First, let me state at the outset that I believe in the Church. I believe in it’s presence, it’s purpose and it’s power. Established by the Lord Jesus Christ, I also believe that it continues to grow and I am sure that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Mat.16:18). This being said, it must be told that the present state of the Church is not good.
Having said that, it is important to note what the church is. The word church is properly defined biblically as, ‘a called out company or assembly’. The word is used in three different ways:
1. the local assembly – i.e., the gathering (‘…the church that is in her house’ Col.4:15)
2. individual believers – i.e., you are the church (the idea Paul conveys when he tells the Corinthians, ‘…you are the temple of God…’ 1Cor.3:15)
3. the universal/worldwide body of believers – i.e. all true Christians throughout the world
Once this is understood we can come to the conclusion that the messages to the churches are to be and can be applied to the church in general and/or to the individual members in particular. Although a church may be blind to it or unwilling to own up to it, every local assembly, more or less, will find its identity in one of the seven churches. Also, and this is important, the letters are addressed to leadership. They are to the churches in general (every member), and the pastors (leaders) in particular. Each letter opens with, ‘…unto the angel of the church of…’ The angels, without going into any long dissertation or explanation, speak of the pastors of those particular churches. A church, by default, will take on the nature of its leadership. What they do or don’t do, or what they allow or don’t allow, is in turn, what that congregation will follow through on. This is why leadership needs to be in alignment with the Lord’s program and not their own.
The Church at Sardis – Revelation 3:1-6
Their Reputation (v1)
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
This church had ‘a name’. This reputation identified them as:
• being alive
• being active
• being successful
It was their activity (works), which gave strength to the idea that they were alive and successful. But this was not the case. This was their outward appearance; how they looked to others. However, all these things were not a true indication that they were a living, breathing church. Jesus knew the real truth.
Their Reality (v1)
The truth about this church that Jesus knew was that it was actually dead. This reality was either unknown or unaccepted by them.Their works were hollow and incomplete. Any church void of the moving and operation of the Spirit of God is dead. A hollow word breeds a hollow faith, which breeds hollow works. It was hollow because it had lost its power; yet their problem was not necessarily doctrinal–it was obedience. They had the Word, but for them, it wasn’t enough; and once you put His Word aside, you will, eventually, venture into alternative facts. Today’s church is also guilty of reaching for something extra, and has, unfortunately gone the way of doctrinal error. The sad part about it is that doctrinal error is so accessible. Many high profile names speak a truth that is not truth, and preach a gospel that is not the gospel. Youth groups are dead and dying because their leaders are trying to entertain them, rather than preach the pure gospel, which is the Cross. However isn’t it good to know that even death is not beyond His touch? There was and is hope.
Their Recommendation (v2-3a)
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent…
Of all the seven churches, Jesus had nothing good to say about them. The closest he comes is telling them to strengthen ‘what remains’. His recommendation to them is a strong one, which amounts to a command. He tells them in essence, ‘You need revival’. That was the essence of His words ‘be watchful’, which simply meant, ‘Wake up!’ Jesus’ words also reach us today–we too need revival. We do not more dead words and dead services. No more promises of great financial and spiritual wealth. No more soothing, feel good messages that will serve only to reinforce the spiritual stupor we are in. With all the revival services that I see advertised, if it was real revival, churches would be full; ain’ts would become saints, and prayer meetings would be breaking out, instead of another concert. Here’s truth: good singing is not revival; great sounding choirs is not revival; passionate preaching is not revival; big crowds on consecutive nights is not revival; dancing and shouting before the Lord is not necessarily revival. Real revival reacquaints us with the Christ of our salvation; it sets us on a path of obedience. Real revival goes hand in hand with brokenness. That is where repentance comes in. He calls us to change; to turn around.
