Friday, August 14, 2015

What Does A Real Church Look Like?

A church isn't comprised of a building but of the people in that building. Let us never forget that. Some people get all emotional and attached to a particular location, but the church consists of a body of believers and in most cases non believers. Did you know that the book of Revelation is the most avoided and least taught book of the Bible, even in Protestant churches? Wonder why that is? How sad that is really because more than ever, the book of Revelation is more relevant to us now than ever before.

Remember when we started this study into the book of Revelation, we learned that there is a blessing for those that read it and for those that hear it read. So why do most churches simply skip the book of Revelation? It become an indictment against the ministry, leadership or pastor of that particular church when that happens. If the book of Revelation seems strange to us, perhaps we fail to have a clear understanding of the Old Testament. The book of Revelation cross references more Old Testament books than any New Testament book of the Bible. Now that we open our Bibles up to chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Revelation, we come to the most avoided sections of the Bible of all, because it is the most convicting.

The section of the book of Revelation will bring to light what kind of church you belong to and are and perhaps that is why it is the most avoided. What kind of a church we are is reflected upon what kind of a Christian we are. It has been said, so goes the family, so goes the nation. We have yet to see what kind of a nation America will be 10 to 20 years from now, but as so goes the family, so goes the nation. So it makes sense that so goes the Christian, so goes the church, and you can't divorce yourself from that truth as we shall soon see as we study these letters to the seven churches. How you are, is how your church will be!

How the demeanor and the attitude of the church isn't based on the pastor, its not based on the staff, it is based on those who attend a church. We will see if we walk with God or not will set the atmosphere of a church. We see that each of these letters to the seven churches are written by Jesus, Himself.

Revelation 2:1-7 ~ "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor. You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." (NIV). 

A study was conducted quite awhile back from the Institute of American Church growth to measure what they call the "love" character of their churches and what they discovered might just surprise you. They discovered that growing churches are more loving, than churches that are not growing. Growing churches are more loving than those that are stagnant. There is an obvious love in those churches for their members and for those visiting. Growing churches scored 35% higher than static or shrinking congregations regardless of the churches theological position, it's denomination or its location. These churches were attended by more people because of the love factor experienced in these churches.

What scored less than the "love factor" category was the churches leadership, its liberal or conservative theology, its facilities or even its evangelical passion. People in growing churches report that they, experience a sense of welcome-ness and acceptance and encouragement, an overall love challenge to know God more, and to reach out to one another with acts of love.

We know that the apostle John, known as the apostle of love, the same one that penned the gospel of John and the three epistles of 1-3 John, and woven through these books is one central theme,

1 John 4:7-8 ~ "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."

Even when John was more than 100 years old and had to be carried quite literally in and out of church daily, would hold up his finger to heaven and command those who heard him, to "love one another." Everything he wrote about was about love. He even claimed that he was the disciple that "Jesus loved."

So where did John get this line of thinking? From Jesus of course.

John 13:35 ~ "By this all will know that you are my disciples, ...if you have love for one another."

All the world will know if you are a true Christian, is that you will have love for one another. We ended chapter one with a very special key. Just as every lock comes with a key, so does the book of Revelation come with a special key which we will refer to often found in Revelation 1:19, "Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this."

We learned yesterday that when Jesus gave this verse, He was outlining the entire book of Revelation.

"the things which you have seen," we discovered sums up all of Chapter 1. Where John has been sharing with us both his experience and his introduction to the Revelation.
 "the things which are," outlines Chapters 2 and 3. Here John has been given seven letters from Jesus Christ. Each letter is a report on the state of the local churches in Asia Minor, but each of them represents the universal church of the earth and our very own spiritual pulse. This is from the birth of the church, known as the church age to the culmination of the church. Meaning the world today, on this date.
 "and the things which will take place after this." outlines from Chapter 4 to Chapter 22. John after the introduction is made clear, and after the age of the church is complete on earth, record the judgments and tribulations that shall come upon the earth, which will herald Jesus' Second Coming to the earth.

This outline is very simple, but very powerful. It's the truth of the book of Revelation if we study it carefully.  Sandwiched between chapters 1 and 4, are chapters 2 and 3, which is where you and I are living today, right now in this very hour, in our personal lives and in the life of our church! Each time Jesus addresses the church, seven times, He says, "He that has an ear, let him hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches."

