into eight sections discussing and applying nearly 1,000 Scripture references. Below are some quotes from the introduction and foreword as well as some recommendations from pre-release readers.

I have not written it because I think it will sell; in fact, I doubt it will. Who reads entire books about holiness these days? I have written it because it cries to be written. I have written it because God's people in this generation are under what is perhaps a fiercer assault of the devil than any generation has ever been. I have written it because the truths I learned changed my life foundationally, philosophically, and practically; and that change was for the better. In short, I have written it to help you because the truths in it have helped me so very much.  
-Tom Brennan, Foreword, Freed From Sin

In Freed From Sin Tom Brennan has written another excellent book. In this timeless tome he tackles the subject of holiness. His solid doctrinal foundation, his personal transparency, his clear, easily readable style of writing, and his practical applications make this an extremely valuable book. I am very glad to recommend it.
-R. B. Oullette, Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, Bridgeport, Michigan

Pastor Tom Brennan is a gifted communicator and writer and God has given him the ability to take difficult material and bring it down so all of us can comprehend and understand. His past book, Schizophrenic, A Diagnosis of the Independent Baptist Movement was straight forward and dealt squarely and fairly with both the strengths and weaknesses of the independent Baptist movement of the twenty and twenty-first century. This work on holiness is sure to be a classic of our day! The need for holiness in this generation is huge. The need for holiness in each our lives as believers is great, and we are commanded by God to be holy. Reading this book will help develop  a consciousness of this matter. Hopefully it will create the desire in each of us to keep working on developing holiness in the fear of God.
-Kevin Folger, Pastor Emeritus, Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio

You will get the sense that every sentence in Freed From Sin has been thought through; consequently, this places an expectation on you, its reader. It will both demand and command your concentration. And in era of thirty second commercials and even shorter sound bites, this should be welcomed.  If you are big into “snow” (teachers who assign research papers from their students will catch this analogy), head to Manitoba. There is none to find here. At no point in reading this book did I get the sense I was reading “filler” material. 
All the same, this book is readable. Despite its intensity, it is not a dissertation. I believe that not only is it readable, its contents are teachable. I foresee its use in Sunday schools, sermon series, teen class lessons and discussions, family devotions, even talks between father and son as they drive down the road together. Getting Christians to talk about the holiness of God and its adjacent truth - the holy living of God’s children that is demanded by it - would be a welcome development in our churches, schools, youth groups, and homes. 
-Dan Armacost, Dean of Students, Fairhaven Baptist College, Chesterton, Indiana
Introduction, Freed From Sin