Their Reproof (v3b)
…if therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
This coming that the Lord is speaking about is judgment. Scripture states in 1 Peter 4:17:
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
Sometimes, judgment can come in the form of an absence of His presence, due to a grieving and quenching of His Spirit. Other times, His judgment can come in the form of sifting. That is, He will allow the enemy to have some leeway in our lives. Whatever way He chooses to judge, it can be avoided if we would judge ourselves. Here’s what the Spirit says through the pen of the apostle Paul:
For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.1 Corinthians 11:31-32
This principle, set forth during a discussion of the Lord’s supper, holds true here. We must be able to receive His truth and make an honest assessment of our condition. Just come clean.
Their Remnant (v4)
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.
Names. Individuals. It’s important to remember here once again that the church is made up of people. Jesus says here that there were some people—but sadly not many, who had not ‘defiled their garments.’ This is the harsh, but honest language He uses to describe those who had not allowed sin, Satan and self to intrude and dominate their lives. They had not allowed the world to pollute and contaminate their minds and hearts. They had made themselves so familiar with truth that when a lie entered into their hearing, their Spirit-given discernment immediately was aroused. There is yet that same remnant that exists in today’s church. Their ears have not been tickled by the latest fad or teaching. The only thing they are guilty of is remaining true and faithful to the Lord and His Word—and this makes them worthy; not perfect—just worthy.
Their Reward (v5)
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
I’d like for you to get the full import of this word ‘overcome’. It speaks of those who hold firm to their faith even to the point of death, and against the power of their enemies, temptations and persecutions. Wow! In essence Jesus says, ‘he that continues to conquer…’ We ought to be living in victory, not always reaching for it. This can only happen through the Cross. Jesus promises three powerful things here. First, He says we will be clothed in white. This indicates full righteousness as we walk with Him on the streets of gold. Second, He states that our faithfulness means that we will be kept until the end. Finally, our names will be joyfully acknowledged before the Father. Could it be that our names will be shouted throughout the corridors of heaven? What a day that will be!
In spite of its present day condition, His Church is a glorious Church, and it will remain so because He is the Head, and hell’s best will not even begin dent its doors. We the body need to live up to its glorious calling.
Our Response (v6)
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Church, let’s not turn a deaf ear to our Lord’s words. Rather let us respond to His gracious invitation found in Isaiah 1:16-18:
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
If we cannot hear what he is saying, maybe it’s time to go back to the altar. Only as we obey His word can we avoid the judgment He promises. Wake up Church! There is life in Jesus’ name!
That’s the Word! Take it with you. God bless you.
- As it pertains to worship:
- Mat.15:8-9 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
- As it pertains to works and service:
- As it pertains to devotion:
- As it pertains to self-righteousness:
Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall. What’s your favorite season? Depending on who you are, and no matter what your seasonal preference is, you’d have to admit that each one has its own perks. Look at winter. Winter has Christmas! Yay! The children say to that (and many adults too, I’m sure). Ah springtime! Melting snow, nasty cold weather slowly disappearing, along with the blooming of flowers–readying themselves for warmer weather. Then there’s good ‘ole summer! Schools closed, vacation time, warm days at the beach, and the park. Can you beat all that? Finally, the only season with two names. Autumn brings the promise of color! Those summer green leaves transforming into bright oranges, yellows and shades of brown; all falling to the ground. And not to forget, the children go back to school! Yay again!
Each season also has its downside. And once again depending on who you are, it’s too cold in the winter, too rainy in the spring, too hot in the summer, and too many leaves to rake in the fall. It’s all a matter of preference, but the simple fact is seasons come and seasons go–and that will never change. Read the Lord’s words in the first book of the Bible: While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:22). That’s the promise. As long as this earth remains, there will be seasons. I believe this truth; and I believe this principle can also be carried over into our spiritual lives. The fact is that our lives in the Lord also consist of seasons.
God says that there is a time and place for everything. This is not as much a theological truth as it is a practical truth. All seasons however, must be seen in their proper perspective. In addition to these seasons or times we experience, there are several other seasons we go through that the bible speaks of both specifically and not so specifically; yet I believe most have experienced many of these seasons for ourselves.