If Jesus were to shout from heaven to us or if he were to cry aloud, I believe that if Jesus was to audibly speak to us today, He would say this to our church today.

 "He that has an ear, let him hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches."

These letters that Jesus has written to the seven churches, must be taken seriously. These letters will challenge us, encourage us and correct us. If there was ever a spiritual tune up to be given, this is it for the Christian church! These letters apply to the churches today.

1. Each of these letters were written to the first century churches and they are as applicable to us as they were to the congregation of that time.

2. In each letter, Jesus says, "I know your works,"

3. In each letter to the church, Jesus says, "To him who overcomes," The challenge is given to each of us, to hold on, to persevere, to keep on going.  It breaks my heart today to see so many Christians giving up on their faith, on God, on commitments, on their marriages, and families, in light of what is happening in their lives today. The Bible warns that in the last days there will be a time of great apostasy and I believe we are seeing that happen today. When people would fall away from their faith.

4. In each letter to the church Jesus says, "He that has an ear, let him hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches." In an encouragement and understanding way.

5. In each letter to each church, Jesus gives a description of himself that pertains in a particular way to what that church is in need of.

These are the corporate letters to the churches today. Throughout every age and in every church, these seven natures of a church exist. These are seven real churches of that day, but it also an applicable to the churches we are in today.

These are personal letters to each of us today. Telling us that in every church these seven natures of a church exist, and that in the life of every Christian, we may experience any of these natures during our own lives. It is an exhortation to us today!

Remember this! Jesus Christ is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, that He is the Lord, The Almighty, the One Who Was, Who Is, and Who is to Come, the One enthroned in Heaven above. He is awesome in His appearance, wearing a brilliant robe of righteousness, with a face as bright as the sun, having eyes as a flame of fire!

It is good for you to know that all premillennial, conservative, Bible students hold to the understanding that these seven churches also represent the chronological order of the church throughout the ages. Those scholars believe that we are living in the last days of the Laodicean church period, which I believe as well.

We begin today with our study into the first church of Ephesus. The word Ephesus means "desirable."
It was a wealthy and powerful city of the Roman Empire. Ephesus had nearly a bank on every corner. It boasted of its diversity and its open religions.  Many temples existed there, but none as grand as the temple to Diana, the Seventh Wonder of the Ancient World. It was 425 feet long, 260 feet wide and 100 feet high and had a combined seating capacity of 24,000 people. Because of its location, beauty and affluence, Ephesus was also a great place of commerce. It was located on the coast, a seaport at one time. It has since eroded quite a bit. The New York of its time. It was known as the Central Bank of Asia. It is located in what is today, Turkey.

The letter to the church of Ephesus, was a letter of a church without love. The first point we come to in dealing with what kind of church are we, are we a church sincerely desiring of Jesus' presence? We need to ask this of ourselves and of our own churches. We see that Jesus holds the church in his right hand.

Revelation 2:1 ~ "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:"

Revelation 1:20 ~ "The seven stars are the angels (real pastors/teachers) of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven (real actual) churches."

These things says He who holds "them" - the seven messengers! Jesus is in the presence of the church. Do we pray for Jesus' presence in our churches or are we far too critical of what is broken in our own churches? Talk to God about what needs to be done in your own church, do you desire the presence of Jesus Christ in our church? This church was missing its love factor. Yet Jesus still has control over the church. He has a strong grip on it. He is not leaving the church. 

In Greek the word "hold" is  "krateo" meaning to have in a grip. To have seized with dominance. To control by direct use. Direct use, means to have authority over another.

Meaning that the execution and implementation of God's will for His church is to flow through His leader who is under His direct ownership. To put it another way, the pastor or teacher is Jesus' slave. Jesus is saying, "No matter what your pastor, your church, the people, you are under my absolute authority as Your Lord and Savior! Scripture says He will never leave us or forsake us. This means the church shouldn't be focused on honoring itself, its pastor or its location. It isn't about the church, it's to be all about Jesus and gaining His presence in it. It shouldn't be about a pope or the chapel, or how great the worship is there.

The question we need to ask ourselves is have we left our first love? These letters are about our personal walk of faith with Jesus right now. Are you ready for an honest look at yourself while reading these letters? Tune back into Monday for another look at the church of Ephesus again!