Monday, August 12, 2019

In the Providence of God

Bessemer, Pennsylvania
        In the providence of God, nearly sixteen years ago He moved me to Chicago. I grew up in McDonald, Ohio, a leafy village of about 4,000 souls in the vicinity of Youngstown. My first church was in the not-quite-vast-metropolis of Bessemer, Pennsylvania. Eleven hundred souls called Bessemer home and we would knock on every door in town the week of our Big Day. Thus it was more than unusual for Him to see fit to place me in the middle of one of America’s great urban centers.
          Over the years God has been exceedingly gracious to us here. Yes, Chicago’s difficulties are somewhat well-known around the country but for the people who live here it is just home. And the people of Maplewood Bible Baptist Church became my people, and their home became our home. Over the years God sent us more people, precious servants of His. Together, we put our shoulders to the wheel and sought to move this church forward for the cause of Christ.
          We have seen God do some wonderful things in our years here. He has strengthened this church in numerous ways. Indeed, in every possible way there is to measure a church this one is markedly stronger. In fact, it is doing better than ever. There is no point to citing specific statistics today, as that would probably just feed my pride, and the spiritual health of this church and these people is entirely due to the Lord anyway.
          Then too, God has also wisely allowed some trials. One of those that came into my life nigh on a decade ago is Meniere’s Disease. It is rather rare and entirely incurable, though it is often manageable. It manifests in a variety of ways, and over the years I have become well acquainted with my particular set of afflictions. I have found through research and through trial and error that patience, rest, working out, eating appropriately, pacing myself, quietness, darkness, judicious medication, and as little travel as possible are all helpful to manage my disease. Along the way my family and my church both accommodated my sometimes unusual requests, and I am more grateful than I can express to both of them for this.
          Meniere’s is not only incurable, it is usually progressive. It certainly has been
Chicago, Illinois
with me. I can still pastor, and pastor effectively (without controversy, I think my church is living proof of that) but I gradually came to the conclusion that living where I live frequently aggravates almost every single aspect of my disease. I also came to the conclusion that it would be helpful for me to find a city less congested, less crowded, less noisy, and less busy for me to minister in. Driving, which is only one difficult aspect of living here, is the nightmare of my life. Sheer wisdom says it would be better to find somewhere else to live.
          So I prayed. And I sought counsel. And I worked. All along, as God is my witness, I kept hoeing the row I was in as well as I knew how, knowing that I will answer to Him someday. I am a worker in His vineyard. He had the right to keep me in any particular part of His vineyard no matter how difficult I increasingly found it. For quite some time He did. It grew me, it grew my family, it grew my church, and it grew my ministry. He is just as much right in His timing as He is in every other aspect of His being and actions. But in the providence of His grace He has now led me to another church and another city. My time in Chicago is thus done.
          I covet your prayers in this, my friends, as in all things. As I write I have a hurting church, one that I would see the Lord pour as much grace into as possible as they deal with this. Then, too, my children will be leaving the only home any of them remember, their only church, their hometown, all of their friends, their entire life other than Mandy and me, basically. And I will have to adjust from being a well loved and very respected pastor to being the new kid in town again. I need God’s wisdom, grace, and peace in all of this, as do these people I so dearly love who surround my life here.
          Where are we going? Forward, is the answer, but more specifically to the Bible Baptist Church in Dubuque, Iowa. She recently lost her pastor of twenty-two years in death, and God has sent me to pick up his mantle. It is neither a big church nor a famous church nor a church of great reputation. It is a sweet-spirited church, an evangelistic church, a conservative church, and a missions-minded church. Each of the last two sentences I find to be good, either for me or for them, and hopefully for both of us together.
Dubuque, Iowa
For those of you who read this with no direct, personal connection to me my ministry to you should not change much. In other words, if you read what I write via Brennan’s Pen or listen to my messages via Brennan’s Pulpit, you should be aware there may be a slight hiccup or two but that as this transition is made things should get back to normal fairly quickly. For those of you who read this who have long had a direct connection with me, much will change. In other words, if I have been your pastor I no longer will be. But please know that though God’s providence is often mysterious, as William Cowper said three hundred years ago, it is never mistaken. I love you, more than I could possibly express. He loves you exponentially more than I do. I have tried to be a scriptural shepherd to you; He is the best shepherd of all. Fear not, neither be afraid. You are in excellent hands.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Strong Church/Sardis

Strong Church/Weak Church 16

The Greek gymnasium at Sardis
          Sardis, founded about eight centuries before Christ as part of the Lydian empire, was located sixty miles east of the coastal city of Smyrna at the nexus of an important road network. Conquered or seized by all the usual suspects of the succeeding centuries – Greece, Rome, Byzantium – it was also preyed on by a few too many earthquakes. By AD 1200 it had largely vanished as an operating entity. Currently, a little village named Sart is situated nearby, and operates mostly as a tourist trap for the nearby ruins of Sardis.
          Turning our attention to the church specifically, we find that Sardis was a stronger church than many of the others we have looked at. Its strength is singularly impressive and its weakness is relatively minor, in my view, though perhaps not in John’s view. At any rate, we will examine her strength today and her weakness next time.
          What is that strength? The church at Sardis was strong on personal righteousness, on holiness.
          God often likens sin to dirty garments and salvation to its beautiful white replacement. That begins in the Tabernacle, where we see the courtyard was enclosed in fine twined linen. But explicit mention is made of this all through the Word of God.

Isaiah 64:6
6 But we are all as an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; And we all do fade as a leaf; And our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Isaiah 61:10
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
Zechariah 3:3–5
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
5 And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD stood by.
Revelation 7:14
14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Revelation 19:8
8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

          We see from John’s last statement above that in his understanding of this illustration these white garments represented our righteousness. There are two kinds of righteousness. There is positional righteousness, our standing as entirely holy before God on the basis of Christ’s finished work. This cannot change. There is also personal righteousness, our actual state at the moment, how close we are to the Lord from day to day. This does change. Speaking in the personal (not the positional) sense, our garments prior to salvation were uniformly filthy; afterward they are varying shades of white and dark. The church at Sardis excelled in this area. Some of their people had not defiled or made their robes of personal righteousness filthy. In other words, they had lived an exceptionally holy life post-salvation. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy (Revelation 3.4). Needless to say, we do not obtain entrance into eternity by living holy but we certainly do get complimented by God this way.
          This stands in direct contrast with another church we will look at in just a few weeks. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed (Revelation 3.18). You do not get positional righteousness (justification/salvation) by buying it, but you do get personal righteousness that way. Holiness, sanctification in this life will always cost you something.
          At Sardis, they had not defiled their garments. How does defilement come? One of the answers involves touching something external that is dirty. If I am wearing a clean coat and I brush up against a salt-encrusted car my coat is going to get defiled. We see this illustrated in the life of Daniel. He purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank (Daniel 1.8). So he requested and was granted permission to avoid those things so that he might remain pure and clean. In this we see the personal separation from the world that is necessary for a Christian to live a sanctified life.
          More often, however, defilement arises from the sinful condition of our own heart. Jesus placed a huge emphasis on this point throughout His ministry, as we see in these two sample passages:

Matthew 15:10–11
10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

Matthew 15:18–20
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

          Christianity without separation from the world will inevitably result in close contact with filth, and thus with our own defilement. By the same token, a Christianity with separation from the world but absent a constant emphasis on and watch over the condition of our heart will result in the same defilement. The only difference is the latter will visibly appear to be cleaner while being putrid on the inside.
          This was precisely the problem of the Pharisees, you will recall. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwrd, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness (Matthew 23.27).
          Apparently, to God’s everlasting glory, there were some in Sardis that were holy. They had a strong personal righteousness, and were thus given the incredible compliment of being called worthy. Worthy of what? Worthy of being called His own.
          Should not this be the aim of every true child of God? That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1.10). 
          Beloved, let us on this day walk worthy of Him. Visibly, externally, yes. But even more so invisibly, internally.
          Let us be holy.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Weak Church/Thyatira

Strong Church/Weak Church 15

          Last week we examined the church at Thyatira and found four strengths. But as great as those strengths were the simple truth is John places the bulk of his emphasis on the weaknesses there. They were severe, and his language in relation to them is harsh.

Revelation 2:20–27
20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

          Clearly, in spite of their strengths, God is angry with this church.
          First, He was angry with them because of the presence of immorality. In the preceding verses we find phrases such as and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, of her fornication, and them that commit adultery. Sexual impurity brings great reproach to the name of Christ. It brings to the corporate body a stain similar to that which it brings to the individual. But whoso committeth adultery with a woman
lacketh understanding: He that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; And his reproach shall not be wiped away (Proverbs 6.32-33). We see this quite clearly in the sternness with which Samuel speaks to David about the Lord’s displeasure in him in relation to his impurity. Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die (II Samuel 12.14).
          As I sit here writing this I am conscious of how often this seems to come up in churches. Just two days ago I heard of yet another church in which serious and serial fornication had occurred on the part of the leadership stretching back over the past six years. I could not help but hear of it for it is all over the news. Why does it seem to happen in churches so much? Solomon tells us, The adulteress will hunt for the precious life (Proverbs 6.26) There is value in the homes and marriages of those who lead the Lord’s church. There is both present value and potential value. The devil knows that full well, and makes it his special goal to destroy that value whenever and wherever possible. Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered the prophet said. (Zechariah 13.7) Pastors, deacons, teachers, leaders of ministries and their husbands and/or wives have a target on their back.
          What are we to do? I cannot in one blog post write a theology of holiness. I have chosen to do that in book form, and it should be out shortly. But I will say it is incumbent upon us to be aware, to be wary, to beware. Be sober, be vigilant; for your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5.8). When immorality is present in the leadership of a church it often ruins the entire generation of younger people who attend there. Older saints have seen it before and take it stride, but younger people often find their immature faith too weak to stand the strain. And in addition to the lives ruined directly, it takes the steam out of churches for decades. No wonder Paul told Timothy, Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (II Timothy 2.22).
          Second, and even worse than the first, those who were being immoral were not repentant. This was not something that people were struggling with. They were not struggling at all. They were not fighting a battle and losing. They were not even fighting. And they were hardhearted about it. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not (Revelation 2.21).
          God is very aware of the fact that we sin. He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust (Psalm 103.14) And He very graciously makes forgiveness easy to obtain via confession of that sin. Because of these facts, when His grace is trampled on, when His instructions toward righteousness and His offers of mercy are rudely spurned by His own people it justifiably brings them to the place of judgment. In short, if you harden your heart He will harden His.