- There are seasons of plenty
Ex. Egypt’s seven years plenty (Gen.41:47-49)
- There are seasons of drought
Ex. Egypt’s seven years of famine (Gen.41:54)
- There are seasons of dependence
Ex. Elijah being fed by ravens (1Ki.17:6)
- There are seasons of doubt
Ex. Lord I believe: help thou my unbelief (Mk.9:24)
- There are seasons on the mountain
Ex. Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1Ki.18:20:40)
- There are seasons in the valley
Ex. Elijah running for his life (1Ki.19:3)
- There are seasons of transition
Ex. Abram moving on from Ur (Gen.12:1)
All of these seasons, both good and bad, play vital roles in our lives and help to shape us into the persons we are and will become. The psalmist stated, ‘It was good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes’ (Psa.119:71). Ultimately, all seasons serve a definite purpose and are in God’s sovereign control. Once again, the Word declares: ‘…all things work together for good to them that love God…’ (Ro.8:28), and also from Eccl.3:11: ‘…He hath made everything beautiful in His time…’
The list of Seasons can go on and on. A thing qualifies as a season if you remain there for a significant amount of time. But there is another season-it’s a season you want to avoid at all costs. It’s a season you don’t want to step into. Yet many, because they are so zoned in to making it happen for themselves, willfully enter in to this season by giving God a rain check; and with a friendly ‘don’t call us we’ll call you attitude, walk away from God’s best for them. They have entered into the convenient season.
What is the convenient season? A convenient season is a time of your own making. It is putting God on hold. It is time and life on your own terms. It is a season that finds you attempting to undermine and derail the plan of God for your life. It is the sinners’ or saints’ excuse when under conviction and refusing to surrender to God’s will and way. It is a refusal to say, ‘Not my will, but thine be done.’ Read the words of governor Felix to the Apostle Paul after being convicted by the Spirit of God to change his ways: “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” (Acts 24:24-25). Notice that Felix trembled after hearing the powerful gospel. This discomfort gave him all the reason he needed to remove himself from Paul’s presence. What he didn’t realize was that he was actually attempting to distance himself from God’s presence. The truth is that you can never unhear the Word of God after the Spirit of God has impressed it upon your heart and mind. Felix’s response shows us that in addition to placing himself into a convenient season, he also entered into:
- A proud season…when I…(v25)
- A presumptuous season…I will…(v25)
- A selfish season…makes it
all about you
- A deceptive season…he listened to Satan’s lie what other lies will he tell him?
- A declining season…Whooping Goldberg had a line in the Oscar winning movie ‘The Color Purple’ that went like this: ‘…till you do right by me, everything you think about gonna fail!’
Though not precisely scriptural, the statement yet has an aura of truth around it and here it is: As long as an individual chooses to remain on the opposite side of the will of God, whatever it is that they do will be tainted-it will ultimately come to naught-at least for them. This is because it will have the stench of disobedience upon it. That thing may be good and right; but it is not good and right for that person because it’s not what the Lord told them to do. The convenient season says, ‘I’m in my place, I’m in my time–I need to complete me before I deal with with God.’
The convenient season in all cases are seasons of procrastination. In all cases they are seasons of avoiding the truth. It is the result of running from God. Runners from God have a language all their own. They say things like:
- I’m not ready
- It’s not my time
- I will later…promise
- What if this way is not the right way?
- I have other things to do…let me go and bury my father first (Lu.9:59-60)
Avoiding the convenient season is as simple as saying, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Except saying it is sometimes the most difficult thing to do. We have to come to the end of ourselves by concluding that God, in His infinite wisdom, knows what is best. God’s will is not a matter of convenience, it’s a matter priority. He must come first or I run the risk of following myself and not Him; and when I follow myself, ultimately I’m no different than the proverbial dog who chases his tail-getting itself nowhere.
So when faced with the choice to do or go God’s way, or your own…don’t settle for convenience. Avoid it at all costs. You’ll be glad you did.
That’s the Word! Take it with you. God bless you.
No, I don’t have an axe to grind. I’m not angry at anyone. And I don’t for one second presume to think I know better or am better than anyone else-because I’m not better and I don’t know anything. I’m just a small voice in a small corner of the world, trying to fulfill the Great Commission. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind about anything with the words that follow. But I’d like to address several important issues that have been scratching at my heart and mind lately. Indulge me if you please.
Ok. Let me lay down some ground rules. I am Pentecostal. No shame for me there. I would probably be described as being of the more ‘conservative’ brand; comparatively speaking-as opposed to those who are hyper or ultra Pentecostal. I am neither, but I am Pentecostal nonetheless. We’re the ones who speak in tongues. Some of us jump, shout, and wave our hands; we are quite the demonstrative ones. Some even run, spin around or wave their hands; and I hold no malice toward those who do those things–I do some of those things myself. But it must all be Spirit led and Spirit driven, and not flesh driven. Having said all that, I must say sadly, that as I see it, much of the bad doctrine that has permeated the church in recent years, has come from our camp (I speak also of the closely related Charismatics). It’s actually a shame to even speak of different ‘camps’–seeing that God does not recognize denominations anyway.
Do Pentecostals have the corner on spirituality? Of course not. Depending on what church you attend, why is it that we Pentecostals sometimes spend so much time and effort trying to make everyone else just like we are? Let me tell you what happens sometimes, or rather what I have witnessed. In some churches there are ‘cliques’. These cliques sometimes call themselves ‘ministries’. Some of them, however, are quite ‘exclusive.’ To be a part, you basically have to do what they do and speak and believe what they do. If you don’t measure up, you become a piriah (an outcast), and you get treated as such (yes, I’ve seen it).
In some churches, tradition prevails over truth in some matters. Many people, especially young people, are made to feel as if they must ‘conform’. They are inadvertently pushed by well meaning, but overzealous parents and in some instances pastors, to be baptized, take communion, or even ‘preach’. I once heard a pastor tell a young person, ‘You’ve been coming to church long enough, why are you not baptized yet?’ Surely time spent in church cannot be the criteria for getting baptized and such, right? Am I missing something? Caterpillars cannot fly. Longevity has its place, but that alone is no substitute for salvation. Before baptism and the like can take place, a person must be saved. Encouraging individuals, especially youth, to do saved things, will not benefit them-if they’re not saved. As it pertains to preaching, the church is not the place to ‘hone’ your preaching skills. Young people don’t need to ‘learn’ how to preach. If the call of God has been placed on someone’s life to preach, He will make it known. The church is not the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. You may be thinking, ‘Who set you up as a judge, and how do you know who’s saved or not?’ What I will say is that God has given us discernment; the Spirit-led ability to know whether someone or something is of God or not. In our desire to see young people serve God, we must not attempt to ‘play God’ by placing them behind the pulpit to keep them on fire for God. If some of these are not saved in the first place, as stated previously, then there’s no fire anyway; putting them behind the sacred desk will do them no good, except possibly giving them a false sense of security, resulting in the mistaken idea that they must be a Christian; ‘After all, I preached!’, some may say to themselves. When will we learn that going and being in church is not the equivalent of being in Christ. The pulpit, as far as the preaching of the Word goes, is for those who have been called to it.
The following matters are not weighty issues at all. They do not affect one’s salvation in one way or another. I bring them up only as points of reference as they pertain to youth, or others affected by it. For instance, does the bible explicitly state that it is a sin for a woman to ‘straighten’ or ‘perm’ her hair? Weaves? No. Many young people in hyper-holy churches are told yes. How about braids? Or pants on women? Sleeveless blouses in God’s house anyone? Those who are part of the hyper-holy crowd will tell you that these things are evil, worldly, and just plain ungodly. Once again, I’m simply using these cases as examples. My aim is not engage in any lengthy debate. I’m only saying that for those who believe that these and many other such things are actually sinful, young people in particular are placed under pressure and highly scrutinized. The older ‘saints’, in an effort to keep them and the church ‘holy’, are actually turning out ‘clones’, i.e., younger versions of themselves. Is this what we want? Listen to what Jesus said: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves (Mat.23:15). I’m not calling anyone a child of hell, but what I am saying is that we should avoid adopting a ‘pharisaical’ mindset. Should we not want folk to be like Jesus, and not like ourselves? With all of our holier than thou, pre-conceived, ‘I think that’s what Jesus would’ve done’ attitudes? Half the things folk do in church, in His name, He never sanctioned anyway!