Proverbs 1:23–29
23 Turn you at my reproof: Behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.
24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, And would none of my reproof:
26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;

27 When your fear cometh as desolation, And your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; When distress and anguish cometh upon you.
28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; They shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
29 For that they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the LORD:

          Sadly, we are not yet done with the list of Thyatira’s disastrous weaknesses in relation to impurity. It was present. That is bad. The person in question refused to repent. That is worse. But we are only now getting to worst. Third, those who were being unrepentantly immoral were being allowed to influence others to be impure too. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication (Revelation 2.20).
          This sexually loose woman was clearly influential in the church. She was a self-proclaimed prophetess or teacher. She developed a doctrine to justify this depravity, and developed a following. Who was Jezebel, historically? The woman who influenced Ahab to become so wicked. But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up (I Kings 21.25). Fornication is disastrous enough. When those who are immoral are unrepentant Scripture is quite clear – they are to be kicked out of the church. The last thing a church should be doing in that situation is allowing them a platform from which to pass on their self-justified sensuality to others in the church.
          That is just asking to be judged.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Strong Church/Thyatira

Strong Church/Weak Church 14

Ruins of a church in Thyatira
By Klaus-Peter Simon - Own work
The biblical Thyatira, today’s Akhisar, is an incredibly old city. Founded around 3000 BC, it currently has a population of some 100,000 people. In Bible times it was the center of the dying industry, as we see from the story of Lydia. (Acts 16.14) Both then and now it contained a sizeable Jewish contingent. However, unlike many of the other cities we have seen, this one was not on the coast of the Aegean Sea but inland about fifty miles or so. It flourished as a headquarters for the dying industry because it was on the nexus of caravan roads that led between what is now Istanbul and the coastal cities of Pergamos, Sardis, and Ephesus. Interestingly, it also contains one of the world’s oldest continuously occupied religious buildings. First built as a pagan Roman temple, it was converted into a Christian church and then finally converted again into an Islamic mosque. Still in use today, it may well be the church building where the church at Thyatira met when John wrote them his short epistle in Revelation 2.
          I see in John’s short message four distinct strengths. As before, we will examine these this week and look at the weaknesses of the church in the following post.
          The first strength I find in the church at Thyatira was that they were a church hard at work serving the Lord. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first (Revelation 2.19). What jumps out at me here is not just the mention of them but the fact that this service for the Lord was increasing. It was growing. This is something I aspire to for my own church.
          Growth is an important concept in the Christian life. We see that in the New Testament emphasis on growth in grace and in the parables of the talents. We see it as well in the Apostles’ request that God might increase their faith.

Luke 17:5–10
5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.
6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.
7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
8 And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.
10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

          Jesus’ answer reveals a startling truth. If all you do for your company is what you were hired to do you are unprofitable to them. Think of it this way: if you are hired to $20 worth of work and you do $20 worth of work they have not made a profit. They have exchanged $20 worth of work for $20 worth of service or product. But if you find a way to do $25 worth of work while they are paying you $20 you have given them an increase, have you not?
          You say, “Why would I do that?” Right. That is the union attitude. Why should I do something to make my company or my employer more profitable? That attitude, embraced by union workers the world over, is soundly rejected by every small business owner on the planet. They want growth, they want increase, not just stability.
          Now put that mindset into the religious environment. Churches value stability. “Don’t rock the boat. Don’t change too much too fast. Don’t lead us out on a limb. Don’t start too many ministries.” Ah, but God values increase. He is looking for growth, for profit, for return not just custodianship. I am not saying a church has to become unstable. I am saying that to pursue growth like God wants us to, in a variety of areas, we are going to need to prioritize growth like we have historically prioritized stability. Let us give Him an increase.
          The second strength is that they were a loving church. Charity is mentioned specifically in Revelation 2.19. John does not say to whom this charity was expressed but it is a wondrous compliment nonetheless. Without this, everything else is pointless, as Paul points out so eloquently in I Corinthians 13.

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

          Whatever else your church is good at, it must be good at loving God and loving people. Else what is the point?
          The third strength John mentions is faith. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith… (Revelation 2.19) Faith is what births us into the Christian life in the first place, and faith is what deepens us in that Christian life. Indeed, everything we do is supposed to be done in faith. I plan to write a rather long blog series on the subject next year. It is absolutely critical in a Christian and in a church.
          The last strength John mentions is their patience. I know thy works, and charity,
and service, and faith, and thy patience… (Revelation 2.19). Patience and faith often go hand in hand in the Word of God. The latter needs the former like a crop needs rain. But this patience is not something we are supposed to exercise toward God alone. We must also exercise it toward one another.
          These four strengths mark the church at Thyatira, but John spends considerably more space exploring her weaknesses. Stay tuned next week as we turn our attention toward those.
          See you then.