When it comes to matters of praise, worship, the moving of the Spirit of God and prayer, how is pressure placed upon the young? First of all, church, i.e., the worship service, is not a circus. The Spirit of God can have His way without it being a free for all. Anything should not go in God’s house. The Holy Spirit is the moderator of worship services-not we ourselves. Some of the things I’ve seen over the course of many years in several places, amount to one thing–flesh. Scripture tells us in 1 Jonn 4:1, that we should test the spirits, to see whether they are of God or not. He’s telling us here not to be deceived; everything that looks of God is not of God. So, when some well meaning saint places their hands on someone to pray for them, and the immediate response of the one being prayed for is a shake, and a shimmy, and a shout, and the same response comes from the next one, and the next one, and the next one, etc.; and all of the responses are exactly alike in word and motion–then I know that something is rotten in Denmark! No rocket science is needed to figure out that something’s not right.
Mimicking has become an art in many Pentecostal churches. As I stated at the outset, I’m Pentecostal myself. We’re loud. We express ourselves. This is what we do. However, we all cannot do the very same thing, in the very same way, at the very same time all of the time. It’s not a spiritual phenomenon, but it is a fleshly one.What I believe has happened in some places is that folk have simply, and maybe unintentionally picked up one another’s behavior, and made it their own. When this happens they are not allowing the Spirit of God to work uniquely with them, and settle for ‘conforming’ to what everyone else does. This in turn causes the Spirit of God to step back because not only is He grieved, but He is quenched now that the flesh has come in. Scripture plainly states: ‘…So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.’ (Romans 8:8). Young people, sometimes because they don’t know any better, or because they just want to be a part, unfortunately fall into this terrible behavior of just doing; copying and mimicking what the older ones do; and it’s not good, and it’s not right. Caterpillars cannot fly.
As far as the scripture goes, a wrongly divided word will do untold damage to those who hear it. When preachers add restrictions and read things into scripture that are not there, they place invisible shackles upon those under the sound of that word. For the young, many of them carry those chains with them into adulthood, with varying degrees of misery. As they grow, many begin to question certain restrictions that have been placed on them because they don’t find proof of these restrictions in the Word for themselves. This is because these restrictions do not exist! Rather, they are the unfortunate misinterpretations of those who have treaded down legalism’s path. Legalism is a dangerous monster and it’s victims are many. Young people who have chosen to opt out of church due to all they have seen, heard and experienced. For each one who has opted out, several others have thought about it or are presently thinking about it. A young lady told me years ago that she couldn’t wait until she turned eighteen, because then she was going to leave home, and leave church, due to the fact that she had had enough. All I know is, from that point, I began seeing her less and less-until I didn’t see her anymore.
Let me close by saying that we are not perfect. This should be obvious. But we must take pains to get the Word right. If not we run the risk of pushing people out rather bringing them in. The Word of God is described as a hammer; (Jeremiah 23:29), but we must not turn it into a spiked club. The Word is a sword; (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12) but we must refrain from using it as a dagger. Let’s draw them to the water of life that they may drink-freely. We must not impose, we must not force, assume or take things for granted. We need to draw young people and everyone else to the living water, but we cannot make them drink. It’s the simple presentation of the gospel-the message of the Cross, preached under in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit that will change lives. Anything more, or anything less, will not produce the desired results. Only saved people should do ‘saved’ things. Caterpillars can’t fly; and they shouldn’t try-not until they’ve been transformed into butterflies. And then the sky is the limit.
That’s the Word! Take it with you. God bless